Unrecognized Messiah

 

This is the third and last installment of our study of the Jewish background of the Messianic secret.  We will then take a break from this topic, and will come back to it later, to examine the theme of hidden/revealed Messiah in the New Testament. In our last post, we spoke about the Hidden Savior in the Apocalyptic and Qumran writings.  We have to be aware, though, that both the Apocalyptic and Qumran writings come from authors living on the margin of ordinary Jewish life. The question is whether we have any additional evidence – whether we have something that can be taken as a true picture of the religion of this period where we can look for a hidden messiah?

Targums  –  Here the Targums, the somewhat free Aramaic renderings of the Old Testament for use in synagogues, come into the picture.  In spite of 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.  Do we find a hidden and revealed messiah here?  When we turn to the texts and we will be surprised to find out how many times the Targums speak about messiah being revealed, although there is no word about hidden and revealed in the original Hebrew text. While in rabbinic writings we read mostly (though not solely) of the coming (בוא) of the Messiah, the Targums, when referring to the advent of the Messiah, speak of him as “being revealed” (אתגלי).  Obviously, to translate also means to interpret, thus the very fact that the word revealed seemed the most appropriate verb to use in connection with the messiah, is very significant.

Let us look at some examples from the texts (targumic deviations from the Hebrew text are indicated by italics).

 

Genesis 35, 21: Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 35, 21: “from Migdal Eder “is King Messiah to be revealed (עתיד דאתגלי) at the end of the days”.

 

Jeremiah, 30.21: And their governor shall come from their midst (in Hebrew: ומשלו מקרבו יצא).

Targum Jeremiah, 30.21: “and their Anointed one shall be revealed from among them”.

 

Mica 4.8 :  And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come

Targum Mica 4.8 :  “And you, O anointed one of Israel, who have been hidden away because of the sins of the congregation of Zion, the kingdom shall come to you.”

Zechariah  3.8 : Behold! I will bring my servant the branch (In Hebrew:כי-הנני  מביא את-עבדי צמח)

Targum Zechariah 3.8 : “Lo! : I will bring my servant  the  Anointed one, and he shall be revealed”.

 

Zechariah 4.7:  and he shall bring forth the capstone…

Targum Zechariah 4.7:  “And he shall reveal his anointed One whose name is told from of old, and he shall rule over all kingdoms”.

 

Zechariah 6.12: Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying:   Behold, the man whose name is branch! From his place he shall branch out, and he shall build the temple of the Lord’.

Targum Zechariah 6.12  “And you  shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus speaks the Lord of Hosts, saying, Behold, the man whose name is Anointed, will be revealed, and he shall be raised up, and shall build the temple of the Lord’”.

 

Rabbinic literature  – This idea of the unknown or hidden Messiah also occurs in later Rabbinic literature. True, all the available rabbinic texts were compiled and edited much later than the NT period. However, of the teachers whose utterances are set down in these compilations, the earliest were disciples from the schools of Hillel and Shammai, from the first century BCE, and therefore some of these texts reveal the beliefs of Jews before the fall of Jerusalem. We see that different rabbinic texts play with this idea of Messiah being hidden for some time and then being revealed. Thus Midrash Tehilim (Midrash on Psalms) comments on Psalm 21.1: “… the king Messiah, David’s son … will remain hidden until the time of redemption.” Midrash Ruth Rabbah 5.6: “Just as the first redeemer was revealed to them in Egypt, and then concealed from them until it was time to reveal him again, so will it be with the final redeemer: the final redeemer would at first be revealed to them, and then be  concealed from them  for a while”.  We read in Midrash Bereshit Rabba, Piska 36: “And God saw the light that it was good (Gen.1.4) This verse proves that the Holy One, blessed be He, contemplated the Messiah and his works before the world was created, and then under His throne of glory put away His Messiah until the time of the generation in which he will appear.”

We can therefore see that the rabbinic literature also bears a witness to the idea that messiah, when he comes, will be hidden, or not recognized, until the time when he is revealed by God. Isn’t it significant, for instance, that in later Jewish sources, the second Messiah becomes Son of Josef? The whole story of Josef is not so much about suffering, as about not being recognized. There are other people in  scripture who suffered a lot, and if Messiah had to symbolize suffering and death, it would be much more logical for him to be called Son of Job – Job being a symbol of suffering in Tanach. However, the greatest story of the Hebrew Bible about being unrecognized (until he himself reveals his identity), is the story of Joseph. In this sense, the Messiah Son of Joseph of the rabbinic texts also bears witness to the fact that “the incognito” of messiah becomes an essential feature of later Jewish literature.

 

Conclusion – We can sum up our study with some preliminary results.

–  All the evidence proves that almost every trend of Second Temple Judaism held some beliefs concerning the “hidden messiah”.  We have seen some texts – mainly the apocalyptic ones, but also Targums – referring to a ‘hidden’ savior proper, to the one who was concealed from the beginning and will be revealed only when the appointed time comes. The texts of the second group are built around the ‘unrecognized’ motif:  Messiah, when he comes, would be hard to identify; he will be “hidden, without esteem, unknown, his secret sealed up”. This motif is present to a certain extent in some Qumran texts. However, it becomes especially clear in the later rabbinic literature.

– We see something very intriguing in these texts: we see that in the book of Enoch, written approximately in the 1st century BC, Messiah is hidden in heaven, but then in the rabbinic literature beginning from 1AD, we see Messiah already hidden and unrecognized on the earth. We understand, therefore, that the theme of “Messiah hidden in heaven and then coming to the earth”, was a part of the intertestamental  Judaism.  I believe, it can help us understand better the history of Israel.

– If messiah is not recognized – and he is not supposed to be recognized – it means that he has to be silent about his messiahship. In effect, it means that the idea that when the Messiah comes, he would keep silence concerning his messianic status and would go unrecognized until God makes him manifest, becomes a current idea of Jewish religious thought at the turn of the era. The Messiah needed to remain hidden and could not reveal who he was. Thus we arrive to a new and deeper understanding of the messianic secret of the Gospels: we understand that the silence of Jesus of the Gospels was precisely what was expected of the Messiah when he should come.

It is at this point, with all these conclusions achieved, that we will move on to the New Testament …

 

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. Allan Gordon Hopgood

    Hi Julia,
    I am slightly baffled when you say the hidden Messiah. The Old Testament foretold his coming and the New Testament confirmed his coming. Why is there any doubt , Jesus fulfilled the prophecies concerning his coming, he was lashed, died and rose again in accordance with the scriptures, we say this in the creed every Sunday at Mass.
    Who ever denies that Jesus is the Son of God is of the spirit of the Antichrist.
    There is no doubt in my mind, have I missed a point here, please advise.
    Allan

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Allan, thanks for asking , it is a very serious question. Of course, there is a common idea that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies of TANACH and that the Jewish people did not recognize Him only because of their blindness. There has been a growing understanding in the last decades that this view of the matter is heavily influenced by Christian theology. When we start seeing the coming of Jesus against the background of Jewish society of the first century; when we begin to study the messianic expectations of the people of Israel and compare them with the ministry of Jesus – we begin to understand that by no way it was so easy (as it seems to us today), to recognize Him. This is one difference I expect my articles to make.

    2. DOROTHY HEALY

      Allan, The main point of Julia’s thesis is that Jesus himself did not reveal to the Jews of his day that he was the Messiah, therefore she says that he himself ‘hid’ his true identity. Sure, He is not hidden to us, but he was hidden to them. I’m sure this will become clearer to you when we begin to look at the NT scriptures.
      It is very easy for us, on this side of history, to see that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies concerning his coming. But was it so easy for those who lived in the day-to-day reality of 1st C Judaism? Indeed, there are also many prophecies concerning the Messiah that Jesus did not fulfil in his first appearing. Also, most of the common people probably did not read and write, but had to rely on the leaders and teachers at the synagogues/Temple. Meanwhile, the leaders, who did not have the discernment of the Holy Spirit, clung to their positions of power and influence and did not have eyes to see that the humble carpenter’s son from Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah.
      Probably you are a Catholic, so you would also understand that what the Church teaches is what the vast majority of Catholics believe without question. So it was in those days, the common man would have tended to believe without question what the leaders taught – they would have heeded their warnings against ‘false messiahs’, and considered it dangerous to discern truth for themselves.

  2. DOROTHY HEALY

    This post further confirms that the Messiah can only be known through revelation by God. Wise and pious men throughout the ages have wrestled to understand the mysteries that are hidden in God, but the so-called wise and prudent cannot perceive that truth, if their eyes have not been opened.
    I think this should also caution Christians to be humble and cautious in their expectations regarding His return. Indeed many are the theories that abound because of emphasis put on particular scriptures, and neglect of others.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Dorothy! Indeed, the more we know, the more we understand how complicated the story of Israel and her Messianic expectations was – the more humble and cautious we should be regarding the things which the Father has put in His own authority.

  3. Vivienne Bell

    Thank you for this interesting email – it’s wonderful to see the changes coming about on both sides – those who have recognised Him starting to learn more about the Hebrew roots of their faith and at last, loving the Jews! Also those who didn’t recognise Him having Him revealed and realising that He came to them not only to reveal the love of the Father, but to express His very words when teaching and they are starting to recognise the attributes of YHWH shown in Him – Provider, Healer and ultimately Saviour and Redeemer, redeeming believers with His own precious blood!

    1. Julia Blum

      You are right, Vivienne, it is absolutely wonderful to see the changes coming on both sides. It is a big part of my mission and the whole purpose of these studies – to make these changes happen and to see them happening! Thank you!

  4. Angelika Walter

    Thank you, Julia, for showing us how the idea of a hidden and later revealed Messiah was present in Second Temple Judaism. The quotes from the Targums and rabbinic literature are really astonishing. I´m glad that today even jewish scholars like Boyarin or Nanos recognize that the New Testament does not contradict the Old, but is in line with jewish thoughts at that time. I´m still struggling to understand the meaning why Messiah was supposed not to be recognized and what this implies – is he hidden away because of sins (like Targum Mica), is he hidden for the sake of the nations (Rom.11) and to prove our (non-jewish) hearts, is it both and intertwined?
    I pray that God reveals His Messiah in our days!
    Angelika

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Angelika, it is always great to hear from you. I wrote here already (replying to Samuel’s comment) that so far, we have been dealing with the Jewish background of the Messianic secret, with extra-biblical sources only. In a few weeks, when we will study the messianic secret in Luke-Acts, we can come back to your questions, OK? (It’s like you wouldn’t discuss the details of the next episode of the show with somebody who hasn’t watched it yet 🙂 I don’t want to “spoil” the next “episode” 🙂 .)

  5. Matthews Otalike

    Thanks Julia for your perspectives to this study. It provides great insight.

  6. jane z mazzola

    A very interesting & enlightening post for me…to learn more of this background of the “hidden Messiah” references throughout the early Jewish history, from the Scripture + the other sources (not familiar to me) that you have cited. I’ll look forward to your moving into this concept more deeply in the NT.

    Continued blessings,
    Jane M

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Jane! I will publish some posts on seemingly different topics ( even though they all are related , of course), and then , after couple weeks, we will study “hidden Messiah ” concept in the NT. So – stay tuned for my next posts! 🙂

  7. Kat

    I really enjoyed this study!!!!!!

    “the final redeemer would at first be revealed to them, and then be concealed from them for a while”

    Something I can’t quite put my finger on within the meaning of the word revealed is the word “Spirit” (“born again” John 3:1-6 and” Spirit and in truth” John 4:24). The Spirit referenced in these verses was before the death and resurrection of Christ. The Spirit or Advocate referenced in John 16:6-15 is after His death and resurrection? This is confusing to me because the revelation of Christ seemed more like a light to me prior to overcoming or seeing Christ as Lord inside of me. I have nothing to explain that yes Christ is Lord, but at the same time He is concealed in me.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Kat, what you wrote is very profound indeed (I don’t think it’s confusing, i think it’s just very deep and wonderful): one needs the revelation to see the Messiah inside of him!

      1. Kat H

        That is because you know Hebrew :). My Biblical language is law free , yet my guiding light had to do with law. This makes me lost in translation and biased towards myself LOL

        In studying the word Hallelujah and Jer 31:33 I see the LORD of the covenant will be our God (angel /messenger)? Looking forward to more………..

  8. Mark Stevens

    Dear Julia,
    Again, thank you for addressing this fascinating topic. It is one that never really occurred to me as I read and re-read the Gospels. This conclusion of the Messiah being “hidden and revealed” and thus the expectation that when the Messiah did come that He would need to remain hidden seems to be a “Catch 22” for the Jewish people. They are expecting a Messiah, but they wouldn’t recognize Him when He came because he was to remain hidden as one of the proofs He was the Messiah! It doesn’t appear as this was part of the issue with the Judean leaders, however, when Jesus did walk among them at His first coming, or was it? They rejected Him for a number of reasons, but there is no Biblical New Covenant record that I am aware of that they could have received Him because Jesus did not reveal His true identity, but remained hidden. Unless the High Priests, Scribes, rulers, etc., were not well versed in these teachings, why was this not a consideration of theirs in possibly recognizing Jesus as Messiah?
    Good stuff!

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Mark, thank you for your encouraging words and thank you for your openness. We haven’t really dealt with the Messianic secret and Hidden Messiah in the Gospels yet, we have been dealing only with extra-biblical sources. In a few weeks, we will study the Messianic Secret in Luke-Acts texts, and then, if it’s ok With you , we can discuss it in details ( I rather would not discuss it before these posts are published).

  9. PREMKUMAR SAMUEL

    Madam,
    Were there false messiah’s during the time of Jesus Christ who were proclaiming themselves as the promised messiah and if so was Jesus deliberately avoiding self revelation so that those who knew was left to identify who he was based on the fruits of His ministry.

    He repeatedly used the name of the most High ,I IAM

    He deliberately fulfilled Zechariah 9:9

    He was killed because He revealed who he was, the major charge against Him was Blasphemy.
    So is Messianic Secret a Man made distinction?

    or Did Jesus wait for His resurrection to reveal who He was?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Samuel. So far, I have been dealing with the Jewish background of the Messianic secret, with the motives of hidden, or unrecognized Messiah, in the different streams of Second Temple Jewish literature – but only with extra-biblical sources. In a few weeks, we will study the messianic secret in the NT, following this topic through Luke-Acts texts. I am sure we will have more answers then- and then we can come back to your question.

  10. George W Walker.

    Could the following passage, indicate the future appearance of the Hidden Messiah, as his Lord is at right hand of the Lord, though he could sit at his side at the same time, as he has Enemies on earth, who are to be made his footstool
    And the Lord will send the rod of thy strength out of Zion.

    He is also commanded to rule in the midst of His
    enemies.
    1[[A Psalm of David.]] The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
    2The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi George. As I wrote in the post, the Targums, when referring to the Messiah, often speak of him as “being revealed”. So of course, within this tradition, this passage can be read as indicating the future appearance (revelation) of the Hidden Messiah.