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.

You might also be interested in:

Join the conversation (96 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. ND

    Hi Julia,
    An indeed interesting topic to focus on. I am also doing some readings on these issues. Prof Karen Armstrong also touches on some these topics in the book called “A History of God”. Please share the articles and we are all ears!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you! I’ll try to find this book.

  2. John Marks

    Hi Julia, I enjoy your informative discussion, especially the examples of Hebrew used to understand meaning . Am sorry I cannt add to this, I do not consider my Hebrew sufficient. I did read the OT and NT and have studied Hebrew from The OT plus. THe idea of a Messiah hidden for political reasons is important. But how the Jews made of his suffering and theirs a religion which would conquer the world….! how they used the moral teaching of Moses, the complex stories of the books of the Bible that Jesus was to develope….And how after horrific suffering their religion would conquer not only the might of Rome but all the world as Christianity ! And how they not only survived two thousand years, often persecuted by the very religion they had created, but at the end would reborn Israel. There is one of the mysteries and miracles of history! And after two thousand years Judaism and Christianity is beginning to approach each other
    I wish you strength in your work and look forward to reading your blog. shalom, John

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, John! After reading your comment, I think you will enjoy my next post, it resonates so much with what you wrote. So – stay tuned for the next post 🙂 , it is coming soon!

  3. Mädeli

    I am always surprised to see images portraying Jesus with long hair, as the image you used to accompany this article.
    As far as I can gather it was/is a disgrace for a man to have long hair; specifically according to 1 Corinthians 11 verse 14: “Doesn’t the natural order of things teach you – if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him;…”
    Now I’m wondering…..would the King of the Universe – the Creator of the ‘natural order of things’, have worn His hair long?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Madeli, thank you for an interesting comment. The only reason for me picking this image was the fact that His face was not visible – so it seemed a perfect illustration for my title, “As though hiding His face from us”. Did Jesus have long hair? The Scripture says nothing about His physical appearance, so I think the answer depends on what you mean by “long.” Definitely , it could not have been so long as to appear feminine – however, it could have been longer than the typical hair length of men today.

  4. Gustavo Perera

    Hi Julia:

    As always your approach to peeling the layers off the hidden to reveal truth or secrets (sod) is compelling. I look forward to learning more about this interesting topic.

    Shalom.
    Gustavo

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Gustavo, it’s always a blessing to hear from you.

  5. Roger Anderson

    Teaching recently about Trinitarian concepts a man replied that his problem of comprehension came from Jesus’ sudden appearance, as if he just plopped out of nowhere. I discussed the idea of progressive revelation from Genesis to Revelation with him. Thank you for your insights into the hidden Messiah, they will be helpful for a more in depth study.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Roger, it is important to understand that between Tanach and New Testament, there was a huge corpus of so called inter-testamental literature – and they continued this progressive revelation. Of course, these texts are not God’s Word – but they can’t be ignored., because Israel’s understanding of God’s plan with her could be traced through these texts .

    2. Hopeton

      Thanks very much for your insightful teahings.

  6. Leonard David Logan

    Good to hear this. Clarification always helps.

  7. George W Walker.

    Yes, so that is a direction in which to go.

    One question more, the pointing and its naming, id also like to ask question, re: Shewa, regarding the sound of the name Shua, the person related to David’wife, Bathsheba, and the relative of Tamar, whose childten were the children of Judah.

    Thank you, i really wish i had better knowlege regarding this language.

    If i am in error, prefer that to speaking untruth, but i shall redouble efforts on that.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi George, these names (Shua and Sheba) in Hebrew have the same first and last letter, but they are still different names: שבע שוע

      Blessings!

  8. Duncan

    Hi Prof Julia,Thank you for making this teaching available. I think your “detective story” analogy is right on, I’m looking forward to your explanation of this. I learn a lot from reading everyone’s questions too, so thanks for them as well. A few people mentioned something that resonates with me: understanding Jesus at that point in history and in the larger Biblical context was completely foreign to my even though I grew up going to church. I’m ashamed to admit I never read the entire Bible until several years ago; up to that point it was only disjointed pieces of the NT. After reading the OT and NT I was pleasantly shocked by the continuity and the implications, but left with some vexing questions, especially how on earth did the followers of Jesus in Acts become the “church” today? I’ve found a lot of people have been trying to answer that question for a long time. I think I’ve found as many if not more more answers from Dr. Eli’s blog and books and I am excited to learn from you as well.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Duncan! It is always a great joy to see someone with the open heart and mind and ready to deal with these “vexing questions”. So glad you’ve been following this blog and have found some answers already. I hope, you will keep asking the questions and will keep finding the answers from the articles on this blog. Blessings!

  9. George W Walker.

    I am interested in the facts as they are un truth, but i did say probounced opposite.
    Re:Pharez and Zareph.

    I also noticed that there is a similarity to the sound of the Name of Sara and also Terah, or is it Teraph.

    The Father of Abraham, the same sound is very similar to an alleged name of the objects in the Epod, used for divination.

    What you commented on, the sound of Pharez, being similar to the word for Violence and the violent.

    This also indicates the concept of the first and the last concept, which is how the Holy are treated with disdain, and mistreatment.

    When Jesus was greeted in his entry to Jerusalem before his cruxifixion, he was trested with much to fride his donkey, which walked on the objects on the road.

    He was then treated a little like the first, but than was cduxified like a last person.

    Thanks for you comments.

    1. Julia Blum

      HI George, I think you have to check out these names in Hebrew : the interesting features that you found in English spelling , may not be there in Hebrew. For instance, Pharez and Zareph, in Hebrew, consist of completely different letters ( פרץ זרח) and don’t have this opposite spelling. The same is about Terah and Sarah : in Hebrew, they don’t sound similar. While we can observe some remarkable details in the translated text as well, the ultimate test is in the original Hebrew text: it should always be checked there. That is why we are here – and we are happy to help you, or anyone who wants this help!

  10. Timoteo

    It is a wake up knowledge. Something essential escapes our consciousness, but the Holy Spirit is able to reveal through someone what would be aware. Thank you for being the one to reveal this secret knowledge. It is really a spiritual eye opener.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you ,Timoteo! I also think this is very essential knowledge, that is why I’ve spent many years dealing with this topic. I believe, it is very important to share this knowledge, and I am really grateful both for this opportunity to share and for the great interest of the followers of the blog.