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7442Just who do you think you are, Jesus?

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  • Daniel N. Washburn
    Oct 1, 2007
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      The historical Jesus has been the subject of a huge amount of scholarly
      work in the last few years. Who did Jesus conceive himself to be? Did he
      think he was Elijah, the escholological prohet like Moses, the Son of
      Man mentioned in the Book of Daniel, the Suffering Servant from Isaiah,
      the Davidic Messiah, a Son of God, the only begotten Son of God? Was he
      a social reformer, a prophet, a wandering philosopher, a
      magician-exorcist, a disciple of Sophia the female hypostatis of God's
      Wisdom, a sage, a buddhist, an apocalyptic madman?

      Here I solve the problem in a few short paragraphs. Some of these
      references are quoted from memory, so don't take them as gospel, so to
      speak. This is really a draft for myself, but I'm gonna let you in on
      the secret, just because we have been hobnobbing on this list for years
      together.

      John the Baptist believed that there was one who would come after him,
      more powerful than he, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire.
      Jesus saw himself as this figure predicted by John. When John sent his
      disciples to Jesus to ask, ‘Are you the Coming One?’ Jesus answered by
      quoting from Isaiah, “...the blind receive their sight, the lame walk,
      lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear...” (Lk 7:22, Mt 11:2-6, Is
      35:5-6) In effect he answered, ‘Yes, I am the more powerful one that you
      have been expecting. I can work miracles by the Holy Spirit.’ John
      baptized in living water and cited Is 40:3 about himself, “In the
      wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a
      highway for our God.” If Jesus had continued his own quote from Isaiah,
      he would have said, “For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and
      streams in the desert... And a highway shall be there, and it shall be
      called the Holy Way;” (Is 35:6-8). Hence Jesus’ answer indicated a real
      continuity with the Baptist and in effect said, ‘I am the next step in
      your own work.’ Jesus saw himself as the Coming One, the Spirit-filled
      successor to John.

      Who was this Coming One? We can deduce the main outlines from gospel
      material about John: “After me comes one more powerful than I, the
      latchet of whose shoes I am unworthy to stoop down and unloose, he shall
      baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire.” The Coming One is a human
      being, filled with Spirit-power. He is to come soon, since John sent
      disciples to Jesus to ask if he were the one. John taught the immanence
      of eschatological judgment. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the
      trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and
      thrown into the fire.” The Coming One administers the eschatological
      Judgment of God, since he baptizes the faithful with the Holy Spirit and
      burns up those who do evil in consuming Fire.

      Jesus believed John to be Elijah, the eschatological prophet who was to
      return before the beginning of the end time. We should give this opinion
      some weight as a description of John’s self-understanding, since Jesus
      was not only baptized by John but very probably was one of his
      disciples. Other disciples of John had similar opinions. Oscar Cullman
      in his Christology of the New Testament says that remnants of the
      disciples of John seen in the Clementine writings and in the writings of
      the Mandaeans believed John to be the final eschatological prophet. Also
      the first chapters of the Gospel of John are written in part as an
      argument against followers of the Baptist who saw him as an important
      eschatological figure.

      Thus it is likely that John saw himself as Elijah. The evidence to the
      contrary that we see in the NT is part of John’s attempt to keep the
      Prophetic secret, just as Jesus kept the Messianic secret. They
      concealed their identities for the same reason–fear of being arrested
      and executed for sedition against the state. When asked who he was, John
      answered with an obscure passage from Isaiah. When Jesus was asked
      whether he was the Coming One, he answered with an obscure passage from
      Isaiah. Jesus replied obliquely in the same manner as his teacher, with
      the assurance that John could read between the lines.

      We can identify a messianic prophesy found at Qumran (4Q521) as the
      background for the exchange between John and Jesus about the Coming One.
      Fragment 2 ii reads, “...heaven and earth will obey his messiah, (2)
      [and all th]at is in them will not turn away from the commandments of
      holy ones. ...(7) For he will glorify the pious on the throne of an
      eternal kingdom, (8) releasing captives, giving sight to the blind and
      raising up those who are bo[wed down]. ...(12) for he will heal the
      wounded, give life to the dead and preach good news to the poor...”

      The phrases ‘releasing captives’ and ‘preach good news to the poor’
      identify Is 61:1 as a source for this prophecy: “The spirit of the Lord
      God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to
      preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim
      liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners...”

      Jesus in his response to John says, “...the deaf hear, the dead are
      raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” There is no
      mention of giving life to the dead in Is 61:1, so Jesus is echoing the
      messianic prophesy from Qumran with its reference to giving life to the
      dead when he makes his reply to John.

      There are several phrases in the Qumran text that indicate that Jesus
      thought he was fulfilling this messianic prophesy. Verse 7 speaks of an
      ‘eternal kingdom,’ and Jesus taught about the coming of the eternal
      Kingdom of God. The pious will be glorified on the throne of the eternal
      kingdom, and Jesus said that his followers would reign on thrones in
      heaven. Heaven and earth will obey the commandments of the holy ones and
      Jesus said his followers could work miracles if they had sufficient
      faith. [loosed on earth, loosed in heaven]. The messiah will ‘give life
      to the dead,’ and Jesus not only taught the coming resurrection but is
      reported to have raised people up from the dead while he was still alive.

      Hence Jesus thought he was the Messiah, a Messiah in the mold of John's
      Coming One and the messianic prophecy from Qumran.

      Aside from the spiritual content of his teaching, which I think shows
      him to be a great mystic, it seems to me likely that he also believed he
      was to be the human King in God's coming eternal Kingdom, since he
      fulfilled an OT prophesy of Kingship in his glorious entry into
      Jerusalem. There is also the fact that the Romans posted the sign, Jesus
      of Nazareth, King of the Jews, on his cross.

      Dan
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