A biography of Jesus that begins with the New Testament is backward. It’s putting last things first. That would be like writing the story of Abraham Lincoln by starting on the night both he and John Wilkes Booth entered Ford’s Theatre.
The Son of God has a life and a history long before he changed his address to Mary’s womb.
So, where do we begin? We could talk about his divine nature, before the beginning of time. Or we might kick things off with creation, where he was the Father’s right-hand man. But one obvious place to pick up the story early on is Genesis 3.
In that chapter, for the first of many times, we learn something that will be expanded upon from Genesis onward: Christ is the crusher of skulls. He’s the warrior God whom you want on your side in a fight. He’s no soft and goofily grinning Buddy Jesus. No sweet and sappy, romanticized and Disneyfied, cartoonish Christ. He is ferocious, free, untamed, and heaven-bent on not leaving the battlefield until the war is won and he makes his enemies a footstool for his feet.
God’s enemies end up as corpses with seriously fractured skulls.
Granted, this is not the typical image of Jesus. On the wall of your Sunday School classroom, for instance, there’s most likely a picture of an oddly Caucasian-looking Jesus, with long shampooed hair, a neatly trimmed beard, gently cuddling a baby lamb. Chances are, however, there’s not a picture of a wild-eyed, sword-bearing, veteran Israelite warrior with a crushed skull beneath his feet.
But maybe there should be.
If we are to gain a fuller and fiercer biblical biography of the Lord of our salvation, then we need to turn to the first two-thirds of the Bible. In particular, let’s focus on a theme that originates in Genesis, is fleshed out in Israel’s history, and makes its way into the psalms: that God’s enemies end up as corpses with seriously fractured skulls. We might call it the Gospel of Head Crushing.
The Gospel of Head Crushing
The story begins with the sly and slithering serpent of seduction. His head, God says, will be crushed by the seed [Hebrew: zera] of the woman (Gen. 3:15). Zera, which means seed or descendant, will narrow down from the seed of the woman, finally to the seed of the specific woman named Mary.
This first vocational description of the Seed, the Messiah, is that he’s a head-crusher.
The Old Testament paints various portraits of this destructive work by using people doing Christ-like things as a preview of what’s to come. And, boy oh boy, do we find lots of cranium-crushing portraits in the songs and stories of Israel. Here’s a mere sampling:
A Forehead-Crushing Star: Balaam prophesies the Star of Jacob who will “crush the forehead of Moab” (Numbers 24:17). This is the Christ, the “bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16), the skull-crusher of Israel’s ancient enemies.
The Hammer-Wielding Jael: Jael, most blessed of women (Judges 5:24), herself a Gentile and unlikely ally of Israel, takes a hammer in one hand and a tent peg in the other. She sneaks up on Sisera, the archenemy of God’s people, and pounds that stake through his brain and into the ground, as he lies there like a sleeping snake (4:17-22).
Beware the Millstone Woman: After Abimelech murdered his 70 brothers, God used an anonymous woman atop a tower to smash his head and thus repay his wickedness. She “threw an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull” (Judges 9:53).
Goliath’s Headache: The shepherd and future king, David, slung a stone into the forehead of the giant Philistine foe of Israel, then decapitated him (1 Sam 17:49-51). In so doing, David demonstrated what the Son of David and Shepherd of Israel himself would do.
Preachers and Poets: The prophets and psalms say their Amen to this same sermon-on-repeat. We read of crown-wearing heads trodden underfoot (Isa. 28:3); God’s storm bursting upon the head of the wicked (Jer. 23:19; cf. 30:23); and crushing the head of the house of the wicked (Hab. 3:13). God’s defeat of Egypt at the Red Sea is described with imagery borrowed from ancient mythology: “You broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan” (Ps. 74:13-14).
What’s the takeaway from all this violence? The divinely chosen skull-crushers of the Old Testament are each a mask of the Messiah, destroying enemies who themselves are the mask of the true Menace. Together they’re writing Christ’s bio. Each victory adds a few more lines to the story of God’s Son. He’s using each one to shape his narrative, to let us know what to expect when he shows up on the battlefield as true God and true man, come to deal a decisive blow to the skull of the serpent once and for all.
The Reddened Heel
God’s Son appeared to Joshua as “the commander of the armies of the Lord” (Josh. 5:14). His sword was unsheathed. He was a man of war. Long after, when he was born among us as the Son of Mary, he did not change vocations. He came for blood. He came for battle. He came to redden his heel with the blood of the enemy.
The serpent signed his own death certificate with venomous ink.
This seed of Eve, long before promised, came to wage war with evil. And a long, fierce, bloody, and horrendous fight it was. The serpent swooped in as a dragon to eat up God’s Son even as he lay a babe in Bethlehem (Rev. 12:1-6). He hounded him as the tempter in the wilderness of Judea. He mocked and scoffed at him with his hordes of demons who had overpowered their human victims. And, finally, using corrupt religious leaders and godless Romans, he sank his fangs into the heel of the Messiah, shooting his hellish venom of death deep into the veins of the crucified commander of the armies of the Lord.
Ah, but fool that he was, the serpent signed his own death certificate with venomous ink. For as he struck the heel, that heel also struck him. Down, down, hard it fell. Like a millstone from the hand of a woman atop a tower. Like a tent peg driven by hammer blows. Like a stone slung from a sling. Down came that heel, with all the muscle of divine love behind it, flattening the head that first hissed its lies in Eden.
And where are we on the heels of this battle? We are now free. Goliath is dead. Sisera is dead. Moab’s forehead is crushed. All because the Warrior of God, in his ferocious, free, and untamed love went to battle for us.
This is the Gospel of Head-Crushing. The Gospel of our salvation. For us and our liberation, the Messiah has come to make peace by leaving a crushed snake skull rotting on the ground at the foot of Golgotha while he marches forth from an empty tomb to claim us as his victory prize.