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 —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…'”; “`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.’”
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?” – 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.” 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/.)
 John 20:31
 Sanhedrin 98b
Zohar, Volume II, 212a
 Acts 8:30,31
 G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (p. 574). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.