NT Background – Messianic Expectations in the Intertestamental Period



There are a number of assumptions that Christians often bring to the New Testament in relation to the idea of Messiah. It is often assumed that ‘Messiah’ was already a well-known title with a clearly-defined content. In fact, the word that is translated with either Messiah or Christ in both the Old and New Testaments is actually an adjective meaning anointed. Who was anointed in ancient Israel? The two main figures were the high priest and the king. God’s anointed thus refers first and foremost to these figures. Thus in 1 Samuel 24:6 we find Saul referred to as Yahweh’s anointed. By extension, it came to be used of other figures who, like the priests and kings, were chosen by God and set apart for a particular task. Thus one finds the surprising but not unintelligible use of ‘anointed’ in reference to Cyrus in 45:1.



Other passages:

Daniel 9:25-26 [masiah nagid = an anointed one, a leader (v25); v26 = Onias III, who lost everything and went into exile during the time of Antiochus?].

The Lord’s Anointed: king Saul (cf. 1 Sam 12,16,24,26); the king in Psalms as well

1 Chron 16:22 = prophets?

Zec 4:14 – king & priest?

Isa 45:1 = Cyrus (but to whom is it referring in Isa 61:1?)


Thus, on the one hand, we’ve changed the meaning by turning ‘Messiah/Christ’ into a title or almost a name, whereas it is a transliteration of the words found in the Bible, where the meaning of the original is ‘anointed one’. On the other hand, even among the Greeks the meaning would not have been as apparent as among Jews, and so ‘Jesus Christ’ became almost a double name even in the early Church.



Differing expectations:

Two messiahs at Qumran – priest and king


Psalms of Solomon – national, human king

- Source of expectation = OT, but relatively few passages with clear expectation (cf. Jer. 23:5-6; Isa.9:7)

Importance of this political figure (& religious – false dichotomy) seen in the revolutionaries and messianic figures that we saw existed in this period in Israel’s history. The crises of the Maccabean era, the desecration of the Temple, the end of independence yet again and the misrule of Roman officials all, one after another, cried out for the need for clear, authoritative, powerful leaders. Some continued to hope; others gave in to cynicism.


1 Enoch – heavenly, transcendent Son of Man

How literally is this language and imagery taken?(It is, after all, apocalyptic!)


Who is this “Son of Man”?

- broad meaning of phrase: a human being (is found used in reference to Adam!), ‘someone’. cf. Matthew 9:6-8; perhaps also 12:8,32?

- In Aramaic : ‘I’? In Aramaic, the phrase ‘that man’ could be used instead of ‘I’ in certain instances. It has been suggested that ‘son of man’ could be used in the same way. There are places in the Gospel where one version has ‘I’ and another version as ‘Son of Man’: cp. Matthew 10:33 and Luke 12:8

- in Daniel : a human individual, an angel or a symbol? [Students read Daniel 7 to see how the vision is interpreted in the book itself. It is clear who the one like a son of man represents, even if it is not immediately clear whether he does so as an individual human or angelic or as a symbolic figure]

- in subsequent apocalyptic literature - Messiah, a specific individual, although even at this stage it is not a title. 1 Enoch, for example, uses ‘That son of man’, and so it presumably means something like ‘that human figure mentioned in Daniel 7.


Why did Jesus reply to Peter’s confession of him as Christ with a statement about himself as Son of Man? [Not already filled with other connotations, less open a declaration (note the Messianic secret theme in Mark), able to fill it with his own meaning]



Prophet like Moses

See Matthew; The Ten Commandments and Jewish tradition concerning Moses.

Parallels with extra-Biblical legends about Moses’ birth:

- Angel appears to father in a dream

- Astrologers foretell birth of deliverer; Pharaoh/Herod seized with fear

- Killing of male infants to prevent birth of redeemer

- Moses seeks shelter outside Egypt/Jesus’s family runs from ‘king of the Jews’ to Egypt (irony!)

- After death of Pharaoh/Herod, Moses/Jesus returns to homeland


Leads in to our topic for next time: Biblical interpretation in the Judaism of NT times.

Use of OT in NT

Problem of Fulfillment of Prophecy in Matthew 1-2 (apologies to Biblical Interpretation students)

What is the relationship between the way Matthew uses these passages and their original contexts?


1:22-23            &  Isaiah 7:1-8:18

2:15                 &  Hosea 11:1-7

2:17-18            &  Jeremiah 31:15-17

2:23                 &  ?


What conclusions can we draw about the way Matthew is reading and interpreting these passages from the OT? Does he take texts out of context and make them ‘pretexts’? Or does he have presuppositions and some underlying logic so that his use of the OT would have made sense to him and his contemporaries and been recognized as intelligible and legitimate?


Isaiah 7 – seems in its original context to refer to the birth of a son either to the prophet or to the king. Which of these is more likely is hard to say. At any rate, the LXX translated the Hebrew word that means ‘young woman’ with a Greek word that more clearly means ‘virgin’ in the strict sense. This opened the door for Matthew to regard the text as having to do with Jesus. But regardless of this point, the main point was that Jesus more than any other child born in history was a sign from God that he is with his people.


Hosea 11 – Perhaps Matthew wanted to emphasize that in Jesus the history of the people of Israel is recapitulated. This is a theme that is clearly found in the temptation narrative, where Jesus (like Israel) goes into the wilderness. There he is confronted with the same temptations as the people of Israel in the wilderness, except that he obeys, giving the answers that the Book of Deuteronomy says Israel ought to have given.


Jeremiah 31 – Here too Jesus’ recapitulation of Israel’s history might be what made this passage seem applicable to Jesus. The presupposition that the people of Israel are still in exile may also have played a role. Jesus participates in Israel’s exilic situation and their suffering, but he is at the same time the sign that their time in exile is coming to an end and that God will bring comfort to his people.


How did Jesus & his first followers understand the ‘Servant Songs’ in Isaiah? Who are they ‘really’ about? How if at all are they applicable to Jesus? How is applying these passages to Jesus different from Matthew applying the passage you read from Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:24 to Jesus?




Messianic hopes without a Messiah?

Certainly in later Rabbinic literature, the focus of Jewish expectation is a ‘Messianic age’ rather than an individual human ‘Messiah’. While there seems to have been a large amount of agreement on certain points, such as the fact that the twelve tribes would be reassembled, Jerusalem and the Temple would be restored to their former glory and purity of worship, and the Gentiles would be either subjugated, destroyed, or converted. However, it seems that not all Jewish groups hoped these things would be brought about through the means of a human figure like a Davidic king. As N. T. Wright puts it speaking about Messianic expectations in general: “Expectation was focused primarily on the nation, and not on any particular individual” (NTPG p.319).




Jesus’ understanding of his own Messiahship was different from what people were expecting. Jesus was the first to interpret the Messiah in relation to Isaiah, suffering servant, etc. This was not an obvious link to make, and so it is a bit unfair with the benefit of hindsight to criticize Jesus’ contemporaries for not understanding what we take for granted. Even Jesus’ closest followers had a hard time getting their minds around what Jesus told them on the subject. Thus for us, while background is important, it also highlights what is most important, namely the distinctive, unique way that Jesus interpreted what it meant to be the Messiah.

Yet there is still a connection – were this not the case, we might have a hard time figuring out why Jesus and his followers used the term at all! The messianic salvation would be the end of exile. This is what Jesus understood himself to be bringing about, even if he understood it to be accomplished not by throwing off the Roman yoke, but by accepting the full weight of God’s sentence on his people as their king, savior, and representative.



 1 Enoch Chapter 46

1 And there I saw One who had a head of days,
And His head was white like wool,
And with Him was another being whose countenance had the appearance of a man,
And his face was full of graciousness, like one of the holy angels.
2 And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things, concerning that 3 Son of Man, who he was, and whence he was, (and) why he went with the Head of Days? And he answered and said unto me:
This is the son of Man who hath righteousness,
With whom dwelleth righteousness,
And who revealeth all the treasures of that which is hidden,

Because the Lord of Spirits hath chosen him,
And whose lot hath the pre-eminence before the Lord of Spirits in uprightness for ever.

4 And this Son of Man whom thou hast seen
Shall raise up the kings and the mighty from their seats,
[And the strong from their thrones]
And shall loosen the reins of the strong,
And break the teeth of the sinners.

5 [And he shall put down the kings from their thrones and kingdoms]
Because they do not extol and praise Him,
Nor humbly acknowledge whence the kingdom was bestowed upon them.
6 And he shall put down the countenance of the strong,
And shall fill them with shame.

And darkness shall be their dwelling,
And worms shall be their bed,
And they shall have no hope of rising from their beds,
Because they do not extol the name of the Lord of Spirits.


Psalms of Solomon 17:35-47

…The Lord himself is his king and his hope;

he is mighty through his hope in God.

He will have mercy on all those nations who fear him,

He will subdue the earth forever with the words of his mouth.

He will bless the people of the Lord with wisdom and joy.

He will be free of sin, in order to command numerous peoples,

Reproaching their leaders and destroying sinners by the force of his word.

Relying on his God, he will not weaken,

For God has made him mighty through the Holy Spirit,

And wise through counsel and intelligence, combined with strength and justice.

He is powerful in his deeds and strong through his fear of God.

He feeds the flock of the Lord in faith and justice

And he will not allow them to grow sick in their pasture…

This is the glory of the king of Israel

Whom God has appointed over the house of Israel in order to correct them.