Christ in Esther

There have been a number of discussions among my blogging friends about the frequency with which Christ appears in the Old Testament. Does He make occasional appearances, in passages like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 110? Or is He the focal point of all the Scriptures, both New and Old Testaments? I argue that Christ is the major focus of Scripture, and I justify my understanding from passages like Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44-48, John 5:45-47, to say nothing of the perpetual allusions to OT Christology throughout the rest of the Gospels, the Apostolic preaching in Acts, and the epistles. That doesn’t mean I’m in favor of creatively imposing Christ into every story in allegorical or moralistic ways. I’m not. (I’ll note, by the way, that examples of illegitimately inventive “Christ-centeredness” do nothing to disprove the principle that Christ is the heart of the OT Scriptures.)

I was challenged by a friend to demonstrate what preaching Christ from OT narrative looks like in real life. If I’m opposed to turning inspired historical records into silly putty from which I can always make a cross—and I am—what does it look like to see Christ in a book like, say, Esther? Though I’m certain that there are messages which provide better examples than mine, I’ll use my recent preaching of the book of Esther as an example. You can hear it here.

First, let me say what seeing Christ in a book like Esther doesn’t look like. I’m not looking for strange typology that is unsupported by the NT. I don’t necessarily see Esther as a Christ figure in her interceding for the lives of the Jews. I don’t see Haman(!) as a Christ figure in his “lifted up” death. I don’t see Mordecai as a Christ figure in his exaltation. In short, I interpret the text normally, as the literal record of God’s deliverance of His people from their enemies. It’s about Persia. About Providence. About Purim, an example of the rejoicing that rightly follows divine deliverance. It means what it meant.

But it’s also about Preparation by Preservation. It contributes to the overall plot of Scripture in this way: Whereas the Jews were once again threatened with annihilation by a Hitler-like enemy, God labored discreetly but actively to preserve His people from destruction. In doing so, He not only secured their personal and corporate safety, but He preserved the national and family lines into which the promised Messiah was yet to come. God’s temporary deliverance through Esther was preparing for God’s ultimate deliverance through Christ. Esther and Mordecai are significant heroes in the great plot of redemption specifically because God through them continued moving toward the coming of the ultimate Hero and Savior. God saved Esther, Mordecai, and the rest of the Jews from death at the hands of Haman so that He might eventually be born as a Jew and die in their place at the hands of sinners and at the hands of God. He protected the Jews not just for their sakes, but also for ours, and ultimately for His glory through the triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The same can be said of other Post-Exilic leaders. Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah didn’t just see the fulfillment of return-from-exile prophecies, as significant as those were (Deut 30:1-5; Is 44:21-45:25; Jer 29:1-14). They restored Jerusalem, the place where Christ must eventually die. They restored Temple worship, including the sacrifices, enabling Christ to fulfill all the Law and to die as the perfect Passover Lamb. They were significant contributors to what Galatians 4:4 calls “the fullness of time.” They pointed toward and prepared for a better Leader than themselves. That doesn’t mean that we have to see them as Christ figures or see a prophecy of the cross in every nail and beam in their books. It just recognizes that part of reading the Old Testament on its own terms is recognizing that its individual books are part of a single Book with an overarching plot (a point which Joe Tyrpak will make in a guest post here soon). These writings come between Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 and thus are part of the “reverse the curse through a Savior” theme of the Scriptures. In smaller and greater ways, these and other stories contribute to The Story. God preserved His people through the exile so that He might fulfill His promises, especially the promise of redemption through Christ. To miss Esther’s relationship to the Messianic promise of the Old Testament is to misread it.

Does the book of Esther mention Christ explicitly? No. But it doesn’t speak of God explicitly, either. No one would argue that seeing God in a book in which He is conspicuously absent in print is eisegesis. We understand that the writer expected his readers to interpret the book in light of and as part of the rest of OT literature, thereby seeing God’s sovereign activity even when He wasn’t explicitly named. And, with caution, I suggest that the Scriptures expect us to see Christ in the same way, not through imaginative typology, but as the ultimate if unseen goal to which histories, kings, prophets, priests, laws, ceremonies, and sacrifices all pointed.

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21 Responses

  1. Chris wrote:

    “I’m not looking for strange typology that is unsupported by the NT.”

    Are you looking for non-strange typology that is not specifically identified by the NT?

    Or when 1 Cor 10 tells us that “these things happened to them as an example (typos in Greek), but they were written down for our instruction,” do you see “these things” as ONLY those things referred to specifically in that chapter? Or do you think that there are patterns of things in the OT that happened and were written down for us?

    Would like to nuance that a bit, but gotta run.

  2. Great post Chris! I just finished a series of messages on Esther, and to see the book without a gospel-centered focus is to misunderstand it completely. One thing that I disagree with you on is seeing Esther as a picture of Christ in her intercession for her people (I guess I am a silly-putty man also).

  3. Ben, I’m not sure what you’re after with your questions. 1 Corinthians 10 warns us, using examples of unbelief in the OT. I don’t think it’s exhaustive, but neither do I think it justifies our seeing types of Christ in every narrative.

    The point of the post is that even if Esther (the character) is not viewed as a type of Christ (e.g. His incarnation or intercession), the book still contributes to the Messianic emphasis of the OT by recording God’s sovereign preservation of the Jews and, thereby, of the Messianic line.

    I think it’s an important balance, though I’m probably not the most qualified guy to exemplify it. We don’t need to choose between saying Christ is essentially absent from the OT and saying Christ is represented by every bush. I think the Christ theme is more often seen in an ongoing hope of Messianic promise than in overt and specific types, though they’re certainly present in the OT, as well.

    One more quick clarification: I’m not denying the significance of God’s providential protection of His people as a central theme in the book of Esther. It’s amazing. I actually address that issue more in the sermon itself, and kind of assumed it in this post for the sake of time. But by preserving His people, God was also (and more significantly, I think) preserving His promise to them and through them of a Savior. Keeping the Jews alive is keeping the promise of the Jews’ Messiah alive. Obviously, I think. In light of the promises throughout the OT, I can’t imagine that even the original readers of Esther would separate the protection of God’s people from the continuation of God’s great promises (and great Promise) to them. I think we too easily separate the two. So I’m seeing more than the immediate deliverance of the Jews, though certainly not less.

  4. Jared, you appreciate the post more than many with whom I’ve discussed it today. And even you disagree. Story of my life. ;)

  5. i wish the “many” who have appreciated your post less would interact via the comments so that we could all see either the strengths or weaknesses of your conclusions about Christ in esther.

  6. I wonder if “preaching Christ *from* Esther” might be more palatable?

  7. Chris wrote:

    “I don’t think it’s exhaustive, but neither do I think it justifies our seeing types of Christ in every narrative.”

    That answered my question, and I agree with you. I also agree with everything you say about Esther. But I asked the question b/c I was curious to hear if you would merely affirm preaching OT texts in light of the biblical metanarrative, or whether you’d also affirm our obligation to identify typological elements that aren’t explicitly identified in the NT.

  8. One more thought struck me as I was reading comments from Joe T. elsewhere: It strikes me as difficult to preach an OT text without addressing its covenantal context. And it’s difficult (if not impossible) to properly address covenantal context without addressing that fact that Christ ultimately fulfills each of those covenants.

  9. Going back to initial topic of this post, I think the central issue relating specifically to Esther is that the Jews MUST survive for God’s promise of the Messiah to come true. In fact the OT is even more specific in that.

    Remember…

    “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” was God’s promise to Abraham. The Messiah must be a Jew

    “The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” The Messiah must come from the tribe of Judah.

    “Your throne shall be established forever.” The Messiah must come from David’s line.

    The very possibility of Messiah’s birth is threatened by the decree which has the force of the law of the Medes and the Persians. It is no small or insignificant act of Providence for Esther and Mordecai to be agents (faithfully or selfishly) of the Almighty so that God’s plan to send a Messiah “stays on track”.

    Whether you preach Christ in Esther or preach Christ from Esther, you better connect the Promised One to the book of Esther.

  10. Chris,

    I fully agree with your approach to Esther and your insistence that this “seeing Christ in Esther” is essential for a right interpretation of Esther. This is not highly creative nor is it highly subjective; it’s simply interpreting the Bible in context–the context of Genesis to Revelation.

    Regarding Ben’s comments about the centrality of the covenants in the storyline and the centrality of the Messiah to those covenants, I couldn’t agree with myself more! :) Actually, Peter Gentry stated that so clearly a few months ago. I heard him say that his upcoming book is dealing with how the covenants form the backbone of the biblical storyline.

    Making sure every book gets put in its proper place in the storyline is as necessary as watching a single chapter in a DVD and understanding how it fits in light of the whole plot of the movie. You don’t simply understand Esther 1 in the context of Esther; you understand Esther in the context of OT history and prophecy, and ultimately in the context of the whole Bible. It’s simply contextual interpretation.

  11. Good stuff. Call me crazy, but I am not sure what all the disagreement could be about (ok, maybe I do a little). Thanks for the edification. When I have time, I’ll try to give Esther a listen.

  12. […] you would swear that either I had read my friend Chris Anderson’s essay on preaching Christ from Esther, or that he had read mine […]

  13. Joe, what are you referring to from Gentry a few months ago? Something online?

    And I assume you’re referring to a book he’s co-authoring with Wellum. I’ve been looking forward to that ever since I read Wellum’s chapter in Schreiner & Wright’s Believer’s Baptism.

  14. […] Dan and I see things very much alike. He’s posted an update of the second post with a link to my post on Esther. Thanks for […]

  15. Well put, Josh. Agreed.

  16. Chris,

    I think I’m mostly with you here…I guess my only hangup is when somebody says “Christ *in* Esther” I’m thinking of chapter and verse…like Genesis 3:15, for example. That type of reference doesn’t happen in Esther, to my knowledge. You basically have to take the message of the entire book and then make the connection to Christ – which I wholeheartedly support.

    Perhaps another way to say what I’m trying to say is that if I had an unbeliever who was seeking Christ, Esther isn’t the first place I’d send them :-).

    Perhaps my hangup is all semantics. I resonate with your desire to keep Christ central and I appreciate this venue which helps us to think about these things carefully.

  17. One of my favorite books is The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. It’s supposed to be a children’s book, but it’s profound in its simplicity. Here’s a quote from her book:

    “There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
    It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.”

  18. Do you understand the 4th Cup?

    After the beginning of Jesus’ Last Passover Supper (Seder) Judas Iscariot left to do what he had to do. The twelve left in the room were at the point where the second of four traditional cups was about to be drunk.

    (The first is at the beginning of the Seder meal.) Jesus took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”

    More of the lamb meal was consumed. During that He took a loaf of unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “This IS my body given for you; do this to recall me.” (“Recall” is a better translation of the Greek “anamnesis” than “remember”.)

    After the supper He took the third cup saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This IS my blood of the NEW and everlasting covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

    A hymn was sung, which is a combination of several psalms called The Great Hillel, and they went out to the Mount of Olives.

    What happened? The Passover ceremony and ritual was not complete. There was no fourth cup. There was no announcement that it was finished. Could it be that Jesus was so upset with what He knew was about to happen that He forgot? Doubtful!

    Not only Jesus, but also the 11 others had participated in the Passover Seder every year of their lives. No, this was done on purpose. The last supper of Jesus was not over.

    On the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.”

    He prayed that three times. Then Jesus was arrested, illegally put on trial by the Sanhedrin, then by Pontius Pilate, sentenced and crucified.

    While on the cross He wept. Jesus, who was in excruciating agony, was so merciful that He prayed for the forgiveness of His executioners. He was offered some wine with a pain killer, myrrh, in it. He refused it.

    “Later, knowing that all was now complete, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled and the kingdom established, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.'” A man dipped a sponge into sour wine; he placed it on a hyssop branch and lifted it up to Jesus lips.

    He drank. (We recall that it was the hyssop branch which was used to paint lambs blood around the Hebrew’s door for the Passover of the angel of death.)

    It was then that Jesus said, “It is finished.” He then bowed His head and gave up the spirit to His Father.

    The fourth cup now represented the lamb’s blood of the first Passover, a saving signal to the angel of death.

    The Lamb of God was now sacrificed. The last Passover supper of Jesus Christ was now complete with the fourth cup. It was finished.

    The tie in with the Passover is unmistakable.

    The Lamb of God was sacrifice and death was about to be passed over come Easter day.

    The promise of eternal life for many was about to be fulfilled.

    Christ’s Passover was finished, but Christ’s Passover was finished, but His mission was not until he rose from the dead.

  19. […] Joe Tyrpak is my dear friend. He is the assistant pastor of  Tri-County Bible Church, which also makes him my pastor and co-laborer. His insights into the Scriptures are always instructive for me (you can find many of his sermons here), and what follows is no exception. I post it with his permission as part of the growing discussion on Christ in the Old Testament (see this post). […]

  20. Good thoughts. But how can what happens in the book of Esther be a preservation of “family lines into which the promised Messiah was yet to come” when Zerubbabel had left for Jerusalem years earlier?

  21. Ron, because Jews were to be killed throughout the Persian kingdom.

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