Thursday, May 14, 2015

Messiah: Suffering Servant Or Conquering King? (Part 1)

Question: According to Jewish beliefs from the first century A.D., the Messiah was supposed to be a warrior who, through divine aid, would free his people from the yoke of the Roman Empire (not be put to death by it). But, then, there is that prophecy in Isaiah that refers to a Messiah offered as a sacrifice for his people. Here's my question: Is that really true? And, if it is, why are there such different ideas about the coming of the Messiah? Should he be a triumphant warrior, or could he have some different characteristics?

AP: Jewish beliefs about the Messiah were far more complicated than just being a warrior-deliverer. In the Messiah are joined the three roles–prophet, priest, and king–the descendant of David, the warrior. When the person who asked this question refers to the idea that the Messiah must suffer, I imagine he or she is referring to the Suffering Servant of Second Isaiah, especially chapter 53.

Although this mysterious passage was applied to Jesus by the authors of the Gospels, it was not strictly messianic when it was written. Some understood it as the account of the suffering Righteous One.

Overall, the vast majority of Jewish people during Jesus' day thought it referred to a Savior who would liberate them. And because Jesus died because of his sedition against Rome, his followers had to convince his Jewish countrymen that at the last minute God had called an audible with his plan for the Messiah. The new plan was he should die as the one atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.

This is the theology of Jesus' followers as embodied in the New Testament from around A.D. 51 (1 Thessalonians) to A.D. 130 or so (2 Peter).

I have a discussion in my book Año Uno. Israel y su mundo cuando nació Jesús (Madrid: Editorial Laberinto, 2014), now in its second edition, that might be of interest. The chapter considers the following issues:
The Fulfillment of God's Promises: The Liberation and Salvation of Israel
Basic Concepts about the Salvation and Liberation of Israel
The Glorious Future of Israel on This Earth
The Role of the Messiah in Israel's Future
The Development of the Messianic Idea
The Messiah in the Old Testament Apocrypha
The Messiah in Popular Translations of the Bible during the First Century
The Messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Place of Gentiles in God's Redemptive Plan
Life after Death

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