The Hidden Prophecy (1): The Hidden Messiah In Tanach

Last time, we spoke about one of the greatest quandaries of the New Testament: the Messianic Secret—the fact that Jesus continuously discouraged and avoided use of the title “Messiah” throughout the length of his public ministry. Before we continue any further, I need to ensure that we distinguish between two different audiences: the audience of the readers of the Gospels, and the audience of Jesus inside the Gospels. All the NT texts were written decades after His death and resurrection, and the Gospels’ authors, while turning to their contemporary readers, repeated tirelessly that Jesus was the promised Messiah: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God[1] —but that is not what we are talking about here. We are not studying what the evangelists tell us about Jesus; what we are interested in is what Jesus of the Gospels says about himself, or allows/does not allow others to say about him to his own contemporaries. The Gospels consciously and purposely portray Jesus hiding and concealing his messiahship from His audience. In other words, the messiahship of Jesus is something the author and the readers know, but the original participants did not know.

We are now faced with the necessity of explaining this puzzling fact: in all four Gospels, not once does Jesus reveal Himself as Messiah to His fellow-countrymen.  In all four Gospels, the Jewish people He heals are forbidden to tell about the miracles done for them. Why? Is it not logical to conclude that He did not intend to reveal the fact of His Messianic identity to His people? Otherwise, why would He Himself not speak about this directly, instead of forbidding people to tell others? If we decide that Jesus wanted the people of Israel to accept and recognize him as Messiah, then we must admit that he was acting rather strangely, doing all he could in order to lead Israel into error and hide this secret from them. You must agree that such a conclusion is hardly acceptable, and consequently we are left with only one possibility: Jesus did not intend the people of Israel to know about his messianic status.

Why? Why was Jesus silent about His messiahship? In order to understand this, let us turn to the Tanach (Old Testament) and try to find the explanation of the messianic secret there. We all know that the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, dedicated completely to the Suffering Servant, has for centuries been a stumbling block between Christians and the Jewish people: while the latter assert that Isaiah is prophetically describing the suffering of the people of Israel, the former read it as a prophecy of the atoning death of Jesus Christ.

The interpretation of this chapter in Judaism has been much discussed. Although there has not necessarily been one consistent line of interpretation, over the centuries, many rabbis also understood Isaiah 53 as referring to the Messiah. Here, for instance, are quotations from rabbinic sources: “The Messiah—what is his name? … The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted…'”[2]; “`He was wounded for our transgressions,’ etc…. There is in the Garden of Eden a palace called the Palace of the Sons of Sickness; this palace the Messiah then enters, and summons every sickness, every pain, and every chastisement of Israel; they all come and rest upon him. And were it not that he had thus lightened them off Israel and taken them upon himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisements for the transgression of the law: and this is that which is written, ‘Surely our sicknesses he hath carried.’”[3]

Was Isaiah 53 understood as the messianic program in the times of Jesus—in the 1st century CE? In order to answer this question, let us turn to the Targums (Targums are free Aramaic renderings of the Old Testament for use in synagogues). You may remember from my previous posts that, despite the late dates of the final redaction of these texts (the basic redaction of the earliest Targums may be late second or third century CE, and many of the available texts are dated even later), the interpretative tradition they represent, belongs to the period of the Second Temple. What do the Targums tell us on this subject?

There are several chapters of the book of Isaiah which talk about a Suffering Servant, and in the Targum of Jonathan on Isaiah, all these places were understood as referring to the Messiah. Here are some examples:

Isaiah 43.10:  You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen,

Targum of Jonathan on Isaiah 43:10:  You are witnesses before me, says the Lord, and my servant the Messiah (עבד משיחא)

Isaiah 52:13:  Behold, my servant shall deal prudently …

Targum of Jonathan on Isaiah 52:13: Behold, my servant, the Messiah, shall prosper (עבדי משיחא  ).

We all know that to translate means to interpret. Thus, these deviations from the original text show us that, even within Jewish tradition in the first centuries of the Common Era, some people clearly saw the Messiah in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

In the New Testament, we have amazing evidence from the book of Acts: the story of Philip and the eunuch (Acts 8: 26-35).  When Philip asks the eunuch: “Do you understand what you are reading?” and the eunuch answers: “How can I, unless someone guides me?”[4] – it shows us, not only the eunuch’s personal  predicament, but the absence of one consistent line of interpretation in Second Temple Judaism. In this light, the clarity and the confidence of Philip is striking. When the eunuch asks, “of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” – for Philip, the answer is obvious: Jesus.

“This implies that even by this early date the recognition that the job description in Isaiah 53 fit Jesus, and only Jesus, was current among Christians.”[5] Ever since then, Isaiah 53 has been widely understood by believers in Jesus as a Messianic program: a program that the Messiah had to fulfill—the program that Jesus actually did fulfill every single step of. And it is in this program – in this chapter –  that we will discover the “hidden prophecy” that was completely lost in translation and which clearly explains why Jesus, if he had to fulfill this program, had to be silent about His messianic status.

(If you are interested to read my book about the Hidden Messiah, click here:  https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.)

 

[1] John 20:31

[2] Sanhedrin 98b

[3]Zohar, Volume II, 212a

[4] Acts 8:30,31

[5] G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (p. 574). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Sandy Bouchard

    John 4:26 king James version. The son is the messiah, he is not God. God is a spirit and not a man. Hosea 11:9, John 4:24, Romans 1:23.

    1. Julia Blum

      Sandy, you probably haven’t read my previous post, an introduction to the Messianic secret. Here is what I wrote there: “The only time in the entire New Testament that He reveals his messianic identity is in the scene with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Just think of that! The only time when He speaks of it, He isn’t speaking to a Jewish person, but to a Samaritan woman”.

  2. Sandy Bouchard

    John 4:26 Jesus said I am the messiah, not God but the messiah.

    1. Julia Blum

      I agree . He did say he was Messiah. But he said it to the Samaritan woman, not to the Jewish people.

  3. Jennifer

    Julia, I was so excited to stumble upon this website and read your writings again! You came to our church in Delaware many years ago and I bought your book “If you be the Son of God, Come Down from the Cross”. I was blown away-as I always am by your insight. I can’t wait to read your latest book. And by the way, I have prayed for your daughter (Yael was it?) on and off throughout her service in the Israeli army. I hope your family is well!

    1. Julia Blum

      So glad to hear from you, Jennifer! Thank you for your kind words and welcome to this blog, I hope you will keep following it and will find it interesting and helpful! Regarding my books, I believe you would like even more “Abraham had two sons” because it’s style is kind of similar to “If you be the Son of God”. Thank you so much for your prayers! (Now my two sons are in the Army, you can remember them in your prayers). I am looking forward to hearing from you on these pages!

  4. Sh

    What about Luke 4:16? What about John 4:26? John 18 and 19?

    1. Julia Blum

      What about it? He didn’t call himself Messiah in Luke 4, he didn’t call himself Messiah in John 18-19 either. As for John 4:26, I would quote my own post from the previous week: “The only time in the entire New Testament that He reveals his messianic identity is in the scene with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Just think of that! The only time when He speaks of it, He isn’t speaking to a Jewish person, but to a Samaritan woman”.

  5. Francis A. Andrew

    Was Jesus really so silent about his role as the Messiah? Consider St.Matthew chapt 11 vs 1-6: 1] And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he passed from thence, to teach and preach in their cities. [2] Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ: sending two of his disciples he said to him: [3] Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another? [4] And Jesus making answer said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. [5] The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them.

    [6] And blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me.

    And the same in St. Luke chapt. 7 vs. 19 – 23: [19] And John called to him two of his disciples, and sent them to Jesus, saying: Art thou he that art to come; or look we for another? … [20] And when the men were come unto him, they said: John the Baptist hath sent us to thee, saying: Art thou he that art to come; or look we for another?

    … [21] (And in that same hour, he cured many of their diseases, and hurts, and evil spirits: and to many that were blind he gave sight.) … [22] And answering, he said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, to the poor the gospel is preached: … [23] And blessed is he whosoever shall not be scandalized in me. ..

    If we are to interpret “he that art to come” as being synonymous with “Messiah” then perhaps Jesus gave some intimation of his Messiahship.

    1. Julia Blum

      The important point here is the question of John the Baptist: Are You the Coming One, or do we look for Another? It brings us back to the Hidden Messiah paradigm and shows clearly that when the messiah comes, it would not be obvious who he is – he has to be recognized! The Messiah would have to be live “through a period like the early history of David when, although he had been anointed by Samuel, he and his followers had to hide from Saul … Thus the question to Jesus John the Baptist sent his disciples with, Are You the Coming One, or do we look for Another? is just an accurate reflection of the sort of decision Jews of the time would have to make” (O’Neill, J. C. Who Did Jesus Think He Was?)

  6. Deborah

    Wow, fascinating! Thank you Professor Julia. I eagerly anticipate the next installment that delves into the hidden prophesy of the Messiah!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words, Deborah! I do hope you will find it interesting!

  7. Francois Aerts

    Shalom Julia, could it be possible that Yeshua wanted to hide His Messiahship for the Jews to enable the promise to Abraham to become fullfilled at its appointed time ? This would imply that the Goyim had to become believers in Yeshua before the Jewish people would become believers. If Yeshua would have turned the Jewish nation in believers, there would have been little or no incentive to convert the Goyim anymore, and the fullfillment of the promise to Abraham would have become problematic.
    What is weird however, is that Yeshua on several occasions claimed to be the Lord – “Before Abraham was, I AM.” – while the Tanach in multiple instances (f.i. prophet Isaiah)states that the Messiah himself is the Lord. This Jewish belief seems to have been around in pre-Rabbinic times, but was for some reasons abandoned before Yeshua started explaining the Tanach to the Jews. Yeshua seems to have realised this fact, thereby safeguarding his hidden status as Messiah and Godhead.
    It is my personal belief that the one and only major difference between the Tanach (OT) and the Berit HaChadashah (NT), namely the Coming of the Son of Man and His Rapture described in Matthew 24, shall become the pivotal happening that shall open the eyes of the blind servant of Isaiah, those Jews who are blinded by human interpretation and teachings (and for that matter, a pivotal happening for many “blind” goyim too). This happening shall be worldwide, and I am quite sure that the Rabbis will reject the “Aliens”-explanation, thereby forcing the Rabbis to turn to the “forbidden” texts of the Berit HaChadashah, simply because it is the only text that offers a plausible explanation for such a happening. After the Rapture, the floodgates toward the Acceptance of Yeshua as their Messiah and Godhead will be opened, and the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 shall than come true.
    I like your interpretations very much, Julia, keep doing Tikkun Olam in giving us your valuable instruction !
    Todah Rabah, oeLeHitraot !

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Francois! It means a lot coming from you, with all your knowledge and depth. I am interested also to hear your opinion after my next article, describing the Hidden prophecy itself. Really hope to hear from you soon!