A Law-Giver and a Deliverer

It was prophesied that One like unto Moses would arise (Deut. 18:15; cf. Acts 3:22; 7:37), and it was generally recognized that the Messiah would be that Mighty One to come to Israel.  Moses was a great law-giver and a great deliverer; the Messiah would be the great Law-giver, and the great Deliverer.  Because biblical prophecy uses the imagery of royalty, as evidenced by the words in bold in the prophecies above — Sceptre, government, ruler, King — some believed that at his coming the Messiah would deliver them from political bondage.  However, such royal prophecies would find fulfillment in the Messiah’s second coming rather than his first; in His eternal, rather than his mortal, role.  He came to earth at first not to fight for political deliverance, but to die to provide spiritual salvation.  Said Jesus, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  Old and New Testament authors understood that He came at first not as a ruler, but as a servant, even a suffering servant.  Jesus, as Messiah, was to suffer before entering into his glory (see Luke 24:26; Acts 3:18).  The mortal Messiah was portrayed by Isaiah as one reviled and rejected, rather than ruling and reigning.  He came to give a higher Law than that given on Sinai, and provide Deliverance far greater than escape from the bondage of Egypt.

Different Reactions to Jesus as Messiah

During the Seminar on Christ in March of 1990, the question was more than once raised and discussed, “Did Jesus actually claim to be the Messiah?”  Professor Dubois responded, “We cannot know the psychology of God.  It is not clear.  There is a difference of opinion among Christians.”  Professor Flusser, who has spent many years studying Jesus and Christian teachings and practices, greatly respects Jesus the Jew. “He is greater than Hillel, Shammai, and Gamliel,” the professor explained, and, as an aside, he told the audience what he has said more than once to his Christian friend, Professor Dubois: “Jesus is my master and your God.”

However, concerning Jesus as Messiah, Flusser reiterated what he has elsewhere written, “Jesus did not come to Jerusalem to proclaim his Messiahship.  One of the crucial problems which cannot be solved is whether Jesus saw himself as the Messiah.  Many Jewish scholars tend too simply to take this for granted.  The New Testament documents lend support to the view of Christian scholars that Jesus did not regard himself as the Messiah [?!].  In what concerns us, suffice it to say that Jesus may have thought he was the Messiah.”(5)   And Professor Baumgarten responded: “It’s not clear what claims of divinity Jesus made for himself.  It is clear that later followers made him the Messiah.”

It is a fact that Christians must put a lot of trust in the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), that they accurately reported the things Jesus said, and what he claimed to be.  The Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth is plainly affirmed in the New Testament.  Isaiah’s Messianic foreshadowing of the Anointed One was recited and fulfilled by Jesus himself in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19).  When the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well acknowledged, “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ,” Jesus responded, “I that speak unto thee am he” (John 4:25-26)  Simon Peter testified, “Thou art the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), and Andrew, his brother, announced, “We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:41).  Even devils are reported to have testified, “Thou art Christ the Son of God” (Luke 4:41).  And John summarized his purpose in writing with the simple declaration, “these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

Two issues of the Biblical Archaeology Review have presented some intellectual and religious polemics focused on the historicity or authenticity of the New Testament documents.  Professor Helmut Koester wrote in the March/April 1995 issue an article entitled “Historic Mistakes Haunt the Relationship of Christianity and Judaism,” in which he said, “It is a simple historical fact that Jesus was an Israelite from Galilee, and that he understood himself to be nothing else but a prophet in Israel and for Israel.”  To that a reader responded in the next issue, “One cannot possibly read the Gospels and come away with the impression that Jesus thought of Himself as a mere prophet.


(6)  Professor Koester in turn replied by stating that “Biblical scholarship has known for more than a century that the Gospels of the New Testament are not direct transcripts of the teaching and ministry of Jesus.  Rather, they are the result of a long development of traditions about Jesus in the early Christian churches.  Study of this process of transmission, which eventually — after about half a century — resulted in the composition of written Gospels, has demonstrated that very few words of Jesus have been preserved in their original form” [which is, likewise, the conclusion of the controversial “Jesus Seminar,” a gathering of 200 biblical scholars which met through the 1990s; they, too, saw the necessity of expunging from the New Testament all passages that speak of Jesus having some exalted status, as Messiah, Son of God, light of the world, bread of life, Savior, and so forth].
 
Another reader refuted the suggestion of Professor Koester: “Since when does a mere prophet forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12), preside on judgment day (Matthew 7:21-23; 19:28), claim to be Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28), accept worship (Matthew 14:32-33; John 9:38), parade his Davidic royalty (Mark 11:1-10), announce his superiority to the Temple and to Solomon (Matthew 12:6, 42), invite but refuse to decline the suggestion that he is the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30), offer his life as a ransom for others (Mark 10:45), proclaim that he, as the Son, is the only way to the Father (Matthew 11:27) and promise his second coming (Mark 13:26-27; 14:61-62)?”  To that Professor Koester responded: “critical New Testament scholars concerned with the question of the historical Jesus are generally not willing to ascribe most of the verses quoted . . . from Matthew, Mark and John to the historical Jesus.”(7)

Thus the scholarly circumlocutions continue.  People believe what they want to believe.  What we have shown here is that the Hebrew prophets did describe in advance the role of the Messiah, and they wrote, centuries before he would come, about his life and teachings — things he would both do and say.  His disciples — probably during, and certainly after his mortal life — affirmed in writing what they saw and heard.  Latter-day Saints, and many other Christians, accept those testimonies as far as they have been transmitted and translated correctly.

Latter-day Saint Witness of Jesus as Messiah

Latter-day Saints believe in additional scriptural commentary brought forth in our own day which plainly answers the question of Jesus’ Messiahship.
 
From a fuller record of Moses’ teachings we learn that God taught Adam and Eve from the beginning that the Messiah would come to redeem humankind.  He was called the “Only Begotten” and “Son of Man” and “Jesus Christ,” meaning “Savior Anointed” (Moses 5:7-11; 6:52-57).  God taught Enoch that the “Messiah, the King of Zion” would die on a cross (Moses 7:53-55).
 
Nephi, one of the early prophets of the Book of Mormon record prophesied and wrote:

Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah, who was rejected by them; and unto the convincing of them that they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come, for there should not any come, save it should be a false Messiah which should deceive the people; for there is save one Messiah spoken of by the prophets . . .  

For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets . . . his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err.  And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt . . . there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved (2 Nephi 25:18-20).

 Endnotes

1     Norman K. Gottwald, A Light to the Nations – An Introduction to the Old Testament.  New York: Harper and Row, 1959, 275.

2     Jacob Neusner, trans., Tractate Sanhedrin [99a], Chapters 9-11, vol. 23c of The Talmud of Babylonia: An
       American Translation (Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1985), 141.

3    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 121, emphasis added.


 

4     Brochures in the possession of this writer, from Shorashim – Jewish Studies Center of the Israeli Government
       Ministry of Education and Culture.

5     David Flusser, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, Tel Aviv: MOD Books, 1989, 18.

6     Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1995, 16.

7     Ibid., 17-18.