Messianic Expectations of First Century Palestine...


I’ve read many things concerning Jewish expectations, and even non-Jewish expectations, of a leader to emerge around the time of Christ’s appearance.

From the Jewish perspective, this ruler seems to be strongly linked with the Jewish concept of the Messiah. From the non-Jewish perspectice, it seems to mirror Jewish expectations of a Messiah-- even including ideas of a divine ruler not much different from the Essenes thoughts on this matter.

I would like to gather up information about all these messianic expectations around 1st Century Palestine into one thread here if possible. Anyone caring to share their thoughts are certainly welcome to add to or even debate the significance of these thoughts.

I’ll be starting with Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver’s thesis of Jewish messianic thought over the last two thousand years, particularly some sections from A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel published back in 1927. In one particular section he notes that there was a tremendous explosion of messianic expectation during the first few decades of the first century of the Christian era at the very time that Jesus of Nazareth made his claim to be Israel’s true Messiah.

I’ll reply in more detail later tonight after work.


That’s because we were getting out buts kicked all over the place. So we naturally looked for a messiah. Expectations for a Messiah tend to rise when the matzah hits the fan.


Butts kicked all over the place - Physically, or spiritually?


physically. Couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some ROman or Greek looking to shove an idol down your throat.


Were dead cats allowed in the temple? :smiley:


So the Messiah was needed to physically prevent the Romans, etc. from physically shoving idols down your throats?

Or was the Messiah needed to change the soul / spirit / minds of the Jews, so that they wouldn’t so readily consent to idols to be shoved down their throats? [Note: not that Christians are any better in this regard…]


I think Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver would disagree-- and he is no lightweight within modern day Judaism by any stretch of the imagination.

Indeed, if a rise in Jewish persecution brings about a rise in messianic expectations, then what about such great historical events as those brought about by Alexander the Great for example?

As I noted before, consider his doctoral thesis which analyzes Jewish messianic through over the last two thounsand years. He published his thesis in 1927, entitled A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel

Prior to the first century the Messianic interest was not excessive, although such great historical events as the conquest of Persia by Alexander, the rule of the Ptolemies and the Seleucides, the persecutions under Antiochus, the revolt of the Maccabees, and the Roman agression find their mystic-Messianic echo in the apocalyptic writings of the first two pre-Christian centuries. Calculations, however, as to the exact hour of the Messiah’s appearance are wanting…The first century, however, especially the generation before the destruction [of the Temple in A.D. 70], witnessed a remarkable outburst of Messianic emotionalism. This is to be attributed, as we shall see, not to an intensification of Roman persecution but to the prevalent belief induced by the popular chronology of that day that the age was on the threshold of the Millennium.

When Jesus came into Galilee, speading the gospel of the Kingdom of God and saying the ‘time is fulfilled’ and the ‘kingdom of God is at hand’, he was voicing the opinion universally held that the year 5000 in the creation calendar, which is to usher in the sixth millennium – the age of the Kingdom of God --was at hand. It was this chronologic fact which inflamed the Messianic hope of the people rather than Roman persecutions. There is no evidence anywhere to show that the political fortunes of the people in the second quarter of the first century of the common era – the period of many Messianic movements – were in any degree lower than those in the first quarter, in which no Messianic movements are recorded.

Jesus appeared in the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate (26 - 36 C.E.). The first mention of the appearance of a Messiah in Josephus is in connection with the disturbances during the term of office of the procurator Cuspius Fadus (c. 44 C.E.), It seems likely, therefore, that in the minds of the people the Millennium was to begin around the year 30 C.E.

Be it remembered that it is not the Messiah who brings about the Millennium; it is the inevitable advent of the Millennium which carries along with it the messiah and his appointed activities. The Messiah was expected around the second quarter of the first century C.E., because the Millennium was at hand. Prior to that time he was not expected, because according to the chronology of the day the Millennium was still considerably removed.

Rabbi Silver’s research seems to positively demonstrate that the ancient Jewish writers understood from the Scripture’s prophecies that the Messiah was expected to appear in the first few decades of the first century, in the lifetime of the generation that ended with the burning of the Second Temple in A.D. 70.

And, for the record, some early Talmudic sources do actually seem to claim many traditions and comments about the coming messiah. For example Rabbi Elijah, who lived about two hundred years before Jesus, is claimed to have told his students:

[quote=Rabbi Elijah]The world will exist six thousand years. The first two thousand years were those of chaos [without the Torah]. The second two thousand years were those under the Torah. The last two thousand years are the messianic years.

The belief within many Pharisaic schools of thought during the time of Christ’s appearance was that they were living approximately five thousand years after the creation of Adam and Eve.

As one example of this, Josephus in his history of the Jews, said, “Those Antiquities contain the history of 5,000 years, and are taken out of our sacred books.” Likewise, Ezra IV, which was also written around the 1st century, also refers to this beleif that only five thousand years had elapsed, “And I did so in the seventh year of the sixth week of 5,000 years of the creation, and three months and twelve days.”

So, no. I don’t think it was just a matter of Jews getting their butts kicked all over the place-- because persecution does not necessarilly correllate to a rise in messianic expectations. Sometimes entirely different factors beside persecution are involved in these messianic expectations.


Now, having displayed a strong tradition within Judiasm itself of why such an increase of messianic expectation around the time of Christ would happen, let’s take a brief look at the teachings of the Essenes again-- the points continue in detail here at posts #65, #66, #67 & #68.

In summary, it is often claimed that Christianity invented many things which Jewish people did not believe in. However, a brief review of the teachings of the Essenes displays this to be false.

First of all, like many other Jews during this this time, they did expect some kind of messianic revelation to occur very soon. In fact they viewed their entire existence as being in constant a state of readiness for when the Messiah did appear-- which they believed would be happening soon.

Christianity did not invent this time table of Jewish expectations. Many Jews were expecting the Messiah to appear at this time.

Secondly, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we are told that the Spirit descended like a dove on him after he came up out of the water. Scholars have suggested that this may be an allusion to the creation account in Genesis 1:2 which states that the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters. The point that Matthew, Mark, and Luke would then be making is that with the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry a new age began.

**Up until recently, there has been no concrete support for this interpretation of Jesus’ baptism; no evidence, that is, that anybody would allude to Genesis 1:2 in describing the future age. **

A recently released Qumran Scroll from Cave 4 called “the Messianic Apocalypse,” however, has filled this gap. In a verbal allusion to Genesis 1:2, this scroll states that “Over the Meek will His Spirit hover.” The author of this Scroll described the future redemption of God’s people in terms of the original creation account. The Spirit would hover over the Meek in the new creation just as it had hovered over the waters in the original creation.

So it seems fairly clear that Christianity did not make up this interpretation either. Jewish people did.

Thirdly, some have claimed that nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures was it stated that the Messiah would be the one to raises the dead. It’s been claimed that nowhere outside of the Christian Scriptures can we find any evidence that people expected the Messiah to raise the dead.

However, In the Dead Sea Scroll from Qumran cave 4, that scroll states that when the Messiah comes then “he will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and to the poor announce glad tidings.” At the very least this demonstrates that belief in a Messiah who raises the dead formed part of the religious landscape of first-century Palestinian Judaism.

So the early Church did not just make this up either.

Continued to part II


Fourth, the messianic interpretation of 2 Samuel 7 likewise pre-dates the Gospel of Luke. In other words, this passage is interpreted messianically in the Qumran Scrolls also.

In a commentary on the Last Days, one Qumran Scroll from Cave 4 begins with four citations from 2 Samuel 7:11-14 and is followed by an interpretation and a citation of Amos 9:11 which, of course, is also found in the New Testament.

What this Scroll is saying, in other words, is that the Christian identification of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah promised in 2 Samuel 7 is in full accord with Jewish messianic expectations of the Essenes.

**So, once again, this interpretation of the early Church was not simply made up from nothing. Some Jewish people really did interpret these passages this way well before Christianity emerged. **

Finally, the text of Isaiah 61:1 also crops up in Luke chapter 4, where Jesus stands in the synagogue, reads the passage, and proclaims that he fulfills the prophecy.

**Again, Jesus was not the only person who interpreted Isaiah 61:1 messianically. A Qumran Scroll from Cave 11 applies the passage to the heavenly figure of Melchizedek who is hailed as Messiah and in some sense God. **

In the Christian Scriptures, all of these things are said to apply not to Melchizedek but to Jesus. But the messianic expectations of the Qumran community and the messianic beliefs of the early Church were obviously very close; they used the same language and even the same Scriptures.

Some scholars used to think that prior to Christianity, no one would have thought of the Hebrew Messiah as the Son of God. They regarded that designation as a Christian invention. But this opinion, which has been revised in the last few years, is negated by the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Another recently-published fragment from Qumran Cave 4 clearly calls the Messiah Son of God and Son of the Most High who will judge the earth in righteousness.

So, once again, the early Christian interpretation of Old Testament prophecy was not unique-- and it was not just made up. It legitimately grew out of the Jewish soil of first-century Palestine.


The next thing I want to bring up is some of David Haggith’s thoughts on the Abomination that Makes Desolate. In particular, I will be begining with a passage from Daniel here…

[quote=Daniel 9:2-3]…in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

…and here…

[quote=Daniel 9:21-24]…while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, "Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision:

"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.

I will also be cross referencing a passage from Jeremiah 25:11-12 as well…

[quote=Jeremiah 25:11-12]This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.

“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, "and will make it desolate forever.

And then I will be coming back to Daniel here…

[quote=Daniel 9:25-26]"Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree [a] 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. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.

Interestingly enough, when calculations are made, this prophecy too points toward the appearance of Christ. In other words, no matter which of the two decrees you start from, using these reasonable methods of calculation yeilds plausible dates for the two most significant years of jesus’ ministry.

I will cover this in more detail tonight. But I’ll just briefly echo Haggith’s words before I leave…

If this is a coincidence, it must be the most extraordinary coincidence in history: Daniel’s prophecy was well known among Jews long before Jesus was born, so the timing couldn’t have been made to order by Christians.

In fact, because of this prophecy [personal note: and also the calculation of the 5000 years I noted from Rabbi Silver’s research above] many Jews expected the Messiah to come during the years of Jesus’ life. That’s why people kept asking Jesus if he was the Messiah…


At the time, we were looking for a military General as part of our Messiah’s resume. As well as the ushering in of an age where Jews would obey the commandments with a new heart, where obeying every commandment would be a joy for everyone.;


Peace be with you all,

I read a book titled, “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus”. It was a very though provoking book. The author made it pretty clear that what the Jewish nation was awaiting was a military leader, would rebuild the temple, usher in a time of peace, and would reign. There was so much information in the book that I have to go back to the library to get the book. This is an interesting topic for me. Thanks for your thoughts.



What about this passage here?

[quote=Genesis 49:10]The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs *
and the obedience of the nations is his.

*Or until Shiloh comes ; or until he comes to whom tribute belongs


I’d agree.


[quote=Genesis 49:10]The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs *
and the obedience of the nations is his.

*Or until Shiloh comes ; or until he comes to whom tribute belongs

When Jacob addressed his son Judah, according to another translation, he made this declaration in this way…

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

It is generally agreed that the word ‘sceptre’ refers to the royal power and the name ‘Shiloh’ is a well-known title of the coming Messiah.

For example, in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Johanan comments…

The world was created for the sake of the Messiah, what is the Messiah’s name? The school of Rabbi Shila said 'his name is Shiloh, for it is written; until Shiloh come.

In other words, God promised that the tribe of Judah will not lose its sovereign right to govern before the appearance of Shiloh, the Messiah-- so the kingdom of Judah would posses the right to enforce capital punishment for criminals for example.

This is not a Christian interpretation. For example, a Jewish paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the Targum Onkelos, revealed a similar interpretation of Genesis 49:10 as follows…

The transmission of dominion shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children’s children, forever, until Messiah comes.

During all the centuries from Solomon until the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, Judah did indeed retain the ability to run its own courts as a sovereign power. Even during the seventy year captivity by the Babylonians, the Jewish people retained the ability to run their own courts and systems of religious laws. The same is true under the Persians, the Greek Seleucids, and the early years of Rome’s rule of Judea.

However, according to the history of Josephus in Antiquities 17:13, it was revealed that during the life of Jesus, Israel’s Sanhedrin court actually lost its power to judge capital cases (those involving the death penalty) after the Roman Caesar Augustus appointed a Roman procurator in A.D. 7 to directly rule Judea.

This testimony of Josephus is actually quite in agreement with the Christian Scriptural record which portrays the Sanhedrin as being subject to the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate…

[quote=John 18:28-32]Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

**“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” **

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected.

This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Consequently, when we look back to Genesis 49:10, we clearly see the fullfillment of this messianic prophecy quite well. The transmission of dominion did not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children’s children, forever-- that is, until Jesus the Messiah came.

In other words, the fact that Israel’s Sanhedrin court actually lost its power to judge capital cases (those involving the death penalty) after the Roman Caesar Augustus appointed a Roman procurator in A.D. 7 to directly rule Judea was in itself a sign that they were entering the Age of the Messiah-- that the Messiah was coming to them very soon.



Consequently, after the destruction of the second Temple in A.D. 70, 40 years after the death of Christ, the Jewish people entirely lost their dominion over Isreal-- and initiated their dominion over the entire world thereafter through the diaspora. This loss of local dominion in favor of world dominion 40 years after Jesus’ death parrallels the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years prior to entering the promised land.

[quote=Matthew 28:18-20]Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Paul asks…

Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?

Not at all!

Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.

But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!

This fullness of the gentiles will be completed when all Israel shall be saved…

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is[f] my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.

For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

God’s promises to the Jews may be temporailly suspended for the moment. But God’s covenant with them are irrevocable-- and I think we gentiles would do well to remember this.


Given that the scepter refers to the king and Shilo refers to the messiah (majority opinion).
So, "the Kingship of Israel shall not pass from the tribe of Judah until messiah comes.”

There was no king of Israel when Jacob lived. Deu 28:36 predicts there would be a King of Israel that would not have dominion over his own people.

The first king of Israel was not from the tribe of Judah, but from the tribe Benjamin. As for kings from the House of Judah, there hasn’t been one since the destruction of the First Temple – about 500 years before Jesus.

The prophecy cannot refer to Jesus. If taken as a prophecy, the messiah should have come in 586 BCE.

I don’t view the verse as prophecy. It is simply an instruction, saying that from the time David takes the throne, for as long as there is a King in charge of Israel, the king must be from the tribe of Judahy. Jacob is putting Judah and his descendents in charge of ruling over Israel. He’s not prophesying.


Interesting. Could you flesh this out a bit more?


I’ll try to get to this today.


Thanks. :slight_smile:

Just as a brief note, what about King Herod?

He was certainly not a Jewish King, since he was an Idumean who’s mother was of Arabian origin. And yet he was accepted by some of the the Jews as the basileus, the highest possible title (some certainly did not accept his claim, and some even rebelled).

This appointment caused a lot of resentment among the Jews. After all, Herod was not a Jew. He was the son of a man from Idumea; and although Antipater had been a pious man who had worshipped the Jewish God sincerely, the Jews had always looked down upon the Idumeans as racially impure. Worse, Herod had an Arabian mother, and it was commonly held that one could only be a Jew when one was born from a Jewish mother. When war broke out between the Romans and the Parthians (in Iran and Mesopotamia), the Jewish populace joined the latter. In 40, Hyrcanus was taken prisoner and brought to the Parthian capital Babylon; Antigonus became king in his place; Phasael committed suicide.

Herod managed to escape and went to Rome, where he persuaded Octavian and the Senate to order Mark Antony to restore him. And so it happened. After Mark Antony and his lieutenants had driven away the Parthians, Herod was brought back to Jerusalem by two legions, VI Ferrata (whose men had already fought in Gaul and the civil wars) and another legion, perhaps III Gallica (37 BCE). Antigonus was defeated and after he had besieged and captured Jerusalem, and had defeated the last opposition (more), Herod could start his reign as sole ruler of Judaea. He assumed the title of basileus, the highest possible title.

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