Messianic Expectations of the First Century CE

14 Apr

Jews today are still looking for the coming of the Messiah. Their claim is he has not yet come, and they at least imply that the views of Judaism today are representative of all Jews of every generation since the Temple period. They simply don’t believe Jesus fulfilled the promises God gave to Israel that they presume would identify who the Messiah ben David would be. Nevertheless, whatever one believes about Judaism today, it would be wrong to assume that today’s Jewish understanding of this important matter represents the whole Jewish faith of the 1st century CE. Judaism today is the result of the efforts of Pharisaical/Rabbinic Judaism following the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 CE. During the days of Jesus and the apostles, there existed many Jewish disciplines and approaches to Scriptural understanding. All but the discipline of the Pharisees faded away after the Jewish rebellion against Rome. What then would the Jews at that time have been looking for in a Messianic figure, that is, during the days of Jesus and shortly prior to his coming?

We must not forget that the New Testament was written by Jews. We Gentile Christians seem to forget that this work is a very Jewish work and represented a genuine Jewish point of view of God and his work during the 1st century CE. This would be true even if one couldn’t claim Jesus is the long awaited Messiah; and the New Testament is definitely not a Pharisaical work. That is, although there are some similarities between what we find in the New Testament and what the Pharisees believed (e.g. the resurrection of the believer), it doesn’t represent the views of the Pharisees in the 1st century. Within the pages of our New Testament we find that there were a number of folks within Jewish society who looked for the coming of the Messiah in their time. We find three such people before Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:41-43, 46-55; 68-79). The Scriptures also show two at the time of his birth (Luke 2:25-32, 36-38), and there is much more than these if one could show the Magi from the east were, in fact, high ranking Jews from Persia come to greet their new King. Moreover, during Jesus’ public ministry and at his death, we are told of many who looked to him as the one who should come. Therefore, there were a great number of Jews who thought the promised Messiah should come exactly when Jesus arrived.

In addition to the New Testament, there were apocalyptic Jewish writings, some of which I hope to refer to in the next few days that represented the coming Messiah as a bigger than life figure — perhaps a divine being. There were also several Aramaic translations/paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures that were used in the synagogues every Sabbath during the 1st century CE, whereby a scribe would translate or paraphrase what was read from the Hebrew Scriptures to the Jewish congregation. In several earlier blogs, I have referred to some of the content of these translations/paraphrases and how they sparked further commentary among the rabbis. One example of this would be Eve’s Messianic Expectations. The point of the matter is, however, that the present opinion that Jews have about the Messiah, may come from the 1st century and before, but it should not be construed to be what all Jews in the 1st century believed or looked for in the Messiah. Such an belief can be show to be false.

Tomorrow, I hope to get into the actual arguments I have heard from Jews, expressing why they believe Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. Some of these objections include: could the Messiah have been a Divine Being (God), did the Messiah have to suffer and die, and could he have been sent to atone for sin. Many Jews believe such things come directly out of paganism. Do they? Well, as I hope to show in the coming days, they are really derived out of ancient Judaism itself.

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Posted by on April 14, 2010 in Jesus, Religion


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