Jesus the Messiah: a book review

Christians insist that Jesus is the Messiah–the Anointed One foretold  in the Hebrew Bible. But what do Christians mean by the term? Herbert Bateman, Darrell Bock and Gordon Johnston have teamed up to explore just what we mean when we say Jesus is the Messiah. Drawing on the strengths of each scholar, they propose a ‘threefold hermeneutical reading strategy examining: (1) the promises and patterns of messianic expectation in the Old Testament, (2) the eschatological expectations evident in the Second Temple literature (between the testaments) and  (3) the Already/Not Yet Christological Readings of the New Testament which name Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations and Coming of Israel’s King by Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock & Gordon H. Johnston

Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promise expectations and Coming of Israel’s King divides into three parts. In part one of the book Johnston explores Messianic trajectories in the Old Testament. He does not offer simplistic Christological typology which reads Jesus back into every text. Instead he carefully examines the understanding of various passages in their literary and historical context before placing each prophecy in its canonical context, demonstrating what the passage came to mean.  His survey of the First Testament  examines passages from Genesis and Numbers, Samuel and Chronicles, the Royal Psalms and  the prophets. Johnston did not touch on every passage relevant to Messiahship but restricted his exploration to those passages that speak directly  of the theme. In a later Appendix he examines Genesis 3:15 which Christians understand as a messianic prophecy, but earlier readers did not draw this connection.

Bateman tackles part two of the book  discussing what messianic expectation was in the Second Temple era. Israel was marginal to most of the ancient world and many did not expecting a Messiah; however beginning with the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties, frustration over political corruption led many to long for messianic restoration. Bateman examines the literature of the period exploring what sort of Messiah was anticipated. He looks at direct references to “the Messiah,” as well as Messianic titles like “Branch,” “Prince,” and “Son.”  There is a plurality of  Messianic expectations in the era  but there was a common expectation of a Jewish leader over Judea.  Also Bateman illumines some of the continuities and discontinuities between expectations of the era with how the New Testament describes Jesus the Messiah.

In the final section, Bock examines the understanding of Messiah presented in the New Testament. He begins his survey by discussing Revelations and the Catholic Epistles before turning to Paul’s letters. Only then does he turn to Acts and the Gospels. Bock’s intent is to work from the least controversial ‘Messianic claims’ (that of the Catholic Epistles) to the parts of the New Testament which engender the the most contention (the Gospels). Different sections of the New Testament emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. For example, the Catholic Epistles discuss theologically Jesus coming and suffering, his work on our behalf,  Jesus’ continuing role as mediator and his future coming in glory. Paul on the other hand, speaks most often of being incorporated into Christ.  Acts speaks of how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament expectations of the Messiah and how God was at work in “Christ.” In the synoptic Gospels Jesus goes to great pains to not publicize his Messiahship  but does demonstrate his identity as the Anointed One by his actions (and his death and resurrection).

This is a good book and the discussions here are important. Jesus is the Messiah–the Anointed One of Israel. The term Messiah was understood variously as a  royal  prophetic, priestly, or apocalyptic function.  Jesus is revealed to us as the restored David King of Promise, the great high priest and  the Divine Son of God who came to restore all things.  Johnston, Bateman and Bock enrich our understanding by examining the way messianic expectations unfold in Scripture and History. All of the parts of this book are worth reading, but I especially enjoyed Bateman’s contributions.  Understanding the Second Temple context illuminates our understanding of the New Testament (and gives us clues as to how the human authors read the Old Testament).  Each of the authors enrich our understanding of  the Messiah by attending to the fullness of what the term means in various literary contexts. They refuse to flatten out the concept of Messiah but attempt to listen to all the term implies.

This is an academic book, although it is not too technical for an interested lay person.  But Bateman, Bock and Johnston carefully review  various texts in constructing their argument.  The chief value of this book is exegetical and descriptive. I find it to be a great reference for parsing what the Biblical authors meant by Messiah and what it means that Jesus is the Messiah. Of course each of the sections could have been developed further, but together they give a picture of the progressive nature of revelation. I would recommend this book for serious students of the Bible, and for pastors and lay leaders charged with teaching the scriptures to the church.  I give this book four stars. ★★★★☆

Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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