Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Do You Say I Am? A Look at Jesus/Part One

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17).

As of today, people are still trying to answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago. In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says if you search for Jesus at, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history.
The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Tanakh. 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. In the first century, the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic. And as of today, within Judaism, there is a wide range of thought about the Messiah. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential Messiah or a time when there will be a messianic age.
One of the traditional objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer. 23: 5-8; Mic. 5:4-6), and unite humanity as one (Zech. 14:9). The Messiah is also supposed usher in a period of worldwide peace, and put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is. 2:1-22; Mic. 4:1-4).

Hence, since the world is not in a state of peace and the Jewish people are not dwelling securely in the land of Israel, the Jewish community objects to the claim that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
While the term “Messiah” is used of those who were of Davidic kings (Psalm 18:50;89:20; 132:10-17), it is also used of Cyrus in Isa. 45:1. Both Gen. 49:10-11 and Num. 24:17 have been interpreted in a messianic way. While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised King David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7: 12-17; 1Chr. 17: 11-14; Ps. 89:28-37). After the death of King David, Israel began looking for a king like him because of the unconditional promise that a king would rule on David’s throne forever. The Messiah was called to defeat the oppressive enemies of Israel and enable the Jewish people to help “set up an earthly kingdom that will never be destroyed.” (Dan. 2:44). The prophets spoke of a Davidic Messiah who would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jer 23:5-6; Mic. 5:2-5).

Both Hosea and Ezekiel spoke of the Davidic aspect of the Messiah. While Hosea spoke of a time when the northern tribes of Israel would seek out David, Israel’s king (Hos. 3:5), Ezekiel 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). In Psalm 2:2-7, there is a relationship between the term “Son of God” and the King of Israel. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed [that’s the word for Messiah]. . . . Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
Therefore, when the Jewish people heard the term “Son of God,” they mostly associated it with a king. This has been confirmed by Dead Sea Scroll specialists Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint. The writings that were found at Qumran show that divine sonship was clearly a part of the Royal- Christian rhetoric of pre-Christian Judaism. The “Son of God” term is seen in the fragment known as (4Q246), Plate 4, columns one and two.

Furthermore, within the Psalms, God and His anointed king are described in ways that are equal in status and they are both qualified to be worthy of the same worship and reverence. Psalm 83:18 says, “God is the Most High over all the earth,” and in Psalm 89:27, it says the Davidic King is “the most high of the kings of the earth.” In Psalm 2:11 and Psalm 100:2, the rulers and the people are supposed to worship and serve the Lord, while in Psalm 18:44 and Psalm 72:11 it says it is the Davidic king whom they must worship and serve. This theme makes perfect sense in light of the New Testament passage John 5:22-23, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (1)

Even in the Qumran writings, there is a messianic expectation seen in 4Q285, which is called the Rule of War. In this scroll, the Messiah, the Branch of David is supposed to slay the Roman emperor. Geza Vermes, a Jewish scholar, says that one of the best 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 book of Jewish prayers that was written after the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C. 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 God.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)

“Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles… destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.” (Psalms of Solomon 18: 4,22,26,27, 30). (2)

The New Testament states that Jesus the Messiah, the “seed of David,” was sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; Rev. 22:16).

1. Michael Brown, Theological Objections, vol 2 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, 40.
2. Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew. A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels. New York. Macmillan Publishing Co. 1980, 251.

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