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Note of the Day – January 25

The narrative of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), with its central Scripture passage (Isaiah 61:1-2) was introduced in the previous note. Today, I will be examining the significance of the passage from Isaiah. This can be understood from two primary aspects:

First, in terms of the themes and motifs of Isa 40-66 (so-called deutero- and trito-Isaiah), especially those related to the restoration of Israel and the return of God’s people from exile. In an earlier note, I discussed the allusions to a number of Isaian passages in Lk 2:25-38—that is, in the context of devout Jews who are waiting (to receive) the “consolation [para/klhsi$] of Israel” (v. 25) and the “redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem” (v. 38). These passages are thus to be understood in a “Messianic” context, broadly speaking—by the first century B.C./A.D., the idea of the “restoration” of Israel (and its kingdom), was closely tied to the coming of a new (Anointed) Ruler who would re-establish the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam 7/Psalm 89, etc).

Second, Isaiah 61:1ff specifically as a Messianic passage. That the passage was understood this way in Jesus’ own time is indicated by the Qumran text 4Q521. This text survives only in several fragments, the largest of which (frag. 2 [col. ii]) reads as follows:

…[for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his Anointed One [i.e. Messiah jyvm], 2[and all th]at is in them will not turn away from the precepts of the holy ones. 3Strengthen yourselves, you who are seeking the Lord, in his service! {blank} 4Will you not in this encounter the Lord, all those who hope in their heart? 5For the Lord will consider the pious, and call the righteous by name, 6and his Spirit will hover upon the poor, and he will renew the faithful with his strength. 7For he will honor the pious upon the throne of an eternal kingdom, 8freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twis[ted]. 9And for[e]ver shall I cling [to those who h]ope, and in his mercy […] 10and the fru[it of …] will not be delayed. 11And the Lord will perform marvellous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id], 12[for] he will heal the wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor 13and […] … […] he will lead the […] … and enrich the hungry. 14 […] and all … […] (translation, with slight modification, from Florentino García Martínez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1997-8, 2000 Brill/Eerdmans, Vol. 2, p. 1045)

This section contains a blending of several Old Testament passages, primarily Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (for a somewhat similar use of Isa 61:1f cf. also 11QMelchizedek [11Q13]). The role of the Messiah (line 1) in what follows is not entirely clear, but it is possible that he is the agent through whom God will perform “marvellous acts” (line 11ff). It is hard to be certain, but the remaining fragments (especially frag. 2 col iii with its allusion to Mal 4:5-6) suggest the Anointed One (see also pl. “Anointed Ones” in frag. 8) should be understood as a prophetic figure, in the manner of Elijah. This will be discussed further below.

Isa 61:1, in its original context, referred to the prophet himself (trad. Isaiah)—the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and anointed him to bring good news to the poor and oppressed; vv. 2-11 describe and promise the restoration of Israel, including a (new) covenant with God (v. 8) and (new) righteousness that will be manifest to all nations (vv. 9-11). Once the full sense of this “restoration” was transferred to the future, the speaker came to be identified with an Anointed eschatological (end-time) Prophet. Admittedly, prophets are not usually referred to as “anointed” in the Old Testament, but in later Judaism it became more common, and in the Qumran texts the word is used a number of times (especially in the plural) for the Prophets of Israel. At various points in its history, the Qumran Community (as reflected in the texts) seems to have expected three different Anointed (Messiah) figures—(1) a (royal) Messiah of Israel (sometimes with the title “Branch of David” or “Prince of the Congregation”), (2) a (priestly) Messiah of Aaron (perhaps identified with the “Interpreter of the Law”), and (3) a Prophet. It just so happens, of course, that these represent the three traditional “offices” of Christ (King, Priest, Prophet).

The concept of a “Messianic” (eschatological) Prophet derives from two main Old Testament passages:

  • Deuteronomy 18:15-19—The “Prophet like Moses” whom God will raise up.
  • Malachi 3:1-2—The Messenger, identified in Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] with Elijah, who will prepare the way of the Lord before His coming.

Both are attested as “Messianic” passages at Qumran and in the New Testament—for Deut 18:15-19 cf. 4Q175; 1QS 9:11; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37 (and see below); for Mal 3:1-2; 4:5-6 cf. 4Q521 frag. 2.iii; 4Q558(?); Mark 1:2; Matt 11:10ff; Luke 1:76. Elijah was the more popular figure, either as a type for the end-time Prophet or as Elijah redivivus (Elijah himself returning)—cf. Sirach 48:10-11; 4Q558; Mark 9:11-12 par.; Mishnah Sotah 9 (the Beraita), B. Metsia 1:8, 3:4, Eduyyot 8:7, and numerous passages in the Talmud (j. Sheqalim 3:3; b. Berakoth 35a, Shabbat 118a, Erubin 43b, Pesachim 13a, Chagigah 25a, Sotah 49b, B. Metsia 3a, Sanhedrin 48a, Menachot 45a, etc.). He was associated especially with the end-time judgment (cf. the Rabbinic invocation of his return in relation to resolving disputes), and with the resurrection (in addition to the talmudic references above, cf. j. Ketubot 12:3; Pes. de R. Kahana 76a; also 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 7, for a connection between the Messiah and the resurrection).

Beyond the traditions indicated in these texts, the Lukan passage under discussion itself provides evidence for interpreting Isa 61:1-2 as referring to Jesus as an Anointed Prophet according to the type of Elijah:

  • Jesus’ saying in Lk 4:24 (par.) effectively identifies him as a prophet
  • The two Scriptural illustrations in vv. 25-27 are all from the Elijah/Elisha narratives in 1 Kings 17:1-18:1; 2 Kings 5 (these are the only OT Prophets mentioned in the context of anointing, cf. 1 Kings 19:16).

Indeed, I would argue that Jesus, at the earliest levels of Gospel tradition, was primarily thought of in terms of an Anointed (Messianic) Prophet, moreso than as the Anointed (Davidic) King. It is hard to find an Old Testament passage more applicable to the ministry of Jesus (as recorded in the Synoptics) than Isa 61:1-2; and Jesus himself cites very similar language in response to the Baptist’s question (“Are you the Coming One?”), Luke 7:18-23/Matt 11:2-6. By the “One (Who Is) Coming” probably the eschatological Prophet is meant (Deut 18:15-19), and Jesus is explicitly identified with the “Prophet like Moses” in Acts 3:22-23; 7:37. The Gospel of John perhaps preserves something of this tradition of Jesus as “the Prophet” in Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17[?] (cf. also Luke 7:39 v.l.).

The association of Jesus with Elijah in Gospel tradition is more complicated. The use of Isa 61:1-2 would seem to suggest it, but the Synoptic Gospels, at least, identify John the Baptist with Elijah (Mark 1:2; 9:12-13 par. [saying of Jesus]; Matt 11:10-14 [saying of Jesus]; Luke 1:17). However, in Jn 1:20-21, the Baptist denies, in turn, that he is “the Anointed One [Messiah]”, “Elijah”, and “the Prophet”—apparently, these are to be understood as three different figures—and, since, Jesus would seem to fulfill the first and third, presumably he would the second (Elijah) as well. Certainly, the traditional association of Elijah with the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, applies prominently to Jesus.

In the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:2-8; Matt 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36), Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus (traditionally they are depicted on either side of him). It is customary to interpret Moses and Elijah as representing the Law (Torah) and Prophets respectively; however, given the evidence above, I think that the original import of the scene may have been to confirm, symbolically, Jesus as the Anointed Prophet-to-Come (fulling the typology of both Moses and Elijah). In Jewish thought, both figures play an important eschatological role, and an early tradition along these lines would seem to underlie Revelation 11:1-13. It is noteworthy, that in the Synoptic tradition, following the Transfiguration, Jesus again identifies John the Baptist with Elijah redivivus (Mark 9:9-13 par. [but not in Luke]). Clearly, then, Elijah is distinguished from both the (Davidic?) Messiah and the coming Prophet. In later Jewish tradition, Elijah precedes and announces (even anoints?) the Messiah (appar. the Jew Trypho in Justin’s Dialogue 8, 49; Targum Ps-Jon. on Deut 30:4; and b. Erubin 43b). This idea may have already been current in Jesus’ time.

In the Gospel tradition as it has come down to us (most clearly in the Synoptics), Jesus as the Anointed One [Messiah] is presented in a two-fold aspect:

  1. As the Prophet (to Come)—limited essentially to the Galilean ministry, and with the role of “Elijah” reserved for John the Baptist.
  2. As the King (“Son of David”)—this is associated with the ministry in Jerusalem, beginning with the Triumphal Entry and continuing into the Passion and Resurrection narratives.

(The discussion on Luke 4:16-30 will conclude in the next day’s note, with an examination of the people’s reaction to Jesus.)

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