Jesus' fate anticipated
- The tragic fate of one Jesus of Nazareth was not unprecedented. The same
socio-politico- religio circumstances obtained some four hundred years
earlier around the figure of Zerubbabel, a Persian puppet governor of Judah.
The rebuilding other the temple in 521/520 BCE ignited a apocalyptic,
messianic fever that was fueled by the oracles of Haggai the prophet:
2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of , and to Joshua son
of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3
Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it
look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now take courage,
O Zerubbabel, says Yahweh; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the
high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says Yahweh; work,
for I am with you, says Yahweh of Armies, 5 according to the promise that I
made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear
6 For thus says Yahweh of Armies: Once again, in a little while, I will
shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will
shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I
will fill this house with splendor, says the Yahweh of Armies. 8 The silver
is mine, and the gold is mine, says Yahweh of Armies. 9 The latter splendor
of this house shall be greater than the former, says Yahweh of Armies; and
in this place I will give prosperity, says the Yahweh of Armies.
Also this prophecy from Haggai:
20 The word of Yahweh came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day
of the month, 21 "Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about
to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of
kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations,
and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders
shall go down, every one by the sword of his fellow. 23 On that day, says
the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of
She-al'ti-el, says Yahweh, and make you like a signet ring; for I have
chosen you, says Yahweh of Armies."
Needless to say, the apocalyptic expectations of the time were not realized.
It appears that we have a text that relates to the apocalyptic movement
discussed above in the famous text, Isaiah 53:
1 Who can believe what we have heard? And to whom can the arm of Yahweh been
revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root
out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and
rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as
one from whom others hide their faces he was despised and we held him of no
account. 4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he
was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was
the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All
we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and
Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he
was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the
slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did
not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who
could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the
living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave
with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no
violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of
Yahweh to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will
of Yahweh shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall
find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my Servant,
shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore
I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil
with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered
with the transgressors; yet he [actually] bore the sin of many, and made
intercession for the transgressors.
A key observation I wish to make is that Zerubbabel is called, "My Servant,"
a term that is applied in Isaiah to several other parties(the Speaker and
Israel). I would identify this servant with Zerubbabel because the literary
genre of this Isaiah text seems to be one of an official, state eulogy over
the fallen ruler, or a text based upon such. Verse 8-9 most clearly
indicates that the subject of the eulogy was arrested, tried and executed
for sedition by the Persians just as Jesus was treated by the Romans.
Zerubbabel mysteriously disappears from our sources. This is explained by
the thesis that he was arrested, condemned and executed by Persian
authorities for his messianic convictions. Just as the Baptizer "confirmed"
that Jesus was the Messiah, so Haggai "confirmed" that Zerubbabel was Yahweh
s messianic "signet ring." In both cases, the apparent failure of these
messianic pretenders was interpreted to mean that the failure was due to the
sins of the Jewish community. There is a slight but crucial difference,
however. To explain Zerubbabel's failure, it was thought that it was due to
the lack of moral readiness of the people. But with Jesus, the failure was
not a failure at all. Indeed, Jesus died for the sins of the community as
his death was interpreted in terms of Israelite/Jewish cultic traditions.
His death became regarded as an expiation for the communities sins, and not
only those of Israel, but for those of the entire world. He became the
Lamb of God."
So we have in the case of Zerubbabel, an anticipation of the historical
circumstances that obtained around the fate of Jesus of Nazareth--two
would-be royal figures who were betrayed by the messianic apocalypticism,
but in their nobleness generated the grounds for hope in spite of the
failure of their religio-political ambitions. Their tragic heroism lies in
the fact that they were two who would be Israel's messianic king who would
restore the kingdom to Israel."
Said but true.
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