What Happened to the Authentic Jesus?
- What Happened to the Authentic Jesus?
- Jesus & Isaiah’s Suffering Servant
- Reason for the Crucifixion
- The Death & Resurrection
Aggregated from P. Frederiksen, C. Rowland, & B. Wilson
Jesus—Jewish. Torah-observant. Fully human. No virgin birth. A revered teacher-rabbi. Herald of the long-awaited Kingdom of God. Resurrected. A potential Messiah, who was expected to return promptly to fulfill traditional messianic expectations. That was the portrait of Jesus among his earliest followers and his family. Their beliefs and practices are somewhat unfamiliar to most people today. Some may even ask, you mean Jesus had a brother? In fact, several brothers and at least two sisters? How come we haven't heard about them?
Like Jesus himself, his earliest followers in Jerusalem were Jewish and Torah-observant. They waited patiently for Jesus to return to carry out his dream of a Kingdom of God on earth in contrast to rule by Rome. That was the political hope they cherished as they went about their daily lives. Christian doctrine today, however, is characterized by beliefs of a very different nature. This includes a special, virgin birth. It also abounds with various titles ascribed to Jesus: Son of God, Christ, Lord, Savior, Redeemer. The Gospel of John calls him the Logos (the Word) that became flesh. He became viewed as a preexistent being who took on human form, combining elements both of divinity as well as humanity. For many, he was God incarnate, the second person of the Trinity. These are all reflective of the cult of personality that surrounded Jesus after his death. These beliefs originated from the Christ Movement led by Paul.
The image of Jesus changed dramatically over the course of just over one hundred years. Jesus became seen as a divine being holding cosmic importance. Along with that development went another: a repudiation of his Jewish heritage. Torah observance was swept away and with it, the Sabbath, Passover, the dietary laws, circumcision, and the whole code of Jewish ethics. Gone, too, were the major festivals. Over time, Christianity separated from Judaism and created its own separate infrastructure with a hierarchy and buildings of its own. No longer did it worship in the Temple or in Jewish synagogues. Its distinctive liturgical cycle of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany-Lent-Easter-Pentecost came, in time, to replace the time-honored Jewish calendar. Sunday eventually replaced the Jewish Sabbath as the day of rest—but not as strictly observed as the Jewish Sabbath, at least not in modern times. The new religion ceased being in any sense Jewish and came to acquire its own unique character, separate and distinctive. How that detachment took place is an interesting story and it can be documented, virtually decade by decade, from writings that have survived. Without giving too much away prematurely, the separation story has to do with the new movement's rejection of Torah observance and the promotion of Jesus as in some sense a deified being. Either view would have served to cast the movement out of the Jewish family.
The image of Jesus changed radically, while his roots within Judaism were forgotten. By the midsecond century, Christian leaders were touting Jesus as an incarnate savior who redeemed humanity by his death and resurrection. Who he was thought to be came to obscure what he had taught and practiced. This represents a remarkable shift in emphasis—away from the religion of Jesus and toward a religion about Christ.
A CHANGED FOCUS
The transformation is absolutely dramatic. By the late second century, Christians had composed the basis of the Apostles' Creed.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Even for denominations that do not recite this creed, this flagship statement of faith puts Jesus into the conceptual context most Christians today know and recognize. But we need to pause to consider what this creed says—and, perhaps more importantly, what it omits.
What it sets forth is impressive. Jesus is now linked to God the Father and to the Holy Spirit in keeping with the developing doctrine of the Trinity, that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. It positions Jesus Christ as "God the Son." It references his virgin birth and attributes paternity to the activity of God's Holy Spirit. It skips over his life and moves very quickly to his death, his resurrection, and his status today, in heaven with God. It proclaims that he will return to judge all humanity. It ends with an affirmation of the church as the community of the saints and professes belief in forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life. This is the image of Jesus shared by Christians today and it is a more recognizable form of the religion than its earliest expression. In terms of setting forth who Jesus is claimed to be, the Apostles' Creed was truly a breakthrough document.
But let's consider what this statement of faith fails to say. What it ignores is substantial, and this is usually not recognized. Where, for instance, are the central teachings of Jesus? Where are the references to the teachings of the parables, that powerful Kingdom of God message? Where is there mention of the long-anticipated Kingdom of God, that political reality expected to replace the Pax Romana? What about the Sermon on the Mount, with its reinterpretation of Torah requirements? What happened to Jesus' demand that his followers practice a pattern of righteousness stricter than that observed by the Pharisees? Where is the cut-and-thrust vitality of Jesus' message, that radical challenge to the world power of his time with all its startling impact, enhanced expectations, and newsworthy implications? Moreover, where is its daring subversive-ness? Everything Jesus taught in his parables or in the Sermon on the Mount is bypassed. Why none of this? There's a lot missing from the Apostles' Creed—all of Jesus' teachings, in fact. This is truly astounding.
A CHANGED IMAGE
Moreover, what happened to the image of Jesus? How did a human, Jewish rabbi, a messianic claimant, suddenly become a divine and deified being robbed of his historical context and Jewish identity? He is now "God the Son," linked to God the Father Almighty and to the Holy Spirit. What are the connections between these aspects of divinity? The Creed wants to affirm that Jesus was a preexistent supernatural being who became incarnate in human form. It commits us, moreover, to one mode of incarnation, taking the virgin birth literally as biology, as a divine being impregnating a young Jewish woman.
What has happened to Jesus? Why this dramatic makeover? How could this have happened? Who was responsible? Instead of right actions arising out of a right attitude as one would expect from a Jewish teacher, the mandate now centers on correct belief in the person of Jesus: who he was. From orthopraxy—or right action—typical of Judaism, we have been catapulted into orthodoxy—right belief—which came to characterize Christianity. From the exegetical interpretations of Jesus and middle Judaism—taking meaning out of scripture—to the eisegetical interpretations of christianity—forcing meaning into scripture—a seismic shift in perspective has taken place. The creed's exclusive focus, the focus of Christianity in general, is on the messenger, not the message.
There are no overt references to anything Jewish about Jesus. That is eliminated. The creed also effectively abandons the claim that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah—there is no talk of his fulfilling a political role, his claim to the throne of Israel, assisting God in the task of world transformation, or any such requirement that a Jewish Messiah must fulfill. Remarkably, nothing at all is said of Jesus' messianic status. The whole political thrust of Jesus' mission is ignored. It is replaced by a cosmic one—Jesus in relation to God the Father and the Holy Spirit. That's a very different picture.
There is minimal linkage between this Jesus, the Christ of faith, and the actual historical human Jesus who lived and taught in the 20s. Only the references to Pontius Pilate and Jesus' mother, Mary, anchor him within time and therefore in history. The Apostles' Creed, we find, dehistoricizes the portrait of Jesus, shearing him from his Jewish context and stripping him of his humanity. He is now a supernatural being engaged on a rescue mission, someone who swooped down from heaven to take loyal followers with him back there. We would not think of him as human, debating the Torah, encouraging strict adherence to its requirements, honoring the Sabbath, sharing bread and wine with his followers, engaging in the festivals, planning and plotting his next moves, and delighting audiences with his amazing parables about the coming Kingdom. All of this is lost.
By the time of the Apostles' Creed, Jesus and his message had become overtaken by a cult of personality, a development foreign to Jewish ways of thinking. For all the impressiveness and importance of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, or Ezra—or any of the prophets for that matter—no hero worship grew up around any of these worthy and righteous individuals. To a large extent this haloing of Jesus drowns out the vibrancy of his message—so much so that we have trouble even today seeing him as human or even identifying his message.
So the human teacher and Messiah claimant became elevated quickly into a Christ and then into a God. All this occurred suddenly, within just over a century of his death. How did a God come to replace a thoroughly human, Jewish Jesus?
JESUS NOW DEIFIED
The strength of the image of Jesus as a deified being is extremely powerful, then and now. So how did we get from the Jewish man Jesus who taught a political message to the divine being who became incarnate through a virgin birth, a supernatural God-man, dying and rising again to achieve salvation for all humanity? This is one of the greatest mysteries of the New Testament and early Christianity: how a Gentile God came to replace a Jewish Jesus.
Wilson, Barrie. How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martin’s Press, 2008.
Frederiksen, Paula. From Jesus to Christ: Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus. Yale University Press, 2000.
Rowland, Christopher. Christian Beginnings. SPCK Press, 2002.
Aggregated from S. McKnight, I. Zeitlin, G. Vermes & P. Stuhlmacher
Jesus and the Servant
It has been established that Jesus thought he would die prematurely, that it was part of God's providence, that he was like other prophets who met a similar fate, that this death was part of the Final Ordeal. And, we have also discovered that Jesus found his life and his patterns in various heroic figures of the Tanakh. We have argued also that from the time of John's death forward, Jesus knew he could meet a similar end and that he went to the Tanakh in search of a biblical interpretation to understand his premature death.
This leaves an age-old question for Jesus scholarship: did Jesus see his life inscripturated (paralleled, using the scripture as an allusion) in the Servant of Isaiah who emerges in at least four song-like passages? The Qumran Isaiah Scroll of 52:13-53:12 reveals enough variation to assert that an individual reading of at least one of those songs is now entirely plausible on historical grounds. Did Jesus think of himself in terms of the Servant of Isaiah? Thinking of himself in terms of the Servant of Isaiah from one section of Isaiah, however, does not necessitate that he embraced the entire Servant picture of Isaiah as an image of himself, or that his appeals to that tradition meant he saw his death in terms of the Servant. Nor should we be unaware of the Christian tradition, which as the scholar Peter Stuhlmacher has shown, nearly stands the Servant image on its head and turns it into a cipher for Jesus Christ. Each element requires clear evidence.
Another methodological point is this: Jesus, on nearly every count, anchored the shape and the tone of his ministry in Isaiah 40—66. This argument has been made plausible by the German scholar Otto Betz, who concentrates especially on the term gospel, and in the complete study of Jesus by the British exegetical theologian N.T. Wright, as well as in the study of Rikki Watts. It is beyond our scope to detail the evidence here, but the point deserves to be made and needs to be given full consideration: to the degree that Jesus' teachings, ministry, and mission are rooted in the great Isaian traditions (40-55 or 40-66), to that same degree we can say that Servant imagery is thereby incorporated into that same teaching, ministry, and mission. Jews of the first century didn't invade texts like these, excerpt a favorite portion, and then forget forever its larger contexts.
Similarly, a grey-bearded British tradition claims that Jesus was the first to combine a royal, Davidic vocation with the Servant of Isaiah. In fact, there is the astonishing fact that Jesus, who thought of himself in royal terms and envisioned himself as head of an imminent kingdom—what else can kingdom language evoke?—and he did not shrink from death. This tradition of biblical interpretation explains the evocation of both images (David and Servant) by appealing to Jesus' need for scriptural warrant, and the most plausible set of Scriptures (it argues) must be those emerging from the servant texts of Deutero-Isaiah (without forgetting their cousin, Isa 61:1-9). Can this connection of royal and servant imagery be demonstrated with sufficient force?
There are five texts in the Jesus traditions that can be plausibly connected to the servant figure of Deutero-Isaiah, and to these we now turn. We do so with less concern for historicity than for an Isaianic allusion, for if the latter is not proven the former is unimportant.
Jesus has come to terms with the scriptural basis of his mission: he is not Elijah, but John is Elijah; Jesus is more like Micah. This discussion between Jesus and John over their scripturally based role in history is deeply embedded in the fabric of Jesus' life. The factor leading to clear delineations in roles, as we have seen, is the reality of John's death and the potentiality of his own suffering. To explain his own suffering, Jesus connects his experience to the Final Ordeal, the outbreak of evil and violence just prior to the arrival of the kingdom. The scribes, so say the followers of Jesus, think Elijah must first come.9 Everyone is looking for Elijah, for he is a figure connected to the tribulation of the last days (Greek Bible at 3:22-23; 4 Ezra 6:26; Sir 48:10; Sib. Or. 2:187-88; Luke 1:17; John 1:21, 25; Rev 11:1-13). Jesus affirms such an end time: "To be sure Elijah must come first to restore all things." But, Jesus also asks, "If Elijah brings a restoration, how then is it written about the Son of man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt?" (Mark 9:12). How, he asks, do we combine expectation of restoration (restoring the fortunes of Israel) and suffering?
This is no small concern of Jesus. The lines in this discussion are clearly drawn: it is about how the end times conditions arrive. Jesus sees two notable features about the coming of the kingdom and queries his followers (presumably) about their view of the relationship of (1) the end times restoration—either as the coming of the Messiah or, what is more likely, the coming of YHWH, and (2) the sufferings detailed in the prophet Daniel. In particular, so the focus of these words would seem to be, which comes first: Elijah's restoration (thus, Mal. 3—4) or the suffering of the Son of man (thus, Daniel 7)?
The Elijah debate between John and Jesus provides firm ground into which we can anchor these words in the life of Jesus. In fact, what was believed about John—that he was Elijah and that he would restore all things—did not come true. In fact, just the opposite: "they did to him whatever they pleased" (Mark 9:13). Thus, the logic of some that the Elijah material is an early Christian fiction creates its own problem: the early church would have to have invented something (John was Elijah; a precursor to the Messiah) only to discover that the figure it chose didn't really fit the evidence (John doesn't fit what Malachi said). It is much more likely that the evidence about Jesus, John, and Elijah is to be explained as a discussion between the two historical figures than that the early church invented the material out of nothing.
Turning back to the narrative, Jesus now connects the notion about John and Elijah's restoration to the Son of man and sufferings. That is, according to Jesus and an old tradition, the restoration of Israel is preceded by a time of suffering. First, the Final Ordeal; then, the kingdom.
Materially, what Jesus says here coheres with what we argued above: it is affirmed that Jesus is not Elijah; Jesus is connected with the Final Ordeal in that context. Thus, he can expect to see suffering in his days, and suffering fills in what Jesus means when he says he did not come to bring peace but instead a sword. For Jesus, suffering precedes the restoration of all things. Furthermore, the humble "Son of man" of Mark 9:12, whom most tend to think is an appeal to the Son of man of Daniel 7, could perhaps be connected to the bedrock Q tradition noted above, where Jesus sees Psalm 8:4 as a script for his life. In either case, the Son of man is a collective: Jesus the representative and his followers are this Son of man. But it is the two expressions that follow that concern us now: many sufferings and treated with contempt.
What is the source for these expressions? Are there any specific passages in mind when Jesus says "many sufferings" and "treated with contempt"? We begin with the four themes of Mark 9:9-13: (1) Son of man; (2) resurrection; (3) Elijah; (4) suffering. We have here a tall order since no text in the Tanakh connects each of these four themes. Son of man makes one think of texts like Psalm 8 or Daniel 7. Resurrection probably recalls Daniel 12:1-2, though it could be connected to Isaiah 26:16-19 or even less likely to Ezekiel 37. The figure Elijah most likely suggests Malachi 3-4 while suffering many things, as well as treated with contempt, leads one to the fourth Servant Song (Isa 52:13—53:12) or perhaps to one of the Psalms (22; 80; 118). Since Elijah is peripheral to our saying, and Jesus in fact is contrasting his mission with that of Elijah, we can limit the themes to the other three. Which text, if any, is uppermost in Jesus' mind?
At the thematic level, the evidence is a toss-up. We can begin with Daniel. Daniel is certainly a quarry for Jesus' use of "Son of man," but in Daniel 7 the Son of man is not only an end times figure but one who receives authority and glory after a time of suffering (7:21-22). In favor of Daniel is the coherence of the theme of resurrection (12:1-2; Mark 9:9-10) and it could be that Jesus is thinking of that very Son of man as a prototype of his own life, but only after he has suffered. Though often neglected and sometimes perhaps overvalued, there is suffering in Daniel: (1) Daniel 7:21-22 shows that the saints were persecuted but then vindicated (7:25); (2) Daniel 11 records the battles of the north and the south against one another, with the land of Israel suffering as a buffer zone. Antiochus' second campaign to Egypt results in his defeat by Rome (Dan 11:30). Antiochus reacts in rage against Jerusalem, its inhabitants, its holy place, and its covenant (Dan 11:30-35); its leaders will "fall by sword and flame, and suffer captivity and plunder" (Dan 11:33). But, the apocalyptist writes, "Some of the wise shall fall, so that they may be refined, purified, and cleansed, until the time of the end" (11:35). Those "wise" are said to be raised as well (12:1-3). We have in Daniel, then, a plausible setting: we have Son of man, resurrection, and suffering.
What of Isaiah? Unquestionably, the critical theme of suffering is detailed in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in a manner otherwise unparalleled in the Tanakh. One cannot think of this servant without thinking of suffering many things—a marred appearance (52:14), despised and rejected (53:3), considered struck down by God (53:4), wounded and crushed (53:5), oppressed and afflicted (53:7), cut off through injustice (53:8), buried with the wicked (53:9), crushed by God (53:10)—but his death was overturned by God's will (53:10-12). There is obviously no Son of man reference here, but the theme of resurrection is possibly glimpsed in the servant's vindication: he will startle many nations (52:15); in spite of his death, he will see his offspring and prolong his days (53:10); he will see light (53:11), will find satisfaction (53:11b), will be assigned to the lot of the righteous (53:12), and will divide the spoil with the strong (53:12). This may not be directly resurrection language, but it broaches the topic of final vindication. And, Isaiah 26:16-19 is a text in the same prophetic book that does broach resurrection (and is behind Daniel 12:1-2).
Possibly behind Mark 9:12 are the Psalms. At Psalm 22:6, a psalm considered behind Jesus' own perceptions at times, we find this same term: "despised by the people" (Greek Ps. 21:7). This psalm shares only this one term, clearly no commonplace, with our sayings tradition. However, the general themes of suffering and resurrection are both present in this psalm. The psalmist prays for deliverance (22:19-21), and counts on God's deliverance (22:24) and vindication (22:25-31). At times the language here is not unlike Isaiah 53.
An interesting collocation of terms and themes can also be seen in Psalm 89:38-39 where the "anointed one" is "rejected". This context fits the theme of suffering, though the themes of Elijah, Son of man and resurrection are not present. However, the orientation of this chapter would fit more the theme of God's rejection of his anointed rather than the people's rejection, and the psalm is a cry of a royal figure who seeks restoration (Ps 89:38-51).
The sayings of Jesus behind Mark 9:9-13 share broad thematic relations with both Daniel 7 and 11-12, as well as with Isaiah 52:13-53:12; the connections to the various Psalms show some potential as well. Furthermore, at a broader level, two of these textual complexes played-a more important role in the life of Jesus: both Daniel 7 and Isaiah 40-55. The specific terms suffer many things and treat with contempt are not found in either Daniel 7 or Isaiah's fourth Servant Song (though Malachi shows parallels to the latter term: 1:7, 12; 2:9).
Mark 9:12 contains a possible allusion to the Servant Song of Isaiah. The absence of Son of man is significant, and the presence of the term contempt at Psalm 22:6, the interesting parallels at Psalm 89, and the early Christian rendering of Psalm 118:22, in a context of not dissimilar themes, leaves one with the impression that Jesus may have been alluding to several texts or, more likely, he had derived from several Scriptures the notion that he would have to suffer, as many of God's chosen messengers had suffered.
Whether he was thinking of any one text is neither necessary nor sure. He could have in mind the righteous sufferer of Psalm 22, the anointed one of Psalm 89:38-51, the rejected stone at Psalm 118:22, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13—53:12, or an extended perception of the Son of man in Daniel 7 (chs. 11; 12:1-3). We should opt for the fourth Servant Song because of the various Greek versions of Isaiah 53:3 in a context where all but the Son of man appear. It should be remembered, however, that Daniel is not an implausible context for all but the Elijah theme of Mark 9:9-13. Dogmatism is unwarranted here, and other evidence will need to be examined to render a confident judgment on whether or not Jesus found in the Servant an image to whom he could relate.
Mark 9:12 is a "Son of man" saying, not a "Servant" saying. And it is precisely the Son of man expression of Mark 9:12 that diverts the interpreter's attention away from Isaiah 52:13-53:12: if the Son of man is not present, we are led more immediately to the fourth Servant Song or to one of the psalms. Our next text, Luke 22:37, is less comprehensive in theme but more explicit in quotation.
The pericope of the two swords has no plausible context among early Christians, conflicts with the general pacifistic stance Jesus seemed to have taken (Mark 8:34-38 pars.; 12:13-17; Matt 5:9, 39, 43-48; 26:52; Luke 3:14-15), demonstrates an urgency as intense as one finds in the Jesus traditions (22:36: "But now"), but was not fulfilled—if it expects the onset of the Final Ordeal—and slides rather quietly into the sheath of the last evening with his disciples (Mark 14:43-52 pars., with Matt 26:52). The connection to a secure event in the life of Jesus, the sending out of his followers to proclaim the kingdom (Luke 22:35-36 with Q and Mark 6:9-13 pars.) without care for provisions, is now reversed: now his followers will need a purse, a bag, and a sword—the latter so important his followers will have to sell the cloak to buy one! In general, then, one must say the pericope is an oddity among the Jesus traditions, which counts more for its authenticity than against it.
In this context, Jesus states that his imminent fate is a divine necessity (Luke 22:37) and quotes Isaiah 53:12: "and he was counted among the lawless." The quotation from memory, seen in traces of connection to the Hebrew and Greek, can only be explained as integral to the context of the end times urgency of Luke 22:36 ("but now") means that the days of peaceful proclamation are over: "The authorities are on our case, and I am about to be arrested." The absence of peace requires a sword. When the disciples claim to have two swords, Jesus says, "It is enough."
We need to pause to consider the role the Final Ordeal has played in the discussion so far: Jesus, from the days of John's death onwards, began to think of his own fate. He connected his own fate with the Final Ordeal. And now, so the text seems to imply, that moment has arrived. The imminency of the end times is unmistakable.
Two fundamentally different meanings can be derived from the use of Isaiah 53:12. Either Jesus thinks he is the Servant of Isaiah's fourth song and is alluding to the entire line as a salvation for his followers, or Jesus simply perceives that he is about to be arrested and, in being arrested, will be stigmatized as a thug (Mark 15:28 in some manuscripts), or as one outside the bounds of Israel— and that perception leads him to a Scripture like his experience, a script to go by (Isa 53:12). If the latter, his disciples are also in danger. It is entirely possible that this label for Jesus is not unlike his previous label as a "friend of tax collectors and sinners". In this case, nothing more is intended: his social value is shaped by a death with thugs, or sinners, as was the servant's, but no salvation is implied. A still stronger reason—if he is so labeled, so too his disciples.
Along with T.W. Manson, many find in the words of Jesus a figure of the change of times, painted with an irony that leads to disappointment in his followers in Luke 22:38: "That will do!" (Deut 3:26). That the later sword incident in the garden suggests such a hush-hush interpretation is too easy (Mark 14:51), and the language of Luke 22:35-36 has every appearance of being literal. This leads to the conclusion that Jesus has in fact quoted Isaiah 53:12 and sees in that figure a fate like his own: the fate of dying with a bad label— with the wicked. The quotation then is not salvationally designed (even if identification with sinners be added to the database), but biographical.
Accordingly, Jesus does find in the Servant Song a script to go by in this sense: he is like the servant in that he identifies with those who have been misclassified.
Mark 1:11 pars.; Mark 9:7 pars.; Luke 23:35
On these three occasions—the baptism, the transfiguration, and the cross— Jesus is labeled the elect one of God. In the first two, the tradition has it that Jesus is called "the beloved one" while in the third he is called "the elect one". A plausible connection can be made to Isaiah
42:1, the first of the Servant Songs. The words are:
My chosen/elect one, in whom I delight.
It is possible that "beloved one" and "elect one" are translational variants of the Hebrew behiri (Isa 42:1). Isaiah 42:1 possibly stands behind Mark 9:7 ("beloved one"), Luke 9:35 ("elect one"), and John 1:34 ("elect one"). Thus, the influence of Isaiah 42:1 is entirely plausible for this text, as seen in a confluence of echoes: words that are not commonplace, the themes of election or belovedness and the Spirit coming on special persons; an early Christology—for, if this is servant Christology, it is not a salvational but a prophetic representative who is in view, and, finally, huios remains a plausible translation of the Hebrew ebed.
Along with the troubled conscience early Christians must have lived with in redacting God's very own words (Mark 1:11 pars.; 9:7 pars.), we must face the historical reality of how we can know that these words reflect Jesus' own mind. These two observations notwithstanding, many today would argue that these words do indeed reflect Jesus' perception of his vocation (descent of Spirit, fall of Satan) as well as his view of himself and how God considered him, and that it was he who passed on the hidden revelation of who he was and what God thought of him that came to him in a vision when he was baptized. That Jesus thought he was the elect one is slightly confirmed by the leaders at Luke 23:35, where they mock Jesus by labeling him the elect one.
The terms associated with the divine words at Mark 1:11 and 9:7, then, can be plausibly connected to Isaiah 42:1 and to Jesus' own perception of his mission. Three critical terms can be connected to Isaiah 42:1: beloved, pleased, and son. The coincidence of these terms together at Isaiah 42:1, the presence of the middle term in the Targum to Isaiah (41:8-9; 43:10, 20; 44:1-2), and the similar collation of these terms at the baptism make the connection firmer. A connection to the Servant passage, then, is possible. The previous sections in this chapter ("Mark 9:9-13" and "Luke 22:35-38") would make such a connection plausible and it seems possible that Jesus found some "scripts" for life in the servant imagery of Isaiah 40—55.
One must be careful, however, before concluding from such a view that Jesus therefore thought of himself as the servant and, if so, must have thought he was to die on behalf of the nation in order to announce salvation to the nations. What we have in the baptismal words is not an unambiguous affirmation that Jesus is the Servant of Isaiah, in some titular sense, but instead a possibility that he saw himself in similar terms. And that possibility revolves around Jesus' intention, in his baptism, to be anointed by God's Spirit as God's elect one, an individual in whom God takes delight. If Jesus thought God's evaluation of him was that he was the elect one of Isaiah 42:1, we have firm grounds for linking Jesus to the Servant of Isaiah. To think that Jesus connected the dots from Isaiah 42:1 to all the Servant Songs, and then saw that figure as a prediction of his entire mission—including how to understand his progressive realization that his fate would not be unlike John's—requires more evidence than presently is available at our table.
Christian scholars have long been troubled by the apparent confession of sins required by Jesus to join in John's baptism. After all, John's baptism was a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4), and Jesus joined in such which flies in the face of the trinitarian theology of christianity. It can be suggested that instead of seeing Jesus as vicariously atoning for sins through baptism, we should see Jesus' baptism as a representative national act of repentance. That is, Jesus underwent a baptism of repentance (as did others) providing an example of returning to Torah, to God's Word, becoming complete as his "Father" is complete. Later, when he compares his body and blood to the covenant God has with Israel, he again is setting up his prophet's death as a grand example. In the same manner he undertakes the baptism under John.
But, again, his baptism is a self-conscious act of solidarity with a new vision for Israel and as such was a collective, corporate act instead of an individualistic confession of sins. His action is what national Israel's act should be, at least what Israel ought to be doing now that John is declaring end times salvation and warning of an imminent doom. Taking this perspective of Jesus' baptism, we might be led to a corporate sense of servant in the baptism itself. The Son as servant, according to the voice proclaiming YHWH’s will, then, is not just Jesus but also all those who participate in this act along with Jesus to reconstitute and restore Israel.
The quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 at Luke 4:18-19a and the allusion to Isaiah 61:1, and probably also to 16:18-19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6 and 42:18, though not an allusion to a Servant Song per se, has been drawn into the discussion of Jesus and the servant because Isaiah 61:1-3a reutilizes significant themes from the Servant Songs. Thus, in each the messenger receives the Spirit (Isa 42:1; 61:1), and each seems to be cast in the prophetic role so central in Isaiah 40-55.
The text (Isa 61:1-2) was used at Qumran to describe the jubilee of salvation effected through Melchizedek (1 lQ18 Melchizedek). That jubilee is the "Last Days," the "inheritance of Melchizedek," a "releasing them from the debt of all their sins," the "year of Melchizedek's favor," a "righteous kingdom," a "visitation]," and the "Day of Salvation." This figure will effect a judgment where he will "thoroughly prosecute the vengeance required by God's statutes." In fact, the messenger of Isaiah 61:1-2 is the Anointed of the spirit in Daniel 9:26.
With this as a plausible Jewish context, we ask if Jesus' words here are authentic and, though Luke 4:18-19a is taken by many to be a Lukan creation on the basis of the Greek, few have questioned the historicity of Q. Their historical verisimilitude has recently been boosted by the publication of some fragments now known as 4Q521 (Ps 146):
[For the hea]vens and the earth shall listen to His Messiah. . . . For the Lord seeks the pious and calls the righteous by name. . . . For He will honor the pious upon the th[ro]ne of His eternal kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those who are bo [wed down]. . . . For He shall heal the critically wounded, He shall revive the dead, He shall send good news to the afflicted. He shall . . . and the hungry He shall enrich.
This text looks forward to a Messiah who will accomplish the salvation expected in the kingdom expectations of Deutero-Isaiah. And, so it appears, Jesus thought that a similar expectation was fulfilled in his very mission. If Q reflects the mission of Jesus, Luke 4:16-21, however redactional it might be, ably expresses what Jesus' mission was all about.
Here we are on firm ground: Jesus connects his mission with the vision of salvation in Isaiah and, as we have already noted, disconnects it from the figure of Elijah in Malachi 3-4, as did John the Baptist. While these texts do not mention the servant and neither are there allusions to the Servant Songs, the themes of Jesus' mission are those of the servant's mission as they are explicated throughout Isaiah, especially in Deutero-Isaiah. Jesus saw his mission as the work of God as expected in Isaiah's predictions. He saw fulfillment in what he was bringing about. His connection to the servant here then is secondary and implicit, and only possibly does he depict himself as Isaiah's Servant.
Mark 3:27 pars.
In the excitement of salvific blessings, Deutero-Isaiah announces:
Thus says the Lord God:
I will soon lift up my hand to the nations,
and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their bosom,
and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who wait for me shall not be put to shame. (49:22-23)
One role for the Servant of Deutero-Isaiah, according to his thinking (49:4), was to restore his people, but the servant realizes it is God who will restore the exiled community to the land (49:5) and so honor his servant. The Servant here is Israel (49:3). When the Servant is honored it will be through a universal announcement of God's salvation (49:6). Then Israel, his Servant, will return to the land, as YHWH "will have compassion on his suffering ones" (49:13). Abundant numbers of Israelites will return to the land (49:20). And then the author announces the words cited above: kings will fall and all the nations will elevate Israel.
The question of the exiles is close at hand: "How can we overcome our captors?" Deutero-Isaiah has the answer:
Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? But thus says the Lord: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
and the prey of the tyrant be rescued; for I will contend with those who contend with you,
and I will save your children. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know
that I am the Lord your Savior,
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. (49:24-26)
In light of the firm conclusion that Jesus drew primary inspiration for his mission to Israel from Isaiah 40—55, we are led to ask if Mark 3:27 might not be seen as Jesus' actualization of Isaiah 49:24-26. An appeal to this text becomes more valuable if, as some have maintained, the baptismal vision included a vision of Satan's downfall (Mark 1:11; Luke 10:18).
Mark 3:27 reads: "But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered." In spite of no verbal connections between Isaiah and Mark 3:27, Morna Hooker, who disputed vigorously Jesus' having used the Suffering Servant Songs as the background to his understanding of his death, nonetheless concludes: "there is little doubt that Jesus had this passage in mind when he spoke these words". While we are in Deutero-Isaiah, we are also led to Isaiah 53:12: "and he shall divide the spoil with the strong." Hooker minimizes this potential allusion, even though the Greek Bible and Mark use the same term for "strong". The Lukan parallel, considerably different and possibly a part of Q, raises the same themes though with a less triumphal orientation. Nonetheless, Jesus, "the stronger man," conquers the enemy and plunders the house. That such ideas were connected with the kingdom is witnessed in the Testament of Levi 18:12-13,54 where one might find an echo of Isaiah 49 in the joy of the Lord over his children. A thematic trace may also be found in Isaiah 24:21-23 (binding) and its expectation of an end times binding of hostile powers (Rev 20:2-3).
In Isaiah 49, the "strong man" is YHWH, and emphatically so. This expectation of God's decisive action in history is picked up, linguistically at least, in Psalms of Solomon 5:3 ("For no one takes plunder away from a strong man, so who is going to take anything from all that you have done, unless you give it?"). If Jesus sees Isaiah 49 fulfilled in his exorcisms, there is a significant act of intertextual interpretation: Jesus assigns the action of YHWH to his own exorcisms (the finger of God?). The work destined for God's own action, not that of his servant, Jesus assumes as his own job description in Mark 3:27: his exorcisms are God's work of liberation. The same primary actor is found in Isaiah 53:12: YHWH will "allot him [the servant] with the great" but "he [the servant] shall divide the spoil with the strong" ("He shall receive the multitude as his spoil"). Thus, though apparently deprived of due justice, the servant will regain power (Isa 52:13-15; 53:12).
A connection to a specific text in Isaiah 49 or 53 is hard to make. In each of these cases the author is concerned with political restoration of the nation to a position of power and that restoration follows suffering. What the Servant could not do, YHWH did. Mark 3:27 is concerned with exorcisms and the stripping away of Satan's power over individual Israelites (Luke 10:18) as evidence that the kingdom of God is present (Q). An appeal by Jesus to this text appears to be only at the level of similar notions, and we would be wrong to pursue theological implications in the direction of Jesus' assumption of the servant's role. Jesus' language echoes Isaiah's, but he is not thereby assuming the role of the Servant of Isaiah. In fact, if he assumes any figure, it would be that ofYHWH!
What is clear, though, is that there are sufficient indicators that Jesus did see Isaiah 40-55 to be paradigmatic for what God was doing in him. And, with a small bundle of passages that either do or possibly allude to the Servant of Isaiah, we are on firm ground to say that Jesus did seem to consult the Servant figure at various periods in his life. The figure is nowhere near as central as Son of man, but the servant does seem to be standing still.
These five complexes of sayings of Jesus have been mined by scholars in search of Jesus thinking of himself as the Servant of Isaiah. We can conclude that we have three possible texts (Mark 9:9-13; "the elect one" texts; Mark 3:27) and one clear text (Luke 22:35-38). In Luke 22:35-38, Jesus sees his imminent death as a reversal of his status—he will be killed with the thugs—Luke clearly connects Jesus, the Servant, and death. Not in a salvational sense, but the connection is made. The most significant Servant text we have is in Q (possibly Luke 4:16-21), where Jesus clearly affirms that his mission to Israel was outlined previously in Isaiah's vision for the future. His mission is drawn from Isaiah, especially 40—55, to be sure. But, and this must be emphasized, the evidence is not unambiguously in favor of contending that Jesus saw his destiny as that of the Servant of Isaiah.
The Servant of Isaiah is not an upper case figure for Jesus; instead, the Servant of Isaiah is Israel, and that figure in Isaiah betrays that common interchange between the individual and the collective. There are dimensions to Jesus' life that form analogies to what took place to the Servant: in particular, as the Servant suffered and was exalted, so Jesus will suffer and be exalted; as the Servant was misclassified, so Jesus was too. But it is far from clear and far from concrete that Jesus saw himself as the Servant of Isaiah, a figure of prophecy whose destiny he was to fulfill, particularly with respect to his death.
We can conclude, then, that among the images and figures which Jesus consulted in his life in order to make sense of what God's plan for him was, the Servant of Isaiah was one figure among others. It does not seem to stand above the others, and it certainly does not stand as tall as the Son of man. But, the Servant image does still stand as one of the candidates for how Jesus understood himself.
If we are to find in Mark 10:45's "ransom for many" an indication of what Jesus thought of his own death, then we will have to find other evidence on which to build if we want a solid foundation. What this chapter provides for us is possible evidence that Jesus did see some scripts for his life in the servant, and that ransom for many possibly looks to Isaiah 52-53.
To recapitulate our study, the following conclusions may be noted: first, the endings of Q and Mark (14:36-38) make it patently clear that Jesus' mission is more than a "mission to die." In these texts Jesus petitions his Father to be exempted from the last and final ordeal. Second, Jesus knew that he had a temporary presence on this earth—more temporary, that is, than most humans. Texts like Mark 2:19-20; 10:38; 14:3-9 and Luke 13:32-33 evince a Jesus who knew of a premature death. Third, because Jesus believed he was called by his Father to Israel, there is every reason to think he thought his premature death was part, somehow, of God's providential plan in history. Behind texts like Mark 14:36, Luke 13:32-33, and John 10:15-18 is a Jesus who saw in his death the outworking of divine providence. Fourth, but still short of a salvational perception of his death, Jesus clearly thought his premature death was the fate of a prophet. Jesus stands behind texts like Luke 23:27-31, Luke 12:49-50, Matthew 23:29-35, and Mark 12:1-12. Fifth, because Jesus believed his Father would eventually, somehow, vindicate him, Jesus challenged his followers also to run the gauntlet of death if it was their destined calling. The figure of Jesus is heard in texts like Mark 8:34.
These five conclusions are well established, but do not add up to a Jesus who thought his death was either saving or atoning. What they do amount to, however, is a threefold foundation for constructing as best we can how Jesus perceived his premature death. First, the evidence clearly reveals an indissoluble connection between John the Baptist and Jesus. It was a relationship after the fact: as with John, so with Jesus. It was also an still stronger relationship—if with John, certainly with me. It was also a comparative relationship: each compared his role with Elijah. That connection is especially obvious at Mark 10:38, Luke 13:32-33, and the fate of the prophet theme so strongly suggestive in the Jesus traditions (e.g., Q; Luke 12:49-50; 23:27-31; Matt 23:29-35). When John was put to death Jesus became instantly aware that he too might die a similar death. And it is unlikely that John's death was the first time it occurred to Jesus that his mission to Israel could, or would, end in martyrdom.
Second, Jesus evidently did not see his death in exclusively individualistic terms. From his penchant for the expression and imagery of the Son of man (from Dan 7) to the last supper when he urged his followers to symbolically eat his body and symbolically drink his blood in order to share in his symbolic portrayal of the living embodiment of Torah, Jesus saw his death as not only his: it was a representative death. It is perhaps possible, that Jesus saw his death as vicarious; however, the evidence is certainly clear that he believed he was the representative Israelite: his death paved the way for others. When he urged his followers to be prepared to run the gauntlet, it was a gauntlet he had seen John run and one he was ready himself to run. He represented others, namely his followers, when he entered the waters of Jordan at the hand of John to reenact the crossing of the Jordan and the reentering of the land. If that is his beginning, so also his ending: he goes to meet his death having asked his followers to share in his body and his blood.
Jesus was indissolubly connected to John, their connection is one that is unable to be destroyed; Jesus knew his death was representative. Thirdly, Jesus saw his death as the beginning of the end times ordeal. We began our discussion with what we called the endings of Q and Mark (14:36-38). In these two passages representing both the centrality of Jesus' vision and the last night, Jesus envisions two shadowy figures on the immediate horizon: (1) the end times ordeal and (2) his desire not to endure that ordeal. Here we find an interpretation by Jesus of what his death is: the onslaught of the end times tribulation. He, as representative, is about to cross the threshold into the last hour. Other passages fasten Jesus firmly to this perception of his death: Mark 3:27; 10:38; Luke 12:49-50; 13:32-33; 23:27-31; Matthew 23:29-35; and perhaps Mark 12:1-12. This point should not be missed. Not only did Jesus see his death as the onset of the end times tribulation, he knew (as a Jew) that the tribulation was to lead into the kingdom. Thus, Jesus must have seen his death as the onset of the kingdom of God.
Like others, Jesus knows his death is likely. Like other prophets, he knows his death is destined as the fate of the prophet. Like those same prophets, he knows his death will be vindicated by his Father. But, unlike others, he believes his death will reveal the presence of the end times ordeal. And, apparently like others, he knows his death is a representative death. He takes upon himself that role of representation when, in spite of his desire to be excused from the ordeal, he remains behind while the lurking figures associated with the Roman government in Judea seek an opportunity to capture him, try him, and kill him. Does the evidence justify going beyond a representative death as part of the end times ordeal? The answer to that is unequivocally: NO.
Scot McKnight. Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historic Jesus, and Atonement Theory. Baylor University Press, 2005
Irving Zeitlin. Jesus and the Judaism of his Time. Polity Press 1988
Geza Vermes. The Changing Faces of Jesus. Viking Press 2001
Janowski and Stuhlmacher. The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources. Eerdmans, 2004
Aggregated from I. Zeitlin, & E. Rivkin
King of the Jews
The portraits of Jesus found in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke portray a Jesus who, however much he may have been out of this world, was part and parcel of the world of his day. He is pictured as a prophet like figure, a charismatic of charismatics, the Son of man who enjoys a special relationship to God the Father. In Mark, we are told that there were some people who believed that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected and hence endowed with miraculous powers; there were others who believed him to be Elijah; there were still others who believed that he was a prophet like the prophets of old—all images evoking charismatics whom God had endowed with supernatural powers (Mark 6:14—16). And even when Jesus is transfigured, he is pictured as being with Elijah and Moses as one who, like them, had a special relationship with God (Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30). Here Jesus is humanized, personalized, and historicized. Jesus becomes credible because he is reminiscent of an Elijah and a Moses. He is not a divine being with no biblical prototype—instead his life as traced in the Gospels is the path of a person of flesh and blood in whom the Spirit of God dwelled and who became thereby worthy of resurrection.
This human life of Jesus as delineated in the Synoptic Gospels sets him firmly in the historical matrix of the times. John the Baptist, a real charismatic, is held up as a precursor and a prototype. He is the same good man in the Synoptics as in Josephus. He is the voice crying in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance and proclaiming the coming of God's kingdom—a kingdom not to be ushered in by him but by one who is to come after him, one more blessed and more worthy than he. Whereas John baptized with water, he who is to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:2-4, 7-8; cf. Matthew 3:2, 11-12; Luke 3:4-6, 15-18). Mark and the other Synoptic Gospel writers are telling their readers that while John the Baptist was only a charismatic, Jesus was a charismatic of charismatics.
The Road to Martyrdom
As such, Jesus trudges a road of his own making. Though frequenting the synagogue, he does not acknowledge any limitations on his teachings: He speaks out with a singular authority, an authority that arouses astonishment because it is so unlike the authority of the Scribes-Pharisees, which was collective, not individual. As the Son of man, Jesus does not hesitate to pronounce God's forgiveness of the sins of a paralytic, even though this divine like act arouses the Scribes, who insist that God alone has the power to forgive sins. They charge Jesus with blasphemy, to which Jesus replies that, as the Son of man, he does have that authority (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26).
Jesus is no less defiant when he eats with sinners and tax collectors, even though the Scribes-Pharisees disapprove. When Jesus explains that he has come to call only sinners, the Jews whom have fallen away from Torah and obedience to God’s Word, not the righteous, they become even more infuriated since his words bespeak a rejection of their authority (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32). Nor can the Scribes-Pharisees submit to Jesus' right to take the Law into his own hands when he allows his disciples to pluck ears of grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5); or when he shrugs off their eating with unwashed hands (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23); or when he himself heals a man's withered arm on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11). Brushing aside the Traditions of the Elders as man-made, not God-made, he denounces his accusers as hypocrites (Mark 7:8-13; Matthew 15:3-9).
Confronted with such behavior, the Scribes-Pharisees were at a loss as to what manner of man this was who healed the sick and spoke so assuredly of the kingdom of God that was about to come. Was he a teacher? (Mark 9:38) Was he a prophet, like one of the prophets of old? Elijah? Or even Moses, perhaps? Was he John, resurrected from the dead? (Matthew 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9) Was he the Son of man? Was he the Messiah who would restore the kingdom of father David? (Mark 11:9-10; cf. Matthew 21:9; Luke 12:38) And what of his impressive powers and charisma—were they of God, or were they of Beelzebul, the Prince of Demons? (Matthew 12:22-24; Mark 3:19-22; Luke 11:14-16)
Sitting in Moses' seat, the Pharisees were forced to take a stand. Jesus, they concluded, was no simple replica of John the Baptist. He was a messianic pretender and, as such, must be exposed as a fraud. This the Scribes-Pharisees tried to do by using their authority to undermine his claims. If Jesus exorcised demons, then he must be Beelzebul's instrument (Matthew 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15). If he healed on the Sabbath day, he must be a violator of the Law (Matthew 12:10; Mark 3:2; Luke 6:7). If he allowed his disciples to eat with unwashed hands (Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:5) or to pluck ears of grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:2; Mark 2:24; Luke 6:2), he was mocking the Traditions of the Elders. If he forgave sins, he was a blasphemer (Matthew 9:2-3; Mark 2:5-7; Luke 5:20-21). If he seemed to be a prophet, where were his signs? (Matthew 12:38) If he were the Anointed, where was Elijah? (Matthew 17:10; Mark 9:11) If he were the Messiah, son of David, where was his genealogy? (Matthew 22:41-42; Mark 12:35; Luke 20:41) If he preached that the kingdom of God was coming, should the tribute to Caesar be paid or not? (Matthew 22:17; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:22)
It is one thing, however, to try to expose Jesus as a fraud; it is quite another to succeed. Jesus proves to be nimble-minded. He returns barb for barb. Beelzebul, the Prince of Demons, would scarcely destroy his own house (Matthew 12:25-26; Mark 3:23-26; Luke 11:17-18). The Son of man, he claims with a proof-text on hand, need not be a descendant of David (Matthew -22:41-45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44). As for the payment of tribute, he, echoing the Scribes-Pharisees, insists that one must render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25).
The Scribes-Pharisees again and again find themselves mystified. On occasion, Jesus appears to be an exemplary teacher, skillfully countering the Sadducees who poke fun at the belief in resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40). And he draws the approval of a Scribe-Pharisee by affirming that "Hear, O Israel: Master Yahweh is our God, Master Yahweh is One; and you shall love Master Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" is the heart of the Law, while loving one's neighbor as oneself runs a close second (Mark 12:28-34; cf. Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28).
The Scribes-Pharisees thus had no easy time challenging Jesus. He seemed at times to be one of them, but again he seemed not to be one of them at all. He adhered to the core teachings of the Scribes-Pharisees yet flaunted their authority by claiming a special relationship to God and by making light of the Traditions of the Elders. Thus when Jesus sought to compare his authority to that of John the Baptist, the Scribes-Pharisees, though left speechless, would have none of it (Mark 11:27-33). John may indeed have been a charismatic like Jesus, but he had kept his charisma within acceptable bounds. John had called for a return to biblical Torah obedience as did the Scribes-Pharisees—only more so. He had called for justice as did the Scribes-Pharisees—only more so. John's call to baptism as a sign of the inner purification of the soul was a call the Scribes-Pharisees could applaud. Though John had proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand, he had not embarrassed the Scribes-Pharisees as had Jesus, with his allusions to being the Son of man or the King-Messiah.
Yet John's benign teachings had not spared him a tragic fate. His eloquence had attracted crowds, and crowds were dangerous. The political authorities took no chances. They had put him to death, though Josephus looked upon John as a good and righteous man. Jesus' teachings would thus be even more threatening. They were far more disruptive than any advanced by John the Baptizer. For Jesus, unlike John, had provoked the Scribes-Pharisees by flaunting his special relationship to God and by persisting in his ways: His healings continued; his exorcisms continued; his sitting with sinners continued; his preaching of the coming kingdom of God continued. And crowds gathered round him to hear, to see, to hope; and they struck fear in the heart of Caiaphas.
The more demons Jesus exorcised, the more mustard seeds he spread abroad, the more crowds he drew, the more irresistible his claims to be the Son of man, the King-Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel, the more the authorities feared an incident in the crowded streets of Jerusalem. They especially feared a demonstration on the Temple Mount as tens of thousands of Jews crowded into Jerusalem—perhaps a more violent demonstration than that described in the Gospels when Jesus overthrew the tables of the money changers and cried out that the Temple had become a den of robbers.The crowds were feared no less when they shouted in the streets "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11:9-10)
It would make no difference to the political authorities whether such incidents were sparked by religious zeal or by political expectations, or whether these incidents were spontaneous or orchestrated outbursts. Indeed, it mattered not who said what, or what sparked whom, or who sparked what, or what the political motivation of the sparker happened to be. Even if Jesus had pleaded for measured calm by calling out "This is not what I meant at all, not at all," it would have made no difference to the authorities. What mattered were the consequences for high priest and procurator if the crowds had gone wild, shouting "The kingdom of God is at hand, and Jesus is our King." The coming of God's kingdom would, in fact, have been even more frightening to Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas than a mere human kingdom since God's kingdom could be blocked by no earthly power, however exalted and mighty.
The Synoptic Gospels portray Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate as doing exactly what we would have expected them to do, knowing as we do the tragic fate of John the Baptist. We are not surprised, therefore, to learn that Caiaphas moved against Jesus as quietly as he could, lest angry crowds gather, and had him brought, as we would have expected, before the high priest's sanhedrin of privy councillors, handpicked for their loyalty to the doctrine of two realms and for their sense of concern about a savage Roman response to any riotous behavior of the crowds, irrespective of its source (Matthew 26:3-5, 57-68).
The followers of Jesus thus told it as it had actually happened. Jesus was brought before the only body that had jurisdiction over those who were charged with breaking or endangering the peace: the high priest's sanhedrin, convoked by him and presided over by him. Despite the hostility they may have harbored for the Scribes-Pharisees, the disciples of Jesus did not report that Jesus had been brought before a beit din (a rabbinical court of Judaism), presided over by a teacher of the twofold Law, to be charged with a violation of God's Law. They did not so report because in Jesus' day, all Jews living in Judea and Galilee knew that a charismatic would never be brought before a religious body to stand trial for his life, however deviant his religious teachings.
The Synoptic Gospels' accounts are thus historically credible since they exonerate the beit din from any role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. They bear true witness to the imperial system and its jurisdiction over political issues; to the doctrine of the two realms espoused by the Scribes-Pharisees with respect to the political and religious realms; and to the doctrine of live and let live with respect to divergent forms of Judaism.
The Gospels likewise confirm our expectations when they tell us that Jesus was charged with the crime of being the Son of man, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. For the issue was not a religious issue even though these images were grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophets had envisioned an end of days when all pain and suffering and anguish—even death itself—would be stilled. Isaiah had visualized a King-Messiah, sprung from the stump of Jesse, who would reign in glory. Ezekiel had been addressed by God as the Son of man.
And here lies the tragedy of it all: These images rooted in Scriptures did indeed have political implications. God's kingdom in was Rome's kingdom out! There was no way Jesus' preaching of God's kingdom could be disentangled from politics. The high priest, the high priest's sanhedrin, and the procurator—all were bound to look upon Jesus' teachings as politically dangerous, however free they were of overt political intent. Jesus' preaching of the coming of God's kingdom was treasonous in their eyes as long as that kingdom had no place for the Roman emperor, his procurator, and his procurator-appointed high priest. Only if Jesus were in truth the Son of man and the King-Messiah could the prophetic promise of a Messianic Age be acknowledged as having been fulfilled in him. But this was dependent on his actually bringing in the kingdom despite all human efforts to block it. In a word, Jesus would need to prove his claim by living, not by dying.
The Synoptic Gospels thus confirm that Jesus suffered the fate that would have befallen the charismatic of charismatics we have drawn from Josephus. For the Gospels tell us that Jesus was brought before Caiaphas, an appointee of the procurator, and before the high priest's sanhedrin—not before a beit din of the Scribes-Pharisees—and charged with having claimed to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews. But though the Gospels clearly testify that Jesus was tried by a political body, the followers of Jesus may have believed that he had been tried on religious grounds. For in their eyes, Jesus was the Son of man, God's Anointed—a King crowned by God Himself. He was necessarily a fulfillment of God's promise. He was thus ipso facto a religious, not a political, figure.
The high priest and his sanhedrin, however, had no such belief. For them, Jesus was deluded and his followers were deluded. He was just another would-be messiah whose naive illusions could spark an uprising. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jesus' disciples, who believed him to be the Messiah as prophesied in Daniel, would attribute religious motives to the high priest and his sanhedrin since for the disciples, Jesus was exclusively a. religious instrument of God, not a political figure. No wonder, then, that the Gospels blur the distinction between the political and the religious motivations, of which the high priest and his sanhedrin were always conscious.
This same blurring envelopes Pontius Pilate. Here, too, the Gospels fulfill our expectations. Jesus, like any charismatic, would have been brought before the procurator once the high priest and his sanhedrin were convinced that he was a threat to law and order. The procurator, for his part, would ask only one question: Are you the King of the Jews? And he would not be diverted by some Delphic answer such as "You have said so" (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3). For Pontius Pilate, the judgment of his trusted high priest Caiaphas would have been enough.
But Pontius Pilate, as we know from Josephus, had his own political agenda. As one who was given to provoking Jews with wily stratagems, Pilate was not beyond using a politically naive charismatic, one who claimed to be their King, to entrap the Jews. By giving the crowds a choice between the release of a revolutionary such as Barabbas, who made no claim to being King of the Jews, and a charismatic who did make such a claim, Pilate was, in effect, compelling the crowd to choose the revolutionary. They would fear to choose the other lest Pilate loose his soldiery on them for acknowledging a king other than Caesar (Matthew 27:15-23; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:18-25).
Pontius Pilate's strategy, however, could hardly have been discerned by the politically naive followers of Jesus. All they could see and comprehend was that the crowds, egged on by the priests, were calling for Barabbas. Little wonder that their anger would be directed against the other Jews rather than against Pontius Pilate, who was taunting the crowd to name Jesus as their king. When we read of this incident in the light of our knowledge of Pilate's provocative tricks, we are struck by its ring of historical truth.
The Gospels have no surprises for us either in their account of the crucifixion or in their attestation of Jesus' resurrection. After all, the titulus above the cross spelled out precisely why Jesus was crucified: He was accused of having proclaimed himself King of the Jews (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38). Having been found guilty of treason, was not Jesus fated for crucifixion, the punishment designed especially for those who dared to challenge the authority of Rome? The titulus preserved in the Gospels thus leaves us in no doubt as to why Jesus was crucified and by whom. And the fact that on either side of him was a revolutionary suffering the same fate evokes for us Rome's determination to eradicate anyone who challenged its rule, whether violent revolutionary or charismatic visionary.
Jesus' last words as reported in the Gospels (Mark 15:34) likewise come to us as no surprise. These are words that might very well have sprung to the lips of a charismatic when confronted with the implications of his approaching death. Sharing the belief held by all Jews that the Messiah would bring in the kingdom of God during his time on earth, a charismatic would realize, when death was imminent, that his messianic hopes had been dashed. Every would-be messiah knew that there was only one test for his claims: Had he or had he not brought in the kingdom of God in his lifetime? His own demise, whether by the sword or by the cross, would bring an end to his messianic pretensions. When, therefore, a charismatic found himself at death's door, the frightening thought that God had misled him was bound to well up within him. Twisted with pain beyond endurance, his tragic plight would evoke the Psalmist's cry, so expressive of his own feelings of wretched wonder: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"
What was Responsible for Jesus’ Crucifixion?
It emerges with great clarity, both from Josephus and from the Gospels, that the culprit is not the Jews but the Roman imperial system. It was the Roman emperor who appointed the procurator; it was the procurator who appointed the high priest; and it was the high priest who convoked his privy council. It was the Roman imperial system that exacted harsh tribute. It was the actions of Roman procurators that drove the people wild and stirred Judea with convulsive violence. And it was the Roman imperial system that bred revolutionaries and seeded charismatics.
It was the Roman imperial system that is to fault, not the system of Judaism. The Sadducees, Scribes-Pharisees, and Essenes pushed no one to violent revolt, sowed no soil to breed charismatics. Neither biblical writ nor Oral Law allowed for the high priest to be elevated into or tossed out of the high priestly office at the whim of puppet king or arrogant procurator. Nor was there to be found in either the Written or Oral Law any provision for the high priest to convoke a sanhedrin for any purpose whatsoever. So far removed in that day were the Sadducees, Scribes-Pharisees, and Essenes from punitive actions against those who might preach aberrant ideas that the Scribes-Pharisees allowed Sadducean high priests to enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, provided they followed Pharisaic procedures. And they allowed Sadducees to preach their heretical views, provided they did not act them out publicly.
And insofar as the beit din of the Pharisees was concerned, it exercised jurisdiction only over those who freely chose to follow the teachings of the Scribes-Pharisees, over the conduct of public worship, and over the liturgical calendar. Not only was the beit din a boule (ruling body like a senate) and not a sanhedrin, but it was presided over by a nasi (like a tribal chief position), not the high priest, and it consisted exclusively of teachers of the twofold Law. Had there been no Roman imperial system, Jesus would have faced the bufferings of strong words, the batterings of skillfully aimed proof-texts, and the ridicule of both Sadducees and Scribes-Pharisees, but he would have stood no trial, been affixed to no cross.
And what is striking is that the Gospels confirm that no institution of Judaism had anything to do with the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. We find in the Gospels that the high priest was appointed in violation of both the onefold and the twofold Law; that the high priest's sanhedrin convoked by him had no warrant from either the onefold or the twofold Law; that the procurator was appointed by Rome, with no sanction from either the onefold or the twofold Law; and that the penalty of crucifixion was nowhere provided for in either the onefold or the twofold Law. One searches in the Gospels for the beit din of the Scribes-Pharisees; for the nasi who presided over it; for the procedures spelled out by either the Written or the Oral Law; for the specific Written or Oral Law that Jesus had violated, but all in vain.
What we do find is that Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the boule—not the sanhedrin—seeks to give Jesus a Jewish burial (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50); that the nasi Gamaliel urges the sanhedrin to let Peter and his associates go free (Acts 5:34); and that Jesus is seen risen from the dead, as the core teaching of the Scribes-Pharisees allowed.
It is true that the Gospels portray the Scribes-Pharisees as challenging Jesus' claims, and it is true that the Scribes-Pharisees are pictured as cooperating with the authorities, but that is a far cry from having religious jurisdiction. The Scribes-Pharisees confronted the Sadducees with no less angry, harsh, even vituperative words—but words only. And as for the Scribes-Pharisees' cooperation with the authorities, such cooperation was not a result of concern about the religious consequences but about the tragic political consequences that could befall the entire Jewish people.
And those political consequences could be devastating indeed. Thousands of Jews had lost their lives only a few years before in the aftermath of the pulling down of the golden eagle. Uncounted others had been slain in bloody encounters between religiously motivated procurators and puppet kings. Rulers in Jesus' day knew that prophetic visions were not to be trifled with, just as they had known it in the days of Jeremiah. Frightened by the crowds drawn to Jesus' charisma and absolutely certain themselves that Jesus was not the messiah and that the kingdom of God was not at hand, some Scribes-Pharisees may have voiced their concern about the tragic consequences that might follow should the crowds get out of hand and go on a rampage. They reasoned, even as' Herod the Tetrarch had reasoned, that it was risky to take chances when the stakes were so high. There may have been a sharing of these concerns—concerns that did not arise from the religious content of Jesus' teachings but from their political implications for the authorities. The Scribes-Pharisees, after all, were committed to both the doctrine of live and let live in the religious sphere and the doctrine of the two realms in the political sphere.
It is this doctrine of render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's that was the gut issue. It was a doctrine that the Scribes-Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes all subscribed to because it held out the hope of the preservation of the people of Israel as a people of God. The essence of that designation was the covenant that had been made with God, not with the Roman emperor. And that covenant called for obedience to God's revealed Law: the Written Law for the Sadducees; the Written and the Oral Law for the Scribes-Pharisees; the Written Law and other holy writings for the Essenes. As long as that covenant could be kept, the issue of political sovereignty was irrelevant. After all, had not the Aaronide priests, for more than two centuries, tended the altar and preserved the covenant under the imperial sway first of the Persians, then of Alexander, then of the Ptolemies? If the preservation of God's covenant required subservience to Roman rule, the payment of tribute to Rome, or helpless inaction as Roman legions repressed unruly crowds, then this was but a small price to pay for spiritual survival. It was not by might or by power but by the Spirit that the people of God were to be sustained.
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's became no less a fundamental doctrine in the Jesus Movement. Indeed, it was Jesus himself who enunciated it (Mark 12:17; cf. Matthew 22:21, Luke 20:25). Jesus did not call on his followers to withhold tribute from Rome, nor did he call on them to overthrow Roman rule by force. God, not man, would usher in the kingdom. Jesus, like the Scribes-Pharisees, adhered to the doctrine of the two realms throughout his entire earthly life. And his followers likewise adhered.
If, then, we are to assess responsibility, we once again find ourselves laying it at the feet of the Roman imperial system, a system that had made the doctrine of the two realms necessary for the survival of Judaism. The times were no ordinary times; the tempests no ordinary tempests; the bedlam no ordinary bedlam; the derangements no ordinary derangements. The chaos that gave birth to a charismatic like Jesus was the very chaos that rendered clarity of judgment impossible. The Roman emperor held the life or death of the Jewish people in the palm of his hand; the procurator's sword was always at the ready; the high priest's eyes were always penetrating and his ears always keen; the soldiery was always eager for the slaughter. Jewish religious leaders stumbled dazed from day to day, not knowing what they should do or not do, say or not say, urge or not urge. Everyone was entangled within a web of circumstance from which there was no way out. Whatever one did was wrong; whatever one thought was belied; whatever one hoped for was betrayed. Thrashing about in a world gone berserk and in abysmal ignorance of the outcome of any decision or action, one did what, in one's human frailty, one thought was the right thing to do. The emperor sought to govern an empire; the procurator sought to hold anarchy in check; the high priest sought to hold on to his office; the members of the high priest's sanhedrin sought to spare the people the dangerous consequences of a charismatic's innocent visions of the kingdom of God, which they themselves believed was not really at hand; the Scribes-Pharisees sought to lift up the eyes of the people from the sufferings of this world to the peace of life eternal; the followers of Jesus sought to make sense of the confusion and terror that enveloped the last days of the life of their Master and Teacher.
It is in this maelstrom of time, place, and circumstance, in tandem with impulse-ridden, tempest-tossed, and blinded sons of men, that the tragedy of Jesus' crucifixion is to be found. It was not the Jewish people who crucified Jesus and it was not the Roman people: It was the imperial system, a system that victimized the Jews, victimized the Romans, and victimized the Spirit of God. And Jesus understood. Twisted in agony on the cross—that symbol of imperial Roman cruelty and ruthless disregard of the human spirit—Jesus lifted his head upward toward God and pleaded, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Irving Zeitlin. Jesus and the Judaism of His Time. Polity Press 1988
Ellis Rivkin. What Crucified Jesus?. Abingdon Press 1984
Aggregated from I. Zeitlin, M. Casey, V. Martin, & G. Vermes
It was against the backdrop of a complete doctrinal dispute, between the divinely ordained Son of God and the orthodox Jewish system, that Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing full well that he was going to die. His clash with orthodox Jews, the execution of John the Baptist, and his intention to "cleanse the Temple" gave him quite sufficient grounds for expecting to die, apart from the theological reasons with which he understood and explained his death. There are several predictions. In their original forms, none of them has a satisfactory "life-setting" (Sitz im Leben) in the early Jesus Movement, and all of them are indirect, a natural feature of the speech of a would-be martyr, not the voice of the early Jesus Movement. Mark 10:45 concludes a narrative containing another prediction of the forthcoming death. When Jacob and John asked to sit on his right and left in his glory, Jesus replied, "You don't know what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup which I shall drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" (Mark 10.38). The first metaphor, that of the cup, is the same as he was to use in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), and it was evidently not ambiguous. Nor was the indirect general statement of Luke 13:33: "But today, tomorrow and the next day I shall go on my way, for it wouldn't do for a prophet to perish outside Jerusalem." Here Jesus accepted the popular estimation of himself as a prophet, and used it to predict his death in Jerusalem. Thus his predictions of his death were uniformly indirect but clear (Luke 12:50; 13:32).
When Jesus reached Jerusalem, "He began to throw out those who bought and sold in the Temple. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and he did not allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple" (Mark 11:15-16). These actions could all be perceived as secular activities being carried on in a holy place, the court of the Gentiles. Jesus' quotation of Isaiah 56:17 indicates that his action was directed at restoring the use of the court of the Gentiles to its proper purpose: "Is it not written that my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?" (Mark 11:17). Jesus' action was thus both logical and prophetic, but it was violent, and people may also have believed that Jesus had predicted doom for Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (cf Mark 13:2,14:57-9/Matt 26:60-61; Matt 23:37-39/ Luke 13.34-5). It was thus predictable that Jesus' action would lead to a clash with the Temple authorities, and entirely possible that the Romans would be called in. Jesus' fate was partly sealed by his vigorous conflict with orthodox Jews. Hence the immediate sequel to the cleansing, "the chief priests and scribes heard about it, and sought ways of destroying him" (Mark 11:18, cf 14:1). Some of the "scribes" will have been Pharisees whose opposition to Jesus was already implacable before he cleansed the Temple, others will have been orthodox Jews totally devoted to the doing of all the enactments of the Law, and just as outraged as any Pharisee by such factors as Jesus' contempt for the expansion of the purity laws. This outrage of the life-stance of orthodox Judaism was more basic than the percentage of scribes who had joined the Pharisaic sect. Once Jesus' perceived attack on the Temple had put the Sadducean aristocracy against him too, an alliance between "scribes" and "chief priests" was inevitable.
The Death of Jesus and How He Interpreted Its Significance
If, then, Jesus anticipated his death, how did he interpret it? The passion predictions use the metaphors of "cup", "baptism" and "completion", give his role as a prophet, and declare his death to be written in scripture, a form of service and a ransom for many; he would be vindicated by resurrection, and his future position would be a glorious one in which God could decide whether particular people might sit on his right or left. At the Last Supper, Jesus effectively said that his sacrificial death would in some sense bring about the redemption of Israel: "This is my blood, it is of the covenant, shed for many" (Mark 14:24). He continued with a saying which implies a short interval before the coming of the kingdom (Mark 14:25). We should deduce that Jesus' mind was working on the same basic lines as those who meditated on the deaths of the innocent Maccabean martyrs, and who concluded that their deaths were an expiatory sacrifice which assuaged the wrath of God and enabled him to deliver Israel making it righteous (2 Mac 7:37-8; 4 Mac 17:20-22). Jesus' death likewise was to be an expiatory sacrifice which assuaged the wrath of God and making it righteous for the Restoration of the Kingdom. Just as Jesus understood his death would symbolically parallel those of the Maccabean martyrs, it is quite obvious he also understood the parallels in Isaiah's prophecy. Jesus never states that he is the "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah, it is the later Christian Movement of Paul that makes the explicit connection. Instead the known messianology and writings of the early Jesus Movement displays that the crucifixion of Jesus was interpreted to be like the Suffering Servant and like a Sacrificial Lamb. The original Jesus Movement applied those metaphors to provide for Jesus' vindication of righteous Israel, thereby laying the final groundwork for the Restoration of the Kingdom.
Jesus saw his death as not only his: it was a completely representative death. Jesus understood his death was going to be substitutionary and protecting. In stating that the bread represented his body and the wine represented his blood of the original covenant, Jesus was teaching that his very existence was comprised of obeying Yahweh’s Word, obeying Torah completely, and following the covenantal agreement between Israel and Yahweh. Jesus understood that he was the symbolic Passover victim whose blood would protect his followers from the imminent judgement of Yahweh against Israel, Jerusalem, the world, and its corrupt leadership.
He was showing his followers that following his teachings: of returning to Torah, of returning to God, and turning back from sin against Yahweh would usher them into the restored kingdom. Jesus’ understanding of his substitutionary and protecting death, and the participation of his followers in that substitutionary death, protects them from the Day of Yahweh, the Wrath of Yahweh. As the avenging angel of the Passover in Egypt “passed over” the first-born children whose fathers had smeared the lamb’s blood on the door, so the Father of Jesus would “pass over” those followers who had “ingested” the protecting “blood” of the symbolically sacrificed “lamb”.
Jesus’ ministry was more than just a ministry about his death, his purpose wasn’t only a “mission to die”. Jesus understood he had a temporary presence on earth, he understood the religious and political climate of the 1st century, and he knew what his ministry would result in. Because Jesus was ordained and adopted as the Son of God he knew his death was part of Yahweh’s providential plan in history. Jesus also probably thought of his death as that of a prophet. Finally, Jesus believed he would be vindicated and therefore challenged those who would return to Torah and Yahweh’s covenant with Israel to continue to follow his teachings and minister to those who had fallen away from Torah and Israel, and do so in the face of opposition from authorities.
The Vindication of Jesus
It follows that Jesus expected God to vindicate him. To understand this, we must move on to the subject of resurrection. The meagre evidence of the Gospels suggests that Jesus shared the attitude to resurrection and immortality characteristic of Jews who believed in survival after death. For example, in answer to an awkward question from the Sadducees, Jesus assumed that there will be an occasion when the dead rise, commenting, "For when they rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25). The strength of Jesus' belief in survival after death is illustrated by his supposedly crushing argument against the Sadducees, who did not hold any belief of this kind. He argued from the nature of God himself. God is so clearly the God of the living (Jer 10:10) that his declaration to Moses "I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:6, 15, 16) is held to demonstrate the survival of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and thereby the raising of the dead.
Most of Jesus' comments about his own fate are not very specific. Mark 14:25 implies his survival and vindication, and a short interval of time before he drank new wine in the kingdom. The passage is however typical in that it says nothing about resurrection or immortality, that is, it gives no details about the mode of survival. The same applies to Mark 10.40, where Jesus accepted that people will sit on the right and left of him in his glory, but he did not respond with any details of his or their mode of existence. A few other sayings likewise imply that Jesus will have a significant position in the Restored Kingdom, from which we must infer Jesus' vindication and survival (cf Mark 9:1; 10:29-30; Luke 12:8-9/ Matt 10.32-3, with Mark 8:38). The one saying that predicts instead of assumes Jesus' survival is that which lies behind Mark 8:31, 9:31 and 10:33-4. in which the original form of this prediction was a general statement such as "A son of man will die, and after three days he will rise".
The Aramaic word for "rise" can only have been qum. This is the most general word for "rise", and could refer to what we might call either resurrection or immortality. An interpretation of "after three days" may be deduced from midrashic sayings which declare that Israel, or the righteous, will not be left in distress for more than three days, a view supported with several passages of scripture (e.g. Jon 2.1; Hos 6:2). One such occasion is the last days, when deliverance will be by means of the resurrection. If "three days" is interpreted like this, the general resurrection could be expected "after three days". Three other sayings of Jesus use the three-day interval in a similar metaphorical sense (cf Mark 14.58; Luke 13.32, 33). At a more literal level, three days is just long enough to ensure that a person was really dead (cf John 11:39; bT Sem VHJ,1; Lev R. XVIH, 1). We may conclude that, in the original saying, Jesus probably meant that he would be vindicated in the general resurrection, which would take place after a short interval.
There is thus ample evidence that Jesus expected God to vindicate him after his symbolic expiatory death. One saying implies that this would be in the first instance at the general resurrection, which was to be expected shortly. Other sayings look to the kingdom of God, in which Jesus and his disciples would be prominent. Regarding the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead was held at a very early date, but this belief was not based on the resurrection appearances now found in the four Gospels. The early date of this belief follows from its presence in our earliest sources. Similar belief is implied by the speeches of the first apostles in the earliest chapters of Acts. The tradition that there were resurrection appearances is supported by the fact that all four Gospels report some.
None the less, the resurrection narratives in our Gospels cannot be factual reports, for they do not coincide with each other, and they contain internal inconsistencies. Mark evidently intended to write an account of Jesus meeting the disciples in Galilee (Mark 16:7). Matthew agrees, providing a brief appearance to Mary Magdalene and Jacob's Mary in Jerusalem to reinforce the point (Matt 28:9-10, cf 28.1), and following it with an appearance to the eleven in Galilee (Matt 28:16-20). Luke, however, replaces Mark 's prediction of Galilean appearances with a comment about what Jesus said when he was in Galilee (Luke 24:6-7), and gives two appearances in the Jerusalem area followed by Jesus' ascension, leaving no room for any appearance in Galilee (Luke 24:13-53). This is barely consistent with the story of the ascension in Acts 1:3-12, it is not consistent with Matthew, and it was evidently written with the deliberate intention of contradicting Mark 's tradition of Galilean appearances. Apart from the location, the stories in Matthew and Luke do not contradict each other so much as give an impression of total dissociation, as if neither of them knew the traditions to which the other had access (apart from the story of the empty tomb, which both of them took from Mark ).
John's narrative is different again. As in Luke, there is no command to go to Galilee, and the appearances in John 20 all take place in Jerusalem. The first, to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), goes unmentioned by Luke, and hardly overlaps with the appearance to Mary Magdalene and Jacob's Mary at Matthew 28:9-10. There follows an appearance to the disciples unknown to Matthew (John 20:19-23), barely overlapping with an appearance to the disciples at Luke 24.36. Finally, the appearance to doubting Thomas (John 20:26-29) is unique. John 21:1-23 provides a lengthy appearance in Galilee which barely overlaps with anything in Matthew.
There are many more disagreements in detail. For example, at Mark 16:1, Mary Magdalene goes with Jacob's Mary and Salome to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body. At Matthew 28:1, Salome is not mentioned, and the purpose is to see the tomb. In Luke, Joanna replaces Salome, and as in Mark they bring the spices which they had prepared (Luke 24:1,10). At John 20:1, only Mary Magdalene goes. She brings no spices because the body has already been anointed under the guidance of Nicodemus, who is not known to the synoptic writers (John 19:39-40). At Mark 16.5-8, the women enter the tomb and see an angel, who tells them that Jesus has risen, but they tell no-one, "for they were afraid" (16:8). At Matthew 28:2, the angel of the Lord descends and tells them he is risen (28.6), so they do not need to enter the tomb, and they go and tell the disciples (as we must infer from 28:7-10,16). In Luke, they enter the tomb and two angels appear to tell them that he is risen (Luke 24.2-6), so they tell the eleven and all the others, or the apostles, who do not believe them (24:9-11). In John, Mary Magdelene merely sees the stone taken away from the tomb (John 20:1). She runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, who have a race to get there (John 20:2-4). The beloved disciple looks in, Peter goes in, and the beloved disciple comes to faith before any appearances (20:5-8).
These discrepancies are too great to have resulted from accurate reporting of a perceptible event. Moreover, the narratives attribute teachings to Jesus which he did not give during his earthly life, and which has an excellent "life-setting" (Sitz im Leben) in the early Jesus Movement. This teaching legitimates significant aspects of the later Christian Movement's existence post-Paul. For example, at Luke 24:26 Jesus tells the disciples that the Christ had to suffer. The title "the Christ" was not used by Jesus, but it became central to the philosophy of the Christian Movement of Paul before Luke wrote his Gospel. The suffering of the Messiah became a significant point of dispute (e.g. 1 Cor 1:23), and part of the Christian solution was to see it foretold in scripture. Similarly, the altered "commission" of Matthew 28:19 seemingly authorizes the Gentile mission, and baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Neither of these activities, nor the title "the Son", featured in the ministry of the historical Jesus. The construct and meaning of Matthew 28:19 "The Great Commission" is known to be inauthentic. The Johannine community attributed its crucial confession of the deity of Jesus to doubting Thomas (John 20:28), portraying the risen Jesus as legitimating their faith with his reply (20:29).
It is, therefore, necessary to explain the secondary generation of legitimating narratives, and give reasons why Jesus' resurrection is central to them. Jesus' embodiment of the identity of Judaism was the original driving force. During the historic ministry, Jesus so recreated the prophetic stream of Judaism that from his disciples' perspective he embodied Jewish identity. The ministry of Jesus was formative for the disciples' own identity. Moreover, the tight social bonding of the Jesus movement means that the disciples received constant confirmation that Jesus' view of Judaism was the right one. It was very controversial, suffering vigorous opposition from the orthodox wing of Judaism. The disciples could not now change sides in this dispute. The unjust death of the righteous embodiment of Judaism could not cause them to abandon their identity.
But it seems a long way from not abandoning Jewish identity to belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus' death could have this effect only if the development of belief in his resurrection was in accordance with established cultural features. There were two such features, of which the first may be termed "heavenly vindication".
There is sufficient evidence that Second Temple Jews produced belief in heavenly vindication when their community was under serious threat. The most obvious examples are eschatological ones which first emerged during the Maccabean period. The persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes led the authors of the book of Daniel to predict that within a few months God would deliver his faithful people by supernatural means. The exact calculation was based on sacred numbers, and timetabled so that the persecution would end soon (cf Dan 2:44-5; 7:25-7; 8:13-14, 23-26; 9:2, 23-27; 11:40-12:4,6-7,11-12).
The knowledge that God would deliver soon was produced by the faithfulness of people whose Jewish identity was strongest. Furthermore, monotheism was an identity factor of Judaism. Jews could not give up their faith in God without ceasing to be Jewish. The scriptures told them that if they did not keep the covenant, God would punish them (cf e.g. Deut 8:19-20; 28:15-68; 2 Kings 17.7-23; Jer 7; Ps 78:56-64): this had happened, for hellenizing Jews had abandoned the covenant and severe persecution had followed (later this would be paralleled with Stephen and the Hellenists and Paul's Christian Movement delegitimizing the original Jesus Movement). The covenant also provided for the salvation of the righteous (cf e.g. Deut 7:9-10; Pss 1; 32), and for the Restoration of Israel, particularly when she repented, or when she had been sufficiently punished (cf e.g. Deut 9:25-29; Is 1:24-2.4; 10:20-12; 40:1-11; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 20:40-44; Hos 14).
In this cultural context, the authors of the book of Daniel incorporated a prayer of repentance in Daniel 9, followed by prayer for deliverance. Daniel's prayer leads directly to reassurance from the angel Gabriel. The controlling factor in this response was the community's need for deliverance. Their criteria were visions, or dreams, and scripture. Visions are narrated in Daniel itself. The use of scripture is especially clear in Daniel 9. This begins with Daniel meditating on the 70 years of Jeremiah 29:10. After the invoking of God in the prayer of repentance, Daniel is visited by Gabriel, who gives him details of the 70 weeks, that is, the 70 weeks of years which Jeremiah is understood to have prophesied. The details show how scripture has been interpreted to speak directly to a community in need of deliverance; the 69th week of years was halfway through when the temple was desecrated.
Scripture and visions are also the source of knowledge in 1 Enoch 83-90 and 1 Enoch 91-93, both of which predict the final intervention of God during the Maccabean period. From the orthodox wing of Judaism, the author of Jubilees foresaw a return to strict keeping of the Law: the Lord would heal his servants, and they would drive out their adversaries (Jub 23:26-31). His modes of vindication were by no means purely eschatological. Faced with the slaughter of circumcised children and their parents, he announced the circumcision of the two highest classes of angels (Jub 15:27). He was determined to have the death penalty for unlawful sexual intercourse, and his expanded halakhah prohibited sexual intercourse on the sabbath. The prohibition of sex on the sabbath was, therefore, included in a list of sabbath regulations (Jub 50:8), given to Moses on Mt Sinai. The reinforcement of the death penalty for unlawful sexual intercourse flows from the elaborated stories of Reuben and Bilhah, and of Judah and Tamar (Jub 3:.2-20; 41:8-28). Thus heavenly vindication might include events of the past as well as the future, and it might involve changes in accounts of the patriarchs on earth.
During the Roman period, the same feature is visible in two sub-groups, the Qumran community and the Enoch circle. As well as preserving Daniel, 1 Enoch 83-90,1 Enoch 91-93 and Jubilees, the Qumran community provided a vigorous picture of final deliverance by means of Melchizedek in 11Q Melchizedek. The calculations of the date of the End in some of these works passed without it coming, and the sect's commentary on Habakkuk is a classic example of the faithful reverence with which many Jews have reacted in similar situations.10 In a community of faithful Jews, no amount of distress would cause loss of faith.
Another sub-group produced the pictures of imminent vindication in 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Both documents move from inner convictions in a context of scripture, tradition and visionary revelation. In a profound sense, they were not only writing about the future. They were also vindicating the existence of the orthodox in Israel. At this level, their convictions about God's acts in the future are not significantly different from convictions about past events such as God's rest on the seventh day, a rest which legitimated the observance of the sabbath (Ex 20:11; cf Gen 2:3; Deut 5:15).
These documents have a central feature in common. Jews whose existence or identity were threatened responded by producing new beliefs in modes of heavenly vindication. Some of these referred to past events, such as the circumcision of the highest classes of angels when they were created. Other beliefs referred to current heavenly states: these angels were still circumcised, and they were believed to celebrate the sabbath (Jub 2:17-22). In view of the severe political oppression of Israel, the majority of extant pictures of heavenly vindication have a future reference. These pictures incorporate the most dramatic recent events. They proceeded from an absolute conviction that God would deliver his people, or more particularly the righteous remnant who believed themselves to be the true Israel. These convictions were perceived to be verified from tradition visible in scripture, and from visions.
These two cultural features overlap. The future Davidic king, Abel, Enoch, the Maccabean martyrs, Melchizedek and Michael all underwent new developments which were related to the deliverance of Israel, or of a subgroup within Israel. The Maccabean martyrs are especially relevant. From a situation in which Judaism was split and the righteous were killed, some people produced the belief that their death had expiatory significance and had permitted the deliverance of Israel. The martyrs were also held to have been vindicated by survival in the future life, and this was sometimes believed to have been immediate. The development of past events in this way was not very common, because few events in the current history of an oppressed people were perceived to be salvific, but there was no kind of bar to the positive interpretation of recent events. The consequences of the death of the Maccabean martyrs, like the declaration that the highest classes of angels were circumcised, involved the perceived heavenly reversal of earthly disaster.
One more crucial factor returns us to our main cause, the dependence of the disciples on Jesus for their view of Judaism and thus their own identity. Resurrection is an interpretation of the form of vindication which Jesus predicted for himself. We have seen that, in addition to sayings which assumed his survival and vindication, Jesus made a prediction on these lines: "A son of man will die, and after three days he will rise (qum)." The original reference was probably to the general Danielic resurrection, which was expected to happen very soon. This prediction was eminently capable of reinterpretation. It said nothing of the fate of Jesus' body, and it is so general as to be consistent with the assumption that his tomb was empty and with the assumption that it was not.
We must not exaggerate the degree of reinterpretation which was necessary, and we must keep it in its cultural context. We have seen that when Jews considered the deaths of people whose survival they needed to believe in, they might imagine them transported to their eternal fates at once. Jesus had presented his fate as exaltation after a short interval, and this is what his disciples now knew must have happened. Their belief did not require an empty tomb for its verification, partly because the normative modes of verification were dreams or visions and scripture. Moreover, verification was essential for the identity and existence of the community. If the normative modes were visions and scripture, and the survival of people was not dependent on their bodies disappearing, no-one would be motivated to look for the disappearance of Jesus' bodily remains. He had himself assumed survival without an empty tomb in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), a normal view in that culture, and necessarily taken over by the disciples and applied to him, because only that view would permit the community to continue and life to be understood. Thus we find in our earliest sources that it is precisely resurrection appearances and the witness of scripture that are put forward as proofs.
It should not be held against this that resurrection appearances are different from dreams and visions. In that culture, the difference could be overridden by the need for supernatural legitimation satisfied by all three. The authors of Daniel 7 do not seem to have minded whether Daniel had a dream or a vision, and they put the interpreting angel inside it. Angels could appear as if they were people, and be entertained unawares. We must apply this to the earliest appearances: if people had visions of Jesus, their visions were bound to be interpreted as appearances of the risen Jesus, because this interpretation demonstrated God's vindication of Jesus, and hence his support of the community.
It must be inferred that the story of the empty tomb is secondary. It performs the same legitimating role as in all resurrection narratives of any length. Some Jews did believe that resurrection involved the resuscitation of the earthly body, and this view was functional because of its legitimating role. This is why it eventually became dominant.
We can now work back through the resurrection stories, seeing what they legitimate and what they explain. In John, the new point to be legitimated is the exaltation of Jesus, declared at 20:28, and accepted by the risen Jesus at 20.29. The layout of the clothes, the fact that Mary did not instantly recognize Jesus, and the appearances through closed doors explain that Jesus' earthly body was transformed into a spiritual one. Chapter 21 reinforces this with another episode in which he is not at first recognized, and deals obliquely with the death of the beloved disciple and the delay of the parousia.
Luke's ascension narrative (Luke 24:50-53) explains why resurrection appearances have ceased. Luke 24:36 gives the authority of the risen Christ for the specifically Christian interpretation of scripture. It also explains that the risen Jesus was not just a spirit, an obvious interpretation of the being who had appeared on the road to Emmaus. The appearance on the Emmaus road (Luke 24.13-35) legitimates the later Christian interpretation of scripture, setting non-Christian and doubtful Jews in their place as foolish and slow in heart to believe what was said by the prophets (24.25). The story also explains that Jesus' risen body was a spiritual one: as in John, disciples who knew him might not recognize him.
Matthew's single appearance in Galilee (Matt 28:16-20) concentrates on legitimation of the mission to the "lost sheep of Israel". While the usual commission contains the trinitarian formula and seems to legitimize a gentile mission, we know from many other sources that the Christian version of 28:19-20 is a pseudipigraphic alteration of scripture. It includes baptism, the sonship of Jesus, obedience to his teaching, and his continued presence. The account of the guard at the tomb (Matt 28:11-15) shows that the tomb was empty. An appearance to the women reinforces the Galilean tradition of appearances (Matt 28.9-10). Matthew slips in the information that the tomb was new, Luke explains that no-one had yet been laid in it, and John says both (Matt 27:60; Luke 23:53; John 19:41). All three make clear that only Jesus' body or bones had to disappear for the tomb to be empty, so no-one could have thought that he had risen because they imagined his remains were those of someone else.
Mark 's story of Jesus' burial (Mark 15:42-7) explains that Jesus was really dead. Pilate and the centurion were the best witnesses that Jesus was dead, because they were the authoritative outsiders responsible for his death. A pious Jew was the best owner of the tomb, since he was plausible, none of the disciples had been distinguished or political enough to have got the body, and another person from outside the movement showed that Jesus was really dead and buried. Mary Magdalene and Joseph's Mary saw where he was laid (Mark 15:47), so the women could not have gone to the wrong tomb, In the story of the resurrection (16:1-8), the angel also shows that Jesus' remains had gone from the correct tomb. He points out the part of the tomb where he was laid (16.6), so the women could not have failed to recognize a rotting body and imagined that he had gone from an empty space left for the next one. He also gives the information that Jesus had risen, and legitimates a purely Galilean tradition of appearances (16:7). The women's failure to tell anyone (16:8) explains why the story had not been heard by everyone before. This story as a whole legitimates the uniqueness of Jesus' resurrection.
A conclusion regarding the vindicative resurrection should therefore be drawn. The driving force of early Jesus Movement's belief in the resurrection of Jesus was his embodiment of Jewish identity during the historic ministry. This ensured the disciples' continued belief that God approved of him. Two features of Jewish culture, heavenly vindication and the development of messianic and intermediary figures, enabled this to take the form of believing that God had raised him from the dead. His prediction that he would rise ensured that it did take that form. This belief was legitimated by means of scripture and visions, because these were the normal modes of verifying revelation in the culture of the first disciples. This belief permitted but did not require people to suppose that his tomb was empty. The story of the empty tomb is a secondary development. It originated among disciples who knew resurrection as the normative form of survival after death, and it eventually became normative because it was the strongest form of legitimation.
It is only at this point that pagan beliefs in dying and rising gods become relevant. They show us that a message centered on a person who had died and risen again appealed to a fundamental need of human beings to believe in survival and redemption. The story of Jesus had the great advantage of being the story of a man who had recently been alive. Gentile converts who had previously known ancient myths could consequently perceive a passage from story to truth, a truth constantly reinforced by their religious experience in the life of Paul's Christian Movement.
While Paul’s teachings were used to twist the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion into a human atonement for all sins past & present, the real purpose of Jesus' crucifixion remains the same as the original purpose of his earthly ministry—to bring man into the saving covenant with God (Jer 31:31). Jesus' blood is symbolically the covenant, the original covenant which is poured out for many (in the form of his blood when he was executed).
The covenantal relationship with God is the same as that envisaged by Jesus in his lament in Luke 13:34 & Matt 23:37: "How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it." Because of Jesus' rejection his death is seen by him as a requirement for the means or reestablishing and restoring the original covenant God had made with the people. As table fellowship with Jesus gave sinners (violators of Torah) a preview of God's saving grace, and as obedient disciples coalesced with advancing Jesus' preaching and healing ministry, so now identification with Jesus' death brings Jesus' disciples the hope of fellowship with God at the end-time banquet through the forgiveness of sins.
Irving Zeitlin. Jesus and the Judaism of his Time. Polity Press 1988
Maurice Casey. From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. James Clarke & Co. 1991
Vincent Martin. A House Divided - The Parting of the Ways. Stimulus Foundation 1995
Geza Vermes. The Changing Faces of Jesus. Viking Press 2001