Friday, January 28, 2011

Week Three: What did Jews expect from a Messiah?

              After discussing messianic expectations in both Biblical Worldview and New Testament, it seems that there were about as many messianic expectations as there were Jews. Just as people have vastly different expectations of leaders today, Jews expected many different things from a Messiah. Ultimately, Jesus disappointed many people when he did not live up to their messianic expectations (Brenneman 1/26/11). Many Jews expected the Messiah to be a political leader, specifically a king in the line of David. Jeremiah prophesies about this Davidic king, proclaiming that God will “cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 33.15 NRSV). Jews hoping for a political Messiah also hoped for a king who would help them regain control of the Promised Land. Ever since the Babylonian exile, the Jewish people had been living under Hellenistic rule, and not being in control of the land they had been promised by God led many to feel like God had forgotten the covenant (Brenneman 1/28/11). Thus, many Jews hoped that the Messiah would be a political ruler— a Davidic king— and that he would make things right politically, once again regaining Jewish control of the land.
            Many Jews also expected the Messiah to be a religious leader. Many Jews believed that the temple system was incredibly corrupt and hoped that the Messiah would serve as a temple reformer (Brenneman 1/28/11). Hebrews’ use of the title “high priest” to describe the ministry of Jesus is a good example of the religious expectations that some Jews had for the Messiah (Heb 5.5). Jesus’ ministry did have many religious facets; he certainly spent time in the temple (Luke 2.49, Matt 26.55) and confronted the corrupt power within it (John 2.14-16). Jesus also engaged in dialogue with the religious leaders of his day (Mark 12.13-34), often speaking out them (Matt 16.6). But ultimately, Jesus did not claim the role of high priest in the temple, and instead of reforming temple-based Judaism, Jesus’ ministry began a movement that transcended (and still transcends) the walls of the temple. Thus, for many Jews hoping for a temple reformer as the Messiah, Jesus turned out to be a great disappointment. Perhaps this explains why at the end of Jesus’ ministry, it is the religious authorities who arrest him (Luke 22.54) and begin his trial (Luke 22.66-71).
            Exploring the different political, religious, social, and economic expectations (Brenneman 10/26/11) people had for the Messiah has given me a better understanding of my own expectations of Jesus as the Messiah. Early in my faith journey, I had the messianic expectation of Jesus as a warrior, much like the imagery in Revelation (Rev 19.11-21). Due to the influence of a particular ministry that emphasized spiritual (and other) warfare, I expected Jesus to be a brave warrior, defeating the powers of evil with force and violence. However, thankfully, my messianic expectations have shifted greatly. Today, my understanding of Jesus as Messiah is shaped by the enemy love embodied in Christ’s life and teachings. This life of enemy love ultimately ends with Christ being led to his death like a silent, nonresistant lamb is led to the slaughter (Is 53. 7). My messianic expectations have shifted completely, from the expectation of Jesus overcoming evil with violence to Jesus overcoming evil with nonviolence and enemy love. This dramatic shift has been the result of one thing: encountering Jesus, the Messiah, especially in the words called gospel, which have indeed been good news for me! Ultimately, to believe in Jesus as the Messiah is to meet Jesus on his own terms— not our own— and to let go of our expectations and follow his unexpected lead.

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