Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Consider Him Who Endured...

The images are engravings by Georges Rouault, from his series called Miserere.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Did Jesus Declare that He was the Messiah?

"Blessed are the cheesemakers?"
Scholars have debated whether Jesus actually declared himself as Messiah or not.  The words of Jesus are difficult, or vague or declared by scholars to be inadequate proof.

And why shouldn't they be questioning this fact?  John reports that the crowds who listened to Jesus were confused as to what he was saying.  There were debates both about what he was saying and about his qualifications to be the Messiah.

Jesus talked much about "the Son of Man", but that title could mean many things and it wasn't completely clear that he was speaking about himself.

Peter called Jesus "the Messiah", which Jesus didn't directly affirm in the book of Mark, and told the disciples not to speak about this.

Demons openly proclaimed him "the son of God" a messianic title, but Jesus told them to shut up.

Jesus accepted titles that declared his Lordship, like "Son of David" or "the Son of God" but he never affirmed them.  Was he just being polite?

All of this is quite confusing, really.  And many other indications, from a critical standpoint aren't absolute, such as later declarations by disciples or claims of fulfilled prophecies which could be interpreted many ways.

I think that the problem is that such scholars limit their scope to what Jesus said and aren't looking at what he did.  Jesus purposefully made his speech confusing, so that it might only be understood in combination with his actions.  What did his actions say?  There are four items that, from a scholarly standpoint, seem affirmed about Jesus' life.

1. Jesus healed
John the Baptist asked Jesus through messengers whether he was the "one" they waited for or not.  Jesus only demonstrated who he was, he didn't speak it.  "They blind can see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the poor have the gospel preached to them."  These are actions that should happen at the center of God's kingdom, the temple.  Instead, Jesus himself was acting like a mobile temple, leaving healing and salvation in his wake.  This is again vague, but to heal is to claim to have the center of God's power on earth, to be the center of God's kingdom.

2. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt
This action wasn't just some strange ritual but was a clear declaration of Jesus' intentions that the leaders and people of Jerusalem clearly understood.  They knew that to enter Jerusalem on a colt with a number of disciples declaring his victory was a clear reference to Zechariah 9-- "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey."  This does not mean that the inhabitants of Jerusalem believed in Jesus because of this fulfillment.  Rather, they would see this Galilean woodworker as an upstart.  However, this action clearly speaks to Jesus' intention-- that he is the king of Jerusalem, the Messiah.

3. Jesus cleansed the Temple
In the first century there were multiple, even contrary, ideas of what the Messiah was.  The term means "anointed one" and there were three offices in ancient Israel in which one could be anointed: King, prophet or priest.  Some declared that the Messiah already arrived in the person of the High Priest, who, for all purposes, acted like a king over the Jewish people.  The real target of Jesus wasn't Herod or the Romans, but the High Priest and his power base-- the Sanhedrin and their representatives through the synagogue system. It was this well-organized, structured theocracy that Rome feared.
          When Jesus entered Jerusalem the day after his colt declaration, he re-ordered the Temple according to love.  The High Priest had approved of money exchange agents to set up their tables within the temple, in the only place where women and Gentiles could worship YHWH.  Jesus got rid of them, making room for true worship.  In changing the High Priest's policy, Jesus was declaring himself the replacement High Priest, the one who can order the temple.  Thus Jesus declared himself the anointed King of Jerusalem and the anointed Priest of Jerusalem.

4. Jesus was crucified
You couldn't just steal something in the Roman empire and get crucified.  When modern translations declare some of those crucified to be "thieves", they give a wrong impression.  You had to be a non-citizen in open rebellion against Rome to be crucified.  These "thieves" weren't just robbers, but they saw themselves as Robin Hood-- bandits in opposition to an oppressive government, targeting wealthy Romans, or Roman supporters.
       For Jesus to be crucified, it means that he was seen to be a rebel against Rome.  None of his actions would seem to be worthy of that.  Teaching, healing, discussing interpretation of the law, even rebuking priests and elders are nothing to be crucified over.  But to declare oneself a king in direct opposition to Caesar's rule is certainly a rebellious act.
      If Jesus' act of entering Jerusalem on a colt is seen as declaring messiahship, if Jesus did make a statement about coming in the clouds of heaven to the Sanhedrin, if he claimed to replace the high priest though his actions in the temple, then there is enough evidence for him to be declared a rebel, and to be crucified.   Certainly it is evidence that Jesus' enemies felt they could say he was declaring himself to be Caesar's replacement.

Once scholars accept these four actions as declarations of messiahship, the rest of the story of the gospels falls into place and all the details make sense, not just as a story but as history.

The Silent Declaration of Jesus

When God announced to Jesus that Jesus was to be the Messiah, the king of Jerusalem, the only ones who heard this announcement was Jesus, John and the spirit world.  No other human knew of God’s announcement, and Jesus did all he could to keep it secret.  Finally, Peter figured it out, and Jesus told them his plans to take over Jerusalem: He would be rejected by the priests, killed and then risen from the dead.  The disciples never understood this part, but they were interested in letting people know that Jesus was the king.  Finally, they got their opportunity at the beginning of Passover week—a Jewish festival.  At the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, the Jesus began to give Jerusalem hints at God’s call for him.

In ancient societies, if a king or emperor went out to war, and then came back to his city victorious, those in the city would spread their coats in front of him and palm branches, giving him honor as he came into the city.  In the prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures, it says that when the Messiah comes to Jerusalem, that he would come on a colt, and everyone would be proclaiming, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

While staying at Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s house one morning, Jesus approached his disciples and said, “Today we are going to enter Jerusalem.”  He turned to two disciples specifically and said, “In the next village we pass by, you will see a young donkey tied up.  Take that donkey, and there will be someone who asks you what you are doing.  Tell him, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and he will let you take it.”  The disciples did as he said, and someone did approach them and he did let them take the donkey after they had said what Jesus told them to.

            Just outside of Jerusalem, the large group of Jesus’ disciples gathered around him.  Many of them placed their coats on the donkey, and Jesus sat upon the donkey, showing his authority over his disciples.  Then he rode the colt into Jerusalem, and the disciples placed coats and palm leaves onto the road in front of him.  All the while, the disciples were shouting out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and “Hosanna in the highest!”

           Some of the Pharisees saw all this, and felt that Jesus’ disciples were claiming too much for him. They came to Jesus and told him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”  Jesus turned to them and said, “If these disciples remained silent, the rocks would cry out instead of them.”

            After the victory parade, Jesus and his disciples went directly to the temple area.  Jesus looked closely at all that was happening in the temple—some were offering sacrifices, some were praying, and in the outer court (where the Gentiles and women could worship) some were buying and selling animals for sacrifices and exchanging Roman money for temple money, so visitors could buy the sacrifices.  After looking at all this, Jesus said nothing, but went back to Bethany that night.

            The next day, Jesus and his disciples returned back to Jerusalem.  Jesus went immediately to the temple, and began knocking down the tables in the outer court, where people were exchanging money. Then he gathered some cords of rope and started whipping the places where people were selling animals for sacrifice.  He shouted out, “This is my Father’s house—a place of prayer for the nations!  But you have made it a gathering place for rebels!”  Many people in Jerusalem saw this and were pleased, and they listened to his teaching.

            This action angered many people.  The ruling priests were upset because they arranged for the selling to go on in the temple court.  Others were upset at the implication that Jesus had the right to enter Jerusalem as a victorious king and then to make decisions about how the temple was ruled.  “Who does he think he is?” they said.