One of the things that truly amaze me is how wrong the people – mostly religious people, got Jesus when he appeared in Palestine over 2000 years ago. So certain were most of them that he was not who he said he was, so certain were they that he was not at all like the Messiah predicted in their scriptures – they were happy to see him out of the way – nailed to a Roman cross. And the more religious, the more theological, the more highly regarded and the more expert they were – the more they got it wrong!
And the thing that troubles me the most, and I have little doubt about this, is that if I were there – I would have got it wrong as too! Having been brought up in an Evangelical Jewish home I would have been interested in the prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah – I would have been a student of the Torah, at least at some level, and I would have seen how unlike the prophesied Messiah Jesus really was. I can see my family and friends shaking their head when they heard about the upstart from Nazareth who some were claiming was the Messiah. And in the Services and Bible Studies of our denomination he would be condemned as an imposter and heretic.
Even his cousin John – his forerunner and friend got it wrong! Taking his cue from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah he declared Jesus as the one who had come with –
‘His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He shall clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn; but the chaff He shall burn up with inextinguishable fire.’
Matthew 3:12 (TLV)
Jeremiah, from whom John is drawing his inspiration, was even more blunt on this –
‘Therefore thus says Adonai Elohim: “My anger and My wrath is about to be poured out on this place—on man and beast, and on the trees of the field and the fruit of the land—and it will burn and not be quenched.’
Jeremiah 7:20 (TLV)
No wonder John sent the message to Jesus from his prison cell – ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’ (Matthew 11:3). I can just about hear John saying to someone who visited him in prison – ‘This is not the way it was meant to be, we have surly got this all wrong!’.
If an insider like John thought he had got it all wrong – if his predictions of the Firebrand Messiah were so far off the mark – what chance would I or even you have of getting it right? That is to say nothing of the fact the so many of his own closest disciples constantly misunderstood him and his mission. The truth is for the most part it was people outside who got it right while the insiders got it wrong.
All this is very troubling to me – and for this reason. If I would have been completely off the mark the last time the Messiah appeared will I get it right for the next time?
You see this time round I have it all worked out (well I used to although these days I am not so sure). One of the great interests in Evangelical Christianity in recent years has been the future and the second coming of The Messiah. There are thousands of sermons, books, recordings, seminars and films on how it will all work out – the precise unfolding of things preceding his coming, exactly how he will act and behave when he does and the precise order of events that will follow.
But in the last few years I personally have entered a world of caution regarding all these things. I still see my fingers badly burned from the assumptions I would have made and the expectations I would have had the last time. I still tremble when I realise that I would most likely have missed The Messiah – and could well have been one of those calling for his crucifixion. And all because he did not comply with my interpretation of the scriptures I was so sure I had understood.