CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY - THE DOCTRINE OF GOD - by the Rt. Rev. ARTHUR C. HEADLAM C.H., D.D. Bishop of Gloucester ; Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford ; formerly Professor of Dogmatic Theology in King's College, London, and Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford. First Published: Oxford University Press, 1934. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


| HOME | << | The fulfilment of prophecy :- Ancient and modern views | The destiny of Israel | Its international mission | The King of the House of David :- The Anointed of the Psalms | The later Jewish hope | The Christian fulfilment | >> |

THE first point we shall discuss is Christ as the fulfilment of Jewish expectations. The name Jesus Christ, or as it was originally Jesus the Christ, means that Jesus was the Christ or the Messiah who was expected by the Jews. Our study then of the meaning of his life must begin with the Jewish expectations which he claimed and the Christian Church claims that he fulfilled.
The most satisfactory work on the relation of Christianity to the preparation in the Old Testament is The People of God, by H. F. Hamilton, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1912). See also Inspiration, Being the Hampton Lectures for 1893, by W. Sanday (London, 1893); A. Nairne, 'The faith of the Old Testament ', in the Divine Library of the Old Testament.


When we approach this question, we are met with a serious difficulty which arises from the difference between the old and new fashioned views on the fulfilment of prophecy. We are all acquainted with the way in which it used to be customary to prove from prophecy that our Lord was the Messiah. He himself had said search the Scriptures, and his disciples from the beginning searched the Scriptures to the best of their capacity and according to the best exegetical methods of the day. They found a large number of passages which seemed to them to apply directly and obviously to him. For instance in the words 'They made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death' « Isa. liii. 9. they found a prophecy of the burial by Joseph of Arimathaea. 'Neither shall ye break a bone thereof' « Exod. xii. 46; John xix. 36. suggested the events of the crucifixion, as also did the words 'They shall look unto him whom they have pierced', « Zech. xii. 10; John xix. 36. and 'They part my garments among them, and upon my vesture do they cast lots'. « Ps. xxii. 18; John xix. 24. The words, 'I called my son out of Egypt' « Hos. xi. i; Mat. ii. 15. clearly seemed to describe the flight into Egypt.

All these are instances of the way in which the early Christian Church found that the Old Testament testified to Christ, using the Bible in the way in which men of their time used it. In the Patristic period we find the same method employed in an even more exaggerated manner. Readers of Athanasius for example will remember how he finds a prophecy of the crucifixion in the words 'All day long did I stretch forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people', « Isa. Ixv. 2; Rom. x. 21. because our Lord's hands were stretched out on the Cross. We need not multiply instances. The early Church took passages without regard to their context, often in an incorrect translation, with no reference to the conditions or meaning of the words when they were originally spoken, and in that way found every incident important or unimportant in the life of Christ foretold.

This then was the traditional way in which the Messianic expectations and the proof from prophecy were discovered, and naturally when more scientific methods of study were introduced such a use of texts was criticized. An inevitable result was to make some critics begin to doubt the whole Messianic idea. It was said that if only you read your Old Testament in an historical fashion, you could find very little that was Messianic in it. The Christ of the Jews it was asserted was largely an invention of post-Christian times. As a matter of fact you will find a curious inconsistency in criticism. There have been broadly speaking two schools. There have been those who have said that the idea of the Messiah was read into the Old Testament in order to justify the claims of Christ. Passages were found which seemed to harmonize with the events in his life, and therefore the fulfilment created the prophecy. On the other hand another school has argued that most of the events narrated in the Gospels were mythical, and that they were imagined in order to find a fulfilment of prophecy. The existence of these two schools, which are clearly mutually inconsistent, may suggest that there is a more correct interpretation of the facts.

To what extent then does the Messianic idea really exist in the Old Testament? What was the relation of our Lord to the Old Testament? We shall have to answer these questions by conducting our investigations in a different fashion from that which we have described. Our methods must be historical and scientific. We must trace the history and growth of ideas, and must interpret the words of the Old Testament in accordance with the conditions under which they were spoken, and the thought which they inspired. On one point we must be clear, the belief in the Messiah must be older than the misuse of texts. Neither of these incorrect methods of interpretation could have created the Messianic idea. It was because the Jews expected a Messiah, because there was a general belief that he would come, that the expectation was found erroneously in so many passages. Passages would not be misapplied in the way that many of these prophecies have been misapplied, unless there were already existing a belief to inspire the misapplication. It is the fact of the expectation which causes the misapplication.

Let us then study the Old Testament and see how this belief grew up.


The first point that I would ask you to notice is that the , people of Israel are looked upon in a marked and peculiar way as the chosen people of Jehovah, and as chosen for the fulfilment of God's purpose in the world. 'Hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb.' « Isa. xliv. 1-2. Now that belief rises like all Old Testament beliefs out of ideas which were common to the peoples of the ancient world. The religion of Israel had its origin in the beliefs, customs, and practices of the surrounding nations, and the problem is: how did it come to pass that starting in that primitive fashion they rose to heights far above those which any of the nations around them, or any of the nations of antiquity attained? It is here that the interest of books like Frazer's Folk-Lore in the Old Testament or Robertson Smith's The Religion of the Semites lies. Both works show us how the institutions, customs, and beliefs of the Jews start on the level of the nations surrounding them, and these put before us the question to which we desire an answer. What is the explanation of that exceedingly remarkable fact that starting from such an origin the people of Israel developed a spiritual teaching which was far higher than the religious beliefs of all the more civilized nations of the world? The fact of its humble origin does not take away from the inspiration and value of this teaching of the Old Testament.

Now if you had had some acquaintance with the inhabitants of Moab or Ammon, you would have found that each of these countries had its own god. They believed that their land was the peculiar possession of that god; and that they were his particular favourites. In its origin then this idea was not peculiar to Israel. Israel was the particular possession of Jehovah according to primitive ideas, in a way that other nations were the possession of other gods. But when we investigate the development of the idea we find a remarkable difference. The nations around never grew out of their narrow idea that their god, Chemosh or Moloch, or whatever he might be was anything else than a god belonging to them alone. They never grew above the stage of fetishism or superstition. They never reached anything approaching a true Monotheism. The people of Israel on the contrary gradually learned to look upon Jehovah not as the God of Israel, but as Jehovah the God of the whole earth and in quite a different way they looked upon themselves as the possession of Jehovah. Then their land became desolate, they were carried away into captivity, their national life was destroyed, but their spiritual belief was stronger. Instead of the misfortunes of their country having the effect, as might naturally be expected to have happened, and as probably did happen in the case of many of the nations around, of making them disbelieve in God, it made them believe in him in a higher way. His care for Israel acquired an immense moral significance. It was not that he protected them from their enemies or made them strong or powerful. That, they found, was not his purpose for them. They began to speak of themselves as a people whom God could love. They were to become holy in reality as well as in name, that is to say their conception of their relation to God became a moral one. Afflictions purified their beliefs instead of destroying them. And so as the history of Israel advanced they more and more came to look upon themselves as the chosen people, the elect of God, the people whom he had selected for his purpose. You will find a series of prophecies which look forward to a future restoration and a future hope for Israel, and the hope tends more and more to become spiritual.

A good instance of this ideal hope is presented by the concluding portion of the prophecy of Zephaniah. The heathen are to be destroyed, the dispersed are to be gathered together. Evil is to be removed: 'I will take away out of the midst of thee thy proudly exulting ones, and thou shalt no more be haughty in my holy mountain.' « Zeph. iii. 11. The ideal is a religious one: 'I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies.' « Ibid., 12, 13. They will rejoice in the love of God: 'Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. ... The Lord thy God is in the midst of thee, a mighty one who will save: he will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.' « Ibid., 14-17. The people of Israel will be 'a name and a praise among all the people of the earth'. « Ibid., 30. There is in this passage no personal Messianic expectation. It represents the hope of Israel for its restoration and the fulfilment of its ideal, and the ideal is fundamentally spiritual and moral.


Then secondly this life is connected in certain aspects with the other nations of the world. Israel has an international mission. The germs of this idea appear in the promise to Abraham in the book of Genesis: 'And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great. ... And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' « Gen. xii. 2, 3. Or, as I believe it ought to be more correctly translated, 'shall bless themselves'. And again in a later passage: 'Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him' « Ibid., xviii. 18. or 'shall bless themselves in him'. Now for our purpose it does not matter whether these words were actually spoken to Abraham and date from his time or whether they express later beliefs. We are not concerned with tracing the historical growth of these ideas, what does concern us is the actual existence of the belief. Probably these words express the conception of the destiny of Israel which had grown up in the days of the monarchy. Somehow or other the belief prevails that the people of Israel are chosen for a great purpose in relation to the rest of the world.

The conception that Israel is to be a blessing for the whole earth appears in various forms in the Prophets. The most significant is the well-known one, the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah. I am not now concerned with the date of this passage. In all probability it dates from a period shortly after the return from exile or even during the exile. It belongs to a period of hopefulness. Some modern critics would put it later, possibly in the time of Nehemiah, and some I have no doubt in the Maccabean period, both in my opinion times when it was impossible such a conception should prevail. But it is not important for us to know when this passage was written. The important thing is that the people of Israel had the belief that they were a light to lighten the Gentiles.

'Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. ... Nations shall come to thy light and kings to the brightness of thy rising.' « Isa. Ix. i, 3. There seem to have been two thoughts. Some looked forward to a time when the Gentile world should become the slaves and ministers of a glorified Israel; 'The sons of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet.' « Ibid., 14.

But there were others who looked upon the restored Jerusalem as the source of blessings for the nations.

'And many nations shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge between many people, and shall reprove strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.'
Mic. iv. 2, 3.

Here you have a quite definite belief that not only is Israel to be glorious among the nations, but that blessings for other nations shall come from Israel. This is all the more remarkable when you remember also another characteristic of Israel – its exclusiveness. They looked upon themselves as 'the people' and all other nations as 'no people'. Set in relief by that exclusiveness you have prophets of Israel rising to the conception that the restoration of Israel is to be a glory and blessing for the whole earth.


Then thirdly this ideal future is associated with the house of David and a king of the house of David. The Lord has not only made a covenant with Israel, he has made a covenant with the house of David. It is I think important to get a clear idea of the function of the reign of David in the religious history of Israel. It was the beginning of their national history. For the first time they played an important part among the nations, and it gave the people an ideal. Once in the past they had been a great nation, and so their expectations for the future centre round the restoration in some form or other of the house of David. During the monarchy it was believed that the Lord would never forsake David. 'Thine house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.' « 2 Sam. vii. 16. Then you find the great future of Israel associated with the house of David. 'Once have I sworn by my holiness; I will not lie unto David; His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.' « Ps. Ixxxix. 35, 36. In the earlier form of this prophetic expectation the greatness of Israel is associated not with a particular member of the house of David but with the house itself. So in Amos : 'In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof. . . . And I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel ... and I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.' « Amos ix. 11-15. There is a very remarkable passage also in Hosea: 'For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod or teraphim: afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall come with fear unto the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.' « Hos. iii. 4, 5. It is difficult not to believe that this passage is pre-deuteronomic. Then there are several remarkable passages in Jeremiah, « Jer. xvii. 25; xxii. 4; xxxiii. 15-17. 'There shall enter in by the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David', 'In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgement and righteousness in the land'. I doubt if it is necessary to think that in such passages the prophet thought of a lineal descendant of David. It was rather that in the reign of David the ideal of the Hebrew monarchy seemed to have been attained and so the highest expectations of the future were described in language associated with the greatest deeds of Israel's history.

And then finally we get the definite expectation of an individual. That is put perhaps most clearly in a well-known passage of Micah. « Mic. iv. and v. I have already quoted the words which describe Jerusalem as the central city not only of Israel but of the whole earth, and the glory of its kingdom; then there comes a passage which shows us that the prophet has in his mind a definite, if ideal kingdom, and a definite ruler.

'But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.. . . And he shall stand, and shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.'
Ibid., v. 2, 4.

Still more remarkable are the expectations which are to be found in the Book of Isaiah in certain well-known passages. « Isa. vii. 14 – 17; ix. 6-7; xi. A maiden shall conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel. A child will be born to sit on the throne of David; he shall be called Wonderful, Councillor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, with the spirit of wisdom and understanding. He shall judge with righteousness and equity. 'The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.' Now we cannot say that the prophet had any conception of the way in which his words would be fulfilled. He wrote from the point of view of his own times. What I would ask you to notice is that he does look forward to the coming of an ideal king, through whom Israel shall fulfil its destiny, and that that figure is spiritual. If we have not the full conception of the Messiah we have something very nearly approaching it, and something more spiritual than later ages were able to conceive. Clearly a great conception was growing up in Israel. There is to be a king who shall sit on the throne of David, that is, who will be the ideal monarch of Israel. He is to be in a particular relation to God. 'I will be his Father and he will be my Son.' He is to reign by God's appointment and in God's name. His function is to do God's will and to rule in righteousness. In his time all men will honour God and live according to God's law, and so God will bestow on the world perfect peace and happiness.
There is one point which should be mentioned concerning many of the passages I have quoted. A school of Old Testament critics is of opinion that the Messianic passages in the earlier prophets are interpolated. Perhaps they would rather put it that when the works of the pre-exilic prophets were edited from much scattered fragments after the exile, there were mixed up with genuine remains passages of a later date. These passages they would hold represent the Messianic ideal which grew up in the time of Zerubbabel, associated with the house of David. There is a good deal that is unsubstantial in this speculation, and I do not feel by any means attracted by it, but for our present purpose it matters little whether these passages are pre-exilic or post-exilic. We are not concerned with the history of Messianic expectation among the Jews. What we are concerned with is that there was this distinctive Messianic hope long before the days of our Lord. Of that there can be no doubt at all. The canon of the prophetic writings was completed before the end of the third century before Christ and very probably a century earlier, and by that date the writings of the prophets existed in much the same form as we possess them at present. The passages that I have quoted represented the traditional belief of Israel, and of that we may feel certain, however various the opinions that critics may have formed of their date.

Then finally I would refer to the Messianic expectation of the Psalms, which probably represent a somewhat later form of the idea. I think three of them will be sufficient for our purpose. There is first of all the second Psalm which is specially important as from it later phraseology was derived. The term Messiah is not used in its technical sense in the Old Testament but it has its source in it, almost certainly in this Psalm: 'The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed.' « Ps. ii. 2. Then later in the Psalm comes the passage on which more than any other was probably based the expression the Son of God. 'The Lord said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee', « Ibid., 7. and further on 'Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way'. « ibid., 12. These two names, the Messiah or the Anointed and the Son of God, became in later Judaism the technical and official method of describing the expectation of the Jews. So the High Priest in the Sanhedrin formally asks Jesus: 'Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?' « Mark xiv. 61.

Then in the 72nd Psalm we have the picture of the ideal King who shall judge with righteousness. This no doubt was the normal form of the highest aspirations of the Jews, and was combined with the picture of the King of the house of David in the 89th Psalm. Then finally in the 110th Psalm we have the passage which suggested the use of the term Lord as applied to the Messiah, 'The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.'

Whatever may have been the original meaning or application of these Psalms, they helped to build up the picture of the glorious rule of the Messiah, the anointed of the Lord, which became the hope and inspiration of Israel in all its disasters and misfortunes.


We now come to the later Jewish hope, and we shall see the definite formularization of the Messianic expectation which became part of the ordinary creed of the orthodox Jew.

During the time of the Maccabees the Messianic hope seems to have been little prominent. The rulers were not of the house of David, and no doubt to many of the Chasidim this seemed a fatal defect. To refer to the great Messianic passages would be hardly courteous, and there seems to have been an attempt during the reign of John Hyrcanus to create the idea of a Messiah of the house of Levi. Moreover the thoughts of the mass of the people were concentrated on the actual struggle with Hellenism, and always in periods of worldly success and prosperity ideal hopes are less prominent. The failure, however, of the Maccabean rulers in the first century before Christ, the coming of the Romans and the overthrow of all intelligent national hopes dissipated the dreams of a normal national life and the Messianic expectation became stronger.

It took two forms. One is that contained in that section of the Book of Enoch called the Similitudes, a section which may be dated with some confidence to the first half of the first century before Christ. There you have a description of the coming of the Messianic kingdom. The writer sees a vision of

'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. ... This is the Son of Man who hath righteousness.'
Enoch xlvi. i, 3.

He comes to execute judgement on all. There will be a resurrection of the dead. The books of the living are opened. All judgement is committed to the Son of Man. He will rule over all, he will sit on the throne of his glory, which is God's throne. He will judge angels and men, and particularly those who oppressed the saints. The wicked will be cast into a fiery furnace. The kings of the earth will be tortured in Gehenna. The sinners and the godless will be driven from the face of the earth. The Son will slay them by the word of his mouth. The righteous shall have eternal life. The Elect One shall dwell among them. They shall be as angels and shall grow in knowledge and righteousness. The Son of Man is called the Elect One, the Righteous One, the Messiah. « Ibid., xlviii. 10; lii. 4; liii. 6. Whether our Lord himself was acquainted with the Book of Enoch we cannot perhaps say with any certainty, but undoubtedly it was present in the minds of many when he preached and taught.

The other form of the expectation is to be found in the Psalms of Solomon sometimes called the Psalms of the Pharisees, a work which dates from the latter half of the first century before Christ.

'Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the Son of David, in the time which thou, O God, knowest, that he may reign over Israel thy servant; and gird him with strength that he may break in pieces those that rule unjustly. ... He shall judge the nations and the people with the wisdom of his righteousness. ... He shall purge Jerusalem and make it holy as in the days of old. So that the nations may come from the ends of the earth to see his glory, bringing as gifts her sons that had fainted, and may see the glory of the Lord, wherewith God hath glorified her. And a righteous being and taught of God is he that reigneth over them; and there shall be no iniquity in his days in their midst, for all shall be holy and their king is the Lord Messiah. '
Ps. Sol. xvii. 23-36.

In these two descriptions we have represented the two forms which the Messianic belief gradually appears to have acquired. The one, the eschatological, is contained in the Book of Enoch. When all the strength of Israel had failed, when the national hopes had been destroyed, when there was no human success possible for the people, the belief in the supernatural power of God to help them grew stronger and stronger. The expectation grew of the Messiah, the Son of God, who was believed to have been described by Daniel, coming down from heaven at the end of days and establishing the Kingdom of Heaven with supernatural power.

But there were others who still clung to the ideal of the earthly monarch – a righteous king who would sit on the throne of David, who would govern with justice and equity and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. This is depicted for us in the Psalms of Solomon. No doubt there were other forms which the belief might take, but these two striking passages are sufficient to show us the hopes which prevailed in Israel at the time of Jesus of Nazareth.


We have now to consider the relation of this Jewish expectation to the Christian interpretation.

When our Lord came there was a widespread expectation of the coming of the Messiah. It had its roots in the Old Testament, and was interpreted according to the spiritual and intellectual standpoint of different individuals. This expectation contained the following elements: first the hope of the kingdom of God, the revival of the theocracy, the establishment of God's rule in some form or other, at any rate the freedom of the Jews from the oppression of the Gentiles. It was to be a righteous kingdom.

Then secondly it was associated with the figure of the Messiah, who was conceived broadly speaking in two different ways. According to one he was a righteous king of the house of David, who would rule an earthly kingdom with power and righteousness. According to the other conception he was a heavenly being, the Son of Man, who would come down from heaven with power, who would bring to an end this present evil dispensation and inaugurate the heavenly kingdom. No doubt these two conceptions were mingled in many minds, and it is not contended that any hard and fast line can be drawn between them.

Thirdly, this conception was often at any rate associated also with the Gentile world. Either the Jewish people would rule over the Gentiles or there would go forth from them a light to lighten the Gentiles. It would be a kingdom established not for the good of the Jews only, but for the good of the whole earth. The peoples of the world would be brought nearer to one another. As Isaiah or some one quoted in Isaiah said:

'There shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria ... Israel shall be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth: for that the Lord of hosts hath blessed them, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.'
Isa. xix. 23 – 25.

How widespread was this belief in the coming of the Messiah may be gathered not only from the Messianic passages in Jewish literature, but also from the many stories in Josephus of Messianic movements and from the witness of the New Testament to the opinions and thoughts of the people with whom our Lord came in contact.

This Jewish conception did not include all the elements of hope in the Old Testament. In the first place it had no reference to the prophetic idea. Based upon a well-known passage in Deuteronomy « Deut. xviii. 15: 'The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.' there had grown up the expectation of the coming of a great prophet like Moses, and this idea had become very prominent in the early Maccabean period, as is shown by two interesting episodes. When the great altar of Jerusalem had been desecrated by heathen sacrifices, the question arose what should be done with the sacred stones which had been defiled. It was decided that they should be deposited in a convenient place until a prophet should arise who should say what should be done with them.
1 Macc. iv. 44-6. 'And they took counsel concerning the altar of burnt offerings, which had been profaned, what they should do with it: and there came into their mind a good counsel, that they should pull it down, lest it should be a reproach to them, because the Gentiles had defiled it: and they pulled down the altar, and laid up the stones in the mountain of the house in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to give an answer concerning them.'
The other episode was the formal appointment of Simon Maccabeus high priest and ruler of the Jews. In the deed of appointment it is said that he and his family should hold that position until a prophet should arise.
1 Macc. xiv. 41: 'And that the Jews and the priests were well pleased that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet.'
Of this prophetic expectation there is no trace in the current Messianic hope. That seems to have been confined to the kingly ideal.

Secondly there is no evidence of any doctrine of a suffering Messiah. In contemporary Jewish literature the Messiah is always a king and a conqueror. Neither the disciples nor the Jews in the Gospels had any such expectation, nor as far as we know is there any evidence previous to Christian teaching that the servant of the Lord, still less the suffering servant, was ever interpreted of the Messiah. No attempt to find any Jewish expectation of a suffering Messiah has been successful. In later times Rabbinical theology taught of two Messiahs, a son of David who was victorious, and a son of Ephraim who fought and suffered and was killed, but that I think was an afterthought devised for the controversy with Christianity. In the Targum of Jonathan much is made of the suffering servant, but it is definitely interpreted of the Jewish nation, and other references are late. « A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Schottgen, Horae Hebraicae, ii. 360-6. There was then, I think, no doctrine of a suffering Messiah.

Thirdly, there was no doctrine associated with the Messiah of atonement or redemption through him. There was indeed a desire and expectation of such a redemption, but the idea of the Messiah being a sacrifice for sin had no existence.

Fourthly, there was not commonly any expectation that the Messiah would fulfil the priestly ideas of the Old Testament. We cannot indeed say that there was none, because in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, an apocryphal book which goes back perhaps in its earliest form to the time of John Hyrcanus, there seem to be references to a Messiah of the house of Levi who glorified the functions of the priestly office. The Maccabees being of the house of Levi, a Messiah of the house of Judah was not popular at that time, and this priestly Messiah appears to have been devised by a courtier of John Hyrcanus to suit the conditions of the time. But normally there was no such expectation.
See The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Test. Levi, ii. 11. 'And by thee and Judah shall the Lord appear among men saving every race of men'; Test. Levi, viii. 11-14, cn- xviii. 2 sq.: 'Then shall the Lord raise up a new priest. And to him all the words of the Lord shall be revealed; and he shall execute a righteous judgement upon the earth for a multitude of days. ... And in his priesthood the Gentiles shall be multiplied in knowledge upon the earth, and enlightened through the grace of the Lord: In his priesthood shall sin come to an end." I have made use throughout of Charles's text and translation, but I do not feel that the problems of this interesting and curious book have been solved. (The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, translated from the Editor's Greek text by R. H. Charles, London, 1908.)

How then did Christ fulfil this Jewish expectation? He undoubtedly thought of himself as the Messiah, but he spiritualized and universalized the current Messianic belief. The Jews expected a kingdom. He announced that the kingdom had come, but taught his followers to realize that his kingdom was not of this world. It meant the fulfilment imperfectly here, more perfectly hereafter, of the will of God. So also he took away from the conception of the Messiah any idea of worldly conquest. His kingship was to be over the hearts of men. So also he spiritualized the eschatological hope, and the fantastic dreams of the apocalyptist were transformed into the hope of everlasting life. And as he taught the fatherhood of God over all mankind, it was inevitable that his Gospel would be for all mankind, and therefore the larger Jewish hopes for the Gentiles would be fulfilled.
Jesus started from the current Jewish expectation and reformed it, but he also enlarged the scope of the Messianic hope. We cannot understand his teaching unless we realize that he conceived himself as fulfilling the whole of the Old Testament. He had not come to destroy but to fulfil. He had come to fulfil all righteousness. He showed therefore how the Messiah summed up all the different forms of expectation in the Old Testament. The Jews expected only an anointed being, the Christian Church looks upon our Lord as Prophet, Priest, and King. He was the prophet whom the Jews expected, that is, he realized in its most complete form the Jewish conception of the prophet as the revealer of God. So he comes also to fulfil the ideal of victory through suffering, which had been the highest conception of the prophets of the Old Testament, which was partially realized in Israel and was completely realized in Christ as an example of all that was highest in humanity. By giving his life as a ransom for many, by the sacrifice of his death, there was to come that purification from sin, that redemption and atonement which had always been associated with the inauguration of the Messianic reign of righteousness. He thus both fulfilled and transformed the sacrificial ideas of the Old Testament. And so the Christian Church when cut off from Jewish sacrifice, and when the temple had been destroyed, found in him the typical high priest, who as victim and priest alike fulfilled the priestly and sacrificial ideal. Israel had developed a religion more spiritual than that of any nation of the ancient world, and Jesus fulfilled as he claimed to do all the varied thoughts and anticipations they had created.

We can now compare the two ways in which the Messianic expectation and fulfilment can be considered. The old view saw in isolated passages of the Old Testament the exact anticipation of events in our Lord's life and sometimes spoke of prophecy as history written before the time. We cannot now do this. We cannot use these passages of the Old Testament as many of them have been used, nor can we say that the prophet spoke with any conscious knowledge of the things which were to come. But there is a great fact in history. A nation grows up with a belief in its divine mission, with the hope and expectation that there will be for it a higher and for the most part spiritual future, and it associates this expectation with the figure of the Messiah, the Anointed King, the Son of God. Then this expectation is fulfilled, not indeed as was expected, but in a higher and more spiritual fashion, for Christ fulfils in himself all the spiritual ideals of the Old Testament. Now what does this imply? There is, I think, no reasonable doubt of the reality of the expectation. There is no reasonable doubt of the reality of the fulfilment. What does this sequence of events mean? It may be argued that the expectation created the fulfilment, and to a certain extent this is true. The Jewish preparation on all its sides was one of the causes of the development and spread of Christianity, and many would argue that this was just what was intended to be its purpose. But how comes it that there is this very wonderful spiritual expectation and equally wonderful spiritual fulfilment? Our answer must depend upon the ultimate view which we form of the meaning and purpose of human history, but we may reasonably hold that this remarkable sequence of events is capable of the interpretation which the believing Christian will put upon it, that here we have the purpose of God working for the redemption and sanctification of the world.

I will conclude this stage of our investigation with an extract from Dr. Sanday's Bampton Lectures on Inspiration which seems to me to sum up our argument well:

'But when once we introduce this providential disposition of events, we understand other things which apart from it would be dark to us. Take, for instance, that wonderful phenomenon of Messianic Prophecy. It is now seen that it is a mistake to suppose that the prophets that prophesied of the Messiah had definitely before them the Birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, and His life in Galilee and Judaea, and His death on Calvary. What they saw was something arising out of, suggested by, the circumstances of their own time, an ideal figure projected into the future, and, as probably they may have thought, the immediate future. No one of the figures thus imagined adequately corresponds to the real Birth and Life and Death of Christ. They need to be combined, and a key by which to combine them has to be sought. How are we to bring together those two parallel lines of prophecy, which exist side by side in the Old Testament but nowhere meet, the ideal King, the descendant of David, and the ideal Prophet, the Suffering Servant of Jehovah? What have two such different conceptions in common with each other? They seem to move in different planes with nothing even to suggest their coalescence. We turn the pages which separate the New Testament from the Old. We look at the figure which is delineated there, and we find in it a marvellous meeting of traits derived from the most different and distant sources, from Nathan, from Amos, from First Isaiah, from Second Isaiah, from Zechariah, from Daniel, from the Second Psalm, from the Twenty-Second, from the Sixty-Ninth, from the Hundred-and-tenth. And these traits do not meet, as we might expect them to do, in some laboured and artificial compound, but in the sweet and gracious figure of Jesus of Nazareth – King, but not as men count kingship; crowned, but with the crown of thorns; suffering for our redemption, but suffering only that He may reign.'
Sanday, Inspiration, pp. 404-5.

<< | top | >>