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

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.

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