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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Messiah in Paul and Jesus

Jesus as Messiah of Israel is the first clear link between the minds of Paul and Jesus himself. Considering that the Greek Christos (“Christ”) is simply a translation of the Hebrew M’shiach (“Messiah”), the importance of this bond between the minds of Jesus and Paul cannot be underestimated.

The term “Messiah” is applied to the three offices of prophet (I Kgs. 19:16), priest (Lev. 8), and king (I Sam. 16:3) in the Old Testament, and this Old Testament background is fundamental for understanding how both Paul and Jesus understood the term. In later prophecy, the Messiah is seen as the one who defends and protects Israel against its enemies and delivers Israel from them. This is the picture offered in Psalm 2, where the anointed of the LORD stands on Zion against conspiring foreign rulers who would resist the divine purpose of subjecting them to the King of Israel.

Both this Psalm and the covenant God made with David in II Samuel 7 also speak of the anointed king as God’s son. Admittedly, how this was understood by the people of Israel and Judah in the 10th century B.C. is open to question and debate. But with both Jesus and Paul—the whole of the New Testament for that matter—the sonship of the Messiah is an exalted position indeed. But the ways Jesus saw his own person and his mission and how Paul saw it arise from this common source, and both speak of this “sonship” in exalted terms.

Paul speaks of his Gospel in the following terms:

"...the Gospel of God, which he promised afore through his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: even Jesus Christ our Lord..." (Romans 1:1- 4).

Paul's Jesus is thus the following:

1. Giver of the Gospel of God.

2. Promised in the Old Testament.

3. A Son of God from the seed of David.

4. Testified to by the Holy Spirit.

5. Demonstrator of his own power through the resurrection from the dead.

Certainly the Evangelists—the writers of the Gospels, through whom we all come to know Jesus—contradicted none of this. Jesus himself announced the “good news”, or Gospel:

“And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations…” (Mt. 24:14).

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel.” (Mk. 1:14).

“But whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mk. 8:35).

Jesus also clearly presented himself as the one in whom the promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled:

He entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book, and found the place where it was written,

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor:
He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.

And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant…And he began to say unto them, Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus’ most common self-designation, the Son of Man, also comes from the Messianic prophecies of Daniel 7. He further accepts being called “son of David” (Mark 10:47), a reference to the greatest of the kings of Israel and Judah, from whose line the Messiah would come.

The Gospels further testify to the Holy Spirit alighting on Jesus at his baptism, and Jesus as the one who would baptize others with the Holy Spirit, and focus heavily on the week of his crucifixion and resurrection.

Hence, the Jesus who is simply a wise teacher, a first century Jewish Confucius, or giver of pithy aphorisms is the creature of modern writers, not a recovery of a figure whom Paul has obscured. More will be said on this topic later.

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