Day before yesterday, I introduced the topic of Yeshua’s self-awareness. Did he know he was divine and Messiah his whole life? The following musings are not about proof, but they might be helpful.
Anne Rice, the famous author of vampire novels, returned to the Catholic faith in 1996. She said she would write only for the Lord from now on and not write vampire novels ever again. In an interview she said, “”I would never go back, not even if they say, ‘You will be financially ruined; you’ve got to write another vampire book.’ I would say no. I have no choice. I would be a fool for all eternity to turn my back on God like that.”
In 2004 she released a book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.It is the first of a trilogy of books about the life of Jesus told in novel form. Anne Rice bases her books about Jesus on the four biblical gospels plus the Gospel of Thomas — which is from the second century and, in my opinion and that of many scholars, has nothing historically to do with the Jesus of history.
In the opening scene of her book, Jesus is seven years old and living in Alexandria, Egypt with his family. This fits into the biblical period when the family of Jesus had fled from Herod.
Jesus is playing and a bully threatens him. Jesus yells angrily at him and the bully falls dead. Jesus feels the power go out of him and he is weak for a moment.
Meanwhile, the other kids cry out, “Jesus cursed him and he died.” The townspeople are afraid of Jesus and know he has power. One father says he is demon-possessed. They demand that Jesus and his family leave Egypt and go back home to Nazareth.
Meanwhile, Jesus sneaks out and goes where the dead bully has been laid. He raises him from the dead, again with power going out from him and leaving him weak.
The Jesus of Anne Rice’s novel doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t know why he has been taught not to call Joseph his father. Later, when he comes to the temple at the age of 12, he says a prayer:
Lord. Lord, whoever I am, whatever I am, whatever I am meant to be, I am part of this, this world that is all of a flowing wonder – like this music. And you are with us. You are here. You have pitched your tent here, among us. This music is your song. This is your house.
The underlying premise of the novel seems to be that Jesus does not know who he is. He only knows that he is different from other children. As the novel progresses, Jesus’ curiosity about his identity grows.
Did Yeshua know who he was? The birth narratives from Luke certainly assume that Mary knew who he was. The angel told Mary she would conceive and Mary asked how that could be since she had not been with a man. The angel answered her in Luke 2:35:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
And we know little or nothing about the childhood of Yeshua. But at age 12, he certainly knew who he was. When his parents could not find him, they came back to the temple. And Yeshua was there. He said in Luke 2:49:
How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
Did Yeshua grow up knowing who he was? If you believe the stories in Luke are true, he did. Instead of praying, as Anne Rice portrays him, “Lord, whoever I am . . .” he more likely prayed the way he did as an adult:
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:5)
What about the idea that there was no clear idea of Messiah in Yeshua’s time? Therefore he could not have thought of himself as Messiah.
Schalom Ben-Choren was a German Jewish scholar who went to Israel in 1935. He wrote the book Brother Jesus which was recently translated into English. In one chapter, Ben-Chorin considers the story when Yeshua asked, “Who do men say that I am?” and then, “Who do you think I am?”
Peter famously answered, “The Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus is not posing an exam question here . . . neither is he asking a sort of Gallup poll question . . . Rather, in this kind of questioning we see the confusion of a person, who deeply implicated in the adventure of faith, is inquiring about his own existence and its mystery. In this exchange he is seeking to know himself . . . I agree with Bultmann who says, ‘I am personally of the opinion that Jesus did not believe himself to be the Messiah.’ (pgs. 105-106).
Was there a strong concept of Messiah in Yeshua’s time? If so, what sort of expectations were there? And did Yeshua see himself that way?
Well, in brief, there was a strong Messianic concept. There were just a variety of ideas about what he would do and what he would be like. There were a number of would-be-messiahs who started mini-revolutions. The Dead Sea Scroll community wrote of two Messiahs: one a king and one a priest.
Those who rebelled against Rome believed to the last minute that Messiah would come and save them. Various pieces of Jewish literature spoke of Messiah-figures, such as the Psalms of Solomon and the book of Enoch.
And did Yeshua know he was Messiah? Did he ever! I would say Yeshua taught us what Messiah is supposed to be. He clearly defined the vision of Messiah all through his work in Galilee and Judea.
I’ll just cite two examples.
John the Baptizer was in prison. He sent a messenger to ask Yeshua, “Are you the one who was to come?” John was disillusioned. Even he thought Yeshua would conquer Rome and reestablish Israel’s independence. Yeshua answered him beautifully in Matthew 11:4-5:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
On another occasion, a man was brought in on a mat for Yeshua to heal. But first he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Some scribes in the crowd objected. And Yeshua’s answer in Luke 5:23-24 is beautiful:
Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He told the paralyzed man, “I tell you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home.
Consider Yeshua’s definition of his Messiahship:
–It was not yet to end Israel’s exile but to cause the kingdom of God to break in now.
–It was not yet to restore Jerusalem but to heal the dying and set free the demon-possessed.
–It was not to lead a revolution but to forgive sins and lead many to repentance.
–It was not yet as a king, but first as a healer and redeemer.
The problem was not that Yeshua did not know he was Messiah. The problem was people needed to learn from God what Messiah would do.
Was Yeshua aware of his divinity and Messiahship?
Not only was he aware, but he entered into conflict with the leaders of his generation precisely over the nature of the Messianic mission. He was executed as a pretender to Messiahship. He was executed as one who claimed divine status and was thought a blasphemer.
An uncertain, weak Yeshua, the one many writers want us to believe in, would have either never been killed or he would have been killed as a revolutionary.
But remember something. It was for religious reasons, not political ones, that Yeshua was arrested by the Sanhedrin. And they then convinced Rome Yeshua was a political threat. But even Pontius Pilate was not convinced. The Sanhedrin tricked him into getting involved in their religious disagreements.
But Richard Horsley is one of those authors who sees Yeshua as a political revolutionary. He says that Yeshua was a prophet calling for social change in Galilee and then when he brought his message to Judea, they killed him.
He says Yeshua formed small communities that practiced healing and exorcisms in Galilee. He wanted to teach people an alternative way of living to following Rome in the path of money and power. Yeshua, says Horsley, came to change society. He says:
Jesus is thus usually seen as (only) a religious reformer, attempting to purify the Jewish religion centered in the Jerusalem Temple. But the Temple, along with its high-priesthood, stood at the political-economic as well as the religious head of Judean society in general and was an integral institution of the imperial order. (Jesus and Empire, pg.166).
In short, Yeshua was a sort of early Marxist starting communities where wealth and power were replaced by the value of love and sharing. I can hardly think of a worse reading of the gospels.
Sure, there were social and political ramifications to Yeshua’s teaching. But his primary conflict with the leaders of his day was about religious matters: Who is God? Who is Messiah? What does God want Israel to do? Whom has God sent to speak to Israel?
Consider Yeshua’s first trial, when he stood before the High Priest. In Matthew 26:63 we read the story. But Yeshua was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
The conflict that got Yeshua killed was not about his helping peasants redefine the economy. It was religious — a question of God and Torah and temple.
So don’t be quick to believe all these historical reconstructions of who Yeshua was.
–If you believe the angel came to Mary and said, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you”…
–If you understand that Yeshua not only knew he was Messiah but even that he taught us what Messiah means…
–If you grasp that it was for religious conflicts that Yeshua was killed…
…then you will believe in a self-aware Yeshua.
We can’t try to understand Yeshua from a scientific point of view. He can’t be psychologized. We don’t have to try to make the mystery of the one who is God and Man and make it understandable.
You don’t have to comprehend love to believe in it.