Everyone loves the idea of new beginnings, as well as that of a life well lived. These two ideas form the backbone of the movie Groundhog Day, which is one of the most beloved comedies in all of Hollywood history. While an initial sense of frustration settles into the mind as one watches Bill Murray relive the same day over and over again, the recapitulation is what enables his character to become the man that he had failed to be and to become the man that he needs to become in order to gain the blessing of a life well lived. This, it seems to me, also captures quite nicely the idea of recapitulation in Scripture as it pertains to Jesus as the true Israel—the One who recapitulates Israel’s history in order to do what Israel failed to do and gain the blessing of a life perfectly lived before God.
The idea of recapitulation first occurs in Scripture in the mini exodus that Abraham experienced during the time of his sojourning. In Genesis 12:10–20, Abram went down into Egypt in order to avoid a famine, and he and his family experienced a sort of oppression there. God then plagued the king of Egypt and brought Abram out of Egypt. This served as a prelude to the great act of deliverance that God promised to provide for Abraham’s descendants—old covenant Israel—in bringing His people out of their bondage in Egypt. Israel went down into Egypt in the days of Joseph and later experienced oppression there. In the days of Moses, God then plagued the king of Egypt and brought His people out with great provisions by His sovereign power. When the prophets reflect on the great works of God, this is the greatest event to which they direct our minds and hearts. Through the ministry of Hosea, God reminds Israel of this special act of deliverance and love when He says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son” (Hos. 11:1). What had happened to Abraham happened to the descendants of Abraham.
In the next act of recapitulation, Matthew takes Hosea 11:1 and explains its meaning in light of the life and ministry of Jesus. Fleeing from the oppressive wrath of Herod, Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus—the Son of Abraham—down into Egypt. God then brought them back up out of Egypt to live in the Promised Land (Matt. 2:14–15). Old covenant Israel was God’s beloved Son in a typical and in a corporate sense (Ex. 4:22); Jesus is God’s beloved Son in an eternal and particular sense. When Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, Luke tells us, “they spoke with Him about His departure [translating the same Greek word for ‘exodus’] which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). Jesus had to relive Israel’s history in order to bring about the spiritual reality of what the original exodus typified.