Read an Excerpt
Learning from Jesus
Expecting the Messiah
Key Scripture: Luke 3:1-17
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew
It would be impossible to exaggerate the import of the word Messiah among faithful Jews. The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 confirm that the Qumran community imminently expected a Messiah-like figure, setting aside an empty seat for him each day at the sacred meal. Audacious as it may be to dream that a tiny province wedged in among great powers would produce a worldwide ruler, nonetheless Jews believed just that. They staked their future on a king who would lead their nation back to glory.
During Jesus' lifetime, revolt was in the air. Pseudo-messiahs periodically emerged to lead rebellions, only to be crushed in ruthless crackdowns. To take just one example, a prophet known as "the Egyptian" attracted multitudes into the wilderness where he proclaimed that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall; the Roman governor sent a detachment of soldiers after them and killed four thousand of the rebels.
When another report spread that the long-awaited prophet had turned up in the desert, crowds flocked to see the wild man dressed in camel skin. "I am not the Christ [Messiah]," insisted John the Baptist, who then proceeded to raise hopes even higher by speaking in exalted terms of one who would soon appear. John's question of Jesus, "Are you the one who was to come, or shall we expect someone else?" was in a real sense the question of the age, whispered everywhere.
Every Hebrew prophet had taught that someday God would install his kingdom onearth, and that is why rumors about the "Son of David" so inflamed Jewish hopes. God would prove in person that he had not forsaken them. He would, as Isaiah had cried, "rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!?.?.?. come down to cause the nations to quake before you."
But let us be honest. When the one John pointed to arrived on the scene, neither the mountains trembled nor the nations quaked. Jesus did not come close to satisfying the lavish hopes of the Jews. The opposite happened: within a generation Roman soldiers razed Jerusalem to the ground.1
My Life with God Exercise
Philip Yancey, a Chris tian, writes that Jesus didn't fulfill the "lavish hopes" of the Jews. As a way to understand the religious and political milieu into which Jesus was born, we will try to examine the Jewish expectations for the Messiah. The word Messiah means simply "anointed one." We find the word applied in Scripture to kings of Israel, such as Saul, David, and Solomon. But after the Davidic line was broken and the nation of Israel exiled into Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, the prophets of the day, Isaiah and Jeremiah, and others, began to speak of a time when God would restore his people through a king in the line of David. In the book of Daniel, we find the first specific mention of a "Messiah" or "anointed prince" (9:25) associated with this expected restoration. As Yancey writes, by the time of Jesus, not only were the Jewish people expecting the Messiah to come at any moment, but they had very high expectations for what this Messiah was to accomplish. According to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, the Jewish people expect the Messiah to "be a descendant of King David, gain sovereignty over the land of Israel, gather the Jews there from the four corners of the earth, restore them to full observance of Torah law, and, as a grand finale, bring peace to the whole world."2
To better familiarize ourselves with the Messiah expected by the Jews, we will read some of the Scriptures commonly interpreted as predicting the coming of the Messiah. Over the next week, read these Scriptures and consider how they support Rabbi Telushkin's five criteria: Isaiah 2:2-4; 9:6-7; 11:1-12; 16:4b-5; 22:22-23; 27:12-13; 52:13; 56:8; 60:4-5; 61:4-6; Jeremiah 23:5-8; 31:31-34; 33:14-17; Micah 5:2-5a; Zechariah 9:9-10. Also look for additional characteristics the Messiah is to have. It might be helpful to list the five criteria as column heads on a notepad and copy down phrases or chapter and verse references for the various points. Do the same for any additional characteristics of the Messiah that you find in the Scripture passages.
What did you learn about the kind of Messiah the Jews expect? How did this fit with your own ideas about Jesus?
Scripture Reading: Luke 3:1-17
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."Learning from Jesus. Copyright (c) by . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.