Messiah And Son Of Man In The Gospels (ii)

 

As some of my readers will no doubt remember, we discussed a messianic secret of the Gospels some time ago, termed the Hidden Messiah. Last week, we went back to this topic and realized, once again, that Jesus had been avoiding the title of Messiah throughout the Gospels. We saw Jesus carefully avoiding this title even while talking to his disciples: When he asked them: “But who do you say I am”? – and Peter answered and said, “The Christ (Messiah – JB) of God”, instead of confirming Peter’s revelation, as we read in Matthew, in Luke he strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things…”  Even with his disciples, He was still very careful not to say: The Christ (Messiah) must suffer many things – as one might expect him to say.

 

Of course, we asked the question: Why? Why didn’t He call himself Messiah? Why did He prefer to express His mission in different terms – by the term of “Son of Man”? As we began to address this question, we realized that the answer was related to the Messianic expectations of Israel: Jesus was not the ‘Messiah’ of Jewish conception, He didn’t come to fit the Jewish expectations of Messiah; as Messiah, He was hidden from Israel, and that is precisely the reason why He didn’t call Himself Messiah.

 

This discrepancy between the ministry of Jesus and messianic expectations of His contemporaries can be seen in all the Gospels. In my opinion, however, nowhere does it become clearer than in the first chapters of Luke’s Gospel. More than any other Gospel, Luke presents Jesus against the background of His own people and their expectations, and as his story unfolds, this disparity becomes more and more obvious. At the very beginning of this Gospel, we still see the full correspondence between the promise given to Miriam (Mary) by the angel Gabriel, and the popular expectations of a royal Messiah from the line of David. Two streams coming out from the same spring, but gradually diverging one from another: Jewish understanding of the prophecies given to Israel, and that which became Christian understanding of these prophecies and their fulfillment, – are still together here. At this point, the difference is almost unrecognizable: the promise given by the angel to Miriam fits perfectly with the expectations of the people: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”[1]

 

However, on the very next page we can see the seeds of the coming discrepancy.  When being filled with the Holy Spirit Zacharias prophesies over his newborn son Yochanan (John the Baptist), he is saying that “God hath visited and redeemed his people… That we should be saved from all our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.[2] Like almost everyone in Israel, Zacharias believed that Messiah would save the land and the people from all their enemies and oppressors and would bring complete redemption and restoration to Israel.

 

We find the same picture in the second Chapter. It was a very hard period in Israel at that time; the hand of Rome was heavy upon God’s people, and the nation could barely carry the yoke which Rome and the High Priest had placed upon them. No wonder everybody was speaking about the coming of Messiah—hoping and believing that the footsteps of the deliverer had been heard already.  When, along with Joseph and Miriam, we enter the Women’s Court of the Temple in Jerusalem to present the baby to the Lord, as they offer a sacrifice for their firstborn according to the Torah of Moses, we find there righteous and devout people waiting for the consolation of Israel[3], like Simeon and Anna. For those waiting every moment for a messiah to come and to save Israel, they certainly would not have recognized God’s “salvation, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel”, in this tiny baby. When we see Anna thanking God and bringing good news to all them that looked for redemption in Yerushalaim[4], we understand that there were many such people. When Jesus stepped into the world of His people, this waiting for the consolation of Israel and looking for redemption were indeed the main characteristics of this era! And whatever people around Him might have thought of this special child, as he waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom[5], no doubt it was in full accord with the typical Jewish hope for a Messiah who would bring redemption and restoration to the people of Israel. While we see Him against this hope of His people – while Jesus is thought to be the answer to these messianic expectations – He was increasing in favour, not only with God, but also with men.[6]

 

But in the third chapter something new and unexpected happens, as though the narrative acquires a new dimension. According to Jewish thought, the Davidic Messiah would be human, like all mortals: “He is a thoroughly human being whose kingdom will be established upon the earth with its center in Jerusalem.”  (Justin Martyr put this clearly into the mouth of Trypho the Jew, thus: “We Jews all expect that the Messiah will be a man of purely human origin.”[7]) But here, Heaven opens over Jesus and the voice coming from Heaven – Bat-Kol – proclaims: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.[8]  Ata Bni Yadidi – God Himself confirms the supernatural, transcendent, heavenly nature of this man. From now on, Jesus would never fit the messianic expectations of the people around Him; the whole story of supposed-to-be redeemer takes on a new dimension that nobody thought to have in this story. All of a sudden, this worldly, national and political picture of Messiah is flooded by the heavenly light of eternal and transcendent Savior—and this light changed the picture completely. The ministry begun at this point, and presented by the prophet from Nazareth, differed completely from the general conception which the Rabbis had formed of the Messiah – the conception clearly based on Hebrew Scripture. Out of faithfulness to God and His Word, the people of Israel simply could not accept Jesus as their Messiah, since, in their understanding, this would have contradicted their Scriptures. This was the veil restraining their eyes, and this veil could be lifted or removed by God alone: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”[9]  

From this time on, we see the growing conflict between what the Messiah was expected to do by the people, and what Jesus’ ministry really was.. As the Gospel proceeds, it becomes more and more obvious that He is not the Messiah of Jewish conception, but He describes His mission in completely different terms, and derives it from a completely different source. What could this source possibly be? In our next post, we will seek an answer to this question.

[1] Luke.1:32,33

[2] Luke.1:68.71

[3] Luke 2:25

[4] Luke 2:38

[5] Luke 2:40

[6] Luke 2:52

[7] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Ch.49

[8] Luke 3:22

[9] Mat.16:17

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. Dorothy Healy

    As I understand it, in legal terms, Jesus was not the Messiah when he came as Son of Man, so he COULD NOT CLAIM TO BE. His mission had to be accomplished on the cross, His blood ‘sprinkled on the mercy seat’ in the heavenly temple, and the witness to that being accomplished had to be ratified by the Father by the sending of the Holy Spirit. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. …

  2. john Marks

    Dear Julia I am not new to your and your colleagues writings using them as a sort of home biblical study….have been curious and intrigued with the story of Jesus and humanity most of my life.. Thank you for simplifying the situation and backing it up with many references.That the New Testament presents the Christ in a way so winning….and no reply from the Jewish religion except to condemn him? A neat piece of propaganda but not so inspiring as that of the Old Testament…And that this humble Son of Man with his creed to the ordinary people should be born over the world on the shoulders of the great Roman Empire. That was the First Millennium miracle! Converting the best of the Jewish Religion to their cause the Christians turned on their parent religion…a sad story………. I agree with Mandy…..except Israel has awakened. THe 20th Century is considered by many to have been the Jewish Century . That Miracle, besides providing world leaders in science, arts, business has seen the return to Jerusalem of a tiny people that has outlived all the powerful contemporary civilisations and is now an outlaw preserving The Holy Land against millions of Muslims……….

  3. Mandy Mulick

    I love these posts and my studies! Thank you.
    Son of man first, the second Adam. Messiah second.
    Sacrifice in the natural on earth. Just as he was slain before the foundation of the earth.
    A personal walk with a personal accounting.
    Fulfilling both prophecies spiritually, next to complete the natural part of Messiah here on earth.
    Once the Jewish people are awakened fully, we will be in for an amazing time.
    Israel with Judah and Ephraim united.

  4. David

    Enjoyed reading your article. The Gospels present two different reasons for the rejection of Jesus by the Jews of that time: 1.) misinterpretation of prophecies and, 2) rejection by religious leaders who did not want their control of the religious community disturbed. They were threatened by His sudden authoritative appearance on the scene, so they denied that He was the Messiah. They taught that to succeeding generations, and it has continued down to the present day. When John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire who He was, Jesus told them to tell John about the works they saw him doing, and agreed with passages in the Prophet Isaiah. (Mt. 11; Is. 35; Lk. 7). Also, the passage in Lk. 4:18-19, is a quote from Is. 61. Thanks for the discussion

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you David. We have to understand though that nowhere in these passages Jesus is called Messiah. John the Baptist’s disciples don’t ask: are you the Messiah? They ask: are you the expected one? – and even to this question, Jesus is not answering straight. He is not saying : I am, He is just quoting the Scripture. We are so used to seeing all the words of Jesus in the “Messianic” context – it is really surprising and eye-opening to realize how little (if at all) he used this word, Messiah. Clearly, He preferred to describe His ministry in the different terms.

  5. Markham.Adams

    In the humble opinion of this commentator, when the obvious is stated, the incumbent thereof , if humility is a core trait, would certainly not have re-stated such a fact, which is precisely, since all scripture is precise, what CHRIST does in this instance.

    If someone is addressed as a Doctor and the incumbent re-states the fact that he is, humility is surely not a trait in such an instance.

    1. Julia Blum

      I don’t think it was a matter of humility for Jesus: he chose to describe His mission and his ministry in the terms of Son of Man, not in the terms of Messiah, – it means that this was a message He wanted to communicate to the people around Him.

  6. Sue Laird

    I can hardly wait for your next posting.

  7. Donald Johnson

    My understanding is that there are many anointed ones in Jewish thought, but there are 2 that stand out in the Prophets, the suffering servant Messiah and the conquering king Messiah. How these 2 main threads relate was and is a discussion. Of course, under Roman rule, almost all Jews (including the disciples after Jesus rose from the dead) wanted to see a conquering king Messiah, but Jesus came as the suffering servant Messiah.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Donald, you are correct, we find these 2 messiahs in the Jewish sources – but all these sources were written later ( some of them much later) than New Testament. In the original biblical texts, the word “anointed” refers to a king or a priest – and almost nowhere it refers to messiah in our today’s understanding (end-time savior). The main difference we see In the Jewish texts Of the last centuries BC, is between human , earthy messiah and transcendental, heavenly son of man – and this difference in the expectations was there when Jesus came . That is why, I believe, it is so important for us to understand that.

  8. Ron

    Julia,

    I am new to your site but am enjoying your perspective. I’m trying to understand as I have always been taught that the Jewish people do not consider Jesus the Messiah, and thus are still waiting for their deliverer to appear. Is what you are trying to say here is that the Jewish people are wrong, Jesus was in fact the Messiah but due to their scriptures and an incorrect interpretation of those they were blinded and could not see this truth? Or, are you saying the Jewish people are right, Jesus was not the Messiah?

    1. Mandy Mulick

      A true teacher shares arguments, and considerations, not their own opinion when teaching. It. I love that E teacher, teachers do not share their opinions. They are not collecting followers but fellow students.
      🙂

    2. Julia Blum

      Hi Ron, thank you for your kind words. Welcome to this blog, I hope you will continue following it . I am not deciding whether they were right or wrong ( at least, on these pages, – I have my own opinion , of course). I am just trying to show that this whole story was much, much more complicated than how traditional Christian ttheology sees it. Please stay tuned for my next articles – and also, you might be interested in my Hidden Messiah series from the archive of this blog and in my books.

  9. Matthews Otalike

    Hi Julia, this is another thought provoking piece from your stable. It’s quite revealing, providing perspectives which appeared unexplored before now.

  10. Henrietta Wisbey

    Dear Julia
    I like this thought provoking writing. My initial response is to say,”isn’t this the narrative of the Biblical story?”
    My ways are not your ways. Is. 55:8
    We saw in the life of Joseph unrecognised by his brothers and so on.
    Ruth 1:19 Is this Naomi?
    Who is this coming up from the wilderness? So.of Sol. 3;6
    Great food for thought thank you.
    Henrietta

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom Henrietta, So glad to hear your voice on these pages again. Yes, I agree, the Bible is all about that – about His ways being so different from our ways and about us being not able to recognize His ways. Thank you for pointing it out!