Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Messianic Task

As of today, one of the main objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. For the Jewish community, the messianic idea is somewhat pragmatic. In other words,“What difference does the Messiah make in the world?" For the Jewish community, there are prophetic passages that discuss God manifesting his kingdom in the world by presenting himself as the King (Isa. 24:23; Zech. 9:9; 14:9). The Messiah is also supposed to enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Isa.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Micah 5:4-6) and usher in worldwide peace (Isa. 2:1-22; Micah 4:1-4). Hence, since the enemies of God and Israel have not been defeated, death is not destroyed and the world is in a state of chaos, the Jewish community continues to object to the assertion that Jesus is the Messiah that is foretold in the Tanakh.

The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah ,”which appears thirty-nine times in the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was the official title for Jesus within the New Testament. Within the Tanakh, the term “Messiah” was used in a general sense in relationship to kings, priests, and prophets. God would “anoint” people for specific tasks. In the context of kings and prophets, David was anointed by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 16:13), as well as the king of Judah (2 Sam 2:4).

Later, since God allowed David to be anointed as the king of Israel (2 Sam 5:3), David fulfilled both the role of both prophet and king. King Saul and Moses are two biblical figures that play a role in understanding the role of the Messiah. During his failed position as king, Saul had also been called the anointed one of the Lord (1 Sam 16:13). Moses, in his leadership role to Israel, was anointed by God in his role as a prophet and priest. He spoke as a prophet (Deut 18:20), but he also fulfilled the role of a priest or mediator for Israel in passages such as Numbers 11:11-21.
Furthermore, it is crucial to realize that the Tanakh does not explicitly teach that the Messiah comes once. Furthermore, it is imperative to read all the messianic passages about the Messiah. In the first century, the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic.

In looking at the messianic task of Jesus, His work is broken up into a series of stages:

1. The Messianic King was presented at John’s baptism (Matt. 3:1-17). In other words, this is when He was consecrated for the messianic task.

2. The actions of Jesus/His Miracles: A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatural but not anti-natural. If a miracle occurs, it is not the violation or contradiction of the ordinary laws of cause and effect, but rather a new effect produced by the introduction of a supernatural cause. Natural law describes naturally caused regularities; a miracle is a supernaturally caused singularity. Miracles in the Bible are connected directly or indirectly with “truth claims.” They are ways to tell a true prophet from a false prophet (Deut. 18:22). They confirm the truth of God through the servant of God (Heb. 2:3–4). A miracle is the sign that confirms the sermon. Message and miracle go hand-in-hand. Miracles have a distinctive purpose: to glorify the Creator and to provide evidence for people to believe by accrediting the message of God through the prophet of God. (1)

The book of Matthew records that some Pharisees and teachers of the law still demanded a confirming sign: “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” Jesus refused on this day, not because miracles did not constitute a sign of his identity, but because the question was asked in contempt and unbelief. Instead, Jesus announced that soon they would have the greatest confirming sign of all: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt. 12:38–39). Just as Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days, so Jesus was in the grave and then returned to life. He offered the miraculous sign of his resurrection as proof that he was the Jewish Messiah. John sent messengers to ask Jesus whether he was the Messiah. “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor’ ” (Luke 7:20–22).

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “ ‘Rabbi, 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 3:1–2). In his great sermon on Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).(2)

As Howard Kee, specialist in the study of Gospel miracles says, "The OT Judaism God is the one who heals all of Israel's diseases. Jesus in effect takes God's place as the healer of Israel." Jesus' authority is evident as his role as an exorcist. He said, "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, than the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20). This is significant for 3 reasons:(1) it shows that Jesus claimed divine authority over evil; (2) It shows Jesus believed the kingdom of God had arrived; in Judaism, the kingdom would come at the end of history; (3) Jesus was in effect saying that in himself, God had drawn near, therefore He was putting himself in God's place. (3)

Also, in the Tanakh, God is the only one to master the forces of nature with His word alone. God is the one who threatens the stormy waters, in passages such as (Ps 104:7; 29:3; 77:16). It also says in Psalm 89:9, "You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them," and in Psalm 65:7, "You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves." Just as the God of Israel, we see that Jesus demonstrates the ability to have power over nature. We see this in passages such as Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8: 22-25.

Within the context of first-century Jewish miracle workers, how much weight should be given to Jesus’ miracles? As Ben Witherington III says,"The miracles themselves raise the question but do not fully provide the answer of who Jesus was; what is important from an historical point of view is not the miracle themselves, which were not unprecedented, but Jesus’ unique interpretation of the miracles as signs of the dominion’s inbreaking, and also the signs of who he was: the fulfiller of the Old Testament promises about the blind seeing, the lame walking and the like." (4)

3. The Messianic King was crucified. He then rose from the dead and ascended (1 Cor.15:1-17; Acts 1: 9-11). In relation to a crucified, atoning Messiah, The Shottenstein Talmud, a comprehensive Orthodox Jewish commentary states the following about Isaiah 53:
"They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas- as disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4). Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries]." (5)

As it says in Isaiah 53:10, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. In order for the Servant to make full expiation, he made his soul an “asham” i.e.,” a propitiatory victim for sin on which the guilt and penalty being laid, ceases to be imputed to us.

4. His current messianic work is a priest-advocate (1 John 2:2; Rom 8:34). In the New Testament, Hebrews 7:1-27 goes to great length to explain the typological connection between Melchizedek and the Son of God. The author of Hebrews uses Melchizedek as a picture of Jesus because both Melchizedek and Jesus do not have to rely upon descent as Aaron’s sons did in order to operate their priesthoods. Jesus did not belong to the priestly tribe of Levi, but instead came through the kingly tribe Judah. While the author of Hebrews portrays Melchizedek as a priest who abides forever in a pictorial sense, Jesus abides as a priest forever in an actual sense.If Jesus’ intention was to perform the role of a priest in an eternal sense, He would have to be sanctified, or consecrated for the purpose of atoning for the sins of the world. Jesus comments on this issue in John 17:19, “For them I sanctify myself, that they may too be truly sanctified.”

Also, as for the “Son of God” term, a crucial passage is in Romans 1:4 where Paul says Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Therefore, the resurrection plays a pivotal role in understanding how Jesus is the “Son of God.” Skarsaune concludes that “God’s Son” is not an ontological description of Jesus’ status, but instead a messianic title: he entered his messianic office by being raised and exalted from the dead. Hence, the ultimate “work” of the Messiah is the resurrection. In order for Jesus to function as a priest forever according to Melchizedek (Psalm 110:1-4), He has to be resurrected from the dead. (6)

5. One day, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Isa. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Isa. 11:11-12; 24:23; Micah 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).


1. Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, 454. See Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
2. Ibid.
3. Craig, W. L. Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaten, ILL : Crossway Books.1984, 233-54.
4. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12.
5. Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, The Shottenstein Edition (Brooklyn, N.Y.Mesorah, 1995), vol 3 98a5, emphasis in original; cited in Brown, M. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 3. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 2000, 224.
6. Skarsaune, O. In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity, 307.

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