Simply Jesus: Why other messiahs failed

In chapters 6-10 Wright has been focusing on the what question. What did Jesus say and do? What were the miracles and stories intended to communicate? The answer in a nutshell is:

God’s kingdom, God’s sovereign and saving rule, really is breaking in, on earth as in heaven.

Wright looks at the teachings of Jesus (chapter 8) and makes several observations.

  • Jesus’ stories remind his hearers that the promises of the OT are coming true now, just not in the ways they expected. (storms #2 and #3 in Wright’s Perfect Storm illustration)
  • Jesus’ stories confronted the existing “forces in power”.
  • Jesus’ stories challenged his hearers. Telling them that when God becomes king, laws are not enforced more strictly but hearts are transformed and people are remade from the inside out.

Together the miracles and stories tell us that the kingdom of God and the renewal of all things is both a present and a future reality.

Wright then helps us understand the first century Jewish mindset by giving us the career highlights of four “would-be” messiahs (chapter 9).

  • Judas Maccabeus – led the revolt against Syria during the 160’s BC (Maccabean Revolt)
  • Herod the Great – was proclaimed “king of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. He also defeated Antigonus and the Parthians recapturing Jerusalem on behalf of Rome (39-37 BC)
  • Simon Bar-Giora – led Jewish forces against Rome during the First Jewish Roman War (66-73 AD)
  • Simon BarKokhba – led the revolt against Rome in 132-136 AD (Bar Kokhba Revolt)

Wright then explains that there are two points to take away from this:

  • the people had a set of expectations for the “king of the Jews”. The Messiah/King was expected to come and wage battles against the oppressing powers and free His people.
  • these movements had three phases – (1)The initial proclamation, (3) the future battle and ultimate victory, and (2) the movement in between these two “moments”.

This is why the kingdom can be considered both present (initial proclamation and movement (1 & 2)) and future (the ultimate victory to be won (3)).

For most Jewish people the King was expected to overthrow the occupying powers and rulers and restore Israel’s independence. However, Wright goes on to show that Jesus was fighting a battle that people didn’t anticipate (chapter 10). He fought against a different occupying power and ruler- Satan and the kingdom of darkness. And he fought so that people would be free from his reign. There is an initial proclamation and battle (more on that later) that Jesus fights (and wins), but the final victory over darkness is still to come.

In the video, Wright gives a talk on the Resurrection, which puts these “would-be” messiahs and Jesus in perspective.

you see in the first century AD, and in the roughly fifty years on either side of it, making roughly a two hundred years span with Jesus in the middle, we know of ten or a dozen other Jewish messianic or quasi messianic movements. …

We know what they did, we know the people talked about the kingdom of god, we know that they went about promising their followers signs of salvation and deliverance, and we know that in every other case of which we have evidence those movements came to an end with the violent death of the founder or the key figure.

And if when that happened you wanted to continue the movement then you have a choice quite clear in first century Judaism. If your would-be messiah gets executed by the authorities or otherwise done away with, you have a choice either give up the movement and go live a quiet life somewhere or find yourself a new messiah.

Fascinatingly, for an ancient historian, the Jewish groups that followed Jesus of Nazareth didn’t do either of those things. They continued the movement and they said astonishingly that the recently crucified Jesus was the Messiah and therefore by the way was the Lord of the world …

In chapter 5, Wright asked the question – why would the followers of Jesus claim that Jesus was “both the Davidic king and the returning God”? And why would anyone believe them? I think these questions have to be overlaid with the historic fact that other would-be Messiahs came before and after Jesus. And after reading the stories and accounts of what happened to four of them in Simply Jesus, one must wrestle with these questions – why didn’t the followers of these men claim that their leader was “both the Davidic king and the returning God”? Why didn’t anyone continue the movement they started?

Something had to be different about Jesus. That something was the resurrection.

[Next Post in the Series]

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