By Dr. Douglas Kennard
The eschatological expectations among the Prophets and the community of Qumran were for a Messianic teacher, “the interpreter of the Law” (Isa 42:4; 4Q174 1.11-12; CD 6.7; 7:18). Messianic Apocalypse presents the character of the hoped for Messianic teacher as echoing Isaiah 61:1.
[for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his anointed one, [and all] that is in them will not turn away from the precepts of the holy ones. Strengthen yourselves, you who are seeking the Lord, in his service! Will you not in this encounter the Lord, all those who hope in their heart? For the Lord will consider the pious, and call the righteous by name, and his spirit will hover upon the poor, and will renew the faithful with his strength. For he will honor the pious upon the throne of everlasting kingdom, freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, and in his mercy…the Lord will perform marvelous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id for] he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor (4Q521, fragment 2, column 2, verses 1-12).
Such a Messianic expectation hoped for a Jewish King who is a healer, a spiritual teacher of the Law and a rescuer of the needy.
When Jesus announced His ministry in Nazareth, He identified that this hoped for expectation was realized in Him.
The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD (Isa 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus identified that such recovery as during Jubilee was being realized in His own ministry. Later, when John the Baptist was in prison and needed reassurance about Jesus’ ministry, Jesus told John’s disciples that his preaching and the miracles he performed as signs of the kingdom compellingly identified Jesus as the coming One.
Go and report to John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and lame walk, lepers are cleansed and deaf hear, and dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me (Matt 11:4-6).
Here are some examples of how the Jesus of history lived up to the Messianic expectation:
- The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus to equip Him for divinely empowered ministry (Matt 3:16; 12:28; Mark 1:10; 9:40; Luke 3:22; 4:18; 11:20; John 1:32-33; 3:2; 9:33; 10:38; 14:10; Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2; Gos. Ebionites 4:2).
- Jews expected the Messiah would teach the Law as the “teacher of righteousness” (Isa 42:4; 4Q17411-12; CD 6.7; 7:18-19; 4QFlor 1.6-11; 4QTestim 13-17; 4Q541; 4QpPs (4Q171) 3:13-16; 1QpHab 1.13; 2:2, 8-9; 5:10; 7:4-5; 11:5; CD 1.11; 20.1, 28, 32). Rabbinic Jews anticipated Messiah to teach the Law in an internalized new covenant form (Gen. Rab. 98.9; Eccl. Rab. 11.1; Mid. Tanh., Ki Tavo, par. 4; Midrash fragment, BhM 6.151-52; Halakbot G’dolot,ed. Hildesheimer, 223 top; Azulai, Hesed l’Avraham 13c-14a; Vital, Sefer haHezyonot, p. 160; Mid. Talpiyot 58a; Yemenite Midrash, 349-50; Yitzhaq of Berdichev, Imre Tzaddiqim, ed. Tz’vi Hasid, 10 [5b]). Even unbelieving Jews agree that Jesus taught the Law in a new covenant form (Matt 5; Josephus, Ant. 18.63-64; b. ‘Abod. Zar. 17 1/t; Hul. 2.24; Qol. Rab. 1.8). However, many Jews rejected Jesus’ teaching as dangerous because his healing and exorcism ministry was so effective in leading some Jews astray into Christianity (Josephus, Ant. 18.63-64; John 11:48-50; b. Sanh. 103a; b. Ber. 17b; b. Sanh. 107b; 43a; 67b; b. Soṭah 47a; Sib. Or. 8.206-7).
- Jesus acknowledged He was the Messianic King (Matt 16:20; John 4:25-26). Others also acknowledge Jesus as Messianic King, including: angels, Magi (wisemen), disciples, the blind, demoniacs, Pilate, and Josephus (Matt 1:1; 2:2; 8:29; 9:27; 15:22; 16:16; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 27:37; Mark 1:24; 5:7; 8:29; 10:47-48; 11:9-10; 15:26; Luke 1:32, 69; 2:11; 4:34; 8:28; 18:38-39; 23:38; John 1:41, 45, 49; 19:19; Suetonius, Claudius 4 eviction notice from Rome over some claims for Christ; Josephus, Ant. 18.64; Gos. Peter 11; Pliny the Younger, Epistle 10.96.7; Tacitus, Annals 15.44.3). Jesus obtained a present expression of kingdom (Matt 5:3, 10; 12:28; 13:31-33, 41; Luke 6:20) with obtaining kingdom throne upon ascension (Acts 2:30-36; Heb 1:5-13) with a future, grander expression of the kingdom to come (Matt 13:31-33, 43).
- Jesus healed the blind (Matt 8:9:27-31; 11:5; 12:22; 15:30-31; 20:34; 21:14-15; Mark 8:22-25; 10:42; Luke 4:19; 11:14; 18:42-43; John 9:11; Pilate letter to Claudius contained in Acts of Peter and Paul 40-42 and Tertullian, Apology 21). Disciples continue to heal the blind (Acts 9:18).
- In the kingdom the paralyzed will walk (Micah 4:6-7). Jesus healed the lame and paralyzed to walk (Matt 4:24; 8:13; 9:6-9; 11:5; 15:30-31; 21:14-15; Mark 2:12; Luke 5:24-26; 7:10; 13:10; John 5:8, 11; Pilate letter). Disciples continued to heal the paralyzed (Acts 3:1-11; 4:9-10; 8:7).
- Jesus healed the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak (Matt 9:32-34; 11:5; 12:22; 15:30-33; 17:18; Mark 7:35, 37; 9:25; Luke 9:42; 11:14).
- Jesus cleansed lepers (Matt 8:2-4; 11:5; 26:6; Mark 1:41; 14:3; Luke 5:13; 7:22; 17:14; Egerton Gos. 2; Pilate letter). Jesus’ disciples also healed lepers (Matt 10:8).
- Jesus raised the dead (Matt 9:18, 25; 11:5; Mark 5:35, 41; Luke 7:11-15; 8:45, 51; John 11:43-44; Pilate letter).
- The poor had good news preached to them (Matt 5:3, 5; 11:5; Luke 4:18; 6:20-21; Thom. 54, 90) but the structural change of debts being forgiven and release from slavery has not occurred as in Jubilee or anticipated eschatological kingdom (Isa 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). Will Christians continue to work for structural forgiveness and release for captives?
Doug Kennard, ThD, is Professor of New Testament at Houston Graduate School of Theology.