The Wisdom and Power of God—Born as David’s Son, Yet David’s Lord
Having been a missionary companion (Acts 16:10), and disciple of Paul (2 Timothy 4:11) Luke reflects Pauline concerns and themes in his writing (Luke-Acts). One such theme is that Jesus is the promised Savior of the Davidic covenant (Acts 13:22-38). In particular, Luke has the goal of showing that Jesus is not only of, but also before, David – both in honor and existence. In order to lay this catechetical foundation for Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), Luke stresses, as David’s son (like Solomon), the wisdom of Jesus – or rather, the Wisdom of God in Jesus. This is done in a three-fold progression throughout his Gospel account. Reflecting on Wisdom from the OT as well, we’ll use a four-fold progression to bring the point home. This progression illumines who Jesus was from his conception – The Personal Wisdom and Power of God in the flesh. We will look at each of the four in turn.
Personified Wisdom in the Old Testament
David’s chosen son of succession was Solomon. Wisdom was the mark of Solomon, as it was given to him from God in response to prayer (1 Kings 3:6-12). Solomon then is best to consult when considering wisdom. Wisdom is uniquely personified as distinct from God by Solomon. In the strict Hebrew OT personification, we see Wisdom being as ancient as God. Speaking of Wisdom in the first person, the OT says, “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth…I was brought forth… (Proverbs 8:22-23, 25a) Wisdom is personified as the creative power and eternal offspring of God. The All-Wise God has never lacked Wisdom in his being (The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work), so the personification as being “set up” and “brought forth” serves as poetic language to underscore the distinction while also underscoring the unity with God.
Concerning personified Wisdom we read further, “I was beside [The LORD], like a master workman” (Proverbs 8:30a). With God himself, Wisdom was a workman to bring all created things into being. The longer Greek OT (Septuagint/LXX) says, “[Wisdom]… is the fashioner of all things” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:22) The Psalter summarizes this truth as it hymns, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all.” (Psalm 104:24)
It is no wonder Wisdom is further personified as the invisible God’s own image set forth to be “seen”. “[Wisdom] is the breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation from the glory of the Almighty…[Wisdom] is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness…” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:22, 25-26) The writer of Hebrews takes up this very language applying it to Jesus when he writes, “[God’s] Son…through whom also [God] created the world…is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:2-3)
Not only are we shown the personified, distinct, eternal, fashioning, imaged forth description of Wisdom, but we see intimacy via the delight of God in, and from, Wisdom. “I [Wisdom] was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always…” (Proverbs 8:30b) Wisdom was in the beginning with God fashioning all things, enjoying, and being enjoyed by, God.
Even as this Eternal, Powerful Wisdom is personified as distinct, still, Wisdom must somehow be consubstantial (of the same essence/nature), as well as co-eternal, with the one God – for there is but one God, and he has never been without Wisdom or Power.
Prebaptismal Wisdom of Jesus
Luke is sure to establish that Jesus was truly human. He is conceived of a woman and born as all children are. And this child is a son of David. “[T]he Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. (Luke 1: 32b) The fact that he seeks to establish such is enlightening. This is because Luke equally seeks to establish that Jesus is more than merely human. While Jesus is born as all children are, and though he was conceived of a woman, his conception was altogether unique. Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1: 31-32a, 35)
Considering another Davidic reference, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Messiah and his relationship to the Spirit of God like this, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1-3a) With this in mind, Luke is communicating that this Holy Spirit of the Wisdom of the Lord is the same Spirit who overshadowed Mary to conceive Jesus.
When Jesus is called the Son of the Most High, or the Son of God, in Luke, it is in a way that no other person can ever claim – and that claim isn’t just being a virginally begotten man. By God’s very own Spirit of Wisdom and Power, he brought forth his Son from a woman. Therefore, this Son literally is of God by nature.
It is not surprising then that among all who experience the Spirit of God in the opening chapters of Luke, Jesus experience is, again, unique. Elizabeth proclaimed in the Spirit (Luke 1:41). John filled (Luke 1:15) and leapt in the Spirit (Luke 1:44). Mary was overshadowed by the Spirit (Luke 1:35) and later prophesied (Luke 1:48b). Zachariah proclaimed in the Spirit (Luke 1:67). Simeon came in the Spirit (Luke 2:27). Anna spoke of Jesus (presumably in the Spirit [Luke 2:38]). It would follow then, if Jesus were just a man (even a virginally begotten man) that he would act in/by the Spirit as well.
While we do see Jesus ministry Spirit empowered after his baptism (Luke 3:22), in Luke’s Gospel (and only Luke’s Gospel) we see Jesus activity marked by wisdom as a child before he is anointed with the Holy Spirit. “After three days [his mother and Joseph] found [the 12 year old Jesus] in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46-47) Whatever wisdom Jesus expresses before his baptism is by virtue of being God’s Son conceived by the Holy Spirit of Wisdom and Power and residing in/on him from (at least) conception.
Personal Wisdom of Jesus
Though Jesus did learn, and ask, and thereby gained wisdom from the Holy Scriptures in his humanity (Luke 2:46-47), as we have seen, the Scriptures were not his only source of wisdom. Even from childhood, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature with God and man via his intimate and personal interaction with God as his true Father. And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:49, 52) In fact, returning to the Davidic theme, Jesus’ unique intimacy with God as Father produced such wisdom as to even surpass David’s son, Solomon. “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Luke 11:31) While wisdom was gifted to Solomon (1 Kings 3:5, 12), wisdom is not a gift to Jesus. By virtue of his Sonship, Jesus by nature has immediate access to the Wisdom of God; the Wisdom of, and by, which Solomon formerly spoke.
Jesus knew of the inner Wisdom of God in ways that surpass the constraints of temporal chronology. That is to say, Jesus had intimate knowledge of God’s inner Wisdom from before time and how it was to work in time. Says Jesus, “Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world…” (Luke 11:49-50) The sending of “prophets and apostles some of whom they will kill” speaks to the entire timeline of Israel up to, and past, the time of Jesus’ death. The phrase “so that” shows the purpose Wisdom has in sending them. The phrase “from the foundation of the world” shows how long Wisdom has had this in mind. All this, Jesus knows of, and for, himself.
Preexistent Personal Wisdom Who Took on Flesh
As we have seen, having revealed that he is greater than Solomon (Luke 11:31), Jesus reveals intimate knowledge of God’s inner Wisdom (Luke 11:49). What he further reveals in his statement is the Wisdom that Solomon had literarily personified as preexistent, is literally personally preexistent. “Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles …” (Luke 11:49) Notice, Jesus does not say “God said in his wisdom, ‘I will…” but rather, “the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will…” This is the language personhood, distinction and preexistence. Jesus manifests this particular personal Wisdom of God when he sends his seventy-two out declaring, “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:3)
Later, we find Jesus in the temple (Luke 20), having arrived to Jerusalem as was his goal. (Luke 9:51) He begins to be challenged by adversaries but succeeds in silencing them with his wisdom. “And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent…they no longer dared to ask him any question.” (Luke 20:26, 40) Yet, Jesus, hearkening back to the Davidic theme, breaks the silence with even more wisdom. “But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”” (Luke 20:41-44)
What is pertinent for us is the verb tense usage – it is past tense. In the original context of Psalm 110, this passage is certainly prophetic. But even there we must notice that it does not say, “The Lord will say (future tense) to my Lord” but rather “The Lord said (past tense) to my Lord”. The Christ of the God, the son of David, was in some sense, already David’s Lord and already enthroned while distinct from the Lord God who enthroned the Christ.
Luke has offered 2 brackets for our contemplation of Jesus as the Eternal Wisdom of God. The first bracket – as the Eternal Wisdom of God in the temple, Jesus amazes all who hear by showing that even as a child he already (past tense) possessed wisdom (Luke 2:46-47). The second bracket – as the Eternal Wisdom of God in the temple, Jesus silences adversaries by showing the Christ had already been (past tense) at the right hand of God as the Lord of David (Luke 20:41-44). So when Christ is called Lord at his birth (Luke 2:11), Luke is identifying him as the preexistent Lord of David who is the Wisdom and Power of God who is now born in the flesh.
Preexistent Personal Wisdom Who Took on Flesh for Our Salvation
In Jesus we see personified preexistent wisdom Solomon spoke of was actually a Person. And that Divine Person, though distinct from the Father, was Consubstantial and Co-Eternal with the Father. Jesus did not just posses godly wisdom; he was the Wisdom and Power of God in the flesh – and that, for our salvation. Why? For it is the foolishness of disbelief which has marked fallen humanity leading to death. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say…?”” (Genesis 3:1) It is in this ancestral temptation to disbelieve the Word and Wisdom of God that death came into the world. Ultimate disbelief is the acme of foolishness that leads to corruption and death. “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt…” (Psalm 14:1)
Therefore, to overcome the foolishness that led to death, Wisdom came and exercised wisdom in, and as, man so that man could be redeemed by the Wisdom and Power of God. As it is written, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. ” (Luke 23:46) In the ultimate act of wisdom, Jesus exercised love and trust in the Father. As Paul (from whom Luke learned) contemplates Jesus, and how God has worked salvation in the earth through the Cross, he declares, “Christ…the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24) In seeing Jesus, one sees the Wisdom and Power of God made manifest.
As the Troparion of the Nativity hymns, “Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom!” Therefore, let us, in true wisdom, fear the Lord who is Wisdom and give him glory. Christ is born! Glorify Him! Alleluia!