Monday, July 8, 1813
The wrong kind of Messiah
This week we are looking at Jesus through the lens of The Wrong Messiah, a radical and provocative study by Nick Page, author of more than 60 books, who belongs to a C of E church in Oxfordshire. The book, subtitled The Real Story of Jesus of Nazareth, questions whether we have ever seen Jesus as He really was. Next Sunday (July 14) Steve will bring a message which explores this and related questions around our faith, our culture and the first-century context.
“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus once asked His disciples (Mark 8:27).Good question. How do we see the first-century Jesus?
For many of us, our mental image of Jesus is a bit artificial – the Sunday School ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ who wandered around Galilee wearing a nightie and being nice to people. Many elements of his a story have become icons of our culture – we wear crosses round our necks, children go through an imitation, not a particularly good one, of the river bank activities of Jesus’ mentor, John the Baptist, and his name (not a name he would have ever heard in his lifetime) has become a common swearword.
The Jesus who appears in paintings, illustrations and stained glass windows is not a short, dark-skinned first century Palestinian. The golden crosses hanging round the necks of rap stars are a bizarre parody of the two chunks of stained, rough timber, splintered from frequent re-use, on which Jesus was crucified.
The gospel accounts are historically reliable and they paint a coherent picture of Jesus of Nazareth, even if they have their own bias. But so does every piece of writing.
We have other sources as well. Josephus was a Jew who became a Roman soldier (which gives him an interesting viewpoint) and he wrote 20 volumes of a history called Jewish Antiquities about 65 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In it he says:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.
Josephus is not a fan of the concept of the Messiah. He distances himself from it, calling it, at one point, an ‘ambiguous oracle’. But as the Christians continued to spread, the significant thing was that his followers thought he was the Messiah. Josephus thought they were wrong.
Those who were expecting the Messiah were looking for either a warrior, an anointed priest, or a Davidic kingly figure. He was expected to be a man. He was expected to replace the dynasties of the Herods and their contemporaries, to usher in the age to come, to defeat Israel’s enemies, to drive out the Gentiles and… show himself to be successful. Any contender who got beaten (let alone crucified) was clearly not the real one.
Jesus barely fits into any of these categories. He was a jobbing builder, not a king, and he advocated loving Israel’s enemies rather than crushing them. He had none of the qualifications a Messiah was supposed to have.
Despite that, his followers, nicknamed Christians some 15 years after his death, came to see this person who just didn’t fit – in his own words, the cornerstone which the builders rejected – as the anointed one of God, the Messiah. They were convinced that he was right all along.
As we continue, we will explore why that was.