The Old Testament text [Genesis 32:22-30] for this Sunday is memorable. It certainly makes you think, especially when the title is something like ‘Jacob wrestles with God (see the ESV)’.
That sort of title invites us to make a guess as to who is going to win the wrestling match. But the story does not turn out as you might expect—and some people say the same thing about the life of Jesus.
For someone to wrestle with God is certainly unique. And Jacob not only wrestles with God, but God looks like a man. (Jacob says that he ‘saw God face to face’ in verse 30.) That gets people starting to talk about Jesus again, the Second Person of the Trinity. He was the appointed messenger to come from the Father’s throne. And so, you might call this ‘Jesus makes an early appearance’.
The typical point of the angel of the LORD showing up is that he has some kind of message to give. The word ‘angel’ means messenger. Sometimes when that angel appears, there is also a miracle. But in this text, we not only have a miracle, but it is a miracle with some significant ramifications, up to the present—literally.
The two wrestled for a long time, and then the ‘man’ touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and dislocated it (see verse 25). The biblical text also says this somewhat unique fact: ‘Therefore TO THIS DAY the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh (emphasis added; verse 32).’
That miracle had significant ramifications, up to the present day that the text was written. And, because of that fact, I see this manifestation of God (and one may think of this being a manifestation of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son) as a manifestation that may be connected to the Gospel according to John. As that ‘man’ did something that affected the present day of the writer; Jesus, that miraculous messenger man, did something to make an effect on our present day, and that effect was recorded with that special perspective.
The Gospel according to John is the only gospel account where the writer speaks to those in the present. John did not say that he was writing these things so that ‘future Christians’ would believe. He wrote: ‘…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:31).’ With these words, the writer is connecting the significant ramifications of Jesus’ actions to the present day.
You might say that the word ‘written’ in that verse has a hidden meaning that supports this perspective. If you are interested in grammar (not many people are—congratulations if you are one of the very few!), the verb tense is called the ‘perfect’ tense. The focus in this tense is on the result of the action. In terms of time, in one grammar book it says that the ‘focus is on a current condition, the present result of a past action (the italics are in the original; James Voelz, Fundamental Greek Grammar, fourth edition, page 151).’
Although this verb tense is in other places, it is also at the beginning of this gospel account, at the start of the very first quotation. See John 1:15: (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) Although this is not clear in the translation, the crying out (loud) of John the Baptist is in that perfect tense, with the focus on the present.
I do not think it is a coincidence that this verse is also the first time in which the writer has chosen to use the historical present. Literally, the first words of that verse are this: ‘John bears witness….’ There is a double emphasis within this verse that the present is an important time. (The other accounts also use historical presents, but they use them in different ways than this account. Also, this gospel account emphasizes the word ‘answer’ more than the other accounts, and that is a word which is based on the meaning of ‘to turn toward’, as if, at that time, someone is turning toward God, but I can write about that some other time.)
If that were not enough, the unique ‘I am’ statements of Jesus within this gospel account also make a statement in the present. When Jesus says something like, ‘I am the light of the world’, etc., that is true for ALL time.
How did I get on the topic of the present when I started with the oldest book of the bible? We have the same, loving Lord, all the way through.