Let Us now inquire what were the Messianic beliefs current among the Jews in the time of our Lord's ministry, so far as they can be learned from the Gospels. And the inquiry embraces two points: first, their beliefs respecting the person of the Messiah; second, their beliefs respecting His work. A brief consideration of the names given Him will help us as to both these points.
It should first be noted that there was at this time a wide-spread expectation among all classes that the Messiah would soon come. It may be that this was awakened by the new relation into which the nation was brought by its subjection to the Romans, regarded as a fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy. And the appointment of Herod, an Edomite, to rule over them, naturally recalled to mind the promises respecting the Messiah. But we may rather refer this expectation to the working of the Spirit of God upon the national mind, preparing the people for the work He was about to do. Thus we are told that when the Baptist began his ministry, "the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not." (Luke iii. 15.)
The designations of the promised Redeemer as found in the Gospels, are, " The Messiah" or "The Christ," — both terms meaning "The Anointed," — " The Son of David," "The King of the Jews," "The Son of God," "He that should come," or "The Coming One," "The Prophet," and "The Saviour of the world."
When the Jews sent the deputation of priests and Levites to ask the Baptist, "Who art thou?" he replied, "I am not the Christ." "Why baptizest thou, then, if thou art not the Christ?" Andrew said to his brother Peter, "We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ." At Peter's second confession he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." When Jesus was at Jerusalem at a feast, and taught, the people said, "Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? . . . When the Christ cometh, no man • knoweth whence He is. . . . When the Christ cometh, will He do more miracles? . . . Others said, This is the Christ; but some said, Shall the Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the Scripture said that the Christ cometh of the seed of David?" "The Jews had agreed that if any man did confess that He was the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue." On one occasion they said, "If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." Martha said, "I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." The Jews at Jerusalem said, "We have heard out of our law that the Christ abideth for ever." At the Lord's trial the high priest said, "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." One of the points in the accusation before Pilate was, " that He said that He Himself is Christ, a King." The rulers deriding Him on the cross, said, "Let Him save Himself if He be the Christ, the chosen of God." In the same spirit, the malefactor says, "If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us."
Not only to the Jews was this title familiar, but to the Samaritans also. Thus the Samaritan woman said, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ." (John iv. 25, also verse 29.) And the Samaritans said, "We know that this is indeed the Christ." This term was also used by those possessed of devils. "Devils came out of many, crying out and saying, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, ... for they knew that He was the Christ."
Another title in common use was "The Son of David." On the healing of one possessed, the people were amazed, and said, "Is this the Son of David?" Thus was He addressed by the Syro-Phoenician woman: "O Lord, Son of David." And in like manner by the blind men: "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David." The multitude on His entry into Jerusalem cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David." The Lord in a question to the Pharisees gives the two designations, — " How say they that the Christ is David's Son?"
Equally common was the title "Son of God." After a storm on the Sea of Galilee, His disciples said, "Of a truth, thou art the Son of God." When hanging on the cross, those that passed by said, "If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." The centurion said, "Truly this was the Son of God." Unclean spirits fell down before Him, and cried, saying, "Thou art the Son of God." In the wilderness He was so addressed by the tempter, "If thou be the Son of God." At His trial the judges asked, "Art thou the Son of God?" and demanded of Pilate His death, because "He made Himself the Son of God." This name is several times used in union with that of the Christ. Thus, in the adjuration of the high priest, "Tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." In the confession of Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." In the confession of Martha, "I believe that thou art the Christ, the son of God."
The name "King of the Jews" is less frequently found. It was used by the Magi: "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" And by Pilate: "Art thou the King of the Jews?" Pilate used it also in the inscription on the cross, " This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." At His entry into Jerusalem, some cried, saying, "Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord." The chief priests, mocking Him on the cross, said, "If He be the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross." It is sometimes joined with other names. Nathaniel said, "Thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel." The Jews accused Him before Pilate that He affirmed "Himself to be Christ, a King."
The name of " Son of man," though continually used by the Lord of Himself, was not used by others, and was strange to the popular ear. On one occasion the people said, "How sayest thou, the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?" The name "He that should come," or "the Coming One," was used by the Baptist: "Art thou He that should come?" And the Lord said, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." And the people said at the entry into Jerusalem, " Blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord."
Apparently it was believed that the Christ would be also a "Prophet;" but in some instances the two terms are contrasted. When the deputation to the Baptist asked Him "if he were the Christ, or Elias, or that prophet," they must have intended to make a distinction. When the Lord asked the disciples, "Whom do men say that I am?" they replied, "Some say, John the Baptist; some, Elias; others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." (So Herod also, Matt. xiv. 2.) And in a discussion of the Jews respecting Him, some said, "This is the prophet; others said, This is the Christ." Yet in some cases the title prophet is clearly a Messianic designation. After the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, those present said, "This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world;" and they desired " to take Him by force, and make Him a King." At the entry into Jerusalem, the multitude said, "This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." The disciples at Emmaus spoke of "Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in word and deed before God, . . . and we trusted that it had been He that should have redeemed Israel." The name of "Saviour of the world " was given Him only once, and, what is most remarkable, by a Samaritan woman. (John iv. 42.)
It is probable that these names were used with much indefiniteness, but some general conclusions can be drawn from them as to the current Messianic beliefs in regard to His person. That of "Son of God" may have indicated a Divine origin and a supernatural character, a Sonship in kind unlike all other; yet it may be questioned whether it had in fact more than a theocratic signification, indicating one who was pre-eminently the Son, the first and chief among the sons of God. In this sense it is equivalent to prince or ruler of His children.
The name "Anointed," — the Messiah, — the Christ, — applied both to the high priest and the king, pointed to Him as one who should receive the fullness of the Spirit in fulfillment of Isaiah, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him." (xi. 2.)
The name "Son of David " proves that faith in the Davidic covenant had not failed, and that one of Jesse's line was expected to re-establish the kingdom, and be King over Israel. The scribes and priests agreed in their answer to Herod, that He should be born at Bethlehem, David's city. The people when discussing His birthplace said, "Hath not the Scripture said, that the Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" It is not in contradiction to this belief that others said, "We know this man, whence he is; but when the Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence He is." In this declaration of ignorance as to the origin of the Messiah, we find an echo of the utterances of the Book of Enoch respecting Him as " the concealed One." This would not exclude His birth at Bethlehem, but merely affirmed that at His appearing as a deliverer, no one would know whence He came.
The name "Son of man" as used by the Lord of Himself, declared both the reality and the fullness of His humanity, One in whom all men found their representative, and who could be the Lord and Head over all. The name "Prophet" indicated One who should express the mind of God, and be the organ for the utterance of all His will, as was Moses of old. It was clearly the popular belief that the Christ would not only be king, but also prophet.
From all this we may draw the general conclusion that the Jews as represented in the Gospels were looking for one to come of the house of David, that He would be a man endowed with prophetic and miraculous powers, but not a supernatural being.
We note, second, the Jewish beliefs as to the work of the Messiah. It is said of Anna the prophetess, that "she spake of the child to all them who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." (Luke ii. 38.) And of the two disciples at Emmaus, that they " trusted that it had been He that should have redeemed Israel." (Luke xxiv. 21.) What were the elements that entered into the conception of this redemption?
It cannot be doubted that the first and most prominent element in the popular mind was national deliverance. As a people specially called to the service of God, freedom to do His will was an indispensable condition of such service. To be under the bondage of the heathen was wholly inconsistent with Jehovah's rule over them. And such deliverance had been continually held up by the prophets as a work to be effected by Jehovah or by the Messiah: "A King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely." (Jer. xxiii. 5, etc.)
But such deliverance from the yoke of their oppressors, and the restoration of national independence and unity, were not all that was embraced in the promised redemption: the higher element was salvation from sin. And all who had any spiritual perception of their covenant relations to Jehovah, knew that there must first be restoration to His favor; and that this could be only when the people manifested a spirit of repentance, and readiness to fulfill all the obligations imposed on them by the covenant. All who had eyes to see the departure of the people from God's ways, and the greatness of their transgressions, knew that they must be morally prepared for their deliverance: they must first be cleansed from the guilt of sin. But how this would be effected by the Messiah, they had very indistinct apprehensions. Others, and the larger part, who had no sense of the national transgressions, and of their own spiritual condition, and felt no need of cleansing, but trusted in the works of the law, thought only of political deliverance to be effected by some great acts of Divine power in the destruction of their enemies, — mighty judgments executed by the Son of David. As the people of the covenant, all were to be regarded as holy; and a separation by the Messiah of the evil from the good was apparently not thought of as necessary or possible.
We must distinguish here between the opinions of the people, and the knowledge given through the words of the angels and through the utterances of those inspired by the Spirit. The angel who announced to Zacharias the birth of a son, declared that he should "turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord;" and should fulfill what was spoken of Elias, "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." The angel sent to the Virgin Mary declared that to her Son "the Lord would give the throne of His father David, and that He should reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there should be no end." To Joseph an angel declared that the name of the Virgin's Son should "be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." To the shepherds the angel said, "Unto you is born in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." Additional light as to the Divine purpose in the Messiah was given also through the utterances of the Spirit. Mary refers to His birth as the beginning of the fulfillment of the promises to Israel: "He hath holpen His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy, as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to His seed for ever." Zacharias prophesied wholly in the manner of the Old-Testament prophets: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David." This redemption was primarily a national one, as appears from what follows: "that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us, . . . that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear." But as a condition of this deliverance was the remission of sins. The Baptist should go before Him and prepare His ways, "to give knowledge of salvation unto His people in the remission of their sins."
The words of the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," were doubtless the special utterance of the Spirit, and not the expression of general belief; and showed the close spiritual relation of his own preparatory work of baptism to that to be wrought by Him who should bear the iniquities of all. How far the Baptist understood his own words, and foresaw the cross and the resurrection, we need not ask. (Matt. xi. 2, etc.)