Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.
Jewish messianism is a concept study. The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod. 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16). Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.” Hence, we can conclude that “anointed one” was not used as a title with a capital “M” in the Old Testament.
Also, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah comes, he will do x, y, and z. However, most Jewish people think there is going to be a messianic age. Let me give an example:
The only way to define “the Messiah” is as the king who will rule during what we call the Messianic age. The central criterion for evaluating a Messiah must therefore be a single question: Has the Messianic age come? It is only in terms of this question that “the Messiah” means anything. What, then, does the Bible say about the Messianic age? Here is a brief description by famous Christian scholar: “The recovery of independence and power, an era of peace and prosperity, of fidelity to God and his law and justice and fair- dealing and brotherly love among men and of personal rectitude and piety” (G.F. Moore, Judaism, II, P 324). If we think about this sentence for just a moment in the light of the history of the last two thousand years, we will begin to see what enormous obstacles must be overcome if we are to believe in the messianic mission of Jesus. If Jesus was the Messiah, why have suffering and evil continued and even increased in the many centuries since his death.” (1)
“The state of the world must prove that the Messiah has come; not a tract. Don’t you think that when the Messiah arrives, it should not be necessary for his identity to be subject to debate – for the world should be so drastically changed for the better that it should be absolutely incontestable! Why should it be necessary to prove him at all? If the Messiah has come, why should anyone have any doubt?” (Rabbi Chaim Richman, available at http://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).
Remember: the Jewish Scriptures don’t reveal an explicit, fully disclosed, monolithic “messianic concept.” To build on the comments stated here, Stanley Porter says:
Intertestamental and New Testament literature suggests that the expectation was all over the map. Some Jewish people did not expect a Messiah. Others thought that the Messiah would be a priestly figure, still others a royal deliverer. Some scholars interpret the evidence to suggest that at least one group of Jewish thinkers believed there would be two messiahs, one priestly and one royal. From what we know we can be certain that the New Testament did not create the idea of the Messiah. But we can also be sure that there was nothing like a commonly agreed delineation of what the Messiah would be like. The latter point means that modern-day Christians who shake their heads about why the Jewish people did not universally recognize the Messiah, considering all the fulfilled prophecy, really do not understand Old Testament literature.-Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (McMaster New Testament Studies), 29.
Varied Messianic Expectations at the Time of Jesus
#1: The Davidic King Expectation
While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15). In other words, David’s line would eventually culminate in the birth of a specific person who will guarantee David’s dynasty, kingdom, and throne forever. Royal messianism is seen in the Psalms. For example, in Psalm 2 which is a coronation hymn, (similar to 2 Kings 11:12) is the moment of the king’s crowning. God tells the person to whom he is speaking that He is turning over the dominion and the authority of the entire world to Him (v 8). While David did have conquest of all the nations at that time, (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Amalek, which is described as the conquest “of all the nations” 1 Chron. 14:17; 18:11) in Psalm 2, one day God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne. (2)
In Psalm 89, the Davidic King will be elevated over the rivers and seas (v.24- 25) and is the most exalted ruler on earth (v. 27). He also will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings. As Israel went into the Babylonian captivity, the prophet Hosea says that Israel will be without a Davidic king for many days (Hosea 3:4).However, in the last days, God kept his promise of the Davidic covenant by rebuilding Israel which includes the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom (Isa.11:1–2; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11–12). The Davidic King will be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2) and would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is.7:14-17; 9:6-7;11:1-10), even though he is not spoken of specifically as “The Messiah.” Ezekiel also spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a “prince” and a “king” to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). There are other texts that speak of the Davidic King as the “Branch” who will reign and rebuild the temple and be a king-priest on His throne (Zech. 3:8; 6:12–15; Jer. 33:1–8, 21–22).
One of the most valuable resources that speak to the Messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms that are part of the Pseudepigrapha which is written 200 BC to 200 A.D. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon, they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information about the messianic expectations at the time of Jesus. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling Messiah:
Taught by God, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in G-d. He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)
Even though this is one expectation in the Second Temple Period, it is not the most prominent one in the New Testament.
#2: A Transcendent Messiah/The Son of Man
“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. First of all, “Son of Man ” is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, the Son of Man was to suffer and die and rise from the dead (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). Third, the Son of Man would serve an eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31). In other words, there is a correlation between the returning Son of Man and the judgment of God.
The term “Son of Man” in the time of Jesus was a most emphatic reference to the Messiah (Dan. 7:13-14). The title reveals divine authority. In the trial scene in Matthew 26:63-64, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Dan. 7:13 and Ps. 110:1 to Himself. Jesus’ claim that he would not simply be entering into God’s presence, but that he would actually be sitting at God’s right side was the equivalent to claiming equality with God. By Jesus asserting He is the Son of Man, he was exercising the authority of God.
As Randall Price notes:
“ The concept of the Messiah as a “son of man” after the figure in Daniel 7:13 is expressed in a section of the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch known as Similitudes, which has been argued to have a date as early as 40 B.C. It should be noted that scholars have found in Similitudes four features for this figure: (1) it refers to an individual and is not a collective symbol, (2) it is clearly identified as the Messiah, (3) the Messiah is preexistent and associated with prerogatives traditionally reserved for God, and (4) the Messiah takes an active role in the defeat of the ungodly. New Testament parallels with Similitudes (e.g., Matt. 19:28 with 1 Enoch 45:3 and Jn. 5:22 with 1 Enoch 61:8) may further attest to a mutual dependence on a common Jewish messianic interpretation (or tradition) based on Daniel’s vision.” (3)
#3: A Miracle Working Messiah
Even though miracles are often overlooked in the traditional messianic expectation (as in the article I posted), it is evident that Jewish people at the time of Jesus did look for signs/miracles to accompany the Messiah’s work. In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43). In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. But if the kingdom is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”- Luke 4: 18-19
Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in the Luke 4 text:
“He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (4)
Also, Paul says:
“ For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24
Paul notes here about how Jews demand signs. While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.
“Sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does, 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod. 4: 1-9). In the exchange between Nicodemus said to Jesus, Nicodemus said, We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). Also, the signs of Jesus are part of the apostolic preaching:
#4: A Prophetic Messiah
Moses and Jesus both claim to speak the words of God. It is also evident at the time of Jesus, that Jewish people were looking for a prophet like Moses. For example:
The people said, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” (John 7:40)
Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)
John the Baptist began to preach, he was asked, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-23).
Also, Peter refers to Jesus as the prophet of Deut. 18:15-18:
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.—Acts 3: 17-24
Peter is referring to the Deut.18: 15-18 text:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).
We see in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority. Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent from God. In response, Moses defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have. Moses says, ” Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord” (Num.16:28).
As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:
So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7: 16-18)
So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world. (John 8:26)
For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12: 49-50).
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:24).
For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8).
Also, while actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God. Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that the “signs” will confirm his call:
God says, “I will be with you. And this will be אוֹת “the sign” to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
“If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exod 4: 8-9).
We see the signs are used to help people believe.
Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)
“Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)
#5: A Priestly Messiah
The priest (Heb. cohanim) was anointed in his role as a mediator between God and the Jewish people because of his ability make to make atonement (Lev.4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31). There are implicit passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a priestly aspect of the Messiah (Hag:1:12-14; 2:2-4; 20-23; Zech:3:6-10;4:2-5,11-14). In the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus was convinced there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22). The Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4.
As Harvey E. Finley says:
Psalm 110:4 reads: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” This is a royal psalm. Two significant points are made about the One who is to sit at God’s right hand. First, the order of Melchizedek is declared to be an eternal order. Second, this announcement is sealed with God’s oath. Neither of these affirmations applied to the Aaronic order of priesthood. As with Melchizedek, Jesus was without the ancestral, genealogical credentials necessary for the Aaronic priesthood ( Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 7:13; Hebrews 7:16), he was also before Aaron and the transitory, imperfect law and Levitical priesthood ( Hebrews 7:11-12; Hebrews 7:17-18 ; 8:7 ). Melchizedek, Aaron, and his descendants all died, preventing them from continuing in office ( 7:3). Jesus has been exalted to a permanent priesthood by his resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God in the heaven (8:1). (5)
#6: A Suffering Messiah
Despite the fact that the are a variety of Messianic expectations, I think Jesus is the most likely candidate to fulfill all six of the ones mentioned here.
- David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod, “Jews and Jewish Christianity” A Jewish Response to the Missionary Challenge (Toronto: Jews for Judaism, 2002), 20; cited in Oskar Skarsaune, In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 302.
- Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 80.
- See The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament at http://www.worldofthebible.com/Bible%20Studies/The%20Concept%20…;
- Evans, C.A., and P. W. Flint, Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997). Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran.
- Harvey E. Finley, “Melchizedek” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996).