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. Michele Thompson

    Paul teaches us in Romans 10: 25-32 of the mystery of the ‘hardening in part’… of Israel for the benefit of the nations – Israel continues to pay the price for God’s plan! However, even as we see the Holy Spirit opening up – revealing – the deeper treasury of His word for our time – He has no problem bringing the ‘resurrection of the dead’ that Paul also speaks of when He reveals Messiah ben Joseph to his covenant people – just reading the account in Exodus, filled with love and such emotion – signals to me how much Yeshua waits for that moment – and, we know what happened the last time there was a resurrection – it changed the world! Thank you Julia, for your careful study and hours spent in such a glorious endeavor. Shalom.

  2. Dan Bruce

    The extra-biblical confusion that is shown in the sample of Jewish writings about Messiah cited in the above article accounts for the spiritual blindness that greeted Yeshua in his first appearance to Israel two-thousand years ago, and also account for much of the spiritual blindness of Jewish people who follow rabbinical teachings today. In that sense, Yeshua was (and is) hidden from Israel by false teaching. Instead of relying only on what the Scriptures plainly say about Messiah, the concept of Messiah has been hidden behind erroneous man-made interpretations that distort the redemptive mission of Messiah by emphasizing only the national military narrative. Even John the Baptist was confused when he sent his disciples to ask Yeshua, “Are you the one, or should we look for another?” The biggest problem I have today when sharing Yeshua with Jewish people is that very few of them are familiar with what the Scriptures teach about Messiah, and those who are (mainly rabbis and professors) have their minds cluttered with the false teaching of the Talmud and other post-biblical musings, many of which have been formulated specifically to deny Yeshua as Messiah and Son of God.

    1. Julia Blum

      Dan, I can say a lot about “extra-biblical confusion” and “spiritual blindness of Jewish people”, about “erroneous man-made interpretations’, about the confusion of John the Baptist and about “the false teaching of the Talmud and other post-biblical musings” – but I don’t think I can convince you, and I don’t think it is my place (or my job) to convince you. If a few pieces are missing from a large puzzle, it’s difficult to see the whole picture. However, when the missing pieces fall into place, everything suddenly makes perfect sense. I do hope and believe (and pray) that my posts here become these missing pieces for many and help them to see the bigger picture – but it’s completely up to Him whether they become (or don’t become) these missing pieces for you. As Nick wrote, we are not going to start one of those endless theological arguments. Let’s just leave one another in God’s hands – because, once again, His thoughts are not our thoughts. .. Blessings!

      1. Dan Bruce

        As long as we realize that the New Covenant Temple (the church)—Yeshua being the cornerstone, Jewish believers and Gentile believers equally being the building blocks—are the vehicle for propagating the Gospel of Jesus to the world today, and that each person is responsible for responding to that message, we are on the same page. There is no other way than faith in Yeshua, and each individual is responsible for seeking atonement with G-d through Him. However, I sense that you are being an apologist for Jews (past and present) who have unbelief based on wrong interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, saying that they have no responsibility for their unbelief because G-d himself has blinded them to Yeshua. I don’t think you can support that proposition from the Bible.

        1. Zlatan Zlatanov

          Zlatan Zlatanov
          Es ist möglich Jeschu’a Ha Maschi’jach zu erkennen und entdecken wenn mann die Hebräische Heilige Schriften liest – nicht andere Übersetzungen – weil sie andere sind. In Israel ist geboren Jeschu’a Ha Maschi’jach und keinen anderen. Liest bitte in – הברית החדשה ותהלים
          – The Bible Society in Israel; Yaffo 17, Jeruschalaijm; P. O. Box 44; Jerusalem 91000, Israel; © 1976, 1991, 1995, 2003, 2005, 2006, Printed in Israel 2008; Order no 21 555; UBS Code M540; ISBN 965-431-021-X הברית החדשה ותהלים – Der Neue Bund (falsch genant – das Neue Testament), 500 Seiten.

          Alle Texte in Hebräisch zeigen, dass vor 2017 Jahren Maschi’jach ist nicht anerkannt worden, weil sie wollten nicht ihre Arbeitsplätze verlieren und noch weniger ihre Bezahlung als Lehrer (Rabis) oder Führer – weil Jeschu’a sagte, dass ER – der König der Juden sei; oder Priester – weil ER sagte, dass ER der Hoche Priester sei.
          Oder ER sagte – Ich bin JeHoVaH – der ‘Elochijm – und sie wollten IHN steinigen. Alle Behauptungen von unser Retter, Erlöser und Heil – (יֵשׁוּעַ) – Jeschu’a – ist die Übersetzung. Als König und der Gesalbte – (מָּשִׁיחַ) – Maschi’jach – ist die Übersetzung. Es gibt keine andere Name durch den wir gerettet werden können. Die alte erste Heilige Schriften von הברית החדשה ותהלים – Der Neue Bund in Hebräisch sind verbrand geworden, damit alle Schriften in griechisch erscheinen – wo eine andere Name angeboten ist und es war Geld bezahlt dafür – niemand zu predigen im Namen von Jeschúʽa Maschíjach ← (יֵשׁוּעַ מָּשִׁיחַ) – Hebräisch. Somit sind von Jeruschalaijm und Israel vor 2000 Jahren – alle vertrieben, oder getötet wegen dieser Befehl.

          Erst im Jahr 1976 ist alles von den Schöpfer ’Elochijm JeHoVaH (אֱלֺהִים יְהֺוָֽה) – in Korea – הברית החדשה ותהלים – Der Neue Bund wiederhergestellt in Hebräisch. Vergebung von Sünden ist nur im Namen Jeschúʽa Maschíjach ← (יֵשׁוּעַ מָּשִׁיחַ) – möglich.

  3. Gillian Jones

    Julia thank you for an amazing article and I look forward to reading the books you have suggested to others in earlier posts, indeed this is an really interesting topic, and I have now looked at the Joseph story in a new light, obviously as a born again Christian I have had a revalation of Christ through God and the annointing of the Holy Spirit in my life – for which I am eternally grateful, but that just makes me what to understand and unravel so much more of the Word, especially the New is in the Old contained and the Old is in the new explained talking about the Testaments naturally. For me the true mystery lies in why or how the Jewish people did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah having the knoweldge of the Old Testment, but I guess as you have discussed earlier the Church Leaders had a lot to do with laws and beliefs etc. Look forward to starting the New Testament course in October, I am currently busy with Hebrew .

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words, Gillian. I am glad you are starting the JBNT course in October, it’s a wonderful course and it will definitely enrich your understanding of the New Testament. The mystery you refer to – why or how the Jewish people did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah having the knowledge of the Old Testament – is exactly the question we are trying to answer here: as I mentioned several times, we are trying to assemble this puzzle, to see the bigger picture called “Israel and Jesus”, and I hope that my articles have been – and will be – helpful in assembling this puzzle.

  4. Elizabeth Seibel-Ross

    I appreciate having this time-line that reflects the evolution of the Jewish literature’s view of Messiah:

    1st c. BC: Messiah is hidden in Heaven

    inter-testamental period: Messiah is hidden but coming to earth

    1st c. AD/CE: Messiah remains hidden, unrecognized on earth

    I agree that it’s helpful in understanding Israel’s history. Thank you!

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Elizabeth, I think we both understand that like any other chart or graph (actually, any scientific research), this time-line presents Jewish literature in a simplified and generalized way. However, you are right, it is still very helpful – like any other chart or graph or research – and this is the reason I did this whole study. Thank you for staying interested and active on this blog, I really enjoy your comments!

      1. Elizabeth (Lisa) Seibel-Ross

        Absolutely, but a nice chart can be a helpful guide to find where you on the timeline sometimes, especially when it comes to the mysteries of the development of all the different literatures.

        Whenever I can be here it’s my pleasure to spend time here – good company!

  5. Tom Englehart

    It becomes confusing to us that Christ was hidden yet He was revealed. The fact that He was the Messiah and yet did not deliver Israel from their immediate enemies became a stumbling block to them. They looked for an earthly deliverance, trusting in the sacrificial system for deliverance from sin. However He was revealed as a Savior (Sacrifice) for the deliverance of our souls.

    1. Julia Blum

      I understand, Tom, the whole topic of Hidden and Revealed Messiah is a mystery – and any mystery might seem to be confusing. Yes, there are many who like Peter – and like you, I suppose, – received this Revelation “not from flesh and blood ” but “from the Father in Heaven”; yet, it only confirms the fact that God is the only One Who can Reveal the Messiah. I hope, when we start studying this topic in the New Testament, it will become more clear ( and less confusing). Blessings!

  6. Peter K.O. Adeyemi

    Thanks Julia for your writing on the hidden Messiah from the Targum. It’s quite amazing that that the truth about the Messiah is hidden in the extra- biblical sources.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Peter, I totally agree : it is amazing to find all these references to the Messiah/Savior in the inter-testamental literature and extra-biblical sources.

  7. Ruth

    I am interested that one of our goals in studying this is to better understand why the Jews of that time failed to recognise Jesus as the Messiah and to sympathise with them. Personally the closer I feel to the Lord, the more deeply connected I feel to the people of Israel – it is so strong now I wonder if I might be Jewish!!

    Those dear religious leaders had devoted their lives to this stuff – being the spiritual leaders of Israel – waking and sleeping they consumed the scriptures and the Talmud – wore all those clothes performed all those ceremonies, kept themselves clean – a whole life journey

    And up rocks this young carpenter with His smelly fishermen disciples.

    They had been the first people He engaged with at the age of 12 – I suspect He felt deeply their predicament, He never stopped meeting with them in their homes and in the temple all over Israel, however harshly they condemned Him – He continued to keep His foot in the door for them

    He didn’t observe all the laws, not in the way they had learned to – He was unschooled and half the age of most of the priests – but with a huge following and rather challenging message making the priests (and all of us) duck and dive in self protection as His laser sharp teaching gently, tenderly, mercifully smashes our idle comfortable self righteousness – and laws fenced in very much the direction that affords us the greatest comfort – I understand the reaction of the priests was one aimed at saving all they had devoted their whole lives to – a primitive knee jerk reaction to out of this world discomfort – not one of us who would follow Him has not known this in some measure – dying to ourselves seems such a foolish thing to do, until we do it!!

  8. Kat

    The problem I had with the word believe (John 3:16) is the same problem I had with my commitment to keep the Law (Exodus 19:8). God didn’t have a part. Understand I was from a non-believing/religious background. All of my vocabulary words (commitment, keep, believe, trust, relationship) were something I did — works. What did the LORD do? Yes Jesus died on the cross, but that was something He did not something He was doing in me (forgiveness). This doesn’t mean that all who believe are under works. What it has meant to me is I needed to know what God’s part was in my salvation. His part can be seen clearly in these articles, but in evangelism even accepting Christ was something I did. Repentance was me calling upon the LORD for something I couldn’t do. God knows everything – this I believed and so I asked.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for sharing, Kat. Yes, this is an important part: there is “something we can’t do “- and only He can. I think, we can see it in these Hidden Messiah articles as well: God is the one who opens the eyes to see the Messiah! God is the only one who can open – or close the eyes; it’s crucial for both our personal story and for “Israel-Yeshua” story. In a few weeks, when we will study Hidden Messiah in Luke-Acts, it will become very clear.

  9. Angeline

    Julia

    This is good stuff, thank you. You set me thinking. The hidden Messiah and the Joseph story. Joseph suffered and was hidden for a purpose, to save Israel. Could this be a replay of the same act?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Angeline, the parallels are striking indeed. There is a whole chapter about Joseph and these parallels in my book “If you are the Son of God come down from the cross”. This whole book is about Israel and Yeshua , and God’s plan with Israel. If you are interested to have a look, you can get it from Amazon ( it has also Kindle edition).

    2. DOROTHY HEALY

      Angeline, I thoroughly recommend you read Julia’s book – it is profound. And yes, the whole story of Joseph is an amazing prophetic metaphor of the messiah Yeshua.