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Jesus the Messiah

Note of the Day – June 2

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Having discussed the Holy Spirit in the Lukan Infancy narrative in the previous daily note, today I will begin a short survey of how the theme/idea of the Spirit is used and developed throughout Luke-Acts. Luke has more specific references to the Spirit than any of the other Gospels (17/18 in Luke, compared with 6 in Mark, 12 in Matthew, and 15 in John), along with more than 50 occurrences in the book of Acts. These Spirit references can, I think, be divided into three basic categories:

  1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
  2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
  3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

Like a developing musical motif, these three aspects are found in conjunction already in the early passages of the Gospel, in the Infancy narratives and at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

The Infancy narratives

  • The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary (Lk 1:35, “will come upon you”)
  • John and his parents are filled by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:15, 41, 67); in the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth, this filling leads directly to an inspired (poetic) oracle
  • Simeon is led in the Spirit (Lk 2:27, cf. also vv. 25-26)

Similarly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry

  • The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at the baptism (Lk 3:22, cf. also 4:18ff)
  • Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit following the baptism (Lk 4:1a)
  • Jesus is led in the (power of the) Spirit (Lk 4:1b, 14)

I begin with the theme of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus and believers, etc. The first such reference is found in the Angel’s annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:35, cf. the previous note). This prophecy is similar in many ways to the declaration by Jesus in Acts 1:8, with each announcement holding a comparable place in the Gospel and Acts, respectively:

  • The Angel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon [e)peleu/setai e)pi] you”—which will result in the miraculous birth of Jesus
  • Jesus to his disciples: “you will receive…(at) the Holy Spirit’s coming upon [e)pelqo/nte$ e)pi] you” [i.e. when the Holy Spirit comes upon you]—which will result in the supernatural ‘new birth’ of the disciples (cf. Jn 1:12-13; 3:3-8)

Again, there is a clear parallel between Jesus and the disciples in the context of Baptism (Lk 3:16; Acts 1:5):

  • Jesus: “…the Holy Spirit stepping [i.e. coming] down in bodily appearance as a dove upon [e)pi] him”—baptism by John in water (Lk 3:22)
  • Disciples: “…tongues appeared as fire and sat (down) upon [e)pi] each one of them” (and they were all filled by the Holy Spirit)—baptism (by Jesus) in the Holy Spirit and fire (Acts 2:3-4)

For a detailed study of the Pentecost scene in Acts 2:1-4, cf. my earlier series of articles. On the saying that Jesus would baptize believers in the Holy Spirit (and fire), cf. this discussed in several of the previous notes. In addition to the association with baptism (i.e. the Spirit as water), there is also the fundamental association with anointing (i.e. the Spirit poured out on the chosen one[s] as oil). Luke gives greater emphasis to this than do the other Gospels, especially in the scene at Nazareth set at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Lk 4:14ff), where Jesus specifically identifies himself with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi] me, for (the sake) of which He anointed [e&xrisen] me…” (Lk 4:18-21ff). This passage is central to the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One [Christ/Messiah] in early Gospel Tradition (cf. Lk 7:19-23; par Matt 11:2-6, note also Matt 12:18 citing a different Isaian passage [Isa 42:1-3]), as I have discussed in detail elsewhere. The anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is tied to his Baptism in Acts 10:38.

These two motifs—water (baptism) and oil (anointing)—are also combined in the image of the Spirit being “poured out” on believers in the book of Acts. The primary passage, of course, is the Pentecost speech by Peter in which Joel 2:28-32 is quoted, especially the key phrase (doubled in poetic parallel):

I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit
—upon [e)pi] all flesh…
—(yes,) even upon [e)pi] my (male) slaves and upon [e)pi] my (female) slaves
I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit in those days…” (Acts 2:17-18 / Joel 2:28-29)

This language is repeated in Acts 2:33; 10:45. The gift of the Holy Spirit coming on believers is usually connected with baptism in some way throughout the narratives in Acts (see the wording in Acts 2:38), though clearly as a distinct event:

  • In Acts 8:12-17, believers receive the Spirit subsequent to being baptized, through the laying on of hands by the Apostles (vv. 15-17)—cf. also Acts 19:2-6.
  • In Acts 10:44-48 (and 11:15-16), the Spirit comes upon believers prior to their being baptized, following the preaching of Peter

In both of these passage the sudden, dramatic experience of receiving the Spirit is described with the verb e)pipi/ptw (“fall [down] upon”)—”as Peter was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon [e)pe/pesen e)pi] all the (one)s hearing…” (Acts 10:44, cf. 11:15). As in the case of Mary and Jesus (cf. above), the coming of the Spirit “upon” [e)pi] believers indicates the presence and power of God which has come near, transforming their entire life and being. It should be understood as the first, primary stage—the first of the three motifs listed above. The presence of the Spirit upon a person is necessarily prior to the filling and inspired leading/guiding by the Spirit. We also see this illustrated (and prefigured) in the brief account of Simeon in Luke 2:25-27:

  • The Holy Spirit was upon [e)pi] him (v. 25)
  • A special revelation was given to him by [lit. under] the Spirit regarding the Messiah (Christ) (v. 26)
  • He came (i.e. was led) in [e)n] the Spirit into the Temple (v. 27), where he encounters the child Jesus
  • He utters a pair of (inspired) oracles, prophesying as to the child’s future (vv. 29-32, 34-35)

Note of the Day – May 24

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Mark 1:12; Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1

Following the account of Jesus’ baptism (see yesterday’s note), we find another reference to the (Holy) Spirit, in Mark 1:12:

“And straight away [i.e. immediately] the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land).”

The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“cast/throw out”) seems rather harsh here, and this perhaps explains the different wording in Matthew/Luke (cf. below). However, in the narrative context it is appropriate in several respects:

  • It emphasizes the (forceful) power and authority of God’s Spirit
  • It stresses the abruptness and immediacy of the action—in Mark this takes place “right away” (eu)qu/$) after the baptism
  • It effectively encapsulates the difficulty and trial Jesus is forced to face at the beginning of his ministry

In verse 13 we read: “And he was in the desolate (land) forty days, being tested under [i.e. by] the Satan, and he was with the wild animals and the (heavenly) Messengers attended him”. Matthew and Luke, of course, give an expanded account of this “testing”, in a brief and dramatic dialogue form (Matt 4:2-10 / Luke 4:2b-13, part of the so-called “Q” tradition). Matthew preserves the (Markan) detail of the helping Angels (Matt 4:11b).

Matthew and Luke each record the initial action by the Spirit differently:

“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit, to be tested under [i.e. by] the Accuser.” (Matt 4:1)
“And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden {Jordan} and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land), being tested under [i.e. by] the Accuser for forty days.” (Luke 4:1-2a)

They both use a form of the verb a&gw (“lead, bring”), which can also have a more forceful connotation (i.e., “carry, drive,” etc), but here it is probably the leading/guiding presence and power of the Spirit that is meant. As Matthew and Luke describe the testing of Jesus in some detail, there is less reason to speak of his being cast/thrust out into the desert; rather, in this context there is greater importance to the idea of the guiding (and protecting) role of the Spirit. The image of the desolate land or “desert” (e&rhmo$) is also significant, full of symbolism from ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition; there is a two-fold aspect:

  • as a place where prophets and people encounter God—e.g., Hosea 2:14-15, and of course the Exodus/Sinai tradition as a whole; cf. also 1 Kings 19, etc.
  • as a place of dangerous beasts and deities (“demons”/evil spirits)—Lev 16:10; Isa 13:21; 34:14, etc.

For Jesus, it is primarily a place of testing under the power and influence of the Adversary or Evil One, called according to the two traditional titles:

  • Hebrew /f*c* (´¹‰¹n), an opponent or adversary, especially in the context of one who brings a charge or accusation in (the heavenly) court. Though rare in the Old Testament, there is certainly evidence for the tradition of a specific heavenly being who takes this role (Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2, 4, 7; Zech 3:1-2), becoming much more common and prominent in texts of the post-exilic period. This word is typically transliterated in English (“Satan”), and often in Greek as well (Satana=$, as in Mk 1:12).
  • Greek dia/bolo$ (diábolos), literally one who “casts through” or “throws across” (from the verb diaba/llw), usually in terms of creating separation or opposition; specifically, the verb was often used in the negative (hostile) sense of accusation, slander, misrepresentation, deception, etc. In English idiom, we might say “one who casts suspicion”, “one who spreads lies”, etc. As a title, it is customarily transliterated into English as “Devil”.

The Spirit in Luke 3-4

There is a greater emphasis on the Spirit in Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

  • Lk 4:1a—”And Yeshua, full [plh/rh$] of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden {Jordan}…”
    The adjective plh/rh$ (“full, filled [with]”) is especially common in Luke-Acts, with the expression “full of the Spirit” also occurring in Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24. For a similar expression with the related verb plh/qw, cf. Luke 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9.
  • Lk 4:1b-2—”…and he was led in the Spirit in the desolate land forty days, being tested…”
    For Jesus and believers being “in [e)n] the Spirit”, cf. Luke 2:27; 10:21; Acts 19:21; note also Lk 1:17, 80. The idea of being led by the Spirit is common in the New Testament, though the specific expression occurs only rarely (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18).
  • Luke 4:14—”And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl {Galilee}…”
    For the important combination of the (Holy) Spirit and power (du/nami$), cf. Luke 1:35; Acts 1:8; 10:38, and also in Rom 1:4, etc; note also the juxtaposition in Lk 1:17.

This leads into the scene at Nazareth where Jesus reads from Isa 61:1f (Lk 4:18): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”. For the Spirit coming upon [e)pi/] Jesus and other believers, note the occurrences in Luke 1:35; 2:25; 3:22; Acts 1:8; 2:17-18; 10:44-45; 11:15; 19:6. There is a clear chiastic structure to the Holy Spirit references in Luke 3-4, demonstrating how integral the theme is to the overall narrative:

  • Lk 3:22—The Holy Spirit came down upon [e)pi/] him (Baptism/Anointing)
    • Lk 4:1a—He turned back [u(pe/streyen] full of the Spirit
      • Lk 4:1b-2—in the Spirit in the desert—being led by the Spirit—testing by the Devil
    • Lk 4:14—He turned back [u(pe/streyen] in the power of the Spirit
  • Lk 4:18—The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi/] him (Anointing)

Note of the Day – May 23

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The Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11; Matt 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34)

The next passage in the Gospel tradition referring to the Holy Spirit is the account of Jesus’ baptism. This is narrated in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mark 1:9-11; Matt 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22), as well as indirectly in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:26-28, 29-34). Mark provides the simplest narrative of the common tradition:

“And it came to be in those days (that) Yeshua came from Nazaret of (the) Galîl and was dunked into the Yarden {Jordan} under [i.e. by] Yohanan. And, straight away, stepping up out of the water he saw the heavens split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [i.e. coming down] into/unto him; and there came to be a voice out of the heavens (saying), ‘You are my (be)loved Son, I think good in [i.e. think well of] you’.”

There are three elements of the baptism scene:

  • The heavens splitting open (in Matt/Luke, the heavens are “opened [up]”)
  • The (holy) Spirit coming down to Jesus in the form/likeness of a dove
  • A voice from heaven which declares Jesus to be God’s Son

Each version has slight differences, but the basic sequence of events is the same. The account in John is different still (the baptism itself described by the Baptist only in vv. 32-34), though it certainly derives from the same historical tradition. Interestingly, in John’s version it is the Baptist, not a voice from heaven, who declares that Jesus is God’s Son (“I have seen and witnessed that this is the Son of God”). Let us specifically compare the descent of the Spirit in all four versions:

  • Mark 1:10: “…he [i.e. Jesus] saw the heavens being split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down unto/into [ei)$] him”
  • Matt 3:16: “…and, see! the heavens were opened [for him] and he saw [the] Spirit of God stepping down as if [i.e. like] a dove [and] coming upon [e)pi/] him”
  • Luke 3:21-22: “There came to be…(the) opening up of the heaven(s) and (the) stepping down of the holy Spirit in bodily [swmatiko/$] appearance as a dove upon [e)pi/] him”
  • John 1:33: (God’s words to John) “(the one) upon whom you should see the Spirit stepping down and remaining upon him…”, confirmed by the earlier verse 32: “I looked (and saw) the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven and remaining upon him”.

All four use the verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”, i.e. “come down, descend”)—this is a basic narrative verb, but it is given special theological significance in the Gospel of John (cf. below). The descent of the Spirit is also described as something which is seen, though with some variation in the four accounts:

  • In Mark, it is Jesus who sees the heavens open and the Spirit descend as a dove; there is no indication that this is visible to anyone else.
  • In Matthew, it is simply stated that the heavens were opened, but again it is Jesus who sees the Spirit descending.
  • In Luke’s account, it would seem that the entire event was visible to all; this is reinforced by his specific reference to the Spirit coming “in a bodily appearance” as a dove.
  • In John, the Baptist sees the Spirit descending upon Jesus, with the important detail that the Spirit remains on him.

We can also see how the Gospels variously identify the Spirit here: (1) “the Spirit” (Mk, Jn), (2) “the Spirit of God” (Matt), (3) “the Holy Spirit” (Lk), indicating that, by the period of 60-70 A.D. (at the latest), all three could be used interchangeably. This is confirmed by Paul’s terminology in his letters, and indeed through the rest of the New Testament, though the expression “the Spirit of God” increasingly becomes less common (cf. 1 Jn 4:2).

It is hard to say just how this event (the descent of the Spirit) was understood in the earliest layers of Gospel tradition. The idea and imagery are not developed much in Mark’s Gospel, nor, we may assume, in the core Synoptic tradition; by contrast, the declaration of Jesus as God’s Son is much more prominent (Mk 1:1; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61; 15:39 pars; Matt 4:3, 6 par; 14:33; 16:16; 27:43; Lk 1:32, 35). The presence of God’s Spirit in relation to Jesus takes on greater importance in the Gospel of Luke, in light of the increased emphasis on the Holy Spirit throughout Luke-Acts (as we shall see), and even more so in the Gospel of John. Here, I point out just two examples of a wider theological/Christological interpretation of the symbolism in these two Gospels:

1. Jesus as one who is anointed with the Spirit. This is an important theme in Luke, for which there is some parallel in Matthew (cf. Matt 4:1; 12:18, 28), doubtless indicating a level of Christological development by the time these Gospels were written (c. 70 A.D.). However, I would also maintain that Luke, in emphasizing Jesus as one anointed by the Spirit of God, is simply drawing upon early Gospel tradition, which identified Jesus first as an Anointed Prophet. I have discussed this in considerable detail in my recent series “Yeshua the Anointed” (cf. Parts 23). In particular, Luke brings out the association of Jesus with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff, both in the key passage of the episode at the Synagogue in Nazareth (Lk 4:18ff), and again in Lk 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6). Jesus is specifically said to have been anointed by God with the Spirit in Acts 10:38 (cf. also Acts 4:27-28). There is further Lukan support for understanding the baptism in terms of anointing by God in the variant (Western) reading at Lk 3:22—there, instead of declaring “You are my beloved Son, I think good in you”, Psalm 2:7 is cited: “You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)”. In Psalm 2, the ruler is said to be God’s “anointed” (j^yv!m^), and the psalm as a whole was often given a Messianic interpretation, both in Judaism and early Christianity.

2. katabai/nw and a)nabainw. In the Gospel of John, these two related verbs (“step down”, “step up”), used frequently in narration (“go/come up/down”), take on a unique theological (and Christological) meaning. The verb katabai/nw encapsulates the idea of Jesus’ coming to earth in human form (incarnation), having been sent by God from heaven—cf. Jn 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58. Correspondingly, the verb a)nabai/nw can refer to Jesus’ exaltation and return to the Father—Jn 3:13; 6:62; 20:17; there may be a play on words implicit in Jn 2:13; 5:1; 7:8, etc. John 1:51 combines both verbs in an image of Jesus (the Son of Man) which clearly is meant to parallel the baptism account; I have discussed this enigmatic saying of Jesus in an earlier note.

Finally, it is interesting to consider the specific symbol of the Spirit as a dove, since there is no certain precedent for this association in the Old Testament or Israelite/Jewish tradition at the time of Jesus. Commentators have pointed out passages such as Genesis 1:2; 8:8, and Song of Songs 2:12 as possibly having relevance. Luke describes this aspect of the baptism scene as a concrete (“bodily”) manifestation of God’s Spirit, similar in certain respects to the theophany in Acts 2.

Yeshua the Anointed: Conclusion

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Throughout this series we have explored the various aspects of Messianic thought which would have been current in Judaism at the time of Jesus and the New Testament. In the period c. 150 B.C. to 100 A.D., as we have seen, there was not a single fixed idea of the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ); rather the term and title could refer to several different conceptions of a Messianic figure. Here, in this concluding article of the series, I will summarize each of the main figure-types which have been discussed, and how they relate to Jesus.

Prophet

In the Gospel Tradition, especially in the Synoptic Gospels, during the period of his early life and ministry (in Galilee), Jesus is identified primarily with the figure of Anointed Prophet. Indeed, where the title “the Anointed (One)” [o( xristo/$] is used in these passages, it may be that a Prophet was originally in mind. There were three different Prophetic figure-types attested in Jewish writings of the period—(1) Elijah, (2) Moses, and (3) the Anointed herald/prophet of Isaiah 61; for more, cf. Part 2.

  1. The association of an eschatological/Messianic Prophet with Elijah comes primarily from Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6. The Gospels and early Christian tradition ultimately identified John the Baptist with this Elijah who is to come (o( e)rxome/no$). However, there is some indication that, in the earliest strands of Gospel tradition, Jesus was identified with this figure. The miracles of Jesus seem to reflect the Elijah/Elisha traditions. For the relevant passages, see the discussion in Part 3 and the supplemental note. The most relevant text from Qumran in this regard is 4Q521, which appears to combine aspects of the Elijah-tradition with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61.
  2. The Moses-tradition stems directly from the promise in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, regarding the rise of a “Prophet like Moses” (cf. also Deut 34:10ff). By the 1st century B.C., this passage had come to be interpreted in an eschatological sense; the Qumran Community expected the appearance of an end-time Prophet, according to the Moses-tradition. Deut 18:15-19 is applied directly to Jesus in Acts 3:22-23, and there are other associations with Moses in early Christian tradition as well (cf. in Part 3). The Moses-figure emphasizes teaching and instruction in the Law (cf. below).
  3. It is the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff that Jesus specifically identifies himself with in the Synoptic Gospels (Luke 4:18-20; 7:19-23 par). There are distinctive Messianic parallels in the Qumran texts 4Q521 and 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13]. In some ways, this figure combines aspects of the Elijah and Moses types—miracles and teaching/proclamation.

It is perhaps the Transfiguration scene which best illustrates Jesus’ fulfillment of the Anointed Prophet figure, as he stands between Elijah and Moses—the two greatest Prophetic figures of the Old Testament and Israelite history. In many ways, the Transfiguration episode marks the conclusion of the period of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry, and the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem, according to the Synoptic narrative. It also follows directly after Peter’s confession (“You are the Anointed One…”). In another way, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem fulfills Malachi 3:1, in its original context, where the “Messenger” was not a human prophet, but a Divine/Heavenly being representing YHWH (“the Lord”) himself.

Teacher

The idea of an eschatological Teacher is especially prominent in the Qumran texts. The leading/founding figure of the Community was called “the Teacher of Righteousness”, and the (priestly) leaders in the Community follow his teaching and example. There was also the expectation for another “Teacher of Righteousness”, a Messianic figure who would appear at the end-time. This figure is likely identical with the “Interpreter of the Law”—the authoritative teaching in the Community being more or less synonymous with instruction in the Torah. The role of this figure overlaps with that of two other Messianic figure-types—the Prophet like Moses, and the Anointed Priest (cf. below). Apart from a number of interesting parallels between the historical Teacher of Righteousness and Jesus, the Gospels clearly record that a fundamental aspect of Jesus’ ministry was his teaching. The best compendium of Jesus’ teaching in the (Synoptic) Gospels is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, par Luke 6:20-49), which includes, as a central feature, instruction regarding the Law (Matt 5:17-48), and so also in a number of other passages. Also with Messianic implications is Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom (of God). For more regarding these themes, cf. Parts 4 and 5. Perhaps the most relevant text from Qumran, which offers a Messianic parallel with Jesus, is 4Q541 (see esp. fragment 9).

King (Davidic Ruler)

It was the idea of a future King/Ruler from the line of David, who would appear at the end-time, which came to dominate Messianic thought, eventually becoming synonymous with the title “Anointed One” (Messiah) in Jewish tradition. This figure type ultimately derives from expressions in the Old Testament of God’s covenant with David, and the promise that the kingship will remain with his descendants (2 Sam 7:11-17; Psalms 89, 132; Isa 9:7; 11:1-9, etc), which was transformed during the exile into a future hope and expectation (Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-22; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-25). By the 1st century B.C., we find clearly expressed the idea of a coming Davidic Ruler who will subdue and judge the nations (using language from Psalm 2 and Isa 11:1-9) and restore the people of Israel, establishing the Kingdom (of God) on earth. This is best seen in the 17th and 18th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon, but the essential matrix of images and ideas is found in numerous texts from Qumran as well as other Jewish writings from the 1st century B.C./A.D (e.g., 2 Baruch, 2/4 Esdras). For more on the Old Testament and Jewish background, cf. Part 6.

Interestingly, there is some ambiguity in the application of this Messianic figure to Jesus in the Gospels and early Christian tradition. To begin with, it does not appear prominently at all in the Gospel record of the period of Jesus’ ministry (cf. above). Only with the journey to Jerusalem, and specifically, the “Triumphal Entry” into the city, does the idea of Jesus as King and Davidic Ruler come clearly into view. Throughout the Passion narrative, the title “Anointed One” unquestionably refers to a Messianic King, and there are numerous allusions to David (and the Davidic Psalms) in the fabric of the narrative. Ultimately Jesus was executed as “King of the Jews”—that is, for claiming to be a king, though there is little evidence in the Gospels that he ever did so. His responses to the Sanhedrin and Pilate, as they have come down to us, are ambiguous (cf. esp. Lk 23:67ff; Jn 18:33-37), though his answer to the High Priest’s question in Mark 14:60ff would indicate an affirmative claim. Only in the Triumphal Entry scene do we see Jesus in anything like the role of a king, but even there it is the surrounding crowds and the Gospel narrator(s) who make the specific associations with Psalm 118:25-26 and Zech 9:9ff. For more detail on these passages, cf. Part 7.

The idea of Jesus as the Anointed Davidic Ruler and the “Son of David” came to be prominent in the earliest Christian tradition, as expressed in (1) the Infancy narratives, Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2, and (2) the preaching/proclamation of the Gospel in the book of Acts. Cf. also Romans 1:3, and the discussion in Part 8. Gradually, however, the specific identification began to disappear from Christian tradition; Jesus continued to be thought of as an exalted (Divine) King who would also appear at the end-time to judge the world, but the association with David is not emphasized much in the New Testament writings outside of the Gospels and Acts (cf. 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 3:7; 5:5; 22:16).

Priest

The figure of an Anointed Priest is known mainly from the Qumran texts, but is also attested (or implied) in several other Jewish writings of the 1st century B.C./A.D. It would seem that the Qumran Community was originally founded by priests, and that priests continued to serve the primarily leadership role. The historical Teacher of Righteousness was a priest, and doubtless this was understood of the eschatological Teacher/Interpreter as well (cf. above). In several passages, especially in the Community rule documents, we see expressed the idea(l) of dual-leadership, including the eschatological framework of and Anointed Priest along with an Anointed King/Prince. It was the Priest who had priority at Qumran, and this may partly reflect a reaction against the assumption of the High Priesthood by the Hasmonean (Maccabean) rulers in the 2nd century B.C. Several texts also suggest the tradition of a single (Messianic) Priest-King, and, in at least one document (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek serves as an eschatological and Messianic figure.

There is some evidence for priestly images and symbolism being applied to Jesus in the Gospels and early Christian tradition, but it is relatively slight. Indeed, there are only a handful of passages in the Gospels which could be said to depict Jesus in the role of a priest. The Temple “cleansing” scene, along with several of Jesus’ sayings regarding the Temple, may also be understood in a priestly context. More common is the image of Jesus as a sacrificial offering, especially the Passover Lamb in the Gospel of John (cf. also 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19). Only in the Letter to the Hebrews, do we find a developed conception of Jesus as a High Priest, who offers himself (his own blood) as sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people, drawing primarily upon the imagery associated with the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). Hebrews also draws heavily upon the figure of Melchizedek, who probably was understood as a divine/heavenly being, using him as the type or example, establishing the basis for the Priesthood of Jesus. For more on the subject, see throughout Part 9 as well as the supplemental study on Hebrews. In addition to 11QMelch, the text from Qumran which offers the most relevant parallels to Jesus is perhaps 4Q541.

Heavenly Judge/Deliverer (Son of Man)

The last Messianic figure-type is that of Heavenly Deliverer (and Judge), which parallels in many ways the Davidic Ruler type (cf. above); however, it derives from a separate tradition, that of Daniel 7:13-14, and similar thought underlying much of the book of Daniel. There divine/heavenly beings (i.e. Angels) serve in the role of end-time Ruler/Protector of the people of God. Two figures in particular stand out: (1) Michael the archangel (Dan 12:1, etc), and (2) the “one like a son of man” in Dan 7:13-14. On this latter passage, which proved to be so influential on Messianic thought in Judaism and early Christianity, cf. the supplemental study. The book of Daniel had a prominent place in the Qumran Community, and inspired a number of apocalyptic, eschatological “Pseudo-Daniel” texts. The most notable of these is the Aramaic document 4Q246, which was clearly influenced by Daniel 7; it describes the rise of a ruler (usually understood as a Messianic figure), using language and titles that have a remarkable correspondence to those applied to Jesus in Luke 1:32-35. Heavenly beings (Angels), particularly leaders such as Michael and/or the “Prince of Light”, played an important role in the eschatological and identity of the Qumran Community, which viewed itself as the righteous and holy ones on earth, parallel to the Holy Ones in heaven.

Daniel 7:13-14 and the title “Son of Man” were uniquely combined in the sayings and teachings of Jesus as preserved in the Gospel Tradition. On the study of these difficult and complex Son of Man sayings, cf. the supplemental note, as well as my series of Easter season notes. In terms of Jesus as the Messiah, there are three relevant strands of tradition represented by these Son of Man sayings:

  1. Sayings in which Jesus refers to his suffering, death (and resurrection), where, to some extent, “Son of Man” came to be treated as synonymous with “the Anointed (One)”
  2. The eschatological sayings of Jesus, where he identifies himself with a divine/heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”) who will appear at the end-time Judgment
  3. The early Christian tradition of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of God) following the resurrection

All three of these strands were woven into early Christian thought, and into the Christology of the New Testament. There are only two other writings from 1st century B.C./A.D. which evince a comparable Messianic figure either called “the Son of Man” or drawn clearly from Dan 7:13-14—the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st c. A.D.?) and chapters 11-13 of the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (late 1st c. A.D.). The Similitudes provide the closest parallel to Jesus, in that we find blended the idea of a (pre-existent) heavenly being (Son of Man, also called Anointed One, Elect One, Righteous One), and the ascension/exaltation of a human being (the righteous Enoch) to a heavenly position. For more on this subject, cf. Part 10.

The Christian Development of Messianic Thought

Despite the numerous parallels with the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the period, there was an altogether unique and original development of Messianic thought in early Christianity, centered on the person of Jesus. This must be seen by a careful study of all the relevant passages, as presented in the articles and notes throughout this series. Here, I would summarize the dynamic according to following points:

  • By at least the early 50s A.D., Jesus had come to be identified as the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) so completely that it ceased to function as a distinct title and was rather assimilated as part of his name—i.e., “Yeshua Anointed” (Jesus Christ), “Anointed Yeshua” (Christ Jesus), or even simply “Anointed” (Christ).
  • Along with this, by the same time (50s A.D.), the association with a specific and traditional Messianic figure-type, especially that of Davidic Ruler, had generally disappeared from Christian thought. Similarly, the two other figure-types attested in the Gospel Tradition—Anointed Prophet, and Son of Man—disappeared almost completely from early Christianity. In particular, the title “Son of Man” virtually does not occur in the New Testament outside of Jesus’ own words in the Gospels.
  • Jesus’ identity as Messiah (Anointed One) came to be understood almost entirely in terms of his (sacrificial) death and resurrection. Rather than deliverance of Israel from the wicked nations (i.e. the traditional role of Messianic Ruler/Judge), the imagery is transformed to emphasize salvation from sin (and the Judgment to come). Apart from the possible parallels in the Qumran texts 11Q13 and 4Q541, it is hard to find anything quite like this in Jewish writings of the period. Paul deals extensively with the death of Jesus and its atoning/saving power, but generally without traditional Messianic language and symbolism. Of all the New Testament letters, it is perhaps Hebrews which best preserves these aspects of Messianic thought, though synthesized and expressed in a highly developed Christological framework. There is a similar blending of many Messianic symbols in the book of Revelation as well. For more on Jesus’ death and resurrection, cf. Part 11.
  • Jesus’ identity as the Messiah was utterly transformed by the increasing recognition and belief in his pre-existent Deity. Probably the earliest expression of this (by c. 60 A.D.) is the Christ-hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 (cf. also Col 1:15-20), but the idea is found and/or suggested in a number of places in Paul’s letters (cf. also 1 Pet 1:20, etc). Hebrews brings together the (earlier) idea of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God following the resurrection, with a belief in his pre-existent position as God’s Son, balancing the two concepts (see esp. Heb 1:1-4; 2:5-18; 5:5-10, etc). The pre-existence of Jesus, and his identity as God’s Son, is most prominent in the Gospel and First Letter of John. The Prologue to the Gospel (Jn 1:1-18) is probably the most sophisticated and developed Christological passage in the New Testament; however, the same basic ideas are expressed throughout the Gospel, especially in the great Discourses of Jesus. The Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John draw upon the twin aspects of descent (incarnation and sacrificial death) and ascent (glorification through death and resurrection, return to the Father); for more on these sayings, cf. my recent note. For more on Jesus (and the Messiah) as Son of God, cf. Part 12.

Even though much traditional Messianic thought and language, which had once been applied to Jesus, gradually disappeared, or was transformed by the belief and theology of the early Church, the older forms were not entirely forgotten. Nor should they be by believers today. Indeed, a careful study of the Jewish writings of the period, along with an examination of the ways in which the ideas and symbols in them relate to Jesus and the development of the Gospel tradition, can be extremely valuable, providing insight into the New Testament writings and the beliefs of the earliest Christians. This need not change or alter our own beliefs about Jesus; rather, when approached with an open mind and heart, such study will certainly enhance and affirm true belief. It is hoped that this series of article has been, and may continue to be, of benefit of all who seek to study and understand the New Testament and the person of Christ.

Yeshua the Anointed: Suffering and Death of the Messiah

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One final topic remains to be discussed in this series, in light of Jesus’ death—the idea of that the Messiah would suffer and be put to death. This was of vital importance to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, and appears to have been an entirely original Christian development of Messianic thought and belief. However, given the centrality of Jesus’ death in the early Gospel proclamation, to his identity as the “Anointed One”, as well as to the Christology of the New Testament as a whole, it is worth examining this aspect in relation to Messianic expectation of the period.

Fundamental to the Gospel Tradition are the three Passion predictions by Jesus, the first of which begins “it is necessary [dei=] for the Son of Man to suffer many things…” (Mark 8:31 par). In these, and other similar sayings by Jesus, he uses the expression “the Son of Man” in referring to himself; however, in Luke 24:26, 46, after the resurrection, this changes and “the Anointed (One) [o( xristo/$]” is used instead. Luke’s version of the 3rd Passion prediction includes the important addition—”all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers {Prophets} (regarding) the Son of Man will be completed”. This is the first occurrence in the Synoptic Tradition of the theme that Jesus’ death and resurrection has been foretold and/or prefigured in Scripture. It is found again (by Jesus) in Mark 9:13; 14:21, 49 pars; Matt 26:54; Luke 22:37, as well as being implied by the citations from Scripture in the Passion narrative—Mark 12:10; 14:27 pars; Matt 27:9-10; John 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9; cf. also Mark 14:34 par and John 2:22. This becomes an important element of the early Christian witness, as recorded in Luke-Acts—cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-49; Acts 1:16, 20; 3:18-24; 8:32-35; 10:39-43; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 26:22-23.

The Scriptural Evidence

Where exactly was it foretold that the “Anointed One” (Messiah) would suffer and be put to death? We are not told which Scriptures Jesus “opened up” to his disciples (Lk 24:25-27, 44-46ff), but in an earlier note I provided a list of the most relevant candidates, based on evidence from the New Testament and early Christian tradition. It must be admitted, however, that it is difficult to find passages which clearly refer to the suffering and/or death of a Messianic figure. The only conceivable passage which actually uses the term “Anointed (one)” [j^yv!m*] is Daniel 9:26, where it is said that “(the) anointed (one) will be cut off and (there will be) nothing/no-one for him”. I have discussed this reference as part of a detailed note on Dan 9:24-27. It is by no means certain that j^yv!m* in vv. 25-26 denotes a Messiah as typically understood (cf. the introduction to this series for a definition); it is better to read it in the general sense of the person (king and/or high priest) who is serving as leader of the (Israelite/Jewish) people. However, there can be no doubt that, by the 1st century A.D., the prophecy of Dan 9:20-27 was being interpreted in an eschatological and Messianic sense (cf. the Qumran text 11QMelch [11Q13]), and that early Christians certainly would have applied it to Jesus, particularly in light of the allusion to Dan 9:27 in the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13:14 par), even though the passage is not otherwise attested in the New Testament writings (but cf. 2 Thess 2:1-12). I find only two other Scriptures which could fairly be understood as referring to a Messianic figure:

  • Zechariah 12:10, interpreted as referring to the death (crucifixion) of Jesus in John 19:37; Rev 1:7, and see also Matthew’s version of the Son of Man saying in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Matt 24:30). In the original context, however, it is by no means clear that this refers to anything like a Messianic figure; also that he was “stabbed/pierced” (rqd) more likely refers to someone slain by the sword, i.e. in battle, etc. Cf. below on the later Jewish tradition.
  • Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the famous “Suffering Servant” passage, which early on was interpreted by believers as referring to the suffering and death of Jesus, cf. the famous episode recorded in Acts 8:32-35 (and note the interesting critical question by the Ethiopian official in v. 34). In the Gospels, it is cited directly only at Matt 8:17, in the context of Jesus’ miracles, not his death; however, the Isaian passage likely influenced the way that the Passion narrative was told and understood, corresponding (rather clearly) in certain details to Isa 53:3-9. The identity of this Servant figure in Isaiah, in terms of its original context, continues to be debated by scholars and commentators.

It should be pointed out that neither of these passages appears to have been used or cited in the texts from Qumran; the surviving portions of the Commentary (pesher) on Isaiah do not cover 52:13-53:12. Nor would there seem to be any evidence for these Scriptures being interpreted in a Messianic sense prior to their use in the New Testament. as noted, there is an allusion to Dan 9:25 in 11QMelch, but with no suggestion of a Messianic figure suffering or dying; rather, it is the people who suffer, being held captive by the forces of wickedness (Belial), waiting for the announcement of salvation and deliverance by the “Anointed” One.

Jewish Tradition

Indeed, as most commentators today will admit, there does not appear to be any evidence for a suffering/dying Messiah in Jewish tradition before the time of Jesus and the New Testament writings. The earliest witness is probably to be found in the Dialogue with Trypho by Justin Martyr (mid-2nd century A.D.): §68, 90.1 (alluding to Isa 53:7), cf. also 36.1, 39.7. Scholars are, however, skeptical regarding the extent to which this (quasi-)fictional “Trypho” accurately represents Jewish thought of the period. The theme is not really attested in Jewish writings until the later Rabbinic period (cf. the references in Strack-Billerbeck II.273-299), where two Messiahs are distinguished—a Messiah ben-David, and a Messiah ben-Joseph (or ben-Ephraim). In some passages the Messiah ben-David is said to suffer, but he does not die; it is the Messiah ben-Joseph who is said to die (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 1565-6). In the Babylonian Talmud (b. Sukkah 52), Zechariah 12:10 is interpreted as referring to the death of Messiah ben-Joseph, who is killed in battle. It has been suggested that this tradition is related to the defeat and death of the quasi-Messianic leader Bar-Kokhba during the second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.), cf. Collins, p. 126. In the Aramaic Targum (Pseudo-)Jonathan, the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isa 52:13-53:12 is given a Messianic interpretation, though in such a way, it would seem, as to contrast with the typical Christian understanding—the sufferings of the Messiah represent the suffering of Israel. For more on this subject, cf. J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (Allen and Unwin: 1956), esp. pages 483-501.

Occasionally, scholars have suggested that the idea of suffering/dying Messiah figure may be found (or at least implied) in several of the Qumran texts, e.g.:

  • 4Q285—In fragment 5, line 4 the text (partially restored) reads: […dywd j]mx hduh aycn wtymhw, which was originally understood by some scholars as “they will put to death the Prince of the Congregation, the Branc[h of David…]”. However, today there is virtually unanimous agreement that this is incorrect, and that it should be rendered “the Prince of the Congregation, the Branc[h of David] will put him to death…”. In other words, it is not the Messianic figure who is put to death, but rather he is the one who puts to death the leader of the Kittim—this is the most natural identification based on the context. The Kittim represent the (wicked) nations, and typically serves as a cipher for the Roman Empire. This text is now considered to be part of the War Scroll (1QM, 4QM); the passage in fragment 5 provides an interpretation of Isaiah 10:34-11:1ff (cf. 4QpIsa [4Q161] 8-10:2-9).
  • 4Q541—This text seems to refer to a Priestly figure. In fragment 9, it is said that “he will atone for all the children of his generation…”, which could easily be interpreted from a Christian standpoint; however, this does not reflect the sacrificial death of a Messiah, but rather the work of an ideal eschatological/Messianic Priest. It is primarily his word and teaching which “will burn in all the ends of the earth…” and cause darkness to “vanish from the earth”. Lines 5-7 indicate suffering of a sort, in terms of lying and disparaging opposition to his teaching. This very likely reflects the history and experience of the Qumran Community. There is a difficult and obscure section in fragment 24, which has been translated (as one of several possible renderings) “…do not afflict the weak by wasting or hanging… [Let] not the nail approach him” (cf. Collins, p. 125). It has been suggested that “the nail” is a reference to crucifixion, but even if this is correct, the passage scarcely refers to the crucifixion of a Messiah.
  • A number of “Thanksgiving Hymns” (Hodayot) are thought to have been composed by, or written from the standpoint of, the Teacher of Righteousness, and possibly describe sufferings that he experienced (cf. 1QH 7:10; 8:26-27, 35-36; 9). These hymns are written using a style and language similar to that of the Old Testament Psalmist; given that a number of OT Psalms were understood by Christians as Messianic, interpreted and applied to Jesus’ suffering and death (esp. Pss 22, 41, 69), it is not surprising that commentators might interpret the hymns in a similar manner in relation to the Teacher of Righteousness. Several other texts speak of persecution and opposition to the Teacher (and the Community), especially by the “Wicked Priest” and the “Man of the Lie”.

Outside of the New Testament, the only passage from the 1st century B.C./A.D. which refers to the Messiah dying is 2/4 Esdras 7:28-29. The core of this deutero-canonical text (chaps. 3-14) is Jewish, dating from the late 1st century A.D. However, there is no indication whatever that the Messiah suffers or is put to death; it seems to be a natural death, along with a return to heaven following his 400-year reign on earth (cf. also 2 Baruch 30:1). After his departure, there will be seven days of silence, followed by the resurrection and Last Judgment (vv. 30-43). There is, perhaps, a general parallel to Jesus, in his ascension (and subsequent return), and to the idea of a Messianic Kingdom on earth (Rev 20:1-6).

Somewhat more common in Jewish writings of the period is the idea that the sufferings of the righteous have a vicarious aspect, which may bring salvation and atonement to the people. This is expressed in passages such as 2 Maccabees 7:37-38; 4 Maccabees 7:27-30; 17:19-22; among the passages from the Qumran texts that might be cited, note 1QS 5:6; 8:3f, 10; 9:4 (cf. H. Anderson, “4 Maccabees”, OTP 2:539). Messianic figures are often depicted as representatives or types of the righteous on earth, with roots going back into the Old Testament and ancient Israelite tradition, where the Anointed King (or Priest), who represents the people, and the righteous of Israel collectively, could both be referred to as God’s “Son”. Note also the precise parallel between the “Son of Man” and the people of God in Daniel 7:13ff, which proved to be so influential on Messianic thought. In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71), the Messianic and heavenly Son of Man (also called the Righteous One), is the archetype for the righteous on earth.

Evidence from Jesus and the Gospel

If there were any doubt that the idea of a suffering/dying Messiah was generally unknown in the time of Jesus, one needs to look no further than the New Testament itself. I note the following evidence from the Gospels:

  • Peter’s reaction to the first Passion prediction by Jesus
  • Passages which indicate that the disciples did not understand that Jesus (the Son of Man, Messiah) had to suffer and die and then rise from the dead—Mark 9:32; Lk 9:45; 18:34; Jn 2:21-22; 12:16; 20:9
  • The confusion expressed by Jesus’ audience in John 12:33-34—note especially the expectation that the Anointed One (Messiah) will remain “into the Age” (i.e. forever).
  • Other passages in John which show confusion regarding the idea that Jesus must go away—Jn 8:21ff; 14:1-5; 16:16-19.
  • The taunts leveled at Jesus while on the cross, implying that the Messiah would not be allowed (or would not allow himself) to die that way—Mark 15:29-32 par; Matt 27:43; Luke 23:39ff.

More important is the way that Jesus emphasizes repeatedly, that was necessary for the Messiah (Jesus, the Son of Man) to suffer and die, and that this was foretold in the Scriptures—Mark 8:31 par; Mark 9:13; 14:21, 49 pars; Matt 26:54; Luke 22:37; 24:26, 46. The disciples do not seem to have been aware of this; even after the resurrection, they do not seem to have understood or expected it (Lk 24:19-25; Jn 20:9, etc), until Jesus himself explains it to them, “opening up” the Scriptures (and their minds). The two key passages are Luke 24:25-27 and 24:44-49:

“…all the things which the Foretellers spoke—was it not necessary (for) the Anointed (One) to suffer and to come into his honor/glory?” And beginning from Moshe and from all the Foretellers, he explained to them throughout the (thing)s about him in all the Writings. (24:25-27)
…and they said, “Was our heart not (set) on fire [in us] as he spoke with us on the way, as he opened the Writings through to us?” (v. 32)

…”it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moshe, and the Foretellers {Prophets} and Odes {Psalms} .” Then he opened their mind through to put together [i.e. understand] the Writings; and he said to them, “Thus it has been written (that it was necessary for) the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day…” (24:44-46)

The idea that the Messiah would suffer, die and rise again was so unusual that it required special explanation (and revelation) by Jesus, with examination of the Scriptures in the light of his teaching. We find much the same dynamic at work in the book of Acts—the death of the Messiah had to be emphasized specially, and demonstrated from the Scriptures. The key references are Acts 3:18-24; 8:32-35; 10:39-43; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 26:22-23. Moreover, it can be fairly well inferred that this would have been central to the instances where the early Christians are recorded as arguing and demonstrating that Jesus is the Anointed One (Acts 2:36; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28). So contrary would the suffering and death (crucifixion) of the Messiah have been to the expectation of Jews at the time that it absolutely required a good deal of explanation and proof that the idea could be found in Scripture.

References above marked “Collins” are to J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1995).
References marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer’s Commentary on Luke in the Anchor Bible [AB], Volume 28A (1985).
References marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. by J. H. Charlesworth, 2 volumes (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1983, 1985).

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Daniel 9:25-27

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Overview of Daniel 9

Daniel 9 may be outlined as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction: Context of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years (vv. 1-2)
  • Daniel’s Prayer (vv. 3-19)
  • The Prophetic Revelation (by Gabriel) to Daniel (vv. 20-27)

The revelation of verses 20-27 is connected with both the setting of Jeremiah’s prophecy and Daniel’s prayer, a fact that is sometimes neglected by commentators. In examining the prayer (vv. 3-19), we find three main divisions or points of emphasis:

  1. Confession on behalf of the people’s sin, especially in terms of their disobedience to the instruction and righteousness of God (vv. 5-11)
  2. Acknowledgment of the righteous Judgment of God (vv. 12-14)
  3. Supplication to God for mercy and redemption, in two aspects:
    (a) turning away of God’s wrath (vv. 15-16), and
    (b) that God will hear and deliver his people (Israel) and city (Jerusalem) (vv. 17-19)

The setting of the narrative is the (Judean) exile in the early Persian period (v. 1), but the revelation in vv. 20-27, as well as the visions which follow in chapters 10-11, relate to future events (from the standpoint of the narrative). This involves the destiny of God’s people and the city of Jerusalem. The prophecy of Jeremiah mentioned in v. 2, is found in Jer 25:11-12; 29:10—the land will be laid waste for 70 years by Babylon, with the peoples sent into exile, but after these 70 years God promises to visit his people and bring them back to the land (of Judah). In the context of the book of Jeremiah, this can be seen as an accurate prediction, though the “seventy years” almost certainly represents a symbolic, general time frame. However, here in Daniel, the revelation by Gabriel in 9:20-27 has given a new interpretation (or application) to Jeremiah’s prophecy—the 70 years are (re-)intepreted as 490 (70 x 7) years. Again, 490 should be taken here as a symbolic (round) number; the Community of the Dead Sea scrolls seems to have understood it in relation to the Sabbatical year-cycle and the Jubilee year (cf. 11QMelch, etc). This time period is divided as follows (vv. 25-27):

  • From the word to restore and build Jerusalem until (there is) an anointed leader—7 weeks (49 years)
  • Jerusalem will be built and fortified, but in a time of distress—62 weeks (434 years)
  • The anointed one will be “cut off” and a ruler will come to destroy the city and Temple, leading to war and sacrilege, until his destruction—1 week (7 years)

This passage teems with difficulties, and it will not be possible to address them all here. However, I believe a correct interpretation depends on three factors:

  1. Whether the 70 weeks (490 years) should be taken literally or are symbolic—the latter is certainly to be preferred, removing any need to fit the prophecy into a precise and rigid time-frame.
  2. To what does the “going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” refer? Should this be identified with the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4), of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:12-26), or an earlier date (c. 586) which would allow for ~49 years until the rebuilding of Jerusalem? The context of the passage here rather suggests that it refers to the “going forth” of the word/command of God, coinciding with Daniel’s prayer (v. 23). From the standpoint of the narrative, the 490 years begins with the setting in v. 1 (“the first year of Darius…”).
  3. The context of the revelation, set in verse 24, must be kept in mind, whereby the 70 weeks have been cut/decreed by God, according to the following purpose for his city and people:
    (a) to finish the rebellion, i.e. of the people against God; probably this should be understood as the period of rebellion
    (b) to complete the sins, i.e. of the people, to bring them all to completion
    (c) to cover/wipe (out) evil/iniquity, using the language of priestly, ritual sacrifice
    (d) to bring in (ever)lasting righteousness
    (e) to seal (the) vision, i.e. the prophecy by Jeremiah (v. 2), but also presumably also the visions to Daniel, etc. in the book
    (f) to anoint (the) holy of holy (place)s, i.e. the Temple and its inner sanctuary

However one chooses to interpret this passage, there can be no doubt that its orientation is eschatological—it assumes that the 70 weeks will bring about the end of the current sinful age, and the beginning of a new everlasting period (or Kingdom) of righteousness.

Interpretation and Identity of the “Anointed” in Dan 9:25-26

There are actually two figures who are called “anointed” (j^yv!m*) in this passage, which strongly indicates that the word here does not refer to a specific future/end-time figure subsequently to be known as “the Anointed (One)” (Messiah). Rather, it would seem to apply more generally to the particular leader—king and/or priest—of the people who return to the land following the exile. On the basis of the known history of the early post-exilic period in the Old Testament, the “anointed” leader who is established after the first seven weeks would likely represent the High Priest Joshua, or the (Davidic) ruler Zerubbabel, or both. For the dual-leadership of these two, cf. Zechariah 3-4; 6:9-15; their anointed status is suggested by the phrase “sons of oil” in Zech 4:14. This figure is specifically called “anointed leader [dyg]n`]”; this term often denotes a (military) commander, but can refer to any prominent person who has an (official) position of leadership “in front of” the people.

The second figure in verse 26 is more problematic; it tersely states that “following the sixty-two weeks, (the) anointed (one) will be cut off [tr@K*y], and there will be nothing/no-one [/ya@] for him”. Modern critical commentators generally consider this a reference to the High Priest Onias III, who was murdered by Menelaus c. 171 B.C. in the reign of Antiochus IV (according to 2 Maccabees 4:23-34). This is based on the view that the final seven years in Dan 9:26-27 refer to reign of Antiochus IV and the rise of the Maccabees (i.e. 171-163 B.C.). The critical view is supported by the earliest surviving interpretation of Dan 9:20-27 (1 Maccabees 1, cf. verse 54). The earliest reference to the “anointed” one (of 9:25) would seem to be in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13], where he is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” (Isa 61:1, also 52:7) who brings the good news of salvation and deliverance to God’s people (col. ii, lines 18-20ff). As far as I am aware, this is the only quotation or allusion to Dan 9:25-26 in the scrolls, and there do not appear to be any other references in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. Jerome, in his Commentary on Daniel (the oldest critical treatment of vv. 24-27), gives a confusing summary of what he considers the Jewish view of the passage, but indicates that vv. 26-27 referred to the Roman defeat of the two Jewish revolts (during the reigns of Vespasian and Hadrian). The latter relates to the quasi-Messianic leader Bar-Kokhba (132-135 A.D.).

Christians, of course, came to interpret the “anointed leader” or “anointed (one)” in vv. 25-26 as a prophecy regarding Jesus, especially of his death, when he was “cut off” and “there was none for him”. However, there is really no evidence in the New Testament itself for this association, and vv. 24-27 are not cited apart from Jesus’ mention of the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/ew$ (with narrator’s comment) in Mark 13:14 par (on this, cf. below). In the Greek version of Theodotion, the seven weeks and sixty-two weeks are combined (i.e. 69 weeks), which allows for the references in vv. 25 and 26 to be understood in terms of a single Anointed figure. Christian commentators followed this way of reading the text, applying it to Jesus. However, the Masoretic Hebrew clearly separates the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks, and is almost certainly correct, as recognized by most translations and commentaries today, and which I follow in the outline above. For more on the Christian interpretation of the passage, cf. below.

The bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn (Dan 9:27)

In Dan 9:27, we read:

“…for half of the week he will make cease the slaughtering (of animals) and (the) offering, <m@v)m= <yx!WQv! [n~K= lu^w+, until the end/finish (that has been) cut is poured out upon (the one) laying waste”

After the “anointed” one is cut off, a ruler will come with his army to bring war and destruction upon Jerusalem (and the Temple). In v. 27a, it is stated that this conquering ruler will establish a firm agreement with the multitudes (i.e. of Judah/Jerusalem) for one week (7 years). During the first half of the week (~3+ years), he will do two notable things: (1) cause the sacrificial offerings and the Temple cultus to cease operation, and (2) the phrase left untranslated in Hebrew. Difficulties abound regarding this latter phrase; literally, the Masoretic text reads:

“and upon the wing [[nk] of despicable (thing)s he lays waste”
or, perhaps:
“and upon the wing of despicable (thing)s (the one) laying waste (comes)”

This does not make particularly good sense in the context of the verse, complicated further by the interpretation/translation in the Greek versions:

“and upon the Temple there will be a stinking (thing) of desolations [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn]”

The Hebrew suggests a person, whereas the Greek, perhaps understanding the “wing” [[nk] to be the side or pinnacle of the Temple (cf. Lk 4:9), seems to indicate something (an idolatrous object?) placed on the Temple structure. The earliest interpretation is found in 1 Maccabees 1:54, following the Greek rendering—the “stinking thing of desolations” [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn] is identified with a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In light of this, some critical commentators have proposed emending the Hebrew [nk (“wing”) to <nk (“their place”), with the expression then being <nk lu (“upon their place”, cf. Dan 11:38), i.e. the pagan altar with its sacrifices in place of the prescribed sacrificial offerings of the Temple (Collins, Daniel, p. 358). This is very reasonable, but it involves the always questionable step of emending the text (with no other external support, unfortunately 9:20-27 is not present in the Daniel scroll fragments from Qumran); it also depends on the particular interpretation of vv. 26-27 as describing the reign of Antiochus IV.

The Greek expression “the stinking (thing) of desolation [sing.]” [bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$] is found in the New Testament, in the so-called Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13:14 / Matt 24:15), along with the same narrator’s aside in both passages. According to the standard critical hypothesis, Matthew is reproducing Mark’s text verbatim. As part of his description of the time of intense suffering and distress about to come upon Judea and Jerusalem, the Gospel tradition records this declaration by Jesus:

“But when you see ‘the stinking (thing) of desolation’ having stood where it certainly should not (be)”—the one reading must have (this) in mind—”then the (one)s in Judea must flee into the hills…” (Mk 13:14)

While the expression clearly comes from Dan 9:27, it is by no means certain precisely what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer[s]) understand this to be. The closest we have to an interpretation is found in Luke’s version, which seems to have transformed the reference (note the portions identical with Mark/Matthew in italics):

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by swaths of soldiers, then know that her desolation has come near” (Lk 21:20)

It now refers simply to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, which was fulfilled in the war of 66-70 A.D. Given the fact that so much of the Eschatological Discourse was more or less accurately fulfilled in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Gospel writers (and Jesus himself) may well have had this in mind—(re-)interpreting Dan 9:26-27 into the (current) context of the Roman Empire. Commentators, however, continue to debate whether the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ is intended to describe a particular act of desecration by Rome. Among the possibilities are:

  • The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
  • The destruction and despoiling of the Temple by Titus in 70 A.D.
  • The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.

For those who interpret Dan 9:26-27 from a modern-day futurist standpoint (cf. below), the setting up of the “stinking thing of desolation” in Jerusalem is yet to occur. If Paul has Dan 9:27 in mind in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (vv. 3-4), then he understands it as a person, who will take his place in the Temple, which accords with the wording of the Masoretic Hebrew text (above). Modern futurist interpretation typically identifies this figure with the “Antichrist” (1 Jn 2:18) and the Beast of Rev 13-19.

Christian Interpretation and Eschatology

The earliest surviving interpretation of Jesus as the “Anointed” of Dan 9:25-26 is probably in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis (Bk 1, chap. 21, late 2nd century), though it is also implied somewhat earlier in the treatment of verse 27 in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas 16 and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies V.25ff. From the early 3rd century, cf. also Tertullian’s Answer to the Jews §8, 13, and Origen, Against Celsus 6:46. For these Church Fathers, the time of Antichrist (v. 27) was represented by the false teaching and “Gnostic” views of the period, which they so eagerly sought to combat. Unfortunately, the Commentary of Hippolytus on Daniel (early-mid 3rd century) does not survive complete, but in at least one fragment (on the “abomination of desolation” in v. 27, cf. above), he provides a two-fold interpretation: it relates (1) to that set up by Antiochus IV, and (2) to that which will yet take place when Antichrist comes. Many thoughtful readers and commentators today will likely end up adopting a similar view (cf. below). In Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, in his lengthy (and critical) discussion of vv. 24-27, he quotes from Hippolytus as well as a lengthy extract from Eusebius’ Demonstration of the Gospel (8:2). Another important citation from Hippolytus is found in the much later Commentary of Dionysius bar-Salibi on Revelation (Rev 11:2). For other relevant passages in the writings of the Church Fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries, see e.g., Eusebius’ Church History 1.6.11; 3.5.4; Theophania 4:35-36; Athanasius’ History of the Arians §§76-77; Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture 12.19; Aphrahat, Demonstration 17.19; 21.

As indicated above, the standard modern critical view holds that Daniel 9:26-27 refers to the period of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), the Seleucid Greco-Syrian king who ruled c. 175-164 B.C. On the whole, this is likely to be correct, given the way that the subsequent visions in chapters 10-11 seem to describe the rise and history of the Greek (Alexandrian/Hellenistic) Empire, which is usually understood as the fourth Kingdom/Beast of the visions in chapters 2 and 7 as well. Fitting the historical events precisely into the prophetic scheme of Dan 9:20-27 is rather more difficult. Identifying the “anointed” one who is “cut off” with the High Priest Onias III is certainly plausible, but far from certain. Also, as discussed above, it is not entirely clear that the actions of the coming ruler of vv. 26-27 truly match those of Antiochus in detail. Far more problematic, however, at least for those who take the inspiration of Scripture seriously, is that the eschatological Age did not come with the death of Antiochus, the re-establishment of Jewish rule under the Maccabees, and the re-dedication/consecration of the Temple. The period of the Maccabees was by no means a time of “everlasting righteousness” (9:24), as the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. make abundantly clear.

It is not surprising, then, that the Qumran Community and the early Christians would interpret and apply the passage according to their own eschatological viewpoint. For the earliest believers in Jesus, the coming of the end-time Judgment (and with it the return of Christ) appeared to be imminent, marked by the “birth pains” described by Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse—Roman imperial control of Judea, threat of rebellion and war, the appearance of Messianic pretenders, the persecution and arrest of believers, etc—which would culminate in the war of 66-70 A.D. with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (and the Temple). Much, if not most, of what Jesus predicts in Mark 13 par, can be seen as more or less accurately being fulfilled in this period. It is certainly possible to understand the “stinking thing [i.e. abomination] of desolation” in this context as well, as I discuss above. However, there remains the same problem—the end did not come with these events, not after the destruction of the war of 66-70, nor the revolt of 132-5 A.D. Even if Jesus were correctly understood as the “Anointed” one of Dan 9:26, to what extent has a period of “everlasting righteousness” been established on earth?

This, in turn, has led some modern-day commentators to posit a time gap between the first 69 weeks (483 years) and the last week (7 years)—the last week is yet to be fulfilled, and will occur some time (very soon) in the future. While this may seem like a good way to harmonize Scripture and preserve its historical accuracy, unfortunately there is no support for it in the text of Daniel itself. Nothing in Dan 9:20-27 suggests any sort of gap in time (let alone of 2000+ years) before the final week. More feasible, in my view, is the idea that the events of vv. 20-27 are fulfilled at two levels—(1) the historical fulfillment culminating in the period c. 170-163 B.C., and (2) the typological fulfillment in the life and person of Jesus. According to the second (Christological) aspect, the 70 weeks have an even more pronounced symbolic sense—rather than attempting to fit them into a chronological scheme, it is better to view them as representing the fulfillment of God’s determined plan for His people. The period of distress, war, and religious persecution in vv. 26-27 is likewise representative of events which have been played out countless times throughout history, even in the case of the city of Jerusalem itself.

Returning to the original context of Daniel 9:20-27, it may be fair to ask in what sense it is eschatological. As I see it, there are two possibilities:

  1. The eschatology is real—i.e., verses 26-27 describe events which mark the end-time and the completion of the current Age.
  2. The situation of Israelite/Jewish history (regardless of how one dates the book) is being described, symbolically, using eschatological language and imagery, to express the hope and belief in God’s deliverance of his people.

The apparent chronological calculations in the passage would suggest that it is meant to show the fulfillment of historical events. According to the mainstream critical view, the book of Daniel (esp. chapters 7-12) dates from a time c. 165 B.C., and that the visions and revelations are, for the most part, ex eventu prophecies—descriptions of events which have already occurred. Traditional-critical commentators, on the other hand, are much more inclined to take the setting of the narrative at face value, holding that Dan 9:20-27 is an authentic revelation from the time of the historical Daniel (early 6th century). Neither approach, however, has been able to explain entirely how the events in vv. 25-27 have been, or will be, fulfilled in history. One should therefore take seriously the symbolic aspect of the passage, especially in its use of the Sabbatical year-cycle to mark its chronology. The year of Jubilee begins in the middle of the seventh Sabbatical year (i.e. the last “week”), on the 10th day of the 7th month, which is the Day of Atonement (cf. Daniel’s prayer and v. 24). Forty-nine (49) years precede the Jubilee, corresponding to the 490 years (49 x 10) in vv. 20-27. All of this symbolism was clearly recognized and expounded in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek), which happens to contains the earliest surviving direct allusion to Dan 9:25-26 (cf. above).

The text 11QMelch may also be seen as providing an interesting bit of evidence in support of viewing Jesus as the “anointed” one of Dan 9:25. As noted above, in col. ii lines 18-20, this figure in Daniel is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” in Isa 61:1ff—the same Messianic figure with which Jesus identifies himself in Luke 4:18-20; 7:19-23 par. This demonstrates that, by the time of Jesus, there were at least some Jews who interpreted the “anointed” of Dan 9:25 as one who would bring the good news of salvation to God’s people.

References above marked “Collins, Daniel” are to the Commentary on Daniel by John J. Collins in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993).

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 12: Messiah and Son of God (continued)

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In continuing this Part of the series, we may summarize the instances in the Gospels where the titles “Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) and “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=) are combined or set in context with each other:

  • Mark 1:1, as the heading of the Gospel—”…of Yeshua (the) Anointed, the Son of God”
  • The association of Jesus’ Baptism with his being anointed (as well as being God’s Son)—Acts 10:37-38; Luke 3:22 v.l. (quoting Psalm 2:7).
  • Luke 4:41 (par Mk 1:34; Matt 8:16)—the author explicitly connects the exclamation by the unclean spirits (that Jesus is the Son of God) with his identity as the Anointed One (cf. Mk 3:11; Matt 8:29 / Lk 8:28).
  • Matthew’s version of Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16)—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God” (cf. the prior discussion).
  • John 11:27, a similar confession by Martha during the Lazarus scene—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world”.
  • Mark 12:35-37 par, where Jesus’ argument (based on Psalm 110:1) could be taken to mean that the Anointed One is something more than the “Son of David”, i.e. the Son of God (so early Christians would have understood it). The question Jesus initially asks in Matthew’s version of the scene—”What/how does it seem to you about the Anointed (One)? Whose son is (he)?” (Matt 22:42)—may even foreshadow such an interpretation.
  • Mark 14:61; Matt 26:62; Luke 22:67, 70, the question/adjuration put to Jesus by the Sanhedrin (cf. the earlier discussion on this).
  • In the scene before Pilate, the title “Anointed (One)” appears specifically in Matt 27:17, 22; Luke 23:2, associated with the accusation that Jesus considered himself to be a King; John’s Gospel adds, parallel to this, Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God (Jn 19:7).
  • Matt 27:40, 43, where the taunts of the crowd use “Son of God”, in place of “Anointed (One)”, cf. Mark 14:32; Lk 23:35ff, 39.
  • John 20:31, at the close of the Gospel, similar to Mark 1:1—”…so that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

We should also include here the important references in the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke:

  • References to Jesus as the Anointed One, and a “son”, in the context of his miraculous (virginal) conception by the Holy Spirit—Matt 1:1, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25; 2:4ff; 15; Luke 1:26-38; 2:7, 10-11, 26.
  • The genealogies (Matt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38) clearly show Jesus to be a descendant of David (legally, by way of Joseph, cf. also Matt 1:20; Lk 1:27; 2:4), i.e. the Anointed One as a “son of David” (cf. Lk 1:32; 2:11). The Lukan genealogy, which traces backward, ends with the phrase “the son of God”—referring directly to Adam, but on the theological level, to Jesus his descendant.
  • The Angelic Annunciation to Mary, more clearly than any other passage in the Gospels, associates the titles “Son of God” and “Son of the Highest” with the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic King (Luke 1:32-35)—for the remarkable parallels with the Qumran text 4Q246, see parts 78 and my earlier note.

The Gospel of John

The idea of Jesus as both the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God can be found in several places in the Gospel of John:

  • John 1:34—the Baptism of Jesus, narrated indirectly (by John the Baptist), is connected with John’s own identity in relation to Jesus (vv. 6-9, 15, 19-27, 30ff). Note especially in verses 20-25, where John denies being the Anointed One or “the one coming” (vv. 27, 30). In verse 34, at the climax of the Baptism narration, John declares “I have seen and have witnessed that this (one) is the Son of God!”.
  • John 1:49—the confession by Nathanael: “…you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!” Here “king of Israel” certainly refers to the expectation of an Anointed Ruler from the line of David; moreover, there is definitely a Messianic context to this scene (v. 45).
  • John 11:27—the confession by Martha (cf. above): “you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world.”
  • John 19:7, in the context of Jesus’ trial (cf. above).
  • John 20:31—the conclusion of the Gospel proper (cf. above).

Also noteworthy are the passages which connect the titles “Son of God” and “Son of Man”:

  • John 1:51—Jesus’ famous Son of Man saying, which follows Nathanael’s confession in verse 49.
  • John 3:13-14, 18—twin sayings of the Son of Man descending/ascending and being “lifted up” (vv. 13-14), followed by a reference to belief in Jesus as the Son of God (v. 18).
  • John 5:25, 27—parallel between the Son of God and Son of Man in the context of the end-time Judgment and Resurrection.
  • John 9:35—”Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (some MSS read “…in the Son of God”, cf. 3:18).
  • John 12:23; 13:31 refer to the Son of Man being glorified (through his death and resurrection/exaltation); John 11:4 refers to the Son of God being glorified (through the death and raising of Lazarus).

One should also mention John 12:34, where the titles “the Anointed (One)” and “the Son of Man” are related. Throughout the Gospel tradition, Jesus uses the title “Son of Man”, referring to himself, in an eschatological and/or Messianic context. Cf. my earlier note for more on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John.

In addition to the passages above, Jesus frequently refers to himself as “the Son”, specifically in relation to (God) the Father—John 3:16-17, 35-36; 5:19-27; [6:40]; 8:36; 10:36; 14:13; 17:1, etc. Almost all of these are found in the great Discourses of Jesus, and there the Christological language and imagery has gone far beyond traditional Messianic interpretation (of Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:11-14, etc)—we find, in the words of Jesus, a clear expression of his pre-existent Deity. However, it is interesting that the title “Son” is only used of the incarnate Christ, in the sense that he makes God the Father known to humankind (cf. Jn 1:14, 18 [v.l.]); in John 1:1-14a it is rather Lo/go$ (“Word”) that is used. Also connected with the Sonship of Jesus and the purpose of the incarnation is the idea that all who trust/believe in him should come to be sons/children of God (cf. Jn 1:12; 12:36; 1 Jn 3:1ff).

Christological Development

In examining the idea of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in early Christian thought and expression, we begin with the Gospel preaching by the apostles and disciples in the book of Acts. The title “Son of God” occurs only once, in Acts 9:20, where the converted Paul’s first preaching in Damascus included the declaration regarding Jesus—”this one [ou!to$] is the Son of God!” The statement is parallel with his demonstration to the Jews in Damascus that Jesus is the Messiah—”this one [ou!to$] is the Anointed (One)” (cf. Acts 3:18, 20; 5:42; 17:3; 18:5, 28). The only other reference to Jesus as God’s Son involves the use of Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be [born]”) in Acts 13:33. This is part of Paul’s speech at Antioch, which is parallel in many respects with Peter’s great Pentecost speech in Acts 2. Paul cites Psalm 2:7, while Peter cites Psalm 110:1, applying them both to the resurrection of Jesus. These Scriptures are not interpreted in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity—i.e., of his birth/generation as Son by God in eternity—rather, they are related specifically to his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. It is after his death that Jesus is “born” as God’s Son, being raised and exalted to heaven. Interestingly, Psalm 2:7 was applied to Jesus three different ways in early Christian tradition:

  1. In reference to his resurrection and exaltation—Acts 13:33; Hebrews 5:5
  2. In the context of his Baptism—Luke 3:22 v.l. (D a b c d ff2 l r1, and attested by a number of Church Fathers)
  3. In terms of his pre-existent deity and relationship to God the Father—Hebrews 1:5; 5:5

Turning to Paul’s letters, the most notable passage is Romans 1:3-4, which, as I have previously discussed, may reflect an earlier creed or Gospel formula:

“…about His Son, the (one) coming to be (born) out of the seed of David according to the flesh, the (one) marked out [i.e. appointed/designated] as Son of God in power according to (the) spirit of holiness out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead, Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord”

The reference to the “seed of David” is derived from Messianic tradition, reflecting the figure-type of the expected/end-time Davidic Ruler. We can see how these terms and titles are brought together and connected in one statement: Son—son of David—Son of God—Anointed. Generally, however, Paul does not make much use of traditional Messianic thought and imagery, and almost never uses “Anointed (One)” as a specific title—in his letters (50s and early 60s A.D.) “Anointed” [Xristo/$] has already been thoroughly assimilated, becoming part of Jesus’ name (“Yeshua [the] Anointed”). Nor is the title “Son of God” especially common, occurring just three times in the Pauline corpus (in addition to Rom 1:4), each of which has the title set in tandem with “Anointed” or “Yeshua [the] Anointed”:

  • 2 Corinthians 2:19—”the Son of God, Yeshua (the) Anointed, the (one) proclaimed among you through us…”
  • Galatians 2:20—”…(the) Anointed lives in me… I live in trust of the Son of God…”
  • Ephesians 4:13—”…the (full) knowledge of the Son of God… the measure of stature of the fullness of the Anointed.”

More frequently, Paul refers to Jesus simply as “(the) Son”, by which God’s Son is meant, as in the Gospel of John (cf. above). Often these occur specifically in the context of Jesus’ sacrificial death—i.e., of God sending his own Son, etc (Rom 5:10; 8:3, 32; Gal 4:6)—as well as generally in terms of the Gospel message (Rom 1:3, 9; Gal 1:6). The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus is particularly in view in Rom 8:29; 1 Thess 1:10. There is, no doubt, an association with Messianic tradition in those few passages which refer to the kingdom of the Son, and to the promise of salvation (from the end-time Judgment, etc)—1 Cor 15:28; 1 Thess 1:10; Col 1:13. Paul also shares with the Johannine tradition the idea of believers in Christ becoming sons/children of God, through his death/resurrection and the work of the Spirit—Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 1:9; Gal 4:6.

Apart from the letter to the Hebrews and the Johannine writings, references to Jesus as Son (of God) are quite rare (2 Peter 1:17, referring to the Transfiguration). Hebrews, like the Gospel of John, understands Jesus’ Sonship in terms of pre-existent Deity (Heb 1:2, 5, 8, etc), but also in the (earlier) context of his sacrificial death and resurrection (Heb 4:14; 5:5; 7:28, etc). The title “Son of God” occurs in Heb 4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29. Overall, we find here a more developed matrix of belief regarding the Person of Christ. This is even more so in the case of the Letters of John, so closely matching the language and thought of the Gospel (esp. the Discourses of Jesus). “Son” occurs 24 times (including twice in 2 John), with the specific title “Son of God” used in 1 John 3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-13, 20. Interestingly, “(the) Anointed” is used as a distinct title twice in 1 John as well (1 Jn 2:22; 5:1), but it is no longer a traditional Messianic title; rather, it now identifies Jesus in terms of a very definite set of Christian (and Christological) beliefs, corresponding to the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel, which includes:

  • That Jesus is the Son (of God) and has been sent by the Father (2:22-23, etc)
  • That he has come to earth and appeared in human flesh (4:2, etc)
  • That he gave himself sacrificially for the salvation and life of the world (“…the one coming through water and blood“, 5:6 etc)

For perhaps the first time in the New Testament writings we find such beliefs about Jesus turned into a direct test for correct belief—i.e. orthodoxy (or, perhaps better, proto-orthodoxy). Note the repeated use of the pa=$ o( formula in 1 John (“every one who…”):

  • 1 Jn 2:23—”Every one denying the Son does not have the Father; the (one) giving account of [i.e. acknowledging] the Son also has the Father”
  • 1 Jn 2:29—”Every one doing justice/righteousness has come to be (born) out of Him”
  • 1 Jn 3:9—”Every one who has come to be (born) out of God does not do sin…” (also 5:18)
  • 1 Jn 4:7—”Every one loving (each other) has come to be born out of God and knows God”
  • 1 Jn 5:1—”Every one trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) has come to be born out of God…”

Cf. also 3:3-4, 6, 10, 15; 5:4, as well as the similar formulation in 1 Jn 4:3: “Every spirit which does not give account of [i.e. acknowledge/confess] Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God”. It is important to notice the way that the correct confession (or acknowledgement) of Christ is related (a) to moral and upright behavior, and (b) to the idea of believers also being born as Sons (Children) of God—cf. John 1:12 (also 11:52; 12:36); 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2.

Jesus as the Son (of God) is rare in the book of Revelation, occurring only once (Rev 2:18), though otherwise Messianic imagery, in connection with an exalted view of Christ (in Heaven), abounds throughout the book. The reference to Jesus as the “firstborn” out of the dead (cf. Rom 8:28; Col 1:18) may indicate that Jesus’ Sonship here, as in the earliest Christian preaching, is connected specifically with his resurrection.

The Apostolic Fathers

Finally, if we briefly examine the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.), the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, we find essentially a summary and (re-)formulation of what is otherwise expressed in the New Testament; among the more noteworthy passages are:

  • 1 Clement 36:4—citation of Psalm 2:7-8 (cf. above), possibly also an allusion to Hebrews 1:5.
  • Ignatius to the Smyrneans 1:1—part of a creedal summary, either quoting Romans 1:3-4 or drawing upon the underlying tradition; likewise in Ephesians 20:2, where Ignatius offers an early formulation of the dual-nature of Christ, “Son of Man [i.e. human] and Son of God [i.e. Divine]”.
  • Ignatius, Magnesians 8:2, seemingly drawing upon Johannine language regarding the Person of Christ, and suggesting his pre-existent Deity.
  • Epistle of Polycarp 12:2, where the title Son of God is connected with Jesus as “eternal High Priest”, perhaps indicating familiarity with Hebrews.
  • Martyrdom of Polycarp 17:3—”we worship this one [i.e. Jesus] as (being the) Son of God”, cf. Acts 9:20.
  • The Epistle of Barnabas 5:9, 11; 7:2, 9; 12:8; 15:5, where there is a strong emphasis on the Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who fulfills (and replaces) the Old Testament types and forms, similar in certain ways to Hebrews and the Gospel of John.

Cf. also Didache 16:4, the Epistle to Diognetus 7:4; 9:2, 4; 10:2, and numerous passages in Hermas (Vision 2.2:8; Similitude 5.2:6, 8, 11; 8.3:2, 11:1; 9.1:1; 12:1, et al). In all of these early Christian works, traditional Messianic thought and interpretation has generally disappeared, having been replaced by a distinctly Christian point of reference, based on early Tradition and the writings of the New Testament. By the middle of the second century, Jesus as the Son of God became part of a wider Christological (and Apologetic) argument involving the Person of Christ. Proto-orthodox writers and theologians such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Irenaeus felt compelled to explain and defend their understanding of Christ on several fronts:

  1. Against Jewish opponents, e.g. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho §43, 48, 100-2, 118, 126-9, etc. In the context of such works, Christians were still forced to argue or demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah, though in a somewhat different manner than we see in the earlier book of Acts.
  2. Against Greco-Roman (pagan) misunderstanding and misrepresentation—cf. Justin, First Apology §§21-23, 31, 54, 60, 63, etc; Athenagoras’ Plea for the Christians §10; Origen Against Celsus 6:11, etc.
  3. Against alternate/heterodox (or “heretical”) Christian views of Christ, i.e. by so-called “Gnostics”, etc—cf. Irenaeus Against Heresies III.16-18ff; IV.5-11, 40-1, etc.

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 12: Messiah and Son of God

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In this part of the series, I will be exploring the idea of the Messiah as the Son of God. This, of course, has enormous implications for the early Christian understanding of Jesus—how, and in what way (or ways), he is believed to be God’s Son. This article will be divided as follows:

  • Old Testament and Jewish Background
  • The Qumran texts and Jewish writings of the 1st century B.C./A.D.
  • The (Synoptic) Gospel Tradition
  • The Gospel of John
  • Christological Development in the New Testament and Other Early Writings

The Old Testament and Jewish Background

There are three relevant concepts or traditions in the Old Testament related to the expression “son of God”:

1. The plural “sons of God” as a reference to heavenly beings (‘Angels’):

  • <yh!ýa$h* yn}B= (b®nê-h¹°§lœhîm)—certain in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7, and virtually certain in Gen 6:2, 4; cf. also in Deut 32:8 LXX and 4QDt
  • <yl!a@ yn}B= (b®nê °¢lîm)—Psalm 29:1; 89:6
  • /olu# yn}B= (b®nê ±elyôn, i.e. “sons of the Most High”)—Psalm 82:6, though the interpretation of this passage is disputed, thought by some commentators to refer to human beings (judges)

The only occurrence of the singular is in Daniel 3:25, Aramaic /yh!l*a$ rB^ (bar-°§l¹hîn). Cf. the supplemental note on this verse.

2. The people of Israel as God’s “sons” or (collectively) as “Son”, in a symbolic or spiritual sense—”My (firstborn) son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9); “sons of the living God” (Hos 1:10 [Hebrew 2:1]); “(My/His) sons” (Deut 14:1; 32:19; Isa 1:2-3; 30:1; 43:19; Jer 3:22). For YHWH as the “Father” of Israel, cf. Deut 32:6; Isa 64:8, etc. The only direct reference to Israel as “son of God” is in the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom (Grk ui(o\$ qeou=, Wis 18:13).

3. The king as God’s “son” in a symbolic or ritual sense—Psalm 2:7; 89:26-27; 2 Sam 7:14.

The last of these had the clearest influence on Messianic thought, especially with regard to the figure-type of the Davidic Ruler who was expected to appear at the end-time. For more on the Messianic interpretation and development of these passages, cf. Parts 6 and 7 of this series. The first two aspects developed and were combined several ways in Jewish tradition:

  • The Messiah was associated with the end-time Judgment of God on the wicked/nations of the world—only the righteous and/or repentant of God’s people would pass through the judgment and enter/inherit the Kingdom. This follows the tendency, especially in Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period, to refer specifically to the righteous as God’s “sons”, cf. Sir 4:10; Wisd 2:18; 5:5; Esth 16:16, etc.
  • Beginning at least with the book of Daniel (depending on how one dates it), a distinct parallel and connection formed in Jewish thought, between the people of God (i.e. the righteous/holy ones on earth) and the “Sons of God” (Holy Ones) in Heaven. This is perhaps best expressed in the 7th chapter of Daniel—the precise parallel between the heavenly “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14) and the “(people of the) holy ones” (vv. 22, 26-27). For other expressions of the relationship between Angels and the righteous in Daniel, cf. Dan 3:25ff; 8:15-17; 10:10-21; 12:1-3.
  • In the Qumran texts (primarily from the 1st century B.C.), the righteous remnant of the end-time is identified specifically with the Community—i.e. those who have joined together, correctly observing the Torah and following the instruction passed down by the “Teacher of Righteousness”. As we have seen, there were strong eschatological and Messianic components to this self-identity; the Community Rule documents, along with other texts, show that they expected the appearance of several end-time (Messianic) figures who would serve as rulers/leaders (the Community itself being the effective embodiment of the Kingdom). In addition, the heavenly beings (“Holy Ones”) were seen as functioning in tandem with the “holy ones” (the Community) on earth, and would join together more closely at the end-time.
  • This inter-connection between the righteous/holy ones on earth and heaven, was made even more precise in the figure of the “Son of Man” (also called “Righteous One”, “Elect One” and “Anointed One”) in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st century A.D.?). For more detail, see Part 10 of this series.

There are definite similarities in thought and expression between the Qumran texts, the Similitudes of Enoch, and early Christian tradition. It is significant, perhaps, that the latest of the Qumran writings, and probably the Similitudes, were roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus and the Gospel tradition.

The Qumran texts and Jewish writings of the Period

In examining these writings (c. 150 B.C. – 100 A.D.), it is important to focus on texts which: (1) specifically use the expression “son of God” or similar wording, (2) mention “son” or sonship in a distinctly Messianic context, and (3) are either pre-Christian or show little sign of Christian influence. There are, in fact, very few surviving texts which are directly relevant to the discussion. Apart from traditional references to the heavenly beings (Angels) as “sons of God” in Wisdom 5:5; Jubilees 1:24-25; 1 Enoch 69:4-5; 71:1, etc., I highlight here passages from seven documents, including five from the Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls.

Qumran Texts (cf. Evans, Qumran-Messianism, pp. 137-47)—First, from the Florilegium (4Q174), a collection of Scripture verses with glossed interpretations, which have a clear eschatological and Messianic orientation. In lines 10-13, the Davidic promise of 2 Sam 7:11-14 is explained as referring to “the Sprout/Branch of David who will…sit on the throne in Zion at the end of days”. For “Branch of David” (dywd jmx) as a Messianic title, cf. Parts 67. This indicates the possibility of understanding the Royal/Davidic Messiah of the end-time as “God’s son”. Next, there are two passages which appear to speak of the “birth” (by God) of a Messianic figure:

  • 1QSa [1Q28a] 2:11-12—”[This is the sit]ting of the men of the name [i.e. of renown] [called] to the appointed place (of meeting) for the council of the Community, when He [i.e. God] will cause the Anointed One to be born with [i.e. among] them…” The verb restored as “cause to be born” i.e. “beget” (d[yl]wy) has proven somewhat controversial, having been read by other scholars as “bring [forward]” (iylwy), and other restorations have also been suggested. If the verb dly is correct, then the idea presumably derives from Psalm 2:7, where, in its original context, the king is begotten/born as God’s “son” (symbolically) upon his enthronement; here it would be his installment as ruler over the Community that is the occasion of his being “born”.
  • 4Q534 frag. 3 col. i, lines 8-11:
    “[and] he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples. And he will know the secrets of all living things. [And al]l their plans against him will come to nothing, although the opposition of all living things will be great. […] his [p]lans. Because he is the Elect of God, his birth and the spirit of his breath […] his [p]lans shall be for ever.” Translation Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:1071 (italics mine).
    It has been suggested that the lacuna in lines 10-11 be restored “his birth and the spirit of his breath [are of God…]”, which is certainly plausible and is favored by a number of scholars (Evans, Qumran-Messianism, pp. 144-5).

In the highly fragmentary text 4Q369, which appears to be an apocalyptic/eschatological work, there is reference to what certainly seems to be a Messianic (and presumably Davidic) figure in column ii of fragment 1:

“…for his seed according to their generations an eternal possession, and al[l…] and your good judgments you explained to him to […] in eternal light, and you made him for you a first-bo[rn] son […] like him, to (be) a prince and ruler in all /your/ inhabited world […] the c[row]n of the heavens, and the glory of the clouds you have placed [on him …] and the angel of your peace in his congregation and… […] […] for him (?) righteousness rules, as a father to [his] s[on…]” (lines 4-10) Translation Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:731 (italics mine).

Unfortunately, the surviving portions are too incomplete (especially the tiny fragments 2-4) to be certain of the context. Finally, we must note the now-famous Aramaic (Pseudo-Daniel) 4Q246, the so-called “Son of God text”. I have discussed this document in some detail, especially with regard to the parallels with Luke 1:32, 35, in earlier posts. That the context is eschatological and Messianic (influenced, in large measure, by Daniel 7) seems reasonably clear to me. A coming Ruler, parallel to the “rise” of the people of God, is called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High”. His rule is contrasted with that of the nations, and his kingdom is connected with the “everlasting Kingdom” and dominion of the people of God.

Other Jewish Writings—I find only two other writings from the period to be especially relevant:

  • In Joseph and Aseneth 6:3-5ff; 13:13(10), Joseph is referred to as God’s “son”, probably in the sense that this can be said, from a symbolic and ethical standpoint, of righteous Israelites and Jews (cf. above). However, it is somewhat unique to have the idea or expression applied this way to a specific exemplary person, and may hint at something deeper. It is also not clear whether, or to what extent, this has been colored by Christian influence; scholars today typically date the book somewhere in the 1st century B.C./A.D.
  • In the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (or 4 Ezra), the Anointed One (Messiah) is called God’s “Son” in 2 Esdr 7:28-29; 13:32, 37, 52. The introduction to this work is Christian (cf. 2 Esdr 2:42), but the core of chapters 3-14 (late 1st-century A.D.) is Jewish and shows little or no Christian influence. Chapter 11-13 are clearly influenced by Daniel 7, merging together the Son of Man and Davidic Messiah traditions, much as we see in the Gospels and early Christian writings.

In none of these Jewish passages does “son” indicate deity in the developed Christian (Christological) sense. At most we see: (a) the “Messiah” as a heavenly/angelic figure, or (b) righteous human beings identified in some manner with heavenly beings.

Gospel Tradition

According to the approach taken throughout this series, I begin with the core Synoptic tradition as represented by the Gospel of Mark; the title “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=) occurs four times:

  • Mk 1:1, in the heading to the Gospel—”(The) beginning of the good message {Gospel} of Yeshua (the) Anointed, [Son of God]”. Some manuscripts (a* Q 28c al) do not have “Son of God” (cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 62).
  • Mk 3:11, where it is narrated that the unclean spirits, when cast out by Jesus during healing (exorcism) miracles, would cry out “You are the Son of God [su\ ei@ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]!”; par Lk 4:41, and similarly in Mk 5:7 / Matt 8:29 / Lk 8:28 (Luke has “Son of the Highest”).
  • Mark 15:39, at the death of Jesus, the centurion standing nearby exclaims “Truly this man was (the) son of God!”; par Matt 27:54, but Luke’s version is quite different—”This man really was just/righteous [di/kaio$]!” (Lk 23:47).

We should also note the following five passages in the triple-tradition:

  • Mark 1:11 par, the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism—”You are my (be)loved Son…”; several MSS of Lk 3:22 instead have a quotation from Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be born”). The voice at the Transfiguration, Mk 9:7 par, is very similar (esp. the form in Matt 17:5, while Lk 9:35 is somewhat different).
  • Mark 8:29 par, the confession by Peter (cf. below).
  • Mark 12:6ff par, in the parable of the ‘Wicked Tenants’.
  • Mark 14:61-62 par, the question of the High Priest / Sanhedrin to Jesus (cf. below).

To these may be added:

  • Matt 4:3, 6 (par Lk 4:3, 9), by the Devil in the Temptation scene—”If (indeed) you are the Son of God…”.
  • Matt 14:33, the disciples declare “Truly you are the Son of God”, matching the declaration by the centurion in Matt 27:54. This is an addition to the miracle scene (Mk 6:51, cf. Jn 6:21), and is unusual in the way it precedes Peter’s confession, contrary to the literary and dramatic development of the narrative in Mark-Luke.
  • Matt 27:40, 43, where the identification of Jesus as Son of God (by way of the High Priest’s question in Matt 27:63f) has carried forward into the taunts by the crowd delivered against Jesus while he is on the cross.

Interestingly, in all of these instances, the expression “Son of God” is used by others, not Jesus himself; indeed, a number of the occurrences are actually by persons or beings hostile to Jesus (the Devil, unclean spirits, the Sanhedrin, mocking crowds). Not once does Jesus use the title himself in the Synoptic Gospels. The closest we come to a direct affirmation by Jesus are in two (parallel) episodes—the confession by Peter, and the interrogation of Jesus before the Sanhedrin:

The confession by Peter (Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20; Matthew 16:16)

In all three Gospels, Jesus’ question to his disciples is the same: “but who do you count/consider me to be?” The pronoun “you” (u(mei=$) is emphatic—others have said that he is a Prophet (Elijah, etc), but now Jesus asks his own followers directly. In Mark, Peter’s response is simply “You are the Anointed (One)”. It is not entirely clear what Peter means by “Anointed One” in this context. As we have seen throughout this series, there were several Messianic figure-types which could be in mind; many of the references throughout the period of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry seem to involve an Anointed Prophet figure—Moses, Elijah or the Anointed of Isa 61:1ff. It is the latter that Jesus identifies himself with directly in Lk 4:18-21; 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6), etc. If Peter has in mind a Messiah of the Davidic Ruler type, this is by no means obvious from the text. It is interesting to see how Peter’s confession appears to expand, almost before our eyes, through the Synoptic tradition:

Mark 8:29
“You are the Anointed One”
Luke 9:20
“(You are) the Anointed One of God
Matthew 16:16
“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God

Critical commentators have questioned the historicity of Matthew’s version, the idea being that Peter (or any of the disciples) would not have formulated such an apparently advanced statement of Jesus’ deity at this early stage in the narrative. However, this perhaps reads a bit too much into the text. While it is certainly possible that Matt 16:16 represents an early Christian gloss or explanation of Peter’s statement, on the other hand, Peter need not have had in mind an especially advanced idea of Jesus’ deity (cf. Hosea 1:10 [Hebrew 2:1]). Also, it should be noted that in Matt 16:17 Jesus’ declares that Peter’s confession is the result of inspiration by God; in all likelihood, then, Peter would not have understood the full significance of his own words.

Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-62; Matt 26:63-66; Luke 22:66-71)

In Mark (and Matthew), the High Priest addresses Jesus, either as a question (Mk) or an adjuration (Matt):

Mk 14:61
“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?”
Matt 26:63
“I require an oath of you according to the living God, that you say to us
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”

In Luke’s version, it is the Council collectively which asks the question, divided into two parts in the narrative:

Luke 22:67
“Are you the Anointed (One)?”
Luke 22:70
“Then you are the Son of God?”

There is an obvious parallel between this question and Peter’s confession, which in Matthew’s version is made all but explicit:

Jesus’ question / Peter’s confession
“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God” (16:16)
“…by the living God… if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God” (26:63)
Jesus’ declaration / Peter’s denial (26:64ff)

In examining Jesus’ response to the Sanhedrin’s question, we find two points in common between the three accounts—(1) some form of affirmation by Jesus, and (2) his identification with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure. Here is a comparison of Jesus’ response:

Mark 14:61-62

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?”

“I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi)
Son of Man saying—”and you will see the Son of Man…”

Matthew 26:63-64

“…that you tell us if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”

“You said (it)” (su\ ei@pa$)
Son of Man saying—”from now on you will see the Son of Man…”

Luke 26:67-69

“If you are the Anointed (One), tell us”

“If I tell you, you will not trust/believe (it)…”
Son of Man saying—”but from now on the Son of Man will be…”

“Then you are the Son of God?”

“You say that I am” (u(mei=$ le/gete o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi)

Here it is possible that Luke preserves a more complete account, and that Mark and Matthew (independently?) record a simplified version. Certainly Jesus’ ultimate response in Luke (“You say that I am”) seems to combine the versions in Mark-Matthew (“I am” + “you say/said”). In Mark, this response is an unqualified affirmation (“I am”); not so in Matthew-Luke, and commentators have various opinions as to how this should be understood, with three main possibilities:

  • As an affirmation—i.e., “You have said it (and it is the truth)”, “You have said (correctly)”, etc
  • As a reluctant/defiant response—i.e. “That is what you say”, “You said it, not me”, “(Those are) your words, not mine”
  • As a qualified affirmation—i.e., “You say it, but…”, perhaps in the sense of “Yes, but more than that…”

Jesus’ initial response in Lk 22:67-68, and his general silence before the Sanhedrin, makes an unqualified affirmation rather unlikely. Many modern commentators are inclined toward the second interpretation, i.e. that Jesus is unwilling to affirm the question as they have put it, turning their own words back on them. The use of the conjunctive particle plh/n by Jesus in Matthew to introduce the Son of Man saying suggests the third view—instead of answering their question directly, he shifts the focus to the eschatological image of the Son of Man. It is a difficult and sensitive matter, since this is the passage in the Synoptic tradition which most clearly expresses Jesus’ own view of his identity as the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God. Again, there are several possibilities that should be considered:

  • In referring to himself, in the Synoptics Jesus always uses the title/expression “Son of Man”, never “Anointed” or “Son (of God)”, and continues to do so here, answering their question in terms of the “Son of Man”
  • They will get their answer when the see him in his glorious/exalted state, presumably at his end-time appearance
  • It is meant as a warning of the impending Judgment by God, marked by the appearance of the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus himself)
  • In a number of passages, Jesus’ clearly does not want his identity as the Anointed One (or Son of God) to be made known publicly prior to his death and resurrection, perhaps to avoid popular misconception and misunderstanding

In my view, the some combination of the first and fourth options provides the best interpretive solution. This will be discussed further in the concluding sections to this Part, which, due to the length required, will continue in a second article. For more on the Son of Man sayings of Jesus, see my earlier Easter season notes and Part 10 of this series.

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 11: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

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Having just recently celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, it is appropriate in this series of Easter season articles (on “Yeshua the Anointed”) to examine how his death and resurrection specifically relate to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah (i.e. the Christ). This article will be divided as follows:

  • Use of the term “the Anointed (One)”, as well as specific Messianic language/imagery, associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel tradition.
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus in the earliest Christian tradition—i.e., in the sermon-speeches of Acts and the kerymatic elements of the Pauline letters, etc.
  • Christological development in the New Testament

Gospel Tradition

If we examine the core Synoptic tradition, as represented principally in the Gospel of Mark, we find that “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) does not appear as a distinct Messianic title or expression until Peter’s confession in Mk 8:29—”You are the Anointed (One)”. Immediately after this point, in all three Synoptics, there is recorded the first of three Passion predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 par), connected with the end of the Galilean ministry and the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem. In other words, Peter’s confession inaugurates the Passion of Jesus within the narrative framework, and is set parallel with the question of the High Priest to Jesus (Mk 14:61). This parallelism is even more precise in Matthew, where the confession/question is nearly identical:

“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16)
“I require an oath of you according to the living God,
that you say to us if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God” (Matt 26:63)

Most of the other Synoptic occurrences of the expression “the Anointed (One)” are set in Jerusalem prior to the Passion (Mk 12:35; 13:21-22 par; Matt 24:5), or specifically in the context of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion (Mk 14:61; 15:32 par; Matt 26:68; 27:17, 22; Lk 23:2, 39). According to Luke 23:2, the Jewish authorities connect the title “Anointed (One)” directly with the idea of kingship, drawing upon the (Messianic) figure-type of the expected Davidic Ruler who will establish a future/end-time kingdom for Israel (cf. Parts 6, 7, 8). Whether or not the Roman administration recognized this association, any pretense of kingship on the part of Jesus would have prompted them to act. If we accept the historicity of this scenario, the Jewish delegation to Pilate was shrewd to tie Jesus’ claim (or apparent claim) to be “the Anointed One” (Mk 14:61-62 par) with the idea that he thus claimed to be a king. This is reflected, it would seem, in the use of “the Anointed One” in Matt 27:17, 22, as well as in the taunts directed at Jesus (Mk 15:32 par; Matt 26:68; Lk 23:39). Indeed, it is the only way to explain the written charge against Jesus, recorded in all four Gospels (in slightly different forms): “This is (Jesus [of Nazareth]) the King of the Jews”—the one common element being “King of the Jews”. There is virtually nothing else recorded of Jesus’ life and ministry to justify the idea that he claimed to be the “King of the Jews”. Only the ‘Triumphal Entry’ into Jerusalem, with its association with Zech 9:9ff and Psalm 118:25-26, could be taken as a Messianic (Royal) claim by Jesus, though it is the crowds (and/or the Gospel writer) who explicitly make such an identification.

In the Gospel of John, the title “the Anointed (One)” is only associated obliquely with the death (and resurrection) of Jesus—cf. Jn 10:24; 11:27; 12:34 (note also 17:3), the most direct reference being in 12:34. We might also point out the concluding verse of the Gospel proper (Jn 20:31), which of course follows the death and resurrection. In Luke, we also find the title used (by Jesus) in two of the post-resurrection scenes—both in the context of Jesus explaining to his disciples that, according to the Scriptures, it was necessary for the Anointed One to suffer, die and rise again from the dead (Lk 24:26, 46). These passages are precisely parallel to the Passion predictions (Lk 9:22, 44-45; 18:31-34, cf. also 24:7) and clearly connect “the Anointed One” with “the Son of Man”.

If we consider other Messianic terms and images, related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, there are several which stand out:

  • The interpretation and application of Malachi 3:1 to Jesus. Cf. Part 3 and the supplemental note on Mal 3:1ff.
  • The Triumphal entry scene, with its use of Zechariah 9:9ff and Psalm 118:25-26, and the various references to “David”, “King” or “Kingdom” in the exclamation of the crowd.
  • The use of the title “Son of David” and various motifs associated with David in the Passion narrative (cf. Part 8).
  • The specific use of the expression “Son of Man” by Jesus in relation to his Passion and Resurrection/Exaltation (cf. Part 10 and the supplemental note on the Son of Man sayings). See also the note on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John.

Early Christian (New Testament) Tradition

Use of the title “the Anointed (One)” in early Christian tradition is complicated by the fact that, within a generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection (20-30 years at the latest), it had become completely assimilated into Jesus’ own name—”Yeshua (the) Anointed (One)”, i.e. “Jesus Christ”. This itself tells us something about how the earliest believers understood it—they so completely identified Jesus with “the Anointed (One)” that it soon became part of his name. Here I will focus primarily on two areas: (1) the early Gospel preaching (kerygma) as recorded in the sermon-speeches of the book of Acts, and (2) kerygmatic elements in the letters of Paul and other New Testament writings.

1. The Sermon-Speeches of Acts

The passages where “the Anointed (One)” still functions as a distinct title referring to a Messianic figure are—Acts 2:31, 36; 3:18, 20; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28; (24:24); 26:23. Overall there is a strong apologetic context to these references, where mention is made repeatedly of the early believers arguing and demonstrating (to other Jews) that Jesus was in fact the “Anointed One” (i.e. the Messiah). Probably the figure-type of the Davidic Ruler is in mind throughout (cf. Parts 68), which is why it was so important for the early Christians to argue that there was a Scriptural basis for the Messiah suffering and being put to death. There is virtually no evidence for any such expectation regarding the Messiah in Judaism of the period, as virtually all commentators now admit; the very idea must have been shocking to Jews at the time (see Peter’s reaction [and Jesus’ response] in Mark 8:32f par). The theme of Jesus’ Passion being prefigured and predicted in the Scriptures was introduced and emphasized specifically in the Lukan Gospel (Lk 18:31ff; 22:37; 24:27, 32, 45-46) and continues throughout the book of Acts (1:16; 8:32ff; 17:2, 11; 18:28). It is doubtless central to the demonstration of Jesus as the Anointed One in Acts 5:42; 9:22; 18:5, 28, etc.

If we consider specifically the sermon-speeches by the disciples in the book of Acts, several passages stand out:

  • Acts 2:22-36, from Peter’s great Pentecost sermon, which effectively encapsulates the early Christian kerygma (proclamation of the Gospel). As I have discussed this sermon-speech in considerable detail as part of a series on the Speeches of Acts, I will here outline the most important points:
    • The Gospel summary in vv. 22-24, emphasizing Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection
    • The citation of Psalm 16:8-11 and its application to Jesus—his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (vv. 25-33)
    • The citation of Psalm 110:1 and its similar application to Jesus, emphasizing specifically his exaltation to God’s right hand (vv. 34-36)
    • The speech concludes with the declaration that “God made him both Lord [ku/rio$] and (the) Anointed [xristo/$], this Jesus whom you put to the stake!” (v. 36). The idea that God made Jesus to be Lord and Christ is striking, and somewhat problematic from the standpoint of orthodox Christology, but it fairly and accurately reflects the earliest Christian belief about Jesus, in which his identity as “the Anointed One” is the result of his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (cf. Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, etc).
  • Acts 3:12-26, another sermon-speech by Peter. The core of the speech again includes a Gospel summary (vv. 13-15), emphasizing Jesus’ death and resurrection, this time in the context of the power of Jesus’ name to work miracles (vv. 12-13, 16). In vv. 18-21, Peter also summarizes two aspects of Jesus as “the Anointed One”—(1) his suffering and death, foretold by the Prophets (v. 18, cf. Luke 18:31; 24:7, 26, 46), and (2) his exaltation to heaven (v. 21). To this is added the idea of Jesus’ (future) coming, as “the Anointed One” (v. 20).
  • Acts 4:24-30, a prayer by the early Christians, which more or less follows the same basic pattern as the other sermon-speeches in Acts. Psalm 2:1-2 is cited (vv. 25-26) and applied to death of Jesus (vv. 27-28) and the resultant community of believers following his resurrection (vv. 29-30). Jesus is thus identified as the “Anointed One” of Psalm 2, specifically in the context of his death (and resurrection). As previously discussed, the second Psalm was enormously influential in shaping Messianic thought and belief in Judaism and early Christianity. It probably influenced the shape of the Passion narrative as well (cf. especially Luke’s version, which brings together the Sanhedrin, Herod and Pilate).
  • Acts 10:34-42, another sermon-speech by Peter, part of the Cornelius narrative in chapters 10-11. Here Jesus’ anointing is placed at the beginning of his ministry (v. 38), presumably at the Baptism (v. 37, cf. Lk 3:22 and the variant reading which cites Psalm 2:7), and is associated with his working miracles. In a similar manner, the early believers were “anointed” by God and empowered to work miracles. This reference is part of a Gospel summary emphasizing Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 39-40).
  • Acts 13:26-39, part of the sermon-speech by Paul at Antioch, which is parallel in many ways with Peter’s Pentecost speech. Once again, we find a Gospel summary centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv. 27-31). As in Peter’s speech, verses from the Psalms (and Prophets) are cited and applied to Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (to heaven):
    • Psalm 2:7 (v. 33)—”You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)”
    • Isaiah 55:3 (v. 34)—”I will give to you the holy and trustworthy (thing)s of David”
    • Psalm 16:10 (vv. 35-36)—”You will not give your Holy One to see (complete) decay”
  • Acts 17:3, part of the narrative in which Paul is said to have argued and demonstrated that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die (cf. above). Here however, a notable declaration (by Paul) is added: “This is the Anointed (One)—Yeshua, whom I give down (clearly) as a message to you!”

2. Kerygmatic elements in the New Testament

New Testament scholars have isolated certain passages from the letters of Paul, for example, which appear to preserve older and established formulations of belief about Jesus, reflecting the kerygma (Gospel preaching) of the earliest Christians. These formulae may have been preserved and transmitted as hymns or affirmations of belief (creedal statements) recited at the time of Baptism or within the context of Community worship. They often contain vocabulary or language not commonly used in the letters. Paul cites or incorporates them in somewhat the same way that he does the Scriptures, occasionally in the context of tradition, i.e. that which has been “given along” (passed down) to believers. Perhaps the most noteworthy (and widely recognized) of these “kerygmatic fragments” is found at the start of Romans:

“…about His Son, the (one) coming to be (born) out of (the) seed of David according to (the) flesh, the (one) marked of [i.e. designated by] God in power according to (the) spirit of holiness out of (the) standing up [i.e. rising] from the dead—Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord” (Rom 1:3-4)

Most scholars agree that Paul here is quoting an earlier creedal formula, perhaps modifying or adapting it slightly in context. It expresses two fundamental beliefs about Jesus which are otherwise not found in Paul’s writing:

  • The idea of Jesus being born from the line of David—As we have seen, this is basic to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), according to the figure-type of the Davidic Ruler who was expected to appear at the end-time (cf. Parts 6, 7, 8). Paul almost never refers to this in the letters (nor mentions David), but it was important in the early Gospel tradition, and the association with David was central to early Christian preaching (as recorded in the sermon-speeches of Acts, cf. above). The only similar reference in the Pauline corpus is 2 Tim 2:8, almost certainly another early creedal formula.
  • That Jesus was appointed/designated the Messiah (and Lord)—Paul never uses this verb (o(ri/zw, “mark out, set bounds, limit”. i.e. appoint, designate, determine), but it is part of the early Gospel tradition (in Luke-Acts) related to the identity of Jesus (as Messiah/Lord), and specifically to his death and resurrection, etc (Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 17:31). Nor does Paul make much reference to Jesus’ status as the Anointed One (or as Lord) being the result of the resurrection and exaltation to heaven, but, again, this was central to the earliest Christian preaching (cf. above).

Other examples of possible older creedal fragments and kerygmatic formulae in the Pauline letters may be cited, the most relevant of which are:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:3-5—this simple summary reflects the basic early kergymatic formulations attested in Luke-Acts (cf. Lk 24:7, 26, 46; Acts 1:2-4; 2:22-24, 32; 3:18; 4:25-28; 5:30-32; 10:38-41).
  • Philippians 2:6-11—here Paul is probably quoting or drawing upon an early hymn, which contains certain language and ideas not found in his letters. While this passage does not have a specific Messianic emphasis, it shares with Rom 1:3-4 the idea that Jesus’ position as Lord is the result of his exaltation (following his sacrificial death) to heaven by God. It also contains a more developed sense of Jesus’ deity, including a belief in his pre-existence (vv. 6-7). For a similar hymnic passage, cf. Col 1:15-20.
  • 1 Timothy 3:16—the emphasis again is on the resurrection and exaltation (ascension) of Jesus

In general, Paul makes little use of traditional Messianic thought and expression in referring to Jesus, nor does he use “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) as a title in that sense. By the time that most of the (undisputed) Pauline letters were written (in the 50’s A.D.), Jesus had come to be identified so completely with the title “Anointed (One)” that it was assimilated as part of his name. He uses “Yeshua (the) Anointed” {Jesus Christ}, “(the) Anointed Yeshua” {Christ Jesus}, and “(the) Anointed” {Christ} interchangeably, as a name, without any distinction. There was no need for Paul to justify or explain its use to believers. The Messianic elements in the Pauline letters are generally limited to the related ideas of: (a) Jesus as King, and (b) his position as Judge over humankind, but even these motifs are not expressed with much frequency—cf. 1 Cor 15:24; 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 2:16; Col 1:13; Eph 5:5; 2 Tim 4:18. Two verses deserve mention:

  • Romans 8:34—the image of Jesus “at the right hand of God”, following his death and resurrection, which was a basic element of early Christian preaching (cf. above); and see also Col 3:1; Eph 1:20
  • 2 Timothy 4:1—the image of Jesus appearing (at the end-time) in his kingdom/glory to judge the world, which reflects the “Son of Man” sayings of Jesus in Gospel tradition

In turning to the remainder of the New Testament writings there are only a few passages which clearly indicate early kerygmatic formulae and/or Messianic thought applied to Jesus:

  • Cf. the summary statements and allusions in 1 Peter 1:10-11, 20-21; 3:18, 21b-22; 4:5
  • The image of the exalted Jesus at the right hand of God—1 Peter 3:22; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2. As indicated previously, this image was certainly influenced by the Davidic Psalm 110:1 (Heb 1:13).
  • Occasionally the basic idea of Jesus as King is expressed in terms similar to the Messianic thought and imagery of the period; not surprisingly, this is perhaps best glimpsed in the (apocalyptic) Book of Revelation—cf. Rev 1:5; 11:15; 12:10; 17:14; 19:19, etc.

Christological development in the New Testament

Throughout the second half of the 1st-century A.D., the idea of Jesus as “the Anointed One” was transformed by a combination of Messianic images and figure-types, applied in the context of more distinctive and developed belief in the exalted status and Person of Jesus.

The Letter to the Hebrews

As mentioned in previous articles, Hebrews combines two strands of tradition related to Jesus’ identity as the “Anointed (One)”—(a) as a result of his exaltation to heaven, and (b) his pre-existent deity. This is expressed already in the introduction (Heb 1:1-4) and in a number of passages throughout the letter, most notably in Heb 1:5-13 which is bracketed by citations of the well-established Messianic Psalm texts Ps 2:7; 110:1 (cf. also in Heb 5:5-6). With regard to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the author has greatly expanded the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrificial offering (cf. 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19-20; John 1:29, etc), applying to Jesus—more clearly and directly than anywhere else in the New Testament—the figure of High Priest who administers the sacrifice for sin (on the Day of Atonement, etc). Central to this illustration is the figure of the Priest-King Melchizedek (Gen 14:18ff; Psalm 110:4), around whom quasi-Messianic tradition and interpretation had developed by the 1st-century A.D. For a detailed discussion, see Part 9 and the supplemental study on Hebrews.

The Gospel and Epistles of John

The Johannine writings evince a sophisticated and advanced Christological framework, using language and vocabulary that has been given a distinct meaning in the context of the writings. I have already discussed the “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John in earlier notes, and will examine Jesus as the “Son” in Part 12 of this series. The great Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel are like nothing we find in the Synoptics, and, in many ways, have more in common with the First Letter of John. Already in the Prologue to the Gospel (John 1:1-18) there is encapsulated a dense set of Christological beliefs and associations, and therefore, when the author at the end of the book states it has been written so that “you may trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God…”, this is no ‘ordinary’ Messianic figure-type, but something very different. This helps us to understand 1 John 2:22 and 5:1, where it speaks of those who either confess or deny that Jesus is “the Anointed (One)” [o( xristo/$]:

“Who is the liar, if not the (one) denying/rejecting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One)?” (2:22)
“Every one trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) has come to be (born) out of God…” (5:1)

In the context of Johannine theology and Christology, the identification of Jesus as the Anointed One involves several elements: (1) that Jesus is the Son (of God) and has come from the Father (1 Jn 2:23-24), (2) that he came in human flesh (1 Jn 4:2), and (3) that he came “through water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6ff), that is, sacrificially, to give himself as life for all who believe. This last point relates specifically to his death, and the (eternal) life which it brings.

The Book of Revelation

In the book of Revelation a considerable number of Messianic motifs and images are combined and re-asserted into a new and grandiose picture of the exalted Christ. It is not possible here to examine these all in detail; I would only point to the most relevant, in terms of Jesus’ death and resurrection (and exaltation):

  • The Ruler who subdues and judges the nations (Rev 11:15-18; 12:7-12; 13-14; 17:7-14; 19:11-21)
  • The heir/descendant of David (Rev 3:7; 5:5ff; 21:16)
  • The Daniel 7 tradition (Rev 1:7, 12-20; 14:14ff)
  • The Messianic Kingdom (of God) (Rev 11:15-18; 12:10; 20-22)

Along with this, we might especially mention those passages which refer to the establishment of a kingdom based the sacrificial death of Jesus—Rev 1:5-6; 5:6-14; 7:9-17; 12:10-11.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on the Son of Man Sayings

By | Biblical Criticism, Exegetical/Study Series, Supplemental Study | No Comments

There is nearly unanimous agreement among scholars that the expression “the Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) in the Gospels, derives from its use (originally in Aramaic) by Jesus himself. All but a handful of the 80+ occurrences of “Son of Man” are from Jesus’ own words in the Gospels. By contrast, the expression only appears four times elsewhere in the New Testament, and only once as a title for Jesus (Acts 7:55-56, which is a reflection of Gospel tradition [Lk 22:69 par]). It is equally rare in the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.)—Ignatius, Ephesians 20:2; Epistle of Barnabas 12:10. In both of these passages “son of man” is understood in something like its generic sense (“human being”) to emphasize the human nature of Jesus—Ignatius stresses Jesus’ dual-nature (“…the [son] of Man and son of God”), while ‘Barnabas’, on the other hand, stresses that Jesus was not simply a human being (“see again Jesus: not son of man, but [rather] son of God”). We find “Son of Man” a bit more frequently in subsequent writings of the early Church, but usually in the context of commenting on, or attempting to explain, the use of the expression in the Gospels (or in Daniel 7). The most noteworthy occurrences in the 2nd century, are in the apologetic works of Justin Martyr—Dialogue with Trypho §§31, 32, 76, 79, 100, 126; and the First Apology §51.

All of this to say that the expression is found so frequently in the sayings of Jesus, and then virtually disappears from early Christian tradition—this makes the authenticity of its use in the sayings secure. However, when it comes to the eschatological Son of Man sayings by Jesus, where he appears to identify himself as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment, critical scholars tend to be a bit more cautious and skeptical. The authenticity of these sayings (as we have them in the Gospels) has been questioned, generally on the basis of two factors:

  1. They have been “Christianized” to varying degrees—that is to say, a number of the sayings have been tied in contextually to believers’ faith in, and confession of, Jesus (e.g. Luke 6:22; 9:26 [Mk 8:38]; 12:8). For critical scholars, this indicates that, at the very least, the sayings have been colored or modified in light of early Christian belief and practice.
  2. Jesus never specifically identifies himself as the “Son of Man”—this only occurs once in the Gospel tradition (in Matthew’s version of the first Passion prediction, Matt 16:21), and may be attributed to the author/narrator rather than Jesus. According to the view of a number of commentators, in the eschatological sayings, Jesus is referring to a separate divine/heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”, cf. Dan 7:13-14ff; 1 Enoch 37-71), and not to himself. In early Christian tradition, references to this figure were then interpreted as referring to Jesus and his end-time (second) coming, as we see in Matt 24:3.

With regard to the first point, the extent of the “Christianization” of these sayings certainly can be debated. If we consider the core sayings in the Synoptic tradition—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 and parallels—there is really very little evidence for this. The saying in Mark 8:34 has a more obvious “Christian” context, but, since the sayings in 8:34-9:1 have likely been appended together as part of the earliest Tradition, and need not have been uttered by Jesus in sequence on a single occasion, it is questionable whether one should equate it with the (original) context of v. 38. The same may be said for the narrative framework of chapter 13 (the Olivet or “Eschatological” Discourse), which is best understood as a collection of sayings, which may have been uttered by Jesus on different occasions, combined together on the basis of a common theme and subject—i.e. eschatological teaching and sayings by Jesus. Verses 9-13 are a prophecy of the persecution early believers will experience, and the “false Messiahs (or Christs)” in vv. 21-22 are connected with people claiming to be Christ (i.e. Jesus) in v. 6; however, only Matthew’s version of this discourse specifically connects the coming of the Son of Man (Mk 13:26 par) with the future/second coming of Jesus (Matt 24:3). In none of the Synoptics is the Son of Man saying itself modified or glossed, nor do we see any sign of this in Mark 14:62 par.

It is interesting to consider that Luke’s Gospel, apparently written for a wider Greco-Roman (Gentile) audience, and which occasionally translates or simplifies elements of the Gospel tradition into more conventional Greek language, never does this with the Son of Man sayings, even though the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as Jesus uses it, would have sounded strange indeed to Greeks unfamiliar with the Semitic idiom. Luke has considerably more eschatological sayings than Mark—in addition to the three core Synoptic sayings (cf. above), there are those in Lk 12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8; 21:36 (and cf. the parallels in Matt 24:27, 37, 39, 44). Not once, however, does the author narrate or explain the saying in such a way as to clarify that the coming of the Son of Man means the coming of Jesus himself. While early Christians may have assumed or understood this automatically, some in Luke’s intended audience likely would not have. That the Son of Man sayings were left ‘unexplained’ indicates that they were so deeply rooted and fixed in the Gospel tradition, the author simply could not alter them.

This brings us to the second point—that in these Son of Man sayings Jesus originally was not referring to himself, but a separate heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”). There are several problems with this view:

(a) There is little, if any, formal difference between the eschatological Son of Man sayings and those elsewhere in the Gospel tradition (i.e. Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 7:34; 9:58 par, etc), in which it is generally admitted that Jesus is referring to himself, perhaps using “son of man” idiomatically as a substitute for the pronoun “I”. Even in the context of the Passion, and the predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par) which critical scholars might regard as ex eventu prophecies produced by early Christians, there is little doubt that “the Son of Man” refers to Jesus himself. It is natural to assume that the eschatological sayings also are meant as a self-reference. If there was any intended distinction between the usage in these sayings, it has become completely confused in the Gospel tradition. In fact, there is some indication that Jesus’ use of the expression actually was confusing to some in his audience, if we accept the detail recorded in John 12:34.

(b) There is no clear evidence that the expectation of an end-time figure called “the Son of Man” was widespread or common at the time of Jesus; indeed, the situation is quite the opposite. As I indicated in Part 10, there is only one surviving document, likely contemporary with (or prior) to the time of Jesus, which describes a specific divine/heavenly being called “the Son of Man”—the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). This “Son of Man”, also identified as “the Righteous One”, “the Elect/Chosen One” and also “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), will serve as Judge over the nations at the end-time. This figure, like the “Son of Man” in Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62, is clearly inspired by, and derived from, Daniel 7; however, the Similitudes do not specifically emphasize his glorious appearance on earth at the end-time. There is little reason to think that Jesus was referring to common and popular image, though educated and devout Jews certainly would have recognized an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14. Turning again to John 12:34, we see that Jesus’ audience seems to understand “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah/Christ), presumably in terms of an end-time Davidic Ruler (cf. Parts 68), but they are noticeably less clear about the Son of Man (“…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”).

(c) If we combine the arguments of (a&b), along with the fact that there is little sign that any of the eschatological Son of Man sayings has been altered or glossed for the sake of clarity or as part of a Christological interpretation (cf. above), then there appears to be little reason to treat those sayings differently from Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” elsewhere. Even in the textual transmission, there is surprisingly little evidence for substantive variant readings involving the expression “Son of Man” (i.e., using a more familiar title “Lord”, “Christ”, “Son of God”, or even the pronoun “I”), one notable example being found in John 9:35 (“Son of Man” vs “Son of God”).

If, then, we accept the general authenticity of the Son of Man sayings by Jesus, and that they have been preserved with very little modification or alteration, it becomes necessary to step back and consider how the eschatological sayings fit within the overall use of the expression. I have already discussed this in prior notes and articles, but I will summarize the points here:

  • As a Hebrew/Aramaic idiom, the expression “son of man” simply refers to a human being or to the human condition. The poetic and formal usage in the Old Testament typically is related to the idea of human limitation (or weakness) and mortality, especially compared with the divine/heavenly nature of God and his Messengers (Angels).
  • Subsequently in Hebrew and Aramaic, this generic sense of the expression—i.e., a(ny) human being—merged into the specific use of the idiom as a self-reference, a substitute or circumlocution for the pronouns “I” or “you”. However, it is still debated whether, or to what extent, it was commonly used this way in the time of Jesus.
  • In many of the sayings, Jesus appears to use “son of man” as a self-reference, but in terms of his identity as a human being. Within the Synoptic tradition, see especially, Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 9:58 par.
  • This identification with human beings (and the human condition) also has a distinct soteriological emphasis in a number of sayings, both in the Synoptics and John—cf. Mark 10:45 par; Luke 19:10; John 3:13; 9:35.
  • He also identifies specifically with human weakness, suffering and death, expressed in the Gospel tradition in the context of his Passion (suffering/death) and subsequent resurrection—esp. the Passion predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 par), also Mark 9:9, 12; 14:21, 41 par; Matt 12:40; 26:2; Lk 22:48; 24:7, and cf. in the Gospel of John (Jn 3:14; 6:27, 33; 12:23, 34; 13:31).
  • Finally, he identifies himself with the “one like a son of man” (i.e. resembling a human being) in Daniel 7:13-14, as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear as God’s representative at the end-time Judgment—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 par, etc. Jesus draws on tradition and imagery (from Daniel 7) similar to that found in the Similitudes of Enoch (probably contemporary with Jesus’ time). In the Gospel and early Christian tradition, this Son of Man reference blends together with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (Mark 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56 etc). This exaltation motif is expressed somewhat differently in the Gospel of John, as a return, stepping (back) up into heaven to be with the Father—Jn 3:13; 6:27-52; 12:23; 13:31.