This post will examine the Jewish Messianic expectations of the Intertestamental Period and how those expectations matched up against the reality of the Messiah presented in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Also of interest will be Jesus’ reinterpretation of Jewish ritual with a brief look at the Gospel accounts.
During the Intertestamental Period the coming of the Kingdom of God and the Messiah, who would pave the way for the Kingdom was strong and given the various prophecies of the Messiah and differing perspectives of what Jacob Neusner has called “Judaisms” of the Second Temple era, therefore the views on the Messiah took many diverse forms (Banwell, 1996, p. 647). In the wake of exiles and being overrun by conquering powers, most notably Rome, the Jewish hope for the Messiah took on a hope and a longing for God’s justice, peace and His rulership to again come in the form of divine redemption and intervention in history (Gardner, 1991, p. 420).
The Qumran community, known for the compiling and collecting of the Dead Sea Scrolls was a separatist community that lived in the Judean desert and established their own pure priesthood in contrast to what they saw as the corrupt priests of the Jerusalem Temple. Given their focus on the priestly, they in the Scrolls developed the concept of two Messiahs, one the traditional concept of a Davidic King and also a Priestly Messiah (Neusner, Aver-Peck & Green, 2000, Vol. 2, p. 878). Psalms of Solomon 17, reflects a future Davidic king that in line with Qumran thought was also a sage and teacher, in essence combining their two Messianic figures.
“See, O Lord, and raise up their king for them, a son of David, for the proper time that you see, God, to rule over Israel your servant. And undergird him with strength to shatter unrighteous rulers. Cleanse Jerusalem from the nations that trample it in destruction, to expel sinners from the inheritance in wisdom, in righteousness, to rub out the arrogance of the sinner like a potter’s vessel, to crush all their support with an iron rod; to destroy lawless nations by the word of his mouth, for Gentiles to flee from his face at his threat, and to reprove sinners by the word of their heart. And he will gather a holy people whom he will lead in righteousness, and he will judge tribes of the people sanctified by the Lord its God.” (Psalms of Solomon 17:23–28, LES)
In the above passage we see traditional elements of Jewish Messianic expectation of the Davidic King that will come to rule and drive out Israel’s enemies but also can be seen is specific Qumran values of purifying Jerusalem of the impure priests and corruption of Judaism that they saw in Jerusalem.
In 1 Enoch 37-71 the Hebrew word “mashiach” twice in reference to a Heavenly transcendent figure in contrast to the general belief in a human king which could be drawn from Daniel’s Son of Man visions (Neusner, Aver-Peck & Green, 2000, Vol. 2, p. 878).
Though the Book of Isaiah in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 speaks of the Suffering Servant that will die on behalf of Israel most Messianic expectation did not focus on the death of the Messiah but on his conquering Davidic role, an exception being in 4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 7:28-29,
“For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. After those years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.” (2 Esdras 7:28–29, NRSV).
Later in 4 Ezra (2 Esdras), the Messiah returns to announce and execute the final judgment (Neusner, Aver-Peck & Green, 2000, Vol. 2, p. 878), much in the same way as the Suffering Servant comes back from death in Isaiah 53:10-12.
As has been seen a Davidic Messiah to end the exile of the Jews and oppression of foreign powers came to the front of the Jewish People’s expectations of the Messiah given the daily reality of the Roman rule over Israel and the Jewish nation. When Jesus came as a baby born in obscurity in a cave in Bethlehem He defied the expectations of most and His ministry and life of teaching and healing while spurning the title of Messiah and rejecting calls for a political movement caused many to doubt. Most notably among his doubters was his cousin John the Baptist who in Matthew 11 from Herod’s prison sent this question to Jesus:
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3, CJB)
John knowing that his death was certain and coming soon wanted to know if his hopes in Jesus were well placed given his shunning of the common view of the Messiah. Jesus responded with words of assurance to John and reminded John that there is more to the Messianic hope than just the conquering of Israel’s enemies:
“Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you are hearing and seeing—the blind are seeing again, the lame are walking, people with leprosy are being cleansed, the deaf are hearing, the dead are being raised, the Good News is being told to the poor—and how blessed is anyone not offended by me!”” (Matthew 11:4–6, CJB).
Commenting on Jesus’ response to John, Stern (1996) wrote:
“He (Jesus) refers to prophecies in the book of Isaiah of six signs which the Messiah will give when he comes: he will make the blind see (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5), make the lame walk (Isaiah 35:6, 61:1), cleanse lepers (Isaiah 61:1), make the deaf hear (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5), raise the dead (implied in Isaiah 11:1–2 but not made specific), and evangelize the poor (Isaiah 61:1–2)” (Mat. 11:3).
In His response Jesus affirmed to John His claim to being the Messiah though a different Messiah that was expected and hoped for at the time, yet the Davidic Messiah will appear when Jesus again returns.
This paper examined the Jewish Messianic expectations of the Intertestamental Period and how those expectations matched up against the reality of the Messiah presented in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Banwell, B. O. (1996). King, Kingship. In (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman, Eds.) New Bible dictionary. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Gardner, R. B. (1991). Matthew. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.
Neusner, J., Avery-Peck, A. J., & Green, W. S. (Eds.). (2000). In The encyclopedia of Judaism. Leiden; Boston; Köln: Brill.
Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary : a companion volume to the Jewish New Testament (electronic ed.). Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications.