As Though Hiding His Face From Us

Shalom friends,

My name is Julia Blum. Thanks to the kind and generous words of Dr. Eli in the previous post, I don’t really need to introduce myself, as he has introduced me already.  I am privileged and honored to take over the administration of the Jewish Studies blog:  From my classes, I already know some of the students, so I know what an amazing, wonderful, excited and exciting audience we have! I am very grateful for each and every one of you – and I look forward to hearing from you! This blog has been a wonderful addition to your eTeacher experience and I hope and pray that it will continue to be a blessing to everyone who follows.

I would like to begin with my favorite topic – one that I spent many years researching, writing and praying over: The Hidden Messiah.  In the series of posts I’ll present here, we will first see the Messianic Secret of the New Testament against its Jewish background; then we will follow the idea of the hidden and revealed Messiah though Luke-Acts; and then finally, we will learn the profound lessons of the transitional chapter of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24). So – let the journey begin!

 Messianic Secret  of the New Testament against its Jewish background (Part 1): Messianic Secret 

“Any discussion of… Messianism is a delicate matter, for it is here that the essential conflict between Judaism and Christianity has developed and continues to exist”, Gershom Sholem wrote to begin his famous Messianic Idea in Judaism.  In the light of these essential differences, a consensus between Jewish and Christian scholars regarding the so-called Messianic Secret appears all the more striking. Scholars from both sides recognize the fact that in the Gospels Jesus is frequently portrayed as seeking to maintain an element of secrecy about his own person and work throughout the length of his public ministry (sometimes even openly discouraging use of the title ‘Messiah’). This feature of the Gospels is well-known and widely acknowledged; it is known today as the “Messianic Secret” – a term which derives from a classic study by William Wrede.
Let us have a look at some scriptures where Jesus directly forbade others to speak of Him as Messiah: He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ [Messiah] of God.’ And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one.[1] A similar ban accompanies all His healings of Israelites: the cleansing of the leper, the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and the healing of the two blind men, to name a few. These and many other stories are almost unavoidably accompanied by a concluding commentary: and He strictly warned him… and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone’;’[2] but He commanded them strictly that no one should know it;[3] and Jesus sternly warned them, saying, ‘See that no one knows it.’[4] He didn’t just recommend that they not say anything – He forbade them to talk about it, and almost always strictly or sternly.  Actually, the only thing that Jesus did sternly was to forbid people to discuss His Messianic identity and miracles. In fact, 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, is not to a Jewish person but to a Samaritan woman, and even then only at a time when His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food[5] – that  is, when there was not a single Jewish person in sight!  In the same way, the healing of the demon-possessed man from the Gentile country of the Gadarenes also presents a striking contrast to all the stories quoted above: In answer to his request to follow Him, Jesus tells the healed man, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’[6]   Thus, Jesus was ready to reveal His identity to the Gentiles, but was very careful not to reveal it to the Jews.

It is important to distinguish between texts and history, and therefore, between two different audiences: the audience of the readers of the Gospels, and the audience of Jesus inside the Gospels. All the texts of the NT were written decades after His death and resurrection, and the Gospels’ authors, while turning to their contemporary readers, were repeating tirelessly that Jesus was the promised Messiah: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20.31) – but that is not what we are talking about. 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.

This Messianic Secret – this contrast between the messiahship of Jesus and his injunctions to secrecy in the Gospels – undoubtedly requires some explanation. We will seek this explanation in the Jewish patterns of messianic expectations which Jesus and his followers may have made use of. Jesus was Jewish, and of course He was influenced by contemporary Jewish ideas – by His Jewish upbringing and the whole Jewish context of His life. We will try to identify those aspects of the Messianic Secret that may trace back to the time of Jesus, and even before that, to see this puzzling feature of the Gospels against its Jewish background and to seek an explanation of this New Testament quandary in Jewish thought of the time.

[1] Luke 9:20-21

[2] Mark 1:43-44

[3] Mark 5:43

[4] Mat. 9:30

[5] John 4:8

[6] Mark 5:19

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. Donald Ashton

    Julia, a thought provoking article indeed.

    I always understood that the rabbis has an issue with reconciling the different messianic prophecies, which fall into two strands – the conquering king and the suffering servant.
    To distinguish these strands, they proposed two messiahs – Messiah ben David and Messiah ben Joseph.

    Jesus came as Messiah ben Joseph – the suffering servant – but, of course, the jews of his day wanted Messiah ben David to drive out the Romans and return the land to them.
    In other word the title Messiah had a strong political undertone significantly different to the mission of Jesus and its use would undermine his work.
    As Dr Eli stated in his book “The Jewish Gospel of John”, the Samaritans did not hold to the idea of a Davidic dynasty and here Jesus is quite happy for the title messiah to be used because the political undertones did not exist.

    I am sure you will expand such details in a later blog and I look forward to that.

    טוֹדָה רבָּה

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Donald! We will definitely talk about Messiah ben David and Messiah ben Joseph, it is a fascinating topic, especially for those who know the true Messiah.

  2. David Russell

    Hello Professor Julia,
    I look forward to reading further and getting to know your scholarship which I am certain is impeccable. Much of my life has been spent in circles where the Jews of Jesus’ time are portrayed as hostile, incapable of understanding, and formerly, were the ones calling for His crucifiction. I find Hebraic roots scholarship intriguing and informative, and agree with the previous comment about furthering love for the Lord and His ways!
    David Russell

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom David! This is one of the main points of my studies and writings: to show that portraying the Jews of Jesus’ time ” as hostile, incapable of understanding, and calling for His crucifixion” is wrong. The whole picture is much, much more complicated – and I’ll try to show it in my coming posts.

  3. Jane Z. Mazzola

    Hello Julia,
    Welcome to this forum! You have some big shoes to fill, but I have every confidence that though your feet maybe smaller, you’ll fill the shoes quite well!

    Interesting topic..When reading the Gospels, I often observed this dichotomy of Jesus’s “secret” enterprise w/one situation & openness with another. I’ll look forward to your future posts of explanation & analysis.

    Best wishes,

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you , Jane, for your kind words and for the encouragement!

  4. Jonell Bowman

    I absolutely love digging deeper into Jesus’ life and Jewish culture. It helps me love him more and more.

    1. Julia Blum

      Wonderful Jonell! so glad to hear!

  5. simon sinnasamy sandanam

    So glad to understand more to a great topic.

  6. David Hereford

    This is one more example of the “filters” Father is removing from me so that I can know Him for what He says and not what I think He is saying.
    Thank you so much for sharing with us His work in your life.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, David! It’s always great to hear from you. So glad you are following the blog!

  7. Paul Herman

    Now I see the point that Yeshua left His announcement of His Messiah-ship was left to His disciples and future believers in Yeshua. I can also see that this secrecy built a tension in the lives of His disciples, knowing Yeshua is the Messiah and keeping it a secret from others.

    1. Julia Blum

      You are right, Paul : In this sense, the contrast between the Gospels and the Acts is drastic, we will see it when I’ll post my research on Luke-Acts.

  8. Elizabeth Seibel-Ross

    So interesting. The necessity to maintain the secrecy of His Messiahship must have gone beyond mere political expediency/survival and even fulfillment of the expectations of the time, looking towards the accomplishment of His greater mission in the fulness of time. I think this very secrecy must have been at least partially responsible for the resultant development and separation of the two communities of faith which must also have been necessary to fully develop His purposes. And now the growth of the one new man, God’s family of the faithful?

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you , Elizabeth! we will see in the next posts why He had to maintain this secrecy – and you are absolutely right: “the development and separation of the two communities of faith” , undoubtedly, were the results of this Messianic secret. It’s very important to understand, though, that this secrecy was part of God’s plan for Israel and for the nations. We will discuss it in the coming posts.

  9. Kat

    Good morning Julia! I am currently rethinking this idea. I was evangelized twice (The Ten Commandments -Exodus 19:8 and the NT sinner’s model ? ). I see two perspectives: 1. My Christian perspective tells me that the law was written in my heart means love, joy, peace(Galatians 5:22. 2. My somewhat Judaism perspective tells me that the law was written in my heart so that I would ‘”Know the Lord” (a revelation, not human evangelism Hebrews:8:11). I hope to understand better.

    1. Julia Blum

      Blessings, Kat! I hope the articles on this blog will help you “to know the Lord” and “to understand better” – this is our mission and our vision, after all.

  10. Leah Houseman

    So glad you’re addressing this – a great topic! Thank you, Julia!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Leah! it is a fascinating topic indeed!

      1. Pip Corteen

        Timely…and a pleasure to read your work. Thank you

      2. Larry Prince

        Hi, Julia.

        I’m not sure how to respond directly to you, so I’m “piggybacking” by replying-to-a-reply of yours to someone else’s (Leah’s) reply! (Hope that it reaches you.)

        I’m a new student at eTeacher (in Yahuda Cohen’s Biblical Hebrew A class, now several weeks under way), and I have also joined the hub at Friends of eTeacher.

        I’m fascinated with all things Hebraic, and Christian, and Biblical, and relating to our God. I’m actually a latecomer to my faith … I was raised Jewish (but not in any strict sense … my mother was a reform Jew, my father was not religious … let’s leave that as it is), and after many … lost and wandering years I accepted Christ. I’m 70 years old now, and I’ve been following Jesus for about 12 years, the last several with increasingly pro-active desire to learn — not merely academically, but to really get to know the Lord I love better and better. With His guidance throughout the journey.

        Several churches later (including one short stay with a Messianic-but-not-really fellowship … sigh), I’m very glad, even excited, to be a new eTeacher student, and (for the last several years) active in a local church, where I’ve been developing friendships and participating in ministries.

        I thank you for this topic of “the hidden Messiah” … it’s challenging my understanding (but not my faith). I was at first glance going to dismiss it as too technical and complicated — and potentially disruptive rather than unifying, but I’m reexamining my own views as perhaps too cut-and-dried and, well … “unexamined.” And considering that it may have an opposite and beneficial effect when considered conscientiously. Food for thought.

        I shan’t dismiss this lightly, but it requires more patient and prayerful (without anxiety) study on my part, with an eye on it’s spiritual essence, not simply an intellectual gymnastic (Not for a minute am I suggesting that *you* presented it in that light, only that *I* — well — think too hard! And talk too much … mostly to myself! LOL). Once again, thank you.

        1. Julia Blum

          Thank you ,Larry, for being open and for being ready to “reexamine”. I can try to make these articles less technical and less complicated, but still, my desire and calling is to share this intellectual knowledge about Jewish messianic expectations with my brothers and sisters, in order for them to have a better understanding of spiritual essence, as you put it. There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings in the spiritual realm about God’s plan with Israel and Yeshua’s (Jesus) revelation to Israel, that I really hope that you ( and many others) will find these posts helpful.

        2. jane z mazzola

          It’s the end of August, & I’m re-reading the post & comments. I love yours! Thoughtful, sincere, & humorous, all in one package!!

          God bless you & everyone!
          Jane Mazzola

        3. MIKE

          Blessed brother Larry prince, SHALOM