Mark's Gospel

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The Messiah

The Jews, humiliated by foreign occupation, looked back with deep nostalgia to the days of independence, and especially to the most glorious period of their history, the reigns of David and Solomon.

The prophets had taught that their God was the God of history who controlled the destinies of the nations, and it was a crushing blow to their belief when, in 586 BC the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, destroyed God's Temple and carried off the 'chosen people' into exile. This could only mean either, that the gods of Babylon were stronger and more effective or, that the present disaster was a well deserved punishment for the sins of the nation. God, however, was faithful, would not abandon His People; they remembered the promise of Moses, 'The Lord your God will raise up the prophet from among you like myself and you shall listen to him' (Deuteronomy 18:15). God would finally intervene in human affairs to restore Israel to her rightful place of supremacy among the nations of the world. A day would come in which God would establish His Kingdom on earth.

There was a wide diversity of belief about the manner in which God would intervene, and there was no uniform official version, but the main features of popular belief were:

  1. God would appoint a vice-king, a Messiah (anointed one) who would be His instrument and whose main function would be to prosecute the Messianic War against the enemies of God and of His chosen people.

  2. The wicked world would be destroyed and the faithful Jews of the Diaspora (those who lived outside Palestine) and their Proselytes (converts) would return to Palestine.

  3. Jerusalem and its Temple would enjoy renewed prosperity and splendour.

  4. The reign of the Messiah would inaugurate a period of perfect happiness during which the glory of Israel would be restored and God's justice would rule over the entire world.

  5. The Messiah would be born of the stem of Jesse i.e. a descendant of David.

This teaching about the final events of the end of the world is given the technical name of eschatology. A popular view was that the Messianic Kingdom would last for a thousand years and would come to an end with the direct intervention of God. The present universe would pass away and there would be a new creation of heaven and earth.

The coming of the Messiah

In the time of Jesus, the coming of the Messiah was awaited with intense expectancy, and the Gospels themselves give evidence of this. Thus, 'The people were on tip-toe of expectation, all wondering about John, whether perhaps he was the Messiah' (Luke 3:15).

Again, when John sent messengers to Jesus early in the ministry, their question was, 'Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect some other?' (Luke 7:19). John 6:15 records that after the miracle of the loaves and fishes Jesus became aware that 'they meant to seize him and make him King'.

To the overwhelming majority of Jews the life and death of Jesus presented a picture of the Messiah which was completely different from that of the traditional Messiah. They expected a Messiah who would fight against the enemies of God and the oppressors of His people, and after a military victory reign in splendour over the whole earth. Some Jews believed that the Messiah would be more than merely human, and this idea was closely related to that of the 'Son of Man'. Originally, 'Son of Man' was only a poetic expression for 'man'. Later Jewish belief held that the Son of Man stands mid-way between God and Man, that he existed before the creation of the world, and his relationship with God is as close as could be held consistent with belief in the one true God.

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