This is the third post working through Jesus the Messiah by Gordon Johnston, Herbert Bateman and Darrell Bock. Read the introduction post to get the gist of their approach to Messianic prophecy, and Johnston’s chapters on the Messiah in the Old Testament. The next section is by, Herbert Bateman on the messianic expectations (or lack thereof) in the intertestamental literature.

Jesus the Messiah in the Intertestamental Literature

Jesus the Messiah intends to “trace the concept of messianism chronologically” (p211), so it makes sense to survey what the Jewish literature between the Old and New Testaments had to say about the Messiah. Bateman has two goals in his section: 1) identify four obstacles that obscure our study of messianism in the second temple literature, and 2) observe the variety of messianic portraits in this literature.

In his first chapter, Bateman points out four obstacles (or as he says, three and then one) that must be overcome to understanding messianic expectation in the second temple period. These obstacles are:

Limited resources.

Despite much being written during the 550-year-long second temple period, the literature that’s useful for reconstructing messianic expectations is limited. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), there were only thirteen relevant documents from this time. The DSS adds nineteen texts or fragments to this list, but it still remains limited.

Blurred vision.

Our understanding of these texts is hindered by two elements: a) our familiarity with the New Testament and b) our distance from Judaism and its way of thinking. In regards to the former, we can read NT teaching about Jesus anachronistically back in to the literature. In regards to the latter, from the early days of the church we have become unfamiliar with Jewish thinking. The early church’s increasing Gentile presence, influence and “polemic against Judaism created a wedge between Christianity and Judaism which resulted in an even greater lack of familiarity with second temple period Messianic expectations” (p215).

A lack of second temple historical and social sensitivities.

In the longest section of the chapter, Bateman reveals that, contrary to common misconceptions, not every Jew yearned for the coming of the Messiah. To understand messianism, we need to know our history. When one surveys the texts and history of the second temple period, it becomes clear that many were indifferent to messianism and expectations became mostly dormant under the rule of the Persians and Greeks (539-164 BC).

It wasn’t until dissatisfaction with the rule of the Hasmoneans that messianic expectations flared up again. In fact, “the earliest literature that speaks of an expected ‘messiah figure’ dates from after 150 BCE when Jonathan, the first Hasmonean, came to power” (p241). Next came the Romans, and in a great line from Bateman, “though Hasmoneans evoked the flames of messianic expectation, Rome managed to create a full brush fire.” (p241).

The final obstacle is left until a final paragraph.

It is a lack of interest in the literature and mindset of second temple period.With all this in place, in the next three chapters Bateman surveys “anticipations of the one called messiah” (ch. 9), “anticipations of the one called branch and prince” (ch. 10), and “anticipations of the one called son” (ch 11). It is impossible to survey the content of these chapters, but the takeaways are as follows.

Please read the remainder of this review here.

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