Messianic Expectations

Use your imagination with me for a minute. Let’s say that I told you some details about something that was going to happen in the future:

  • Across the street in your neighborhood there will one day be a change
  • There will be no more houses but something larger than anything else in your town.
  • There will be a place of truth.
  • They will never know darkness
  • They will change the world.

What are some possibilities of what that might be? Is it only one thing? More than one?

Before you know the whole story, you develop a whole range of expectations of what might happen. The Essenes at Qumran believed that there might be several Messianic figures because of the conflicting images in the Old Testament (comforter, warrior, deliverer, etc). However, once you learn what all these things are describing, it all makes sense and you begin to realize new things that pointed to that future reality that you never noticed before.

What was being described in the hypothetical example above? A center that is producing Christian literature, training, and transporting missionaries and literature all over the world. They are reaching the lost on a daily basis. It is one building, not many. It never knows darkness because it runs 24/7 and because it is doing its part to be a light to the world. It is a place of truth and is changing the world. Now that you know that, it all makes sense. You begin to realize that some of the possibilities you generated were not quite correct, although they had some correct components.

One difficulty we run into is that some of the information was figurative and others parts were literal. Some parts had both figurative and literal components (no night). The temptation is that once you have had the answer to those details, after a while you begin to think that it all made perfect sense the whole time. But it didn’t. That is like the view of the Messiah. Now that we know it is Jesus, it really changes the way you look at scripture. Now, all of a sudden things jump out that sound like the Messiah that were not recognized that way all the time. It sounds obvious to us because we know about Jesus but it wasn’t as obvious to them.

We read verses like the following as obvious prophesies of Jesus:

  • Isa 53
  • Psalm 22
  • Isa 7:14
  • Zech 11:12-13 (Mtt 27:9-10)
  • Jer 31:31-34

These were not so obvious to them. Only in hindsight do these things begin to fall into place from our perspective of knowing that Jesus is the answer. There are all sorts of charts and diagrams on the prophesies concerning the Messiah but one thing is clear, if they had made a chart of what they considered prophesies of the Messiah in 600 B.C. it would certainly have been a lot shorter than the ones we develop today. Why? Because now we can see those things clearly and more pieces begin to fall into place.

The Jew’s had a misunderstanding of who/what the Messiah was supposed to be because they didn’t have all of the pieces in front of them and they weren’t privy to all the stories about Jesus’ life that we are. What do you typically hear that the Jews expected in a Messiah?

  • Military leader who would free them from the Romans.
    • Acts 1:6 – Restore the kingdom
    • Mark 10:35-45, Luke 22:24-27 – sitting by Jesus in the kingdom
    • John 6:15 – they were going to make Jesus king.
    • John 19:19 – King of the Jews (irony)

Where does this idea come from?

  • Who did the Jews live under rule from? Rome.
  • Was that all fun and games? They were oppressed and had to pay heavy taxes, etc.
  • What do we do when we want to find out what God has to say about things like that? Turn to our Bibles.
  • What Bibles did they have prior to Jesus? – Old Testament. So they looked there to see what God did in times like these.
  • They found verses like the following:
    • Isa 56:6-8
    • Isa 61
    • Hag 2:7
    • Dan 7:13-28

When God’s people had been in exile and oppression in the past, God promised and sent deliverance. How would Roman oppression be any different?

People started looking for additional fulfillments of Old Testament prophesies, many of which had already had an initial fulfillment in figures like Zerubabel and Cyrus the great in order to make sense of their situation with Rome. Little did they realize that the Messiah that would come would have a greater purpose than freedom from momentary struggles. Therefore, they misunderstood him and eventually killed him, ironically with the sign over his head “King of the Jews.”

Another problem and temptation is to read back into the text what is not there. Once you begin looking for Messianic prophesies you start to see them everywhere! But that is not always being fair with the text. Some prophesies had dual fulfillments (Isa 7:14 – the first fulfillment is a “young woman” having Isaiah’s baby in 8:1-4 and the other is in Jesus). Some scriptures that appear to have a Messianic twist may not have any at all except a loose connection by a few common words or themes that may not have been intended. I often wonder if Hosea 11:1 is not one of these. We like to connect this verse with Jesus time in Egypt in infancy. Whether or not that was the intention is highly questionable.

The bottom line is that we have to be honest in trying to understand and appreciate the Old Testament in two ways. First, we need to appreciate it for what it meant when it was written. When Isaiah prophesied about a son being born to a young woman, it was really a message of hope to them because he was using that as an illustration of a time-table for deliverance (Isa 7:14-16) that had significance in giving them hope in their present day circumstances. It is not very hopeful to say that 700 years from now deliverane will finally occur. Did it mean more than that? Of course. Ultimately Jesus was the greater fulfillment of that prophesy. But first we have to appreciate it for what it meant in their day. Second, we appreciate the text in light of the rest of the story. Now we do no about Christ and we should never discount that. He brings a greater light to the story and illuminates parts that have never made sense but are only brought together in an understanding of his life, death, and resurrection.

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