Image via WikipediaIn my study of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), I use the New Exodus theme from the “Fifth Gospel,” the Old Testament book of Isaiah, as a unifying theory or framework for all three Synoptic Gospels, with Mark giving the broad New Exodus framework, with Matthew adding the special dimension of the New Moses as Lawgiver and Teacher, and with Luke adding the special dimension of the New Moses as Liberator from oppression. The New Exodus theme is Isaiah's message that God will again intervene to deliver and renew Israel as He did in the first Exodus under Moses.
In Mark, this broad New Exodus framework is the theme that Jesus the Messiah/the King, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the prophet, the Suffering Servant is initiating a New Exodus to restore God’s rule in the face of oppression and alienation, both spiritual and physical, and that ultimately this New Exodus will include the Gentiles. This New Exodus theme is announced in the very first chapter of Mark in his quotation of Isaiah 40 and by his beginning his gospel with the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness precisely at the Jordan River.
In the Isaian New Exodus (especially from "Second" Isaiah Chapters 40-66), we can see a journey from the nations (the Gentiles), specifically from the Jewish exile in Babylon, a journey that ends in a new, restored Jerusalem, a new Zion.
Likewise, in all of the Synoptic Gospels, we see the basic framework of a journey made by Jesus beginning in Galilee of the Gentiles and ending in Jerusalem where salvation is accomplished. This New Exodus journey mimics the First Exodus from Gentile Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The New Exodus also looks back even earlier to the journey in faith of Abraham from the Gentile area of Mesopotamia into the future Promised Land—in fact, Abraham’s path is the same one that the returning Jewish exiles from Babylon will take in order to return to Jerusalem in the time of Second and Third Isaiah. The Exodus theme is also replicated when Joshua and the Israelites cross the parting waters of the Jordan River to finally enter the Promised Land from the wilderness after 40 years—the same approximate geographic location where Mark begins his gospel with John the Baptist.
In Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, the Church then begins to spread from Jerusalem to bring all the nations to worship the one true God in fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision of all nations worshiping in Zion. Paul self-consciously views himself as carrying out this Isaian mission to the Gentiles, most concretely as he collects money as an offering to the poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
Thus, the entire arc of salvation history from the Old Testament to the Gospels to the remainder of the New Testament can and may be visualized as a rereading of the Exodus story and its reenactment in new circumstances: Abraham (foreshadowing the first Exodus in the book of Genesis), the first Exodus of Moses out of Egypt, the second Exodus of Joshua (the Hebrew form of the name “Jesus”) into the Promised Land, the Isaian New Exodus in which the exiled Jews look forward to restoration in Jerusalem under God’s rule, the New Exodus finally and definitively inaugurated by Jesus and which culminates in the saving events that took place in Jerusalem, and, in the age of the Church, the continuation of Jesus’ New Exodus through evangelization as all the nations are being gathered to eventually worship the one true God in the new Jerusalem envisioned in the book of Revelation. Thus, the New Exodus theme spans the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Note also that the word “Exodus” is the Greek word (exodos) for a “going out.” We are, as individuals, pilgrims; each of us is a homo viator—a person who is a wayfarer, who is always going out toward somewhere. Peoples and nations are always wayfarers, as was Abraham in Genesis, as was Israel under Moses in the book of Exodus, as was Israel under Joshua going out of the wilderness, as were the Jewish exiles going out of Babylon back to Jerusalem in the time of Second Isaiah. The early Christians in Acts “go out” from Jerusalem until Paul reaches Rome itself. The entire cosmos itself, as described in the book of Revelation, “goes out” from under the power of evil and reaches fulfillment in the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-2).
In the Gospels, we see Jesus “going out” from Nazareth journeying to Jerusalem and eventually “going out” of the tomb so that we too can “go out.” There is the heart of the New Exodus theme that points backward and forward in time, in grand unity, to the other books of the Bible.
Note: The references to a "Second" Isaiah arise from the scholarly convention of designating in this way Chapters 40-55 of the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah. This portion is given a special designation because scholars believe that Chapters 40-55 arose at or about the time of the end of the Babylonian exile of the Jews. Some scholars also posit a "Third" Isaiah, somewhat later in time, in Chapters 56-66.
(For the New Exodus theme, I am especially indebted to the book by Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Baker Academic, 1997, and to some of the writings of N.T. Wright.)