Jesus the Messiah is a basic, non-technical introduction to the life of Christ, carefully tracing His life and works as evidence of the truth of His claims and of the firm convictions of the early Christiansan inspirational study of Christ's life.
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About the Author
Donald Guthrie, B.D., M.Th., Ph.D., who died in 1992, was professor of New Testament Language and Literature at London (England) Bible College and a member of the International Society for New Testament Studies. He was the author of many books including The Apostles, Jesus the Messiah, and New Testament Introduction.
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Jesus the Messiah
By Donald Guthrie
ZondervanCopyright © 1982 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAnnouncements and a Herald's Birth
Introducing the coming one
Not everyone in the ancient world was familiar with the idea of a special person who was to come, known by the Jews as the Messiah. The Jews had many ideas about what kind of person He should be and what He should do, but the non-Jewish world would have been largely mystified by the term "Messiah." Especially was this true of those whose thinking was influenced by Greek culture. This widespread culture also affected some of the Jews who lived away from Palestine. The Greek world had other terms to describe the link between deity and man - more abstract terms such as Logos, Light, Life, and Truth. Anyone presenting the Jewish Messiah to the Gentile world of the first century would first have to show His relevance to current Greek thought. This is exactly what John did at the beginning of his gospel.
One of the most learned Jews who lived at the same time as Jesus was Philo of Alexandria. In his writings he attempted to show the close connection between Jewish and Greek culture. His favorite term for describing the means by which God maintained contact with the world was Logos (Reason or Word). John took over this term in introducing Jesus Christ to his readers; but he went beyond Philo's use of it, for the Alexandrian never used it of a person. John, however, saw Jesus as the complete fulfillment of what Philo was groping for.
In the introduction to his gospel, John includes the pre-existence and deity of Christ. He affirms that Jesus, whose teachings and acts he was going to describe, is God, the Creator, and Light and Life of the world. One might think such comments should have been left to the end, to be drawn as conclusions from what Jesus actually did and said. Most writers would have arranged it that way. But John made it clear at the beginning that the person he was introducing is no ordinary man. He was introducing the perfect link between God and man. When he said that the Word became flesh he was saying what Philo never would have said. Philo would have rejected the idea completely. Most men consider it incredible that God could become man. Why, then, begin a gospel introducing Jesus Christ with ideas most men find incredible? For John the answer was clear. He knew that no real sense could be made of the life of Jesus if He were treated as no more than an ordinary man. He knew that if Jesus were not understood to be God, what He did and said would become increasingly incredible. This fact must be faced at the outset - Jesus the Messiah cannot be understood by ordinary human standards.
John well knew that many would not accept his starting point for the story of Jesus. He himself had no doubt that the Light had shone, but he equally recognized the dense darkness around him. He considered that any light a man has may be traced to Jesus, who for John is the true Light that has come into the world. Nevertheless, neither the world at large nor the Jewish people received Him. John thus gave a preview of the general reaction of people toward the Messiah. He did not want anyone to think that he was about to relate a success story in the popular sense of the term. Rather, he was presenting a Messiah who challenged men to believe in Him. John's purpose was to give people the assurance at the beginning that if they believe that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, they themselves will become children of God. The whole purpose of the gospel records is to make clear what this means. It sums up the mission of Jesus.
John's towering concept of Jesus is evident from his experience of having seen His glory, which he further described as being the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father. Moreover, he saw Him as the source of all grace and truth. Again, one might think this a strange way to begin a gospel. What John wrote means little to those who know nothing of Jesus. However, when it is borne in mind that he had come to believe in Jesus in a special way, his language becomes intelligible. He placed his mature reflections about Jesus at the beginning. The other gospel accounts do not begin on so exalted a plane, but their portraits of Jesus the Messiah require such an explanation as John gives. None of the evangelists intended to write a biography of Jesus in the strict historical sense. John made his own purpose perfectly clear - that men may come to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God (John 20:31). The Jesus that John and the other evangelists present is one in whom men could and did come to believe. Anyone attempting to write a life of Jesus from any other perspective will be faced with a dearth of data, since all the records have a missionary slant. A historical account of the acts and words of Jesus is valuable only if it is geared to its theological purpose.
Announcing the birth of a herald Luke 1:5-14 The Messiah did not come unannounced. A coming king must have at least one attendant. It was customary for oriental monarchs to have a special herald to make way for them, but why should this apply to God's Messiah? Could not the heavens be suddenly opened and a heavenly voice announce to the world His mission? Such a method would have led men to think that His mission was designed to be spectacular. God chose otherwise; a human forerunner was selected. The herald's task was an honored one, and it would surely be expected that some notable person would be selected - yet God's choice fell on one among the lowly. The herald was to be born of humble stock.
The first hint of his coming was given to his father in unusual circumstances. On an October morning, Zechariah, a country priest on his half-yearly turn of duty in the Temple at Jerusalem, and the other priests on duty were gathered to await the casting of lots that would determine which of them would have the honor of offering the incense. This highly coveted privilege was never granted to a priest more than once in his lifetime. Zechariah, now an old man, must have long hoped that the privilege would fall to him. Probably fifty others waited with him, all moved with the same expectancy. That day the lot fell to Zechariah.
No one more deserved the honor. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who also belonged to a priestly family, were well-known for their religious integrity and sincerity. They loved the commandments of God and sought to live in harmony with them. There was, however, one ground for reproach. They had never had a child and Jewish society disdained barrenness. They had for many years longed for a child, but had long since given up hope. They had reconciled themselves to being childless. It is most unlikely that any thoughts of their affliction occupied the mind of Zechariah that day in the Temple, except as desires long suppressed - as dormant prayers as yet unanswered.
As Zechariah stood alone in the Holy Place in front of the altar of incense, he became aware of another presence. It was not a fellow priest, for no one but the chosen representative for that service would dare to enter. Standing at the right of the altar was a heavenly visitor, whom the evangelist later named as the angel of the Lord. His presence overwhelmed Zechariah, as all men are overwhelmed in the face of the mysterious. He had probably never heard any fellow priest report seeing so extraordinary a vision while offering the Temple incense. He was afraid until the angel spoke. Zechariah may have heard of similar heavenly appearances to Simon the Just and to Ishmael, son of Elisha, but why should this visitation be made to him?
Excerpted from Jesus the Messiah by Donald Guthrie Copyright © 1982 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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