« Ancient Manuscript Sheds New Light? | Main | Cadbury Christians »

April 09, 2006


I think that saying that this was a 'common expectation' has the argument backwards. That was what 'Messiah' _meant_ at the time. Saying that it was a 'common expectation' is like telling someone that a square object is circular, then responding to their objections by telling them that it's just a common expectation that circles should be round and you have to welcome shapes as they are and not as what you want them to be.

The reason we refer to square objects as square instead of round isn't because of our common expectations, it's because the words 'square' and 'round' mean particular things and need to be used appropriately if we expect other people to have any hope of understanding us. Similarly, the term 'Messiah' had a particular set of meanings within the language and culture of that time, and people who interpreted the term thusly weren't being misled by 'common expectations' - they were going by what the word actually meant.

I'm not sure a "political" Messiah was the only reasonable expectation for the Jews of that time period. For example, part of the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53:11b says: "by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities."

Even before the Christians arrived, there was a teaching that individual hearts (not just countries or governments) needed to be reformed.

I'd definitely agree that there was a teaching that individual hearts needed reforming - the prophets are full of verses supporting this. (I'm less sure that Isaiah 53 was relevant - I know the majority view has always been that it refers to the suffering of the Jewish people, and I'm not sure whether or not anyone thought it to be a Messianic prophecy prior to Jesus. If they did, then it would have been very much a minority view.)

However, that's by-the-by - it isn't an either-or. The term 'the Messiah' (as opposed to 'a messiah', which was a general term used for any anointed king) was used, at the time, to the king mentioned in Isaiah 11 and similar passages that foretold a wonderful future for the Jewish race, on earth. The point wasn't so much the figure himself, but what he symbolised - the fact that the Jews would then be living in these marvellous utopian conditions of peace and prosperity (the Messianic Age).

Opinions differed as to what else this Messiah would do apart from rule during the Messianic Age (for example, some people believed he would be a war leader who would be instrumental in overthrowing the enemies of the Jewish people and bringing about this age - others believed that God would do all this and that the Messiah would simply emerge to rule once the enemies were all smited) but the basic belief was that the Messiah would be the king ruling during those wonderful times described. That was what the term 'Messiah' (literally meaning 'anointed') was used to refer to. Anyone who didn't end up ruling in such circumstances wasn't, by definition, the Messiah.

I agree that Isaiah 11 and other OT passages indicate a Messiah with earthly power.

However, again, I don't think it is the only possible reasonable OT view. (I don't believe I indicated an "either-or" before.)

For example, Daniel 9:20-27 clearly talks about _The_ Annointed One. The fate for the Messiah here ("[He] will be cut off and will have nothing") is not consistent with a view of the Messiah that draws only from Isaiah 11 and the like.

I'm sure that given the suffering of the exile and from her various nefarious rulers, Israel certainly longed for a political Messiah. However, their own scriptures did not support this expectation unambiguously. An honest reading of the scriptures would have told a first-century Jew that the coming King would be more than a Samson.

I don't think they had an excuse for expecting only a political Messiah (and that's the point I think Melinda was making).

Finally, it's my understanding that for the first 1000 years after Jesus, the Jewish view of the Suffering Servant passage was that it referred to a person, not the nation of Israel. Why the opinion then changed is another interesting discussion. But the Jews of the first century certainly had a person in view for the Suffering Servant. See, e.g.:


Hi - thanks for continuing the discussion! I don't know that that's an accurate translation of Daniel 9:26 - from what I've read, it does just say 'messiah', with no 'the'.

More to the point, Israel didn't _only_ expect a political Messiah - there were all sorts of differing expectations as to the details of what the Messiah would do. But, ultimately, regardless of what else people believed the Messiah would or wouldn't do, the term was used to apply to the passages referring to a king ruling over Israel's golden age of peace. That was what it meant. Anyone who did not do that was, by definition, not the Messiah, regardless of what else they did or didn't do.

The comments to this entry are closed.