‘Sending’ Language and the Origins of Jesus

little-scrollToo often interpreters of the Bible read the various statements which depict Jesus as having been “sent from God” with such wooden literalness. They assume that, since God is in heaven and Jesus was on earth, then Jesus must have literally descended from the location of the one who sent him (heaven). I contend that the language of sending needs to first be placed into its wider context before making an assessment of its meaning in regard to Jesus and his place of origin. Note carefully how sending language is used in the Hebrew Bible:

God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived – Gen. 19:29

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ – Ex. 3:13

Then Samuel said to Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people – 1 Sam. 15:1

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isa. 6:8

Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them  – Jer. 7:25

This was only a short selection of the hundreds of passages wherein God sends (commissions) human agents. In not one of these instances which I have provided (Lot, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, the prophets) did the agent literally come out of heaven. Now it would certainly be appropriate to say that they were sent from heaven (i.e., God) in a strictly poetic and metaphorical sense, just as modern people speak of their newborn child as a “gift from heaven.” These passages from the Hebrew Bible indicate that God sends (commissions) his servants in a way that does not necessarily preclude their origins in the heavens. No one thinks that any of these human agents existed in heaven prior to their divine commissioning.

With this data in mind, we can safely move onto the New Testament data. Consider the following examples:

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. – John 1:6

For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” – Acts 3:26

It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. – Acts 7:35

A few short comments will suffice for now. John 1:6 indicates that John the Baptist was sent from God. Surely he did not descend from heaven. This language arguably sets up the following ‘sending’ references in the Fourth Gospel. Moving on to Acts 3:26, the reader should notice that God first raised up his servant Jesus (i.e., put him on the scene) and then he was sent. The ‘raising up’ language is often used in this way in crucial passages such as Deut. 18:15, 18; and 2 Sam. 7:12. Finally, the Acts 7:35passage shows that the divine commissioning language used of Moses continued to be used on into the first century CE.

Some other crucial passages indicate again that language describing things “from heaven/above” is best reckoned as poetic and metaphorical:

Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above – John 19:11

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights – James 1:17

This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. – James 3:15

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle… – James3:17

Even Josephus can speak of being sent by God:

I have come to you as a messenger of great destinies. Had I not been sent on this errand by God, I knew the law of the Jews and how it becomes a general to die.” – Josephus, War 3:400 (Loeb tr.)

Therefore, when Jesus says things like “I have come out of heaven” (John 6:38) or “I am from above” (John 8:23), we should not so quickly think that the author was trying to convey that Jesus literally descended from heaven. Rather, he was God’s authoritative human agent on earth, representing the Almighty as the shaliach. He was, however, still born of Mary (cf. Matt. 1:18. 20; Luke 1:35; John 3:1618:37; Gal. 4:4; 1 John 5:18).

This evidence suggests that the sending language used of Jesus is better read as an indication of his authoritative commissioning from God rather than a statement of “heavenly origins” (in the strictest sense of those words).

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3 thoughts on “‘Sending’ Language and the Origins of Jesus

  1. Consider this: the Baptizer is described as the malak/angelos who is “sent” [Mar 1.2; Mal 3.1]. If we follow the Orthodox logic that would make him an angel sent from heaven. 😛

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