Jesus of Nazareth, the True Israel of God (Part 3): Christ the Last Adam

In previous articles (see part 1 and part 2), I surveyed how Jesus is presented as the true Israel of God in the New Testament and how this concept of corporate solidarity is firmly anchored in the Old Testament itself. In this final article, I will show how the theme of Christ as the true Israel of God relates to the idea of Christ as priest and king, and as the last Adam, and how these themes likewise are rooted in the Hebrew Bible.

The Son of Man

It cannot be denied that the earliest exegetes of this text understood the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13-14 to be a Messianic reference. Indeed, in apocalyptic literature such as 1 Enoch 37-71, 4Q246 from the Qumran scrolls, the gospels and book of Revelation, and 4 Ezra, the “son of man” has an explicitly Messianic interpretation. Even the famed Jewish medieval rabbinic interpreter Rashi interprets this text as Messianic. Here are the relevant verses from Daniel 7:13-14:

13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.


That this text is Messianic seems clear from the literary context, since the Son of Man figure establishes a global dominion, an activity ascribed to the Messiah in Isaiah and Zechariah. Furthermore, just as the Messiah is described as a divine figure in Isaiah, Zechariah, and Malachi (e.g. Isa 9:6; Mal 3:1), so likewise the Son of Man is described in terms befitting only of deity. For example, it is said of the Son of Man in Daniel 7:14 that “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” This is exactly the description of the God of Daniel given by Darius in Daniel 6:26 and by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:3. 

Furthermore, it is said of the Son of Man that he rides the clouds (Dan 7:13), just as the God of Israel is said to ride the clouds (Deut 33:26; Ps 68:33; 104:3; Isa 19:1). The Son of Man is also afforded the very highest form of worship and religious service. In the original Aramaic text the word used for the service to be rendered to the Son of Man is פְּלַח. When used elsewhere in the book of Daniel, it is always used when speaking of service or worship to a deity (Dan 3:12,14,17-18,28; 6:17,21). The Septuagint translation uses the verb λατρεύω, which denotes the very highest form of worship and religious service, a kind that is to be ascribed only to Yahweh.

A final reason to take the Son of Man to be Messianic is the reference in Daniel 7:9 to the “thrones” that were set in place, presumably one for the ancient of days and one for the Son of Man. This links the text with Psalm 110, a Messianic Psalm [1], in which Yahweh invites David’s Lord to sit at His right hand until God has made His enemies a footstool for His feet. This may explain why Jesus Himself links Psalm 110 with Daniel’s Son of Man vision (Matt 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69).

Like in other Messianic texts, the Son of Man figure is portrayed as not only possessing a divine nature, but also as one who is human. And even though the Son of Man shares in the divine essence, He is also distinguished from the ancient of days, in a manner resembling the Trinity. This is a phenomenon also seen in other Messianic texts (e.g. Isa 53:2; Zech 2:6-11).

Having established that the Son of Man figure is in fact the Messiah, I turn my attention to its relation to the concept of corporate solidarity. It is of interest for our purposes here that a typical contemporary Jewish interpretation of this text in Daniel is that the Son of Man is actually a personification of the nation of Israel [2]. Jewish scholars draw support for this interpretation from the interpretation of Daniel’s entire vision given in verses 15-22 of the same chapter, and in particular verses 18, 22 and 27. Thus, it is argued, the Son of Man in verses 13-14 actually refers to the “saints of the Most High”, not to the Messiah. The parallel between the Son of Man and the saints of the Most High, however, is not at all surprising if you consider that the Son of Man is an individual who is representative of the nation of Israel. It is commonly observed by Jewish interpreters that the four beasts spoken of in Daniel 7 represent four kingdoms. This is used as support for the notion that the Son of Man likewise is a nation. However, verse 17 tells us that “These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth.” The Septuagint Greek translation does use the word βασιλεία (meaning kingdom) here. However, the original Aramaic uses the word מֶלֶךְ (meaning king). Each of the kingdoms, then, is represented by a king. This sort of corporate representation is also seen in Daniel 2:38, where Nebuchadnezzar is identified as the golden head of the statue in his vision. He thereby represents the entire kingdom of Babylon. 

The Messiah as Priest-King

The Messiah, in Psalm 110:4, is identified as someone who serves in both a kingly and priestly capacity, “after the order of Melchizedek”. The role of a priest was to represent the people of God. The Messiah is also portrayed as a priest-king in Zechariah 6:9-13 where Joshua foreshadows “the man whose name is the Branch” who “shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” The Messiah is also revealed to be a priest in Isaiah 52:15, which says that He “shall he sprinkle many nations.” The idea of sprinkling is commonly associated with the office of the priest (e.g. Ex 39:21; Lev 4:6,17; 5:9; 14:27; Num 19:4; Ezek 43:24). Furthermore, the death of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 provides atonement (Isa 53:11-12). This is also something that is said of the high priest in Numbers 35:25, which prescribes that a manslayer live in the city of refuge “until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.” This further confirms the priestly function of the Messianic servant of the book of Isaiah.

Further possible support for the Messiah’s priestly status comes from Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6, where Isaiah sees the Lord seated enthroned in His temple. The chapter opens with “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple,” (Isa 6:1). The text uses remarkably similar language to Isaiah’s later description of the suffering servant, who would be “high and lifted up” and “exalted” (Isa 52:13). Thus, the intertextual evidence suggests that the two texts are connected. This may well explain why John 12:37-41 links Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 6 together as both speaking of the Messiah. The Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 6:1 is Καὶ ἐγένετο τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ, οὗ ἀπέθανεν Οζιας ὁ βασιλεύς, εἶδον τὸν κύριον καθήμενον ἐπὶ θρόνου ὑψηλοῦ καὶ ἐπηρμένου, καὶ πλήρης ὁ οἶκος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ (“And this happened in the year when Uzziah the king died: I saw the Lord seated on a high and raised throne, and the building was full of his glory”). This rendering seems to be reflected in John 12:41: “Isaiah said these things because he saw His [that is, Jesus’] glory and spoke of him.” This suggests that John views the Messiah to be the subject of Isaiah’s temple vision and that John’s comment in John 12:41 is not a reference to Isaiah 53 alone. Why does Isaiah give us the precise chronological marker of his vision that it was the year of King Uzziah’s death? The events surrounding King Uzziah’s death are recounted in 2 Chronicles 26:16-21, in which we read that King Uzziah entered the temple with intent to burn incense on the altar of incense. He was confronted by the priest Azariah along with eighty priests and strongly implored not to burn incense, for it was not proper for a King to serve in the office of the priest. Uzziah became angry with the priest and consequently leprosy broke out on his forehead, resulting in his later death. It seems at least plausible that Isaiah, in alluding to Uzziah’s death, is highlighting that the subject of his vision – the one whom Isaiah saw enthroned in the temple of God – is the one who would ultimately fulfil both roles of priest and king, that is, Israel’s divine Messiah.

The Messiah as the Last Adam

The apostle Paul envisaged Jesus as “the last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45, cf. Rom 5:14). In Romans 5:15-19, Paul further elaborates, explaining that “as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men,” (Rom 5:18). Thus, all people are corporately represented by Adam and Christ respectively. Furthermore, like Christ, Adam is a type of Israel. Genesis 4:16 inicates that Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden towards the East. This parallels how God later expelled the Hebrews from the promised land Eastward into Babylon. Genesis 11, which recounts the tower of Babel is even set in what became known as Babylon (Gen 11:1-9). [3] [4]

A connection is also made between Christ and Adam by the author of Hebrews who applies Psalm 8 to Christ (Heb 2:5-9). When David says in Psalm 8:5, “you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor,” the two clauses refer to the high status which was given to Adam and Eve at creation. In Hebrews 2, these clauses are applied to Jesus, in particular with respect to two different events. The first clause is applied to the incarnation and humiliation of the Son of Man, who “for a little while was made lower than the angels” (Heb 2:9). The second clause of Psalm 8:5 is adapted to refer to Jesus’ glorification in his suffering. The Greek says that Jesus died in order that (ὅπως) he might taste death for every person. Hebrews 2:8 observes that at present we “do not yet see everything in subjection to him [that is, Adam].” Indeed, the author of Hebrews wrote his epistle when all things were trampled under the feet of Rome, as per the prophecy of Daniel 7:7. This state of affairs, however, will be remedied by the coming of the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13-14. However, right now, “we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone,” (Heb 2:9). Moreover, the work of the last Adam is to be the progenitor of the righteous seed, which is described by the author as “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10). Were it not for the sin of Adam and Eve, they themselves would have naturally, through procreation, brought many sons to glory – that is, offspring born with an uncorrupted divine image. The last Adam, the firstborn over creation and true image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) enables people to become children of God through His suffering (John 1:12).

A connection is also made between Psalm 8:4 and the son of man title in the gospels. In Matthew 8:20/Luke 9:58, Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The connection to Psalm 8, in particular the reference in Psalm 8:7-8 to the “beasts of the field” and to “the birds of the air” (τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ in both the New Testament and the LXX) seems evident. George Nickelsburg explains, “Ironically, the son of man, who has been given glory and honor as well as dominion over the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, does not have the shelter they possess.” [5] [6] John Ronning also observes that in Matthew, “the first use of the title is dependent on Ps 8:4, while the last is dependent on Dan 7:13, which is appropriate since Ps 8:4 looks back to creation, and Dan 7:13 looks forward to the end.” [7]

Is the concept of the Messiah as the new Adam, and therefore corporate representative of mankind, a New Testament invention, or is it an idea that can be traced to the Old Testament itself? We have already observed that both Christ and Adam serve in the Old Testament as corporate representatives of Israel.

One indication in the Old Testament that Christ is the new Adam is that the Messiah is said to have offspring, albeit not in the ordinary way. One of the titles ascribed to the Messiah is “Everlasting Father” (Isa 9:6). Isaiah 53:10 also states that following the Messiah’s death, He will see his offspring. Contrary to popular Jewish claims, the Hebrew term זֶ֫רַע is not limited to physical progeny, but can refer to spiritual offspring (cf. Isa 1:4; 14:20; 57:3-4).

There is also a connection between the “son of man” title and Adam. In Daniel 7:14, the one like a son of man is given dominion over “peoples, nations and languages.” The kingdoms of men are portrayed as beasts, which parallels the description in Psalm 8:7 as “beasts of the field” having been put under the “dominion” (v. 6) of Adam (cf. Gen 1:28). In other words, the first son of man, Adam, has dominion over the animals; the second son of man, the Messiah, has dominion over the kingdoms of the earth, which are prophetically and allegorically portrayed as wild animals. Just as Adam received dominion on behalf of the entire human race (and required his offspring to fulfil it), the one like a son of man in Daniel 7:13-14 receives dominion on behalf of His offspring – that is, the saints of the Most High who will “possess the kingdom” (v. 22).

Still further support for the connection between Adam and the son of man comes from the Aramaic Targum Neofiti (of the Pentateuch), where Adam is referred to on several occasions as בר נשא, “the son of Man” (Tg. Neof. Gen 1:27; 2:18, 23; 9:6). [8] Targum Neofiti most probably dates to the first century A.D. If “the son of man” was a contemporary rendering of “Adam” in the Aramaic Targumim, then Jesus’ self-designation as “the son of man” carried with it the implication that He is the true Adam.

Conclusion

In this brief survey we have reviewed how both the New and Old Testaments present the Messiah as the true Israel of God. As we have seen, pervasive throughout the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures is the Messianic hope that one righteous individual would embody all that Israel had been called by God to be. This hope ultimately reached its climax in God’s unique Son, who became incarnated in the man Jesus of Nazareth. Christ uniquely succeeded in being the true and faithful Israel, who succeeded where national Israel had failed. Because Christ represents all of the saints of the Most High, Christ’s death has been accounted as our death; His resurrection our resurrection; and His righteousness our righteousness. We therefore share in the privileges Christ enjoys as God’s true Son, and the promises that were given to old covenant Israel are our inheritance.

Footnotes

[1] Barry C. Davis, “Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?”, Bibliotheca Sacra 157 (April–June 2000): 160–73.

[2] Yisroel C. Blumenthal, “Contra Brown: Answering Dr. Brown’s Objections to Judaism”, accessed June 27 2020, https://judaismresources.net/contra-brown/

[3] Seth Postell, Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh (Pickwick Publications, 2011), 129. 

[4] John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account (Multnomah Books, 1996).

[5] George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Son of Man,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 6 (Doubleday, 1992), 137-150.

[6] John Ronning, “Curse on the Serpent: Genesis 3:15 in Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics,” PhD dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, Pa. (1997), 357.

[7] John Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology (Baker Academic, 2011), 94.

[8] John Ronning, Ibid., 105-114.

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