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.

Suffering Servant and the Good News: a book review

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology edited by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser

The prophet Isaiah has long been mined by Christian interpreters of the Bible for its Christological significance. This is especially true of the ‘Suffering Servant’ passages from the latter part of Isaiah. In this multi-author volume edited by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser, examines Isaiah 53 in light of the gospel with an eye towards how this passage can bring Jewish people to faith in Jesus Christ. Despite Isaiah’s status as a Jewish prophet and his prominence among Christian interpreters, this passage is almost unknown among Jewish people. Written to pastors, missionaries and lay leaders, this book is intended as a resource for those who are ‘preaching  and teaching this profound passage and using it to reach unbelievers with a message of redemption (28)’.

The book is organized into three parts. Part one discusses the various interpretations of Isaiah 53. Richard Averbeck surveys Christian interpretations of this chapter (focusing especially on contemporary interpreters). Having examined the competing views, Averbeck argues that the first-person language does not imply the personification of the nation of Israel but one person acting on behalf of the nation.  Michael L. Brown discusses the history of Jewish interpretations of this chapter (showing how the corporate interpretation has often been posited to obscure the messianic implications and how this chapter points to Jesus).

In part two,  Isaiah 53 is placed within a biblical-theological framework. Walter Kaiser argues that the Servant language in Isaiah 53 should be read as a messianic designation and that Jesus understood his ministry in this context.  Michael Wilkins examines the gospel accounts, concluding that Jesus saw himself as the Servant, and the gospel writers also made this identification. Darrell Bock examines Acts 8 (Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch) and how Isaiah 53 in that context, illuminates Jesus’ death.  Craig Evans discusses allusions to Isaiah 53 in the New Testament material from Peter, Paul, John and the book of Hebrews.  David Allen’s chapter sets Isaiah 53 within a cultic context and argues for the significance of substiutionary atonement in understanding the passage. Robert Chisholm rounds out part two by discussing salvation and forgiveness in this chapter and arguing that according to this passage, the beneficiaries of  the Servant’s suffering are both Israel and the nations, that the ‘illness’ described in the chapter imply Jerusalem’s destruction, exile, injustice, death and war, that the breach of the covenant is the fundamental sin for which the blameless Servant suffers,  and that the Servant’s suffering and death provide the means toward divine forgiveness.

Part three addresses how to communicate this passage evangelistically. John Feinberg discusses how Isaiah 53 can be used to articulate the gospel message to ‘postmoderns.’  Mitch Glasser focuses his chapter on how Isaiah 53 can be used effectively in Jewish evangelism (his point is not to debate, or beat Jews over the head with a proof text, but using this chapter to open up a fruitful dialogue). Lastly, Donald Sunukjian gives practical advice to preachers for preaching an expository message based on this chapter (with an eye towards it’s structure).  Each of the chapters of the book are summarized in Darrell Bock’s conclusion (and quoted extensively) and the book also includes in the appendices two sermons from Donald Sunukjian which illustrate a couple of different homiletic approaches to the text.

As is the case with other multi-author studies, there is some overlap in chapter content; however the authors are remarkably united in purpose and theological commitments. These are some of the best and brightest of conservative Biblical scholars and they thoroughly examine this passage in light of historical interpretation, biblical theology, literary structure, and linguistically. You need not agree with the authors on every point (I’m not sure that I do) to appreciate the care and attention in which they craft their argument. I think they make a good case that a individual, substitutionary, Suffering Servant reading of the text, is faithful understanding of the text, and that this passage does point to the significance of Jesus’ work.

But what I appreciate most about this book is the compelling case made here, that Jesus understood his life, ministry and death in light of the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. Scot McKnight, in the King Jesus Gospel made the provocative claim that many evangelistic presentations by evangelicals completely ignore the Old Testament in their articulation of the gospel.  In The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, the authors prove that for these scholars at least, this is not the case. The gospel of Jesus Christ includes the way Jesus fulfills the hopes of Israel.  By seeing the significance of this passage for Jewish people, we gentiles also come to a fuller appreciation of the gospel story and Christ’s work.

So I recommend this book to pastors and teachers who want to communicate the truths of this passage. I certainly plan to refer back to this book in my preaching and teaching from this passage.

I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for this review.