Messiah Hidden And Revealed In Luke-acts (1)

 

We are back to the “hidden Messiah” theme.  So far, we have been dealing with the Second Temple extra biblical sources.  We have seen that, by the turn of the era, the pattern was already set: a transcendent messiah was to be hidden in heaven till the appointed time came – “For the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning…; then he revealed him to the holy ones and the elect ones.” Indeed, the timing is a crucial moment here: then, in those days – these words show up again and again in these texts. With this transcendent messiah hidden in heaven till the appointed time comes, we arrive at the turn of the era.

Now we are moving to the Bible, and here, in the New Testament scriptures, we can see an exact and direct reflection of the same plan that had been dimly reflected in the human texts: the messiah from heaven coming to earth – but still remaining hidden until the appointed time came. What then was that appointed time?

The two volumes of Luke provide us with a unique opportunity to follow the development of this theme – “before” and “after”:  Messiah, hidden in heaven from the beginning, comes to earth, but continues to remain hidden until the appointed time – and is then revealed after the appointed time. The same author, while writing about Jesus’ earthly life, consistently portrays him concealing his messianic identity, while in Acts he proclaims his messiahship loudly and publicly – so it was somewhere in between that Jesus was revealed as Messiah. Thus understood, we can see, in the whole story of the New Testament, the conscious efforts of Jesus not to reveal his messiahship prematurely – and after the appointed time, the relentless efforts of his disciples to tell everybody about his messiahship.

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We already know that the manner of referring to the coming of the Messiah as hidden and revealed may be taken as representative of first century (A.D.) Palestinian Judaism. We can suggest, therefore, that the messiahship of Jesus was understood by those describing his life and ministry, in the terms of a messiah who is hiding his messianic identity until the appointed time comes, and revealing it only afterwards. The main claim of this article is that, for his countrymen, Jesus remained the hidden Messiah during his earthly life and was only revealed after his resurrection.

Let us try to analyze the major clusters of “hidden” texts in Luke’s work. We will start with the very first case in Luke when we see Jesus prohibiting the announcement of his messiahship. It follows immediately after the famous episode in the synagogue at Nazareth, in chapter 4. We see that, unlike the people in Nazareth, there were those who had recognized him as Messiah – these were the demons. “But it is specifically in regard to them that he shows his unwillingness to be prematurely considered as Messiah. He regularly forbids them to proclaim him”[1]. Thus, the demoniac of Capernaum occurs in Luke 4:33, when the Messiah is hailed and Jesus rebuts it: Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, saying: … I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him, saying: “Be quiet, and come out of him!”[2] In Luke 4:40 this demonic confession of the Messiah is again verbalized, and here again Jesus forbids the demons to proclaim his messiahship: And he, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that he was the Christ.[3]

In the same way, sick people often become the objects of this veto. We find Jesus’ prohibition both in the story of the leper and in the raising of the Jairus’s daughter. After cleansing the leper, he charged him to tell no one[4]; after raising the girl, He charged them to tell no one what had happened.[5] Jesus doesn’t want his miracles to be broadcast, because he knows he must remain hidden.

However, the story of the demoniac from the country of Gadarenes – who was a gentile of course – reveals a deviation. In this case Jesus’ command to the man who is healed is sharply different from what he had commanded to his fellow Jews in the same situations: Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.[6] It is important to note that this case provides the only exception in the whole Gospel – in every other case Jesus constantly avoids messianic titles and firmly resists the broadcasting of his miracles. We see Jesus avoiding the title of Messiah even while talking to his disciples. When he asks them: But who do you say I am? Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God”. Instead of confirming the revelation, as happened in Matthew, he strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things…”[7]. Even here, he remains very careful not to say: The Messiah must suffer many things, as one might expect after Peter’s confession.

Conversely, when we open the second volume of the same writer – The Acts – the contrast is radical. No words can better describe this abrupt change in the atmosphere from the Gospel to   The Acts than the verse of Luke himself: What you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.[8] As against hidden/concealed/only in the ear revealed secret of the messianic identity of Jesus in the Gospel, there is an open proclamation of his Messiahship in Acts. In his first three public speeches – in chapters 2, 3 & 4 – Peter proclaims loudly (sometimes literally on the housetops), that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah:  Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made the Jesus who was crucified both Lord and Christ.[9] Let all the house of Israel know assuredly! The secret, esoteric knowledge of the Gospel all of a sudden becomes a widely broadcast message in Acts.  So somewhere between the Gospel and Acts, the secret of Jesus’ messiahship became revealed.

Only now, as we have the starting point and the final point of this equation, can we begin to look for the specific turning point. We can now formulate the questions: Why this drastic difference between “before” and “after”? For what reason does Jesus consistently hide his messiahship in the Gospel, even commanding his disciples to keep silence?  On what account, all of a sudden, does his messiahship yield to public proclamation in Acts? These are the questions to be answered.

 

[1] William Wrede,  The Messianic Secret, p.11

[2] Lk.4.33-35

[3] Lk.4.41

[4] Lk. 5.14

[5] Luk.8.56

[6] Luk.8.39

[7] Luk.9.20-21

[8] Luk.12.3

[9] Acts 2.36

 

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. Deborah Blades

    Very interesting. I read subsequent posts before this one, and yet this has held my attention. The Messiah came for all, and more and more are coming to this realization, and accepting the fact that, not only has He been revealed, but that He has given his life, sacrificially, for all.

  2. Annette Campbell

    Julia, I really enjoy your blogs and this one brings great insight and reason to meditate on the word of God. I believe that since Jesus’ people did not receive him (believe he was the Messiah) it only helped to bring about fulfillment of prophecy. So we know that Jesus had to fulfill his destiny and in the way that God had commanded him to. That being said for those that didn’t receive him and the same had to play a part in his destiny, he had to make sure that he did what the Father wanted and when the Father wanted it, so that scripture would be fulfilled. I believe that since the nations were a part of the plan and because Jesus did say that there is a flock of sheep that he has to bring into the pen also, everything had to be set into motion at the right time in order to glorify the Father in heaven. As is everything happening today

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Annette! You said it beautifully :everything had to be set into motion at the right time in order to glorify the Father in heaven! The mystery of Jesus’ hidden and revealed messiahship, undoubtedly, was a crucial part of this “setting into motion”. As Paul writes: he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (Eph.1:9,10).