Can a Dead Messiah Be the Real Messiah?

We may be surprised to discover that not everyone was wondering if Jesus could be the Messiah as he went around teaching and working miracles. When Jesus asks the disciples who people think he is, notice what does not make the list:

Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”
30 But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. Mark 8:27-30 (NLT emphasis added)

Why did “Messiah” not make the list of who people thought Jesus might be? Jesus was not fitting their expectations for a Messiah. Jesus was going around teaching and doing amazing love focused things. But he was not building an army. A Messiah was expected to prepare for and lead a revolution, a rebellion against Rome, not a revolution of the heart.

Expectations also come into play during the week before Jesus’ execution. The week begins with Jesus clearly and loudly declaring that he is the Messiah by the way he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. And Jesus could not be more clear before the high priest:

Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 Jesus said, “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61-62 (NLT)

The high priest, of course, does not agree that Jesus could be the Messiah, and neither do the crowds shouting “crucify him” at the instigation of the religious leaders (Mark 15:9-14). The people are expecting a revolution and some kind of shock and awe from the Messiah. Wasn’t that what the Old Testament promises were pointing to? Shouldn’t the Messiah be like Moses and the splitting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the enemy armies? Never mind destroying the enemy, standing before them was a seemingly weak and pitiful man in the custody of the enemy. Then he was executed. The suffering and death of Jesus seemed to be a contradiction of the what the Messiah was expected to be about.

Who was right? Jesus, or the religious leaders and crowd?

When looking at expectations, we should recognize that Jesus himself, on several occasions, tells clearly and also insinuates that he is to suffer and die. (See 8:31, 9:30-32; 10:32-34; 12:1-12; 14:8; 14:17-25; 14:27-31). At his arrest, Jesus makes an important observation about this suffering and death:

Jesus asked them, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? 49 Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there among you teaching every day. But these things are happening to fulfill what the Scriptures say about me.” Mark 14:48-49 (NLT emphasis added)

As we read about the death of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, we begin to see how much a suffering Messiah is intricately connected with the Old Testament. There are quite a number of references and allusions which help us make the connection between the death of Jesus and the promises of the Old Testament Scriptures:

  1. In Mark 15:24 there is an allusion to Psalm 22:18: “they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
  2. In verse 26 the inscription “King of the Jews”points us to the prophecies of a coming king.
  3. Bible scholars teach that verse 33 and the darkness coming over the land points us to “the Day of the Lord” spoken of in Joel 2:10; Amos 8:9; and Zephaniah 1:15.
  4. In verse 34 Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1.
  5. In verse 38, immediately following the last breath of Jesus which is the most significant moment in Mark up to this point, the curtain of the temple tears from top to bottom. This is symbolic of the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a New Covenant and a new way of relating to God.
  6. In verse 42, the mention of the Day of Preparation reminds us that all this is happening on a significant Jewish holiday, the Passover. We can think of the words “when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). A just and holy God must bring judgement against sin. However, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. The whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament therefore points to the Messiah.

All this goes to show that the suffering and death of Jesus is not a contradiction of the Old Testament promises, but part of the fulfillment of them.

Following Easter the disciples were very certain that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and that the Old Testament Scriptures were pointing to him as Lord and Saviour. How were they so sure? And how can we be sure? One simple reason: Jesus rose from the dead. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, they would most likely have admitted that the religious leaders and the crowds were correct. Instead, they were willing to die for what they knew to be true. While we do not have time to unpack it all here, from a historical perspective there are good reasons for us today to believe Jesus rose from the dead. We do not just hope it is true despite the evidence. We can have hope, knowing that it is true based on the evidence.

Further, Jesus reinforced to the disciples following his resurrection how he is the fulfillment of the OT promises:

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27 (NLT emphasis added)

No doubt Isaiah 53 would have been a part of that, and I encourage you to read it.

Who was right? Jesus, who said he was the Messiah? Or the high priest, religious leaders, and crowd shouting for his execution? Could a suffering and dead Messiah be the real Messiah? Here is our answer: only a suffering, dead, and risen Messiah could be the real Messiah.

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Would Jesus Have Been Betrayed, Condemned, Denied, Mocked, and Beaten Today?

Betrayed, accused, condemned, denied, mocked, insulted, and beaten. Would this treatment of Jesus prior to his execution have happened today? Let us consider this question as we follow the path to crucifixion as told in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus was betrayed by a close companion and disciple; Judas (14:43-46). Mark does not tell us why Judas betrayed Jesus, but in John 12:2-8 we learn that while Judas seemed concerned over waste, as treasurers often are, he was really more concerned with padding his own pockets. Jesus did not fit his agenda. So Judas kept to his agenda and sold Jesus to the authorities for a sum of money. Would this have happened to Jesus today? Jesus is betrayed by people, even Christians, who prefer to set and keep their own agenda. Jesus is betrayed today.

Jesus was accused by authorities bent on finding evidence against him (14:55-59). However, there was none that would hold up. Eventually they use Jesus’ own words against him since there was no other evidence to be found. Apart from his own admission of being the Messiah, the authorities could find nothing. Would a conspiracy against Jesus have been made today? Authorities still try to find evidence against Jesus. There have been many books written (and therefore much money made) featuring this or that theory as to who Jesus “really may have been”. However,  evidence against the reality of Jesus as Lord and Saviour is still hard to find. In fact the diversity of such theories is evidence in itself that none of these theories fits the evidence well. Often the simplest explanation is the best. The explanation that Jesus is the Messiah who died and rose from the dead fits all the evidence the best. Jesus is often dismissed, not because of the evidence, but because people simply do not want it to be true. There are conspiracies against Jesus today.

Jesus was condemned by the highest religious authority (14:63–65). Here we have a religious leader, the High Priest, who should have been pointing people to Jesus as God’s Messiah, pointing at Jesus and calling him a fraud instead. Would this have happened to Jesus today? Unfortunately, some who call themselves Christian leaders today view the Bible as being unreliable regarding the identity and reality of Jesus. I once took a multi-denomintainal pastoral care course where only two out of the six of us believed that Jesus literally rose from the dead. Christian leaders who should be pointing people to Jesus instead are pointing at him. Jesus is condemned as a fraud by religious authorities today.

Jesus is denied by a close friend, Peter (14:66-72). Peter means well, he does not want to deny Jesus and even affirms his commitment to him. However, he also does not want the danger present in being associated with Jesus. His commitment to Jesus is strong, but his fear is stronger and wins out. Would this have happened to Jesus today? We, who call ourselves Christian, may do the same thing. We mean well, but we don’t want what comes with being associated with Jesus. We honour Christ in his presence, in worship and in our personal times of prayer. But apart from him we go with the crowd. We fear what the crowd may think. We may even remain silent while people around us malign Jesus. Jesus is denied by close friends today.

Jesus is discarded by the people, through Pilate (15:1-15). We normally think of Pilate being the one who “pulls the trigger” in ordering the crucifixion of Jesus, but actually he allows the people to make the decision. They could have chosen to set Jesus free and crucify Barabbas instead. But they want Jesus dead. Would this have happened to Jesus today? We enjoy a secular democracy where the people ultimately decide on the values. I fully support our nation’s identity as a secular democracy. Religious perspective should never be forced and therefore being a Canadian should never mean instant association with being a Christian. That being said, our nation is founded on Judea-Christian values. However, the people have spoken and our society is slowly turning away from those values. Every society is marked by values, there is no such thing as a free nation, a nation free of values. But without God, where do the values come from? Jesus is being discarded by the people today.

Jesus is mocked by the soldiers (15:16-20). When the Roman soldiers mock Jesus, it is not really about him. Yes, he is the one they dress up as a king complete with purple robe and a crown of thorns. But really they are mocking the Jews whose land they occupy. “Your king is a weak wimp! We are great and powerful!” Their mocking is not a result of reasoned thinking about who Jesus is. Their mocking is a boast flaunting their power. Would this have happened to Jesus today? In our individualistic culture people have a sense of individual power. This is not a bad thing. However, Jesus is mocked by people today who have not given proper thought to who Jesus is. Some will utter his name all day long in cursing who have never applied their minds in an investigation of who he really is. They may just be unknowingly flaunting their own sense of power like the Roman soldiers. Jesus is mocked today.

Would Jesus have faced the same dire treatment today before his crucifixion? 2000 years have passed and not much has changed. Jesus is beaten up on a regular basis throughout our world, and right here in the nice town of Cobourg by very polite Canadians. Even the nicest Christians will do a Peter, keeping quiet to feel safe, or a Judas, keeping to their own agenda.

What can we do about that?

It begins with prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Or sometimes, “Father, forgive us, for we don’t know what we do.”

It continues with a loving defence:

So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. 1 Peter 3:14-16 (NLT)

When Jesus is maligned and Christianity is dismissed, rather than get defensive, or even worse, offensive, we can be ready to give a defence and enter into a loving and intelligent conversation. It can begin with something like, “Jesus, whom you dismiss is not easily dismissed. Their are good reasons many brilliant people are Christians”. Of course this means knowing those reasons!

It ends with helping people know the Lord:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

When we witness Jesus being beat up today, when we see society drifting away from Christian foundations, when we find ourselves being more like Peter or even Judas than like Christ, we ought not to run and bury our heads in the sand. Let us instead stick close to Jesus, helping people know the love and grace of God. Jesus has promised to be with us no matter how much He gets beaten up along the way.

Preparing Like Jesus? Or Like the Religious Leaders?

What are you preparing for? You don’t need to tell us, we can tell by your actions. If you are buying a crib and setting up a nursery you are probably expecting the arrival of a baby. Likewise if I grab my motorcycle helmet and jacket I am likely expecting to go motorcycling. Our preparations show our expectations, what we believe to be next.

There is a lot of activity in Mark 14:1-42 which we can describe as preparations. In verses 1,2 the chief priests and scribes are preparing to eliminate Jesus.

The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; Mark 14:1

In verses 3-9 Jesus speaks of his body being prepared for burial.

She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Mark 14:8

In verses 10-11 the preparations by the religious leaders to eliminate Jesus continue with the cooperation of Judas.

When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. Mark 14:11

In verses 12-25 preparations are made for the Passover which become preparations for Jesus becoming the Passover lamb. During this celebration Jesus prepares the disciples to expect his death (verses 22-25), and the New Covenant (verse 24). Later he prepares them to expect his resurrection (verse 28) and that they will be at their worst (verses 26-31).

And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’ Mark 14:27

Finally, Jesus prepares himself for what is ahead through prayer (verses 32-42).

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36

There is an obvious contrast in the preparations between the religious leaders and Jesus. That contrast in preparations reflects a contrast in expectations. Since the religious leaders see Jesus as nothing but a troublemaker, they expect nothing but trouble. We learn more about this in the Gospel of John:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” John 11:47-50

Since the religious leaders expect Jesus to bring trouble they prepare to eliminate him. In contrast to this are the expectations of Jesus;

He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Mark 14:24 (emphasis added)

Jesus expects God’s purposes of reconciling people to Himself will be fulfilled through him. Therefore, while the religious leaders prepare to take a life, Jesus prepares to give his life.

What are our expectations for the future? Specifically, we might ask what are our expectations when we die? How do we prepare?

Most religions are based on a sense of cosmic or divine judgement. If you expect to be reincarnated, you will prepare by working off bad karma. If you expect to stand before a God in divine judgement, you will prepare through striving to be good enough to be declared innocent. Most religions are based on the notion that you get what you deserve.

Or we can consider those who would deny, or be apathetic toward, any kind of divinity or afterlife. If you expect nothing at all when you die, you may prepare by striving after some sort of immortality through significance, fame, or children. Or you may prepare by trying to reconcile yourself to a universe that lacks meaning and purpose. On a purely  materialistic model not only will your life end, but so will all life eventually.

All these world-views are based either on getting exactly what you deserve, or there being nothing to deserve.

While many think that the Christian worldview is based on divine judgement, fact is, the Christian worldview is based on divine grace.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

This does not mean there are no preparations.

  • When we expect to enjoy the presence of God for eternity, we prepare by spending time in His presence now, through worship and prayer.
  • When we expect to experience God’s perfect justice in His Kingdom coming, we prepare by seeking justice now.
  • When we expect to enjoy forgiveness and reconciliation, we prepare by being a people of forgiveness and reconciliation now.
  • When we expect to experience God’s love, we prepare by leaning into love now.
  • When we expect God to surprise us with things that are currently mysteries to us, we prepare by trusting God with all that we cannot comprehend now.
  • When we expect to see the wonders of God’s re-Creation, we prepare by standing in awe of the Creator and enjoyment of creation now.

If we were found within this passage of Mark, where would we be? Would we stand with the religious leaders and Judas, making preparations to eliminate Jesus? Or would we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus actively preparing for God’s will to be done, His purposes to be accomplished, His promises to be kept?

(All Scripture references are taken from NRSV)