Jesus: Rescue and Renewal (part 1)
Jesus had gone about Palestine announcing that now, at last, God’s kingdom was arriving. The message that the ancient prophecies were coming true, that Israel’s story was reaching its destination at last, that God himself was on the move once more and was about to rescue his people and put the world to rights.
The messiah was thought to be YHWH’s anointed, the king in waiting. Those who were expecting a messiah were expecting him to fight the battle against Israel’s enemies – specifically, the Romans. He would rebuild, or at least cleanse and restore, the Temple. He would bring Israel’s long history to its climax, reestablishing the monarchy as in the days of David and Solomon. He would be God’s representative to Israel, and Israel’s representative to God. We see someone who tried to mold himself into this exact image in the person of Simeon ben Kosiba. Central to his aim was to rebuild the temple and thereby place himself in the long line: David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Judas Maccabeus, Herod…all kings of the Jews, all Temple builders or temple restorers. For that to happen, he would have to fight the ultimate battle against the pagan forces.
So, why did Jesus’ followers hail him as Messiah? He had led no military uprising, nor did it look as though he would do so. He did not always act like this kind of messiah, but did point to various signs that he was some kind of messiah (even pointing out that John was the Elijah to come who would pave the way for the messiah). But nobody in this period supposed that that Messiah would have to suffer, let alone die. Indeed, that was the very opposite of normal expectations. The messiah was supposed to be leading the triumphant fight against Israel’s enemies, not dying at their hands. (This points out the disciples’ disbelief at Jesus’ pronouncements of his suffering and death.)
Jesus seems to have combined the idea of the Servant as messiah but would also be a sufferer. As Jesus’ studied the scripture, he allowed his study to shape his sense of what he had to do. His task, he believed, was to bring the great story of Israel to its decisive climax. The long range plan of God the creator – to rescue the world from evil and to put everything to rights at last – was going to come true in him. His death, which at one level could rightly be seen as an enormous miscarriage of justice, would also be the moment when, as the prophet Isaiah had said, Jesus would be wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53.5). God’s plan to rescue the world from evil would be put into effect by evil doing its worst to the Servant – that is, to Jesus himself – and thereby exhausting its power.