Where did the idea of a ‘messiah’ come from? (‘Messiah’ means ‘anointed one’, usually thought of as a king who had been anointed with oil like the great king David.) Deuteronomy 18:15-20 looks forward to the coming of a prophet who will pass on to the people any message from God – they would not hear his voice directly, but only indirectly through prophets. It goes on to say that it was just as important to listen to the prophet as it was to listen to God. The passage ends with a warning against false prophets. However, the most striking thing is the talk about a prophet ‘like Moses’ – and that’s where it links in to the ideas of a messiah.
Moses was a perfect example of a messiah, even though he was never physically anointed. He was, first of all, a Saviour, leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. He was a Leader, whom everybody had to follow. Although there were several rebellions against his leadership, God made it very plain that Moses was his appointed leader. Moses was the law-giver, passing on to the people laws from God which governed their moral life, their religious activities (including the place of worship, the priesthood and the sacrificial system), and also their day to day lives as a nation and as individuals. As law-giver and leader Moses was the judge, the final court of appeal. But the most remarkable thing about Moses was the fact that he spoke to God face to face. In Numbers 12:6-8 God says this: ‘When there are prophets of the LORD among you, I reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD.’
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 predicts the coming of a prophet who would be like Moses – and that meant he was going to be very special indeed. From the time of the Exile the Jews were a subject people, apart from a few years at the time of the Maccabees, until the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948. The idea of a prophet like Moses, with a hot-line to God and the task of bringing about a second Exodus from slavery, was very appealing indeed.
When Jesus appeared on the scene the question at the back of everybody’s mind was whether or not he was the coming Messiah. Although he did not fit their expectations – a carpenter’s son from Nazareth wasn’t what they were looking for – there was a lot about him that made them look twice.
First, there was Jesus’ teaching. Their teachers and preachers explained the Scriptures, usually quoting learned rabbis of the past. Jesus spoke with authority, as if he knew exactly what was in God’s mind. Interestingly, Mark does not say what Jesus taught; we can assume that it was related to his message in verse 17, ‘The time has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news.’
Then there was Jesus’ actions. The people in those days were familiar with demon possession, and there were exorcists who sought to help the patient with medicines (poisonous roots) or through making sacrifices. Jesus just told the demons to go, and they went – they recognised his authority. The people noticed it too, and were amazed. They tied it in with his teaching: he seemed to be speaking and acting with an authority from – where?
Jesus had authority over spiritual beings (demons), every kind of disease, material things like water (turned into wine), bread and fish (multiplied), and the forces of nature (wind and waves). Today he has authority over everything in heaven and on earth. But, just as then, he will not use his authority to enforce obedience. We have to decide for ourselves how much we will obey.
1) What authority does Jesus have in your life? Are there any ‘no go areas’?
2) How can we make familiar teaching more fresh and relevant?