Elsewhere in scripture, however, we find a more eschatological messiah foretold. The prophet Daniel makes some clear references to an eschatological messiah as opposed to a temporary political one, describing a vision he had:
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.
“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.1
Setting aside for a moment the obscure language, the references to “everlasting” righteousness and to “seal up vision and prophecy” read as pointers to an “end”— one final messianic action that feels more eternal than the promise for a king. Any and all prophecy, Walther Eichrodt writes, looks “to the break-up of the old world, to bring about the beginnings of a new development, the nucleus of a new world-order, and to perfect this into a second creation.”2 Eichrodt chooses not to draw such a difference between “simple time” and “eschatological time,” instead contending that because prophecy revolves around this new world-order, the two are inextricably intertwined and inseparable. So some sense of both eschatology and immediacy are both implicit in any prophecy. Still, many scholars maintain that it is worthwhile to draw such a distinction and that eschatology might be defined as “those promises that speak of a future with significant discontinuities from the present.”3
All this only adds to the confusion over what Jews at the time of Jesus really expected of a coming messiah. The general consensus amongst scholars so far is that there was no universal vision for what a messiah would look like. Within the Christian scriptures themselves there is confusion amongst Jewish expectations: John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner and cousin, “expects the Messiah to be a warrior in the tradition of Daniel 7, Zechariah 14, and Malachi 4.”4 Even before Jesus’ public ministry begins, John trades in fiery, aggressive rhetoric befitting a fighter: “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” he says.5 In contrast, just after Jesus’ death, the walkers on the Road to Emmaus frame Jesus more as a prophet and wonderworker, saying that “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.”6 They also looked to Jesus for some kind of redemptive hope: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”7 So there was some disagreement about what a messiah would look like, and there was little enforcement provided by scripture.
Still, while there is no singular or monolithic vision for what first-century Jews expected of the messiah8, there were common thematic elements elucidated in scripture that Jews would have expected in some form or another: most notably a priest (prefigured by Melchizidek and the Levitical order in the Torah), a warrior-king (prefigured by David in the Writings), and a prophet (prefigured by many of the Hebrew Prophets, especially Jeremiah). We will explore each of these three roles, what Jewish scriptural precedent suggests about their relation to a messiah, and what early Jewish Christians saw in Jesus to meet these expectations.
1 Daniel 9:24-26
2 Eichrodt, Walther. Theology of the Old Testament. Philadelphia: Westminster. 1961. 385.
3 Boda, Mark. “Figuring the Future: The Prophets and Messiah.” The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments. Ed. Stanley Porter. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007. 42
4 Longman 29
5 Matthew 3:10
6 Luke 24:19
7 Luke 24:21
8 Charlesworth, James. The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1992. xv.