Thursday, May 23, 2013

How do Hebrew Scriptures show Jesus as the Messiah?

Warning: this is very obscure and somewhat turgid. Only read it if you are Biblically and historically hardcore.

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Apollos is said to have “vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.” Do you know any resource where the argument that Apollos made can be found?

Judy Eizer

Dear Judy,

First let’s look at the passage you quote from Acts the 18th Chapter (24-28):

 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.

Two things about this passage: First, notice that a Jew is refuting Jews. I have spilled a lot of ink trying to understand what the term Jew meant at the time of Christ. The word Jew is a fairly modern word. The word in the text is “Judaios,” the Greek word for Judean. To avoid, or perhaps to create, confusion I will use this term. I suspect that Judean was an ambiguous term that could mean a person from the province of Judea, a person from the tribe of Judah, and/or a person who was a member of the religious/political faction that backed Judean political and religious autonomy. So that would mean that Apollos, a member of that group was arguing with his fellows, insisting that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.

Second, I think the mention of John the Baptist is completely fascinating (not to be confused with John the Beloved Disciple, the Evangelist who is traditionally credited with the authorship of the fourth Gospel.)  John the Baptist seems to have led a sect of his own, or at least to have been prominent in a faction of the Hebrew community. He had followers in Turkey perhaps twenty years after his death, as is evidenced by the passage above. He still has followers today, the Mandaeans. They are Gnostics, people who believe that one is saved by secret knowledge. There are about 60,000 - 70,000 of them, mostly in the Near East. They believed that John the Baptist whom they call Yahya ibn Zakariyya was the Messiah. Mandaeans maintain that Jesus was a false messiah who perverted the teachings entrusted to Him by John the Baptist.  This bring us squarely into the Gospel of John. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

It seems that the Gospel of John is unlike the others because he is addressing it to a very specific group of people, Eusebius of Caesarea, around 325 AD, dedicates quite a few lines in explaining the difference between the Gospel of John and the synoptic, or look alike, Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). In his Ecclesiastical History (Book 3, Chapter 24) he makes the point that the Gospel was written to clarify the ministry of Jesus when John the Baptist was alive. Whomever John the Evangelist was writing to, he was clearly making the argument that Jesus, not John was the Messiah. I suspect it was to John the Baptist’s disciples that the Gospel was addressed. 

In answer to your question, perhaps Apollos arguments against the Jews are similar to John the Evangelist’s arguments against the followers of the Baptist. And there is certainly a need for such a refutation if Jesus was in fact the messiah. There were certain things the Messiah was going to do. In the days of the false Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi (around 1650) an excited disciple ran in to his rabbi’s study and said “Rabbi, the Messiah has come!” The rabbi went to the window, threw open the shutters and exclaimed, “Nothing has changed!” the rabbi’s point was this: If the Messiah had come why was nothing different? Point well taken! So then what were the Messianic expectations?

Not many people know that the Talmud, the definitive text of Rabbinic Phariseeism (Judaism), expects two Messiahs, the suffering servant and the conquering son of David. We, Christians just believe that they are the same person. Interestingly, according to the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth is called both Son of David and Son of Joseph. Certain of the Messianic expectations are fulfilled by the Son of Joseph, some by the Son of David.

This Son of Joseph is already expected in the Qumran documents as early as 200 BC. In the Judean Desert texts, He appears as a suffering righteous Joseph, who cries out to God in His death-throes as ‘My father’, citing Psalms 89 and 22, and predicts that He will arise to do justice and righteousness. He will gather the children of Israel around Him, march to Jerusalem, and there, after overcoming the hostile powers, reestablish the Temple-worship and set up His own dominion.

Strangely, the Talmud expects the Messiah to sit at the gates of the city of Rome!

“The Messiah at the Gates of Rome” is a traditional story, found in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a. “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (250 AD) while meditating near the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, was visited by the Prophet Elijah. "When will the Messiah come?" asked Joshua. "Ask him," replied the Prophet. "The Messiah is at the gates of Rome, sitting among the poor, the sick and wretched. Like them, he changes the bindings of his wounds, but does so one wound at the time, in order to be ready at a moment's notice.

Then Joshua went to Rome and met the Messiah...Joshua then asked “When will you be coming?” and was told “Today!”. Joshua went back to Elijah and was asked what the Messiah said....Joshua then said that the Messiah had not told him the truth, because he had promised to come today but had not. Elijah explained “This is what he said to thee, To-day, if ye will hear his voice”, a reference to Psalms 95:7, making his coming conditional with the condition not fulfilled.” 

It gives two completely unknown Messianic expectations, that the Messiah son of Joseph will sit at the gates of Rome and that His coming will be conditional, only recognized by those who hear His voice. 

Though the Talmud is certainly not considered inspired by Christians it does give a sense of what people were looking for at the time of the Second Temple. It makes the point that the Messiah will take up residence in Rome. Hmmm... The Messiah in Rome.... Ever heard of the Roman Catholic Church? Ever heard of the Vicar of the (Messiah) Christ? If there is any prophetic sense to the expectations of the Hebrew people, then its not simply arbitrary or anti-Christian that the Church, the body of the Messiah, would have its headquarters in Rome. 

Though it is true that Jesus founded the Church in the Holy Land, they seemed to have moved the head offices to Italy pretty fast because that’s where the good restaurants are. (Just kidding) This story also answers the question of “Why has nothing changed?” Everything has changed for those who “hear His voice.” Nothing is changed for those who do not. 

The Talmud also contains a very odd Messianic expectation, that the Son of David would pray to be spared from death. The Talmud (Suk. 52b) speaks of how the Son of Joseph's death frightens the Son of David, so that He urgently prays for his life to be spared. If Jesus was both Son of Joseph and Son of David, then this expectation is fulfilled in the story of Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus both submitted to and prayed to be delivered from death and His prayers were answered we reads in the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5:7)” During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.”

Some people think that the creation of the state of Israel is the beginning of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. I don’t know the eschatological meaning of the state of Israel, but it most certainly is not the in-gathering of the tribes of Israel. If anything, it is the in-gathering of the tribe of Judah, which is not part of the messianic expectations. We Catholics maintain that Israel, scattered among the nations is gathered into the Church from the nations where they were first scattered. We, the Church are the in-gathering of Israel as well as the gathering of the nations to mount Zion, another of the essential Messianic expectations.

( I know this is obscure, but to be continued anyway.......)

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