Yeshua the Anointed, Part 8: The Son of David

In Parts 6 and 7 of this series, I explored the background of the Messianic figure-type of King/Ruler from the line of David, examining the belief from the standpoint of Jewish writings in the 1st-centuries B.C./A.D., as well as the New Testament. In this part, I will be looking in more detail at the specific identification of Jesus as an Anointed Ruler from the line of David. This article will be divided into three areas of study:

    • The Gospel tradition—the Passion narratives and use of the expression “Son of David”
    • The association with David in early Christian Tradition (elsewhere in the New Testament)
    • The Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2)

The Gospel Tradition

For a survey and initial examination of the relevant and essential references, see the previous article. Here I will focus on: (1) The expression “Son of David”, (2) The question regarding the Messiah and the Son of David in Mark 12:35-37 par, and (3) The scene of the Triumphal Entry.

“Son of David”

Prior to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem (according to the Synoptic narrative), and apart from the Infancy narratives and genealogy of Jesus (cf. below), the expression “Son of David” occurs 9 times—six of which are from the single Synoptic episode of Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar on the way from Jericho (Mark 10:46-52, par Lk 18:35-43; Matt 20:29-34). In Mark’s account, this beggar (identified by name as Bartimaios, “Son of Timay” [Matthew refers to two beggars]), when he hears that Jesus is passing by, cries out: “Yeshua, (you) Son of David, show mercy (to) me!” (Mk 10:47, repeated in v. 48). The double-declaration, emphasizing the title “Son of David”, is more than just an historical circumstance; it reflects an important Gospel identification of Jesus, which will appear again in the Triumphal Entry scene and on through the Passion narrative. At the historical level, the beggar may simply have used the expression as an honorific title in addressing Jesus and does not necessarily indicate any particular Messianic belief (cf. verse 51 where he addresses Jesus as Rabbouni [on this title, cf. Part 4]).

Matthew records a similar (doublet) episode in Matt 9:27-31, where again two beggars cry out “show mercy to us, Son of David!” (v. 27); and similarly in Matthew’s version of Jesus healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matt 15:22ff par). There thus appears, at least in Matthew’s Gospel, to be a connection between Jesus’ healing miracles and the address as “Son of David”. This is confirmed by the introductory narrative in Matt 12:22-23, where Jesus is said to have healed a demon-afflicted man who was blind (and mute); the reaction by the crowd is narrated as follows (v. 23):

“And all the throngs (of people) stood out of (themselves) [i.e. were amazed] and said, ‘This (man) is not the Son of David(, is he)?'”

The implication is that Jesus’ miracles lead the people to think that he might be the “Son of David”, almost certainly a reference to the Messianic figure of the Ruler (from the line of David) who is expected to appear at the end-time. Interestingly, however, there is little evidence, in Jewish writings of the period, for such an Anointed Ruler as a worker of (healing) miracles. As demonstrated previously (cf. Parts 6 and 7), the role of the Davidic Messiah was expressed in terms of the Scriptural motifs from Gen 49:10; Num 24:17ff; Psalm 2; Isa 11:1-4, etc—he who will judge and subdue/destroy the wicked nations and establish a Kingdom of peace and security for the people of God. Miracles, on the other hand, were more directly associated with the Prophet-figures of Elijah and Moses, and, especially, with the Anointed Prophet/herald of Isaiah 61:1ff (cf. Parts 2 & 3)—Jesus expressly identifies himself with this latter Messianic figure-type in Luke 4:18-20ff and 7:18-23 par. There is a loose parallel to Matt 12:23 in John 7:40-43, where people debate whether Jesus might be “the Prophet” or “the Anointed One”. In verse 42, some in the crowd declare: “Does not the Writing [i.e. Scripture] say that the Anointed (One) comes out of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem the town of David?” (for a list of the relevant Scriptures in this regard, cf. in Part 6). In Jn 7:41-42, the crowd is reacting to Jesus’ words (teaching), rather than his miracles.

Mark 12:35-37 / Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44

In this Synoptic episode (set during Passion week in Jerusalem), Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1. The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark and Luke, this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (Lk 20:41)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (Lk 20:44)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)”—here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. the previous two articles). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42-43 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus (see the supplemental note).

In my view, Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 as a clever way to shift the meaning of “the Anointed (One)” from the Davidic King figure-type over to a different reference point—that of a coming Divine/Heavenly figure, generally referred to elsewhere by Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Daniel 7:13). This particular Messianic figure will be discussed in detail in an upcoming article in this series.

The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11 / Matt 21:1-11 / Luke 19:28-40ff / John 12:12-19)

In the episode of Jesus’ (“Triumphal”) Entry into Jerusalem, recorded in all four Gospels—the Synoptic tradition and John—there are four distinctive Messianic elements to the narrative, the last three of which specifically relate to the idea of an Anointed (Davidic) King:

  • Malachi 3:1ff—the Messenger of the Lord coming to Jerusalem (and the Temple) at the time of Judgment (the Day of YHWH). I have argued that originally, this referred to a Divine/Heavenly being (Messenger of YHWH) who would appear as the personal representative (or embodiment) of YHWH himself. Eventually in the Gospels, by way of Mal 4:5-6 and subsequent Jewish tradition, the “Messenger” was interpreted as John the Baptist (“Elijah”) who prepares the way for the Lord (Jesus) to come into Jerusalem (and the Temple). In the Synoptic narrative, the disciples take over this role of “preparing the way” for Jesus (Mark 11:1-6 par, cf. also Lk 9:52; 10:1).
  • Zechariah 9:9ff—a future/eschatological King who will come to Jerusalem and establish a new reign of peace for Israel (Ephraim/Judah). The imagery in the Triumphal entry scene is a clear allusion to this passage, cited explicitly in Matt 21:4-7 and John 12:14-15. If we accept the historicity of Mark 11:2-6 par, then there is a strong likelihood that Jesus intentionally identified himself with the King of Zech 9:9-16. In any event, early Christians certainly made the connection.
  • The use of Psalm 118:26—In all four versions, the crowd recites Ps 118:26a: “Blessed is the (one) coming in the name of the Lord” (Mk 11:9/Matt 21:9/Lk 19:38/Jn 12:13). The original context and background of the Psalm had to do with the return of the (victorious) king to Jerusalem following battle (vv. 10ff), but early on it was used in a ritual/festal setting (vv. 26-27), and was recited as one of the ‘Hallel’ Psalms on the great feasts such as Passover and Sukkoth (Tabernacles). Jesus identified himself as the “one coming” in Luke 13:35 (par Matt 23:39), and there is very likely also a reference to this in Lk 19:41-44 (immediately following the Entry), blending, it would seem, the ancient traditions underlying Mal 3:1 and Psalm 118:26. Cf. also the use of Psalm 118:22f in Mark 12:10-11 par and elsewhere in early Christian tradition (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-7; Eph 2:20).
  • The Exclamation of the crowds—In addition to the use of Psalm 118:26, in all four Gospels, the crowds, in greeting Jesus, variously include references to David, King, or Kingdom:
    • Mark 11:10: “…blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
    • Matt 21:9: “Hosanna to the to the son of David…!”
    • Luke 19:38: “Blessed is the (One) coming, the King…[or, the coming King]”
    • John 12:13 “…[and] the King of Israel!”

We might also note the detail, unique to John’s account, of the use of palm branches by the crowds (Jn 12:13a), which could have a royal connotation (cf. 1 Maccabees 13:51; Testament of Naphtali 5:4). For a similar example of the crowds greeting an approaching sovereign, see Josephus, Wars of the Jews 7.100-103.

Early Christian Tradition (in the New Testament)

In the early Christian preaching (kerygma) as recorded in the first half of the book of Acts, Jesus is associated with David in several ways: (1) David prophesied in the Psalms regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection, (2) specific Psalms given a Messianic interpretation are applied to Jesus, and (3) Jesus is seen as fulfilling the covenant and promise to David. The most notable references are:

  • Acts 2:25-36, which cites Psalm 16:8-11 in the context of Jesus death and resurrection (vv. 25-28), and Psalm 110:1 in terms of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand God in Heaven (vv. 34-35). In verse 30, Jesus is seen as the descendant of David who would sit on the throne as King (cf. Ps 132:10-11 and 2 Sam 7:11-16 etc), and is specifically said to be the “Anointed (One)” of God in the concluding verse 36.
  • Acts 4:25-27, where Psalm 2:1-2 is cited and applied to the Passion of Jesus; again he is identified with the “Anointed (One)” of God.
  • Acts 13:22ff, 33-37—again Psalm 2 and 16 are cited (Ps 2:7; 16:10), as well as Isaiah 55:3, indicating that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise/covenant with David.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are several references to Jesus as a descendant of David:

    • Romans 1:3—”…about His Son, the (one) coming to be out of the seed of David according to (the) flesh”
    • 2 Timothy 2:8—”Remember Yeshua (the) Anointed (One), having been raised out of the dead, (and) out of the seed of David…”
    • Revelation 22:16—(Jesus speaking) “I am the root and the ge/no$ of David…” (cf. also Rev 5:5, and note 3:7)

In Rev 22:16, ge/no$ is literally the coming to be (cf. gi/nomai in Rom 1:3), in the sense of something which grows or comes forth (from the ground, womb, etc), i.e. “offspring”, but given the use of “root” (r(i/za) something like “sprout” or “branch” may be intended. Jesus declares that he is both the root of David and the branch/sprout coming out of the root. For the Messianic significance of such images (from Isa 11:1ff etc), see the discussion in Part 7.

While the Anointed Ruler in Messianic expectation was thought to be a fulfillment of the covenant with David, and a continuation/restoration of that line, it is not always clear that this was understood in a concrete, biological sense. However, many early Christians certainly believed that Jesus was born from the line of David, and this is reflected in Romans 1:3. It was a central aspect of the Infancy narratives in the Gospels, as well as the associated genealogies of Jesus; and it is these passages which we will look at next.

The Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2)

I am treating these famous portions of the Gospels (of Matthew and Luke) separately, since they seem to reflect a somewhat later, and more developed, Christological understanding than that found elsewhere in the Synoptic tradition. This does not mean that the events recorded are not historical or factual, but rather that they appear to have been carefully shaped by a layer of interpretation within the composition of the narrative. To judge from the book of Acts and the NT letters, Jesus’ birth appears to have played little or no role in early Christian preaching and teaching; indeed, outside of the Infancy narratives, it is scarcely mentioned at all in the New Testament. Even the belief in Jesus as a descendant of David (cf. above) does not play an especially prominent role in early Christian tradition. The matter is rather different in the Infancy narratives—Jesus’ birth, and his identification as the Anointed Ruler (from the line of David), are set within a dense matrix of Old Testament Scriptural parallels and allusions (on this, cf. the Christmas season series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus“). In just four relatively short chapters, we find dozens of references, the most relevant of which are outlined here:

  • Both Infancy narratives are connected with (separate) genealogies of Jesus (Matt 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38), which show him to be a descendant of David (Matt 1:6, 17; Lk 3:31-32). Matthew begins his genealogy (and the Gospel)  with the title: “The paper-roll [i.e. book] of the coming-to-be [ge/nesi$] of Yeshua (the) Anointed, son of David, son of Abraham” (1:1).
  • There are additional references to Joseph (Jesus’ earthly, legal father) as “son of David” (in the Angel’s address to him, Matt 1:20), as being from the “house of David” (Lk 1:27) and from the “house and paternal descent of David” (Lk 2:4). Some traditional-conservative commentators, as a way of harmonizing the apparent (and rather blatant) discrepancies between the genealogies in Matthew of Luke, have claimed that they actually reflect the lines of Joseph and Mary, respectively. This is flatly contradicted by the text itself—both genealogies belong to Joseph (Matt 1:16; Lk 3:23). However, the belief that Mary was from the line of David, and that Jesus was thus a true biological descendant of David, came to be relatively widespread in the early Church; Paul himself may have held this view (cp. Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4).
  • Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, attested by separate (and independent) lines of tradition, is recorded in Matthew 2:1ff and Lk 2:1-20 (cf. also John 7:41-42). Bethlehem is specifically called “the city of David” in Luke 2:4-11, and connected with the (Messianic) prophecy of Micah 5:2 in Matthew 2:5ff (and cf. Jn 7:42).
  • The expectation of a future/coming Davidic Ruler (“King of the Jews”) called “the Anointed (One)” is clearly attested in Matthew 2:1-8, with the citation (and Messianic interpretation) of Micah 5:2.
  • The Angelic announcement in Luke 2:10-12 links David (“the city of David”) with “(the) Anointed (One)” and “(the) Lord”, reinforcing the royal and Messianic implications of Jesus’ birth. For the parallel between the “good news” of Jesus’ birth and the birth of Augustus in the Roman world (contemporary with Jesus), cf. my earlier Christmas season note.
  • The shepherd motif in Lk 2:8ff etc, may contain an allusion to passages such as Micah 4:8; 5:4 (cf. Matt 2:6) and Ezekiel 34:11ff (vv. 23-24)—passages both connected to David and influential on Messianic thought.
  • In the hymn or canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus), the first strophe (Lk 1:68-69) reads:
    “He has come (to) look upon and make (a) loosing (from bondage) for his people,
    and he raised a horn of salvation for us in the house of David his child”
    This latter expression and image is derived from Scriptures such as 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 18:2; 132:17 and Ezekiel 29:21.
  • There are a number of other Scripture references or allusions in the Lukan hymns which should be noted—
    1 Sam 2:1-2; Psalm 35:9 (Lk 1:46-47)
    Psalm 89:10 (Lk 1:51-52)
    2 Sam 22:51 (Lk 1:55)
    1 Kings 1:48 (Lk 1:68a)
    Psalm 18:17 (Lk 1:71, 74)
    Psalm 89:3 (Lk 1:72-73)
    1 Kings 9:4-5 (Lk 1:74-75)
    {Num 24:17} (Lk 1:78)
    [On these and other references, cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library (ABRL 1977, 1993), pp. 358-60, 386-9, 456-9]

Most significant of all is the Angelic annunciation to Mary in Luke 1:30-37, especially the pronouncement or prophecy in vv. 32-33:

“This one [i.e. Jesus] will be great and will be called ‘Son of the Highest’, and the Lord God will give to him the seat (of power) [i.e. throne] of David his father, and he will be king upon the house of Jacob into the Age, and there will be no completion [i.e. end] of his kingdom

(and, also in v. 35b:)

“…therefore the (child) coming to be (born) will be called holy, (the) son of God

There is no clearer instance in all the New Testament of Jesus being identified as the coming/future Ruler from the line of David. As I have noted on several occasions, there is a remarkably close parallel, in the combination of these titles and expressions, in the Aramaic text 4Q246 from Qumran (see italicized phrases above):

    • “he will be great over the earth” [column i, line 7]
    • “he will be called son of God” [column ii, line 1a]
    • “and they will call him son of the Most High” [column ii, line 1b]
    • “his kingdom will be an eternal kingdom” [column ii, line 5]
    • “his rule will be an eternal rule” [column ii, line 9]

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 7: The Davidic King (Detailed Analysis)

Having explored the background and development of the Messianic figure-type of Anointed (Davidic) King in the previous article, here I will proceed to examine a number key passages—first from Jewish writings of the 1st centuries B.C./A.D., then from the Gospels (and early Christian tradition).

Jewish Writings (c. 150 B.C. to 100 A.D.)

Sirach 47:11; 51:12ff (line 8 of the hymn)—The book of Sirach is dated from the early-mid 2nd century B.C., though the Hebrew hymn that is set after 51:12 is probably a later addition. Both verses refer to God exalting/raising the “horn” (Grk ke/ra$), an Old Testament idiom indicating power and prestige (2 Sam 22:3; Psalm 18:2; 75:4-5; Jer 48:25; Dan 7:8ff; 8:5ff, etc). The idea of God “exalting the horn” of the ruler (esp. of David and his line), reflects the divinely-appointed status of the king, who enjoys the power and protection of YHWH—see Psalm 89:17, 24; 92:10; 112:9. The announcement or promise of a future raising/sprouting of a horn for Israel is found in Psalm 132:17; 148:14; Ezek 29:21. A Messianic use of this idiom is also found in the New Testament (Luke 1:69). Interestingly, the book of Sirach generally accords greater prestige and importance to the figure of (High) Priest, rather than king—compare the description of David and the kings of chap. 47 with that of Moses, Aaron and Phineas in chap. 45 (and cf. also the praise of Simon ben Onias in chap. 50). The elevation of the Priestly figure over and against the King/Prince is a feature of a number of Jewish writings from the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. It can be seen in the book of Jubilees (Jub 31:4-32), the traditions underlying the Testament of Levi (cf. also Testament of Judah 21-22), and throughout the Qumran texts (the Community rule-texts CD/QD, 1QS, 1QSa-b, also 4QTLevi and 4Q541). This presumably reflects the reality of the situation in the post-Exilic period, where the High Priest was set more or less in an equal position with the Prince/King (cf. on Zerubbabel and Joshua and the “two sons of oil” in Zech 3:8-10; 4:1-14; 6:11-13). Indeed, throughout much of the Intertestamental and second-Temple periods, the High Priest (along with the great Priestly families) was the dominant figure in Judah/Judea. The texts and traditions of the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. likely also reflect an underlying polemic against the Hasmonean/Herodian rulers of the time. In lines 8-9 of the hymn in Sirach 51, the “horn of David” (as Ruler) and the chosen “sons of Zadok” (as Priest) are set in tandem.

Psalms of Solomon 17-18—Here we have the clearest pre-Christian expression of the traditional image of an Anointed Ruler who will defeat/subdue the nations and establish a (Messianic) Kingdom for Israel. The Psalms are to be dated in the mid-1st century, in the Hasmonean period, presumably sometime after Pompey’s invasion (63 B.C.). Ps Sol 17 begins with an address to God as King (and the source of kingship): “Lord, you are our king forever… the kingdom of our God is forever over the nations in judgment” (vv. 1-3). The covenant with David is mentioned in verse 4 (“you chose David to be king… that his kingdom should not fail before you”), contrasted with “sinners” (presumably the Maccabean/Hasmonean line) who arose and set up their own monarchy, and so “despoiled the throne of David” (v. 6). Then came “a man alien to our race”, a “lawless one” (vv. 7, 11ff)—most likely a reference to Pompey and the Romans—who invaded and desecrated Jerusalem, scattering its people. This inaugurated an era of sin and injustice (vv. 18b-20). In verse 21-25, the call goes out to God:

“See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God…”

The actions of this Davidic ruler will be two-fold: (1) he will judge and destroy the wicked nations (vv. 22-25, using language from Psalm 2 and Isa 11:1-4), and (2) he will gather/restore Israel as the people of God, establishing a new kingdom of righteousness and peace (vv. 26-32). This ruler is called “Anointed Lord” (xristo\$ kuri/ou) in verse 32, and his reign over Israel and the nations is further described throughout vv. 33-44; ultimately, however, it is God who is the true King of Israel, as stated in the concluding verse (“the Lord Himself is our king forevermore”, v. 46).

Ps Sol 18 is much briefer, but likewise offers a petition to God for cleansing, “…for the day of mercy in blessing, for the appointed day when his Anointed will reign” (v. 5). This rule will take place “under the rod of discipline of the Anointed Lord” (v. 7a).
(Translations by R. B. Wright, OTP 2:665-9, with modifications [in italics])

A generally similar description of the Messiah and his coming rule is found in the (late) 1st-century A.D. works—the Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) and the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (also known as 4 Ezra). 2 Baruch 26-28 sets forth a twelve-part series of calamities to come upon the world, and then “when all that…has been accomplished, the Anointed One will begin to be revealed” (29:3)—his appearance will usher in an era of peace and prosperity, after which the resurrection will come (30:1). The Messiah’s role in judging and subduing the nations is described in 39:7ff (“…and his dominion will last forever until the world of corruption has ended”, 40:3). An even more detailed description is found as part of the Vision of the Clouds and Waters (2 Bar 53-76)—in 70:9, after the coming of many tribulations, “all will be delivered into the hands of my Servant, the Anointed One”; “he will call all nations, and some of them he will spare, and others he will kill” (72:2). After he has judged the nations and established rule, an idealized era of peace and security will commence (ch. 73). Translations by A. F. J. Klijn, OTP 1:630, 633, 645.

2/4 Esdras similarly has the image of a Messianic Kingdom which precedes the Resurrection and Last Judgment, and which will last 400 years (7:28-29). In the great “Eagle Vision” of chapters 11-12, the lion which appears is identified as “the Anointed (Messiah) whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the posterity of David” (12:32). He will judge and destroy the wicked, and deliver the remnant of Israel (12:34). Modified translation by B. M. Metzter in OTP 1:550.

The Qumran Texts—Here I focus on texts and passages which use the expressions “Prince of the Congregation” (hduh aycn) or “Branch of David” (dywd jmx), both of which are identified with the “Anointed One (of Israel)”, and almost certainly represent the same expected/eschatological Ruler-figure from the line of David (see the discussion in Part 6). Both expressions are found in the Commentary (Pesher) on Isaiah, 4QpIsaa [4Q161]. In column ii (fragments 2-6), on Isa 10:24-27, there is a reference to the “Prince of the Congregation”, and according to what follows, “…after(wards) he/it will be removed from them.” Since the context overall is that of the judgment on the wicked/nations and preservation of a remnant from Israel, the verse probably relates to this. The war against the Kittim (a cipher for Rome) is described in column 3 (fragments 7/8-10), along with a citation of Isaiah 11:1-5 (cf. above) as a Messianic prophecy—”…the interpretation of the word concerns the shoot/branch of David which will sprout in the final days… with the breath of his lips he will execute his enemy and God will support him… he will rule over all the peoples… his sword will judge all the peoples” [restored translation adapted from Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:317]. The end-time war against the Kittim and the wicked/nations is described in much more detail in the famous War Rule [1QM, 4QM], where the “Prince of the Congregation is mentioned in at least one key passage: “upon the shield of the Prince of the whole Congregation they shall write his name…and the names of the twelve tribes…” etc (5:1 [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:121], see also 3:16 and 4Q496 col. 4 frag. 10). It is not clear in this document, whether, or to what extent, this Prince takes an active role in the war, which is what one would expect of the Davidic Ruler to come. This role as conqueror and/or judge of the wicked is more in view in the fragmentary 4Q285, which is likely related in some way to the War Rule; “Prince of the Congregation” appears four times (partly restored) in this text, twice identified specifically as the “Branch of David”. In fragments 6 + 4, the Prince is clearly involved in the war against the Kittim, and at some point “they shall bring him [i.e. leader of the Kittim?] before the Prince of the Congregation”; in fragment 5 (= 11Q14 1 1), in the context of Isa 11:1ff and the defeat of the Kittim, it is stated that “the Prince of the Congregation will kill him” [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:643]. Cf. also 4Q376 (frag. 1, col. iii).

In the Community Rule documents—the Damascus Document [CD, QD], Rule of the Community [1QS] and the related 1QSa, 1QSb—the “Prince of the Congregation” and/or the “Anointed (of Israel)” is depicted in terms of his future/end-time role as leader of the Community. This is not particularly surprising, since the Qumran Community (and the Community of the Damascus Document) almost certainly saw itself as representing the faithful ones of the last days. Only those Israelites who join the Community and follow its ways will be saved from the Judgment and be part of the coming Kingdom (Rule over the Community = the Kingdom). In CD 7:19-20 (= 4Q266 3 col. iii), the “Prince of the Congregation” is said to be the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, the Scripture being given a Messianic interpretation—he will destroy the wicked of Judah and the “sons of Seth” (cf. also CD 19:10-11). The Anointed of Israel is also mentioned in the context of judgment in CD 20:1; for other references to the Anointed, see CD 12:23-13:1; 14:19; 1QS 9:11; 1QSa 2:11-12, 14-15, 20-21. In 1QSb 5:20ff, after the announcement of blessing, the “Prince of the Congregation” will play a role in the renewal of the covenant and the establishment of the kingdom for his [i.e. God’s] people forever (note also the allusion to Isa 11:1-4 and judgment on the wicked in 5:24ff).

In the Florilegium [4Q174], as part of a string of messianic/eschatological Scripture passages, the “Branch of David” will arise as the fulfillment of 2 Sam 7:11-14 to deliver Israel from the “sons of Belial” (col. i, lines 7-11). The Commentary on Genesis [4Q252], on Gen 49:10 (col. v), interprets the “staff” as “the Anointed (One) of Righteousness” and “Branch of David”—”…to him and to his descendants has been given the covenant of kingship for everlasting generations” [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:505]. For other Messianic interpretation of the “staff/sceptre” of Gen 49:10 and Num 24:17, see 1QSb 5:27-28; 1QM 11:6-7; 4Q175 12; 4Q521 frag 2 col. iii, as well as the famous reference in the Jewish/Christian Testament of Judah (24:1-6).

The Gospels and the New Testament

Use of the term xristo/$ (“Anointed”)

Apart from the various uses of xristo/$ as a virtual second name for Jesus in early Christianity (reflected in the New Testament), I am examining here only those passages which refer to a specific coming/expected figure: “the Anointed” ([o(] Xristo/$), or with the transliteration “the Meshiyach [Messiah]” ([o(] Messi/a$). It is best to begin with the core Synoptic Tradition, looking especially at those instances which definitely (or are likely to) refer to an Anointed (Davidic) Ruler. There are four main passages:

Peter’s Confession (Mark 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:16)—The Markan version (“You are the Anointed [One]”), has been given expanded form in Luke (“…Anointed [One] of God“) and Matthew (“…Anointed [One], the Son of the living God“). The Matthean formula is somewhat problematic as an utterance by Peter in the historical context of the narrative. In any event, it is clear that something very distinct and special has been revealed. Note:

    • Here “Anointed” is in contrast with Jesus being identified as a Prophet (Elijah); as discussed previously (cf. Part 3), a number of instances where “Anointed” is used in the Gospels during the period of Jesus’ ministry, etc., better fit the idea of an Anointed Prophet to come, but this does not seem to be the case here.
    • Jesus gives a firm instruction that the disciples not make this identification known to anyone.
    • There seems to be an intentional contrast between this identification and the announcement of suffering and death which follows (Mk 8:31 par, similarly following the Transfiguration scene [Mk 9:12, 30-31 par]).
    • The relationship between the “Anointed” and the “Son of Man” (cf. the Passion predictions and other sayings that follow).
    • The Lukan and Matthean versions seem to relate in some way to the Divine voice in the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (Mk 1:11; 9:7 pars), indicating that Jesus, as the Anointed One, is specifically the Elect/Chosen One (and Son) of God, cf. Lk 9:35.

The Question regarding the Anointed and the “Son of David” (Mark 12:35-37 / Lk 20:41ff / Matt 22:42ff)—This difficult and somewhat ambiguous passage, set during Passion week in Jerusalem, will be discussed in some detail in Part 8.

The Question of the High Priest (Mark 14:61ff / Lk 22:67 ff / Matt 26:63ff)—This of course takes place during Jesus’ appearance (or “trial”) before the Council (the Sanhedrin), and would seem to denote something very specific. In Mark the question is: “Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (Matthew reads “…Anointed [One], the Son of God”); in Luke, it is simply “Are you the Anointed (One)?” In the context of the Synoptic narrative, this question serves as a parallel to Peter’s confession, especially if we consider the expanded version in Matthew:

“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God”
“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of God?”

The joining of “Anointed” and “Son of God” is particularly noteworthy. The Lukan scene is more developed:

    • High Priest’s question: “Are you the Anointed One?”
    • Jesus eventually responds, identifying himself with the coming Son of Man
    • High Priest follows: “Are you then the Son of God?”

In all three Gospels, there is the three-fold association: Anointed–Son of Man–Son of God. Jesus’ response to the question differs somewhat; only Mark records an unmistakable affirmative answer: “I am” (Mk 14:62). Regardless, Jesus’ response is enough for the High Priest to declare that it is blasphemy—i.e., slander/insult against God. Nowhere is the idea of an Anointed King mentioned, but the subsequent events of the Passion narrative (Mk 15:2ff, 16-20 etc) make it clear that this is in mind.

The Taunts while Jesus is on the Cross (Mark 15:32 / Luke 23:35 [+ 39])—Here the title “Anointed One” is linked directly to Jesus as a (supposed) king: “The Anointed (One), the King of Israel, let him step down now from the stake [i.e. cross] that we may see and trust [i.e. believe]!” (Mk 15:32). In Luke the taunt is recorded as: “…let him save himself, if this (man) is the Anointed (One), the Chosen [i.e. gathered out] (One) of God!” (cf. also verse 39). The expression “Elect/Chosen One” (o( e)klekto/$) in the Lukan context is an echo of the Divine voice in the Transfiguration scene (“My Son, the Elect/Chosen One [o( e)klelegme/no$]”, Lk 9:35). There is thus a loose association through the Synoptic Tradition: Anointed–King–Elect One–Son of God.

It is important to note that all of these instances are centered around the Passion events and narrative; in fact there are very few instances of the term “Anointed (One)” in the Gospel narrative which are set (chronologically) prior to Peter’s confession. In the Synoptics these are: Matthew 1:16-17; 2:4; 11:2; 16:20; Luke 3:15; 4:41—all of which are explanatory references by the narrator, and only Matt 1:16-17; 2:4 are clearly in the context of a Davidic Ruler (these are from the Infancy narratives, which will be treated separately in the next article). For other occurrences of xristo/$ in the context of the Passion narratives, cf. Matthew 23:10; 24:5, 23 par (sayings of Jesus set during Passion week); 27:17, 22. In the last two references, “Anointed” appears to be synonymous with “King (of the Jews)” [Lk 23:2]. In Luke 24:26, 46, “Anointed” is used by Jesus (after the Resurrection) as an identification of himself, parallel to “Son of Man” (v. 7; 9:22, 43-45, 18:31ff).

There are, in addition a number of references unique to the Gospel traditions recorded in the Gospel of John. The title “the Anointed (One)” is used in connection with John the Baptist in Jn 1:20, 25; 3:28 (cf. also Lk 3:15); and, as I have discussed previously, these likely refer to an Anointed Prophet figure, even though “the Anointed” and “the Prophet” seem to be distinguished in Jn 1:20ff. The same is true of Jn 4:25, 29—the “Messiah” of the Samaritans (the Tahêb) was a Prophet-like-Moses (Deut 18:15ff) rather than a Davidic Ruler. In Jn 7:26-27, 31; 9:22; 10:24; 12:34, the precise meaning of the expression is uncertain—though the context of the Shepherd theme in 10:24 might suggest a Davidic ruler (cf. Ezek 34:23-24); in 12:34 there is an association with the “Son of Man”. Only in Jn 7:41-42 is there a clear connection with David (allusion to Micah 5:2), distinct from “the (Anointed) Prophet”. John 1:41 and 11:27, represent identifications by disciples, similar to Peter’s confession in Synoptic tradition—note especially, Martha’s confession: “You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

Within early Christian tradition, there are also some notable references, especially those in the book of Acts, from Peter’s speeches: Acts 2:31, 36 (association with David in the context of the resurrection); and 3:18, 20. In Acts 4:25-27, Psalm 2 is cited and applied to the Passion and Resurrection. Similarly, we find a number of references where early believers are said to hold, as a tenet of belief, that Jesus was “the Anointed (One)”, proclaiming and demonstrating it from the Scriptures, etc—Acts 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28; 26:23 (cf. also Rom 9:5). This probably should be understood in terms of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection—i.e. that the Messiah (or Son of Man) must suffer and die (Lk 24:26, 46). The identification of Jesus as Anointed/Christ has become a test of orthodoxy by the time of 1 John 2:22; 5:1. Finally, we may note the statement in John 20:31, which concludes the Gospel.

Jesus as King and Davidic Ruler

There are, in fact, very few references to Jesus as King in the Gospel tradition outside of the Passion narrative. As I have discussed previously (see Parts 2 and 3), during the period of his ministry (in Galilee), especially in the Synoptic tradition, Jesus filled the Messianic role of Prophet rather than King. Here are the main passages (Lk 1:33 and the Infancy narratives will be treated separately, in Part 8):

  • Use of the expression “Son of David” (3 times) in the Gospel of Matthew—Matt 9:27 (cf. 20:30-31); 12:23; 15:22. In 12:23 we find the question of whether Jesus is the “Son of David”, a debate similar to the one in John 7:41-42 (cf. above).
  • The declaration by Nathanael in John 1:49: “You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!” This offers a formal parallel to the confession by Peter in Synoptic tradition—joining “King of Israel” with “Son of God”, just as Peter (in Matt 16:16) joins “Anointed (One)” with “Son of God”. Such a declaration is a bit unusual at this early position in the narrative.
  • John 6:15—following the feeding miracle, it is stated that Jesus knows people will come and attempt to make him king by force. Interestingly, however, in the narrative itself, the crowd declares Jesus to be the coming (end-time) Prophet, rather than a king (v. 14).
  • Matthew 16:28—in the Matthean version of this Synoptic saying (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26f), Jesus refers to the Son of Man “coming in his kingdom“.

This theme, and the association of Jesus with the Messianic (Davidic) Ruler type becomes more prominent as he approaches Jerusalem, and then, subsequently, throughout the Passion narrative:

In the scene of Jesus’ death, all four Gospels effectively present the image of him hanging on the cross, with the written charge fixed overhead (variously cited):

“This is (Jesus of Nazareth) the King of the Jews

In the book of Acts, we see a basic extension of the imagery and motifs from the Passion narratives, associating the death and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus with David and certain key (Messianic) Psalms:

The accusation against early believers in Acts 17:7 reflects the charge made against Jesus (Lk 23:2)—i.e., that Jesus was considered to be a king, contrary (or in addition) to Caesar.

There are also a good number of references in the New Testament, reflecting early Christian belief and tradition, that Jesus was a King—among the most notable are:

However, it should be pointed out that most of these NT references are related more to the idea of the deity of Jesus—whether by way of his exaltation to the right hand of God, or according to a more general Christological belief, and have little connection to the earlier Jewish tradition of an Anointed Ruler from the line of David. This particular Davidic figure-type is largely limited to the Gospels, and the early strands of Christian tradition in the book of Acts (cf. also Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16). It is this association—Jesus as the “Son of David”—which will be discussed in more detail in the next part of this series.

References above marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 Vols.), ed. by James H. Charlesworth (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1983, 1985).
References marked “Martínez-Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 Vols.) (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 5: The Kingdom of God

Having examined the idea of Jesus as an Anointed (Messianic) Teacher in the previous article, here I will be looking at one specific (central) theme of Jesus’ teaching—the Kingdom of God. It is not possible to cover all of the aspects of this theme in one relatively short article; I have already addressed certain points and references in some detail in earlier notes and articles, and will cite these below.

The importance of the Kingdom (of God) in Jesus’ teaching is indicated by the fact that, of the approx. 125 occurrences of “kingdom” (basilei/a, basileía) in the Gospels, all but one or two relate to Jesus and his teaching, with more than a hundred recorded in Jesus’ own words. In addition, we may note the following:

  • In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus’ first recorded words of his public ministry are: “the time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15; par Matt 4:17).
  • This is also the primary declaration Jesus gives to his disciples when they are sent out (according to Matt 10:7; Luke 10:11).
  • In Luke 4:43, preaching the Kingdom is stated by Jesus as the primary purpose of his ministry travels through Galilee and the surrounding regions—”I was set forth [i.e. sent] from (God) unto this [i.e. for this purpose]” (cf. also Matt 4:23).
  • In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ first recorded words of instruction to his disciples are a declaration (beatitude/macarism) involving the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:3 [also v. 11], par Luke 6:20). For more on this passage, see my series of notes on the Beatitudes.
  • While references to the Kingdom are rare in the Gospel of John, it plays an important role in two key scenes (John 3:3ff; 18:36), set at the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry (according to the structure of the narrative).

A major difficulty that commentators face when analyzing and interpreting the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching, is that he appears to use “Kingdom” as a multivalent expression in a fairly wide range of contexts. However, I believe that it is possible to separate Jesus’ sayings, teachings and parables on the Kingdom into three formal categories, those which involve:

    1. The Kingdom coming upon the earth
    2. People coming into the Kingdom, and
    3. Descriptions/illustrations of the character and nature of the Kingdom

In terms of the sense in which “Kingdom” is used, again we may divide this into several categories:

    • As God’s dwelling/domain in Heaven
    • As an end-time domain on earth ruled by God(‘s representative)
    • As an expression of God’s rule—the will/law of the King, the character of its citizens, etc

For a fairly thorough survey and outline of references to the Kingdom in the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament), see my earlier article “…the things about the Kingdom of God“. With regard to Messianic thought in Judaism at the time of Jesus (1st centuries B.C./A.D.), the Kingdom theme is associated with it and expressed several ways:

  • The belief that a future/end-time Anointed (Davidic) ruler will restore the kingdom to Israel, subjugating her enemies and ushering in the Age to Come.
  • The idea of God’s impending end-time Judgment coming upon the earth (the Day of YHWH motif in the Old Testament Prophets). As we have seen, this may involve related traditions of an Anointed Prophet (Elijah) who will come and bring people to repentance prior to the Judgment. A separate strand of tradition (to be discussed) seems to involve an Angelic/Heavenly figure who will come as God’s representative to usher in and oversee the Judgment. By the end of the first century, the Messianic figures of Davidic ruler and Heavenly Judge appear to have merged (attested in at least three strands of Jewish/Christian tradition). The Gospel motifs of “inheriting”, “receiving” and “entering” the Kingdom all stem from the basic concept of the faithful/righteous passing through God’s Judgment.
  • In the Qumran texts, we find the idea that only those who remain faithful to the Covenant—understood as adherence within the Community to the Torah and the words of the “Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness”—will pass through the Judgment of God. The Qumran Community, which almost certainly viewed itself as the faithful of the last days, is to be identified generally with the Kingdom of God (spec. the Covenant)—the law/rule of the Community is essentially the law of the Kingdom. As pointed out in the previous article, this “Teacher of Righteousness” (probably to be identified also with the “Interpreter of the Law”), is a quasi-Messianic figure. In at least two passages, his future/end-time appearance is emphasized, and in one text he is associated specifically with the coming “Anointed (One) of Aaron and Israel”.

Before turning again to the place of the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching, let us first explore several passages from Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. which mention the Kingdom, or are otherwise relevant in this regard:

  • In the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon) 6:1-11, the earthly rule of kings is seen as coming from the sovereignty of God; as a result, rulers should follow God’s Law and Wisdom. In 6:20; 10:10, following Wisdom and the way of Righteousness leads one to the Kingdom of God.
  • In Jubilees 23:24-31, as part of a (prophetic) summary of Israelite/Jewish history, according to the Old Testament model, the punishment/judgment of the Exile will ultimately be followed by an age of peace and restoration for Israel, in which God himself will reign (vv. 30-31).
  • The third book of the Sibylline Oracles (Sib Or 3:652ff) prophecies that God will send a king “from the sun” who will subdue the nations (i.e. the Roman Empire) and establish a rule of peace over the world.
  • The 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (Ps Sol 17:3ff) vividly describes the coming of a Davidic Ruler (called Anointed/Messiah) who will come to Jerusalem, subdue the nations, and establish the (Messianic) Kingdom of God on earth.
  • Specific references to the Kingdom of God are rare in the Qumran texts, but at least two are worth noting:
    • The so-called War Rule (1QM, 4QM), which throughout refers to the coming war of the “Sons of Light” (the faithful of Israel, i.e. the Community) against the “sons of darkness” (the nations/unbelievers, especially the Kittim [cipher for Rome, cf. Dan 11:30]). See especially 1QM 1:4f, the hymns in 1QM 10, 12, 14, 19, and the citation of Num 24:17ff in 1QM 11:7ff. Other texts also refer to this end-time battle.
    • The Aramaic 4Q246, inspired by the book of Daniel (and/or its underlying traditions), predicts the coming of a great king (column 1, lines 7-9 [restored]) who will subdue the nations (and bring peace). Parallel to the rise of this ‘Messianic’ figure (called “son of God” and “son of the Most High” col. 2, line 1, cf. Lk 1:32, 35), we find the rise of the People of God (line 4), and the establishment of the everlasting (Messianic?) kingdom of God (lines 5-9).
  • The Testament of Moses 10:1ff describes the end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God, in terms of the great Judgment of God upon the earth, with a new age of peace and dominion for Israel (vv. 8-9).
  • In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the heavenly “Righteous/Elect One” or “Son of Man” exercises God’s judgment against kings and rulers on earth (cf. 45:3ff; 46:4-6; 52:4-9; 55:4; 61:8-9; 62:3-5ff; 69:27-29); the establishment of a future dominion for the righteous/Israel is indicated in 53:6-7, etc. The contrast between earthly rulers and God as king is expressed in 1 Enoch 63:1-9ff.
  • In 2 Baruch 70-72 the end-time Judgment by God coincides with the coming of the Messiah; chapters 73-74 describe the establishment of the (Messianic) Kingdom of God.
  • In 2/4 Esdras 2:10-14, God’s control over the kingdom of Israel/Judah is expressed. Throughout the core chapters of the book (chaps. 4-13), there are numerous eschatological visions and prophecies of the coming Judgment and the subsequent new Age; especially notable are the description of the ‘Messianic kingdom’ in 7:26ff, the vision and interpretation in chaps. 11-12 (drawing on Daniel 7), and the final vision of chap. 13. The Messianic Kingdom (of God) is presented vividly in 12:22-39.
  • In the Testament of Judah (Christian, but drawing upon earlier Jewish material), God’s control over the kingdom of Israel/Judah is described in chapters 21-22. In 24:1-6, the prophecy of Balaam (Num 24:17ff) is cited (cf. above): “then will the scepter of my kingdom shine forth…and from it will spring a staff of righteousness for the Gentiles, to judge and save all who call upon the Lord” (vv. 5-6).

These passages generally draw upon three distinct traditions from the Old Testament Scriptures:

  1. The coming Day of YHWH, when God will appear to bring Judgment upon the nations of the earth. Perhaps the latest reference to this is found in Malachi 3:1ff, a passage which, as we have seen, proved to have tremendous influence on eschatological/Messianic thought at the time of Jesus.
  2. The kingdom-visions of Daniel 2 and 7—in which a series of earthly empires is ultimately succeed by an everlasting Kingdom (of God) which is given to the People of God (Dan 7:24-27). These motifs are played out in the later visions of chapters 10-12, and the basic motifs—contrasting earthly and Divine rule—are also expressed in the account of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4, see esp. the hymn of praise in vv. 34-35), the episode of Belshazzar and the handwriting (Dan 5), the declaration by Darius in Dan 6:26-27, and Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9.
  3. The hope/promise for a coming end-time/ideal Age of peace and security, as described most vividly in the oracles of (Deutero-)Isaiah, as well as elsewhere throughout the Prophets. In Zechariah 9:9-17, the age of peace is brought about by a coming King, making this a seminal prophecy for the subsequent idea of a Messianic Kingdom established by God on earth.

Now let us return to the Kingdom of God as expressed in Jesus’ teaching. It will be useful here, in conclusion, to examine how the three categories of his sayings/teachings on the Kingdom relate to Messianic thought of the period.

1. The Kingdom as Coming (upon the earth)

Here we have the primary declaration from the start of Jesus’ ministry (“the kingdom of God has come near”, Mark 1:15 par), also in Matt 10:7; Luke 10:9, 11. There is little reason to think that this declaration does not stem from the lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition cited above, in the sense that—(a) the context is eschatological (cf. Luke 21:31), and that (b) it relates to the end-time Judgment by God (the OT “Day of YHWH”). This latter was perhaps expressed more clearly in John the Baptist’s preaching (cf. Matt 3:2, 7), but the same emphasis on repentance can be found in Jesus’ preaching as well (Matt 4:17 / Mk 1:15). The coming of the Kingdom is not limited to Judgment, but is also proclaimed as a “good message” (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16)—reflecting the other side of the Day of YHWH, in terms of salvation/deliverance for the people of God (the faithful/righteous). In the context of early Gospel tradition, this aspect is closely tied to the (healing) miracles of Jesus (Matt 11:5 / Lk 7:22, cf. also Lk 9:1-2 etc), and is almost certainly inspired by Isaiah 61:1 and its Anointed Prophet-figure (Lk 4:18ff).

It should be pointed out that while there definitely appears to be an imminent expectation of the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching (and throughout early Christian tradition), and while it clearly has associations with the appearance of Messiah-figures (cf. above), he does not seem to identify the Kingdom specifically (or entirely) in terms of his own person and presence. Though the kingdom may have “come/drawn near” in Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matt 12:28/Lk 11:20), it is yet to come, as expressed in the petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10/Lk 11:2). According to Luke 19:11, Jesus attempts to avert the expectation that the Kingdom would come immediately upon his arrival in Jerusalem (cf. Mark 11:10 par), and goes so far to deny that the Kingdom will appear with concrete visible signs (Lk 17:20-21). This last reference seems to suggest that the Kingdom is present (invisibly) among people by the presence of Jesus himself, but there are considerable difficulties in interpreting this saying. At any event, Jesus does clearly teach that the Kingdom of God is near through his words and actions (cf. also Mark 12:34).

Did Jesus envisage the Kingdom as a temporal, earthly kingdom, which was about to be established by God? There are several passages which point in this direction (Mark 10:29-30, 35-40 par; Matt 19:28/Lk 22:28-30), but it is by no means clear that a concrete earthly kingdom is involved, and the weight of Jesus’ other sayings, taken together, suggests rather the opposite. His response to the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6 purposely avoids discussion of the conventional idea of an earthly kingdom being restored to Israel, emphasizing rather the disciples’ role in proclaiming the Gospel. In a number of instances, the Gospel (“good message/news”, cf. above) and the Kingdom are closely intertwined, nearly synonymous.

2. People coming into (receiving, inheriting, etc) the Kingdom

Jesus frequently uses the motif of “coming into” (entering) the Kingdom (Mark 9:47; 10:23-25 pars; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 8:11 [implied, par]; 21:31; cf. also Lk 23:42). Similar in sense and meaning are the idea of “inheriting” or “receiving (being given)” the Kingdom (cf. Mk 4:11; 10:15 pars; Matt 5:3, 10; 8:11-12; 13:38, 41, 43; 21:43; 25:34; Lk 22:29-30). Along the same lines are sayings which refer to believers/disciples “belonging” to the Kingdom, or of being fit/worthy for it (Mark 10:14; Matt 5:3, 10, 20; 7:21; 13:38, 52 and pars; Lk 9:62, etc). All of these references draw upon a separate image of the Judgment—human beings appearing before the Divine/Heavenly tribunal after death or at the end-time. This is also the context generally of the Beatitude form—those who are deemed worthy to pass through the Judgment and enter the heavenly realm are called “happy/blessed”. In at least one saying of Jesus, we see the Son of Man (identified with Jesus himself) overseeing the heavenly tribunal (Lk 12:8-9, cf. also Matt 7:21-23). Similarly, in the Similitudes of Enoch, the Messianic “Righteous/Elect One” and “Son of Man” serves as heavenly Judge over humankind. We may also recall that in the Qumran texts we find the idea that faithfulness/loyalty to the “Teacher of Righteousness” will be the basis for being freed from the Judgment by God. The sayings of Jesus in Gospel tradition make faithfulness in following Christ and the Gospel the basis for entering/inheriting the Kingdom. A particularly Christian emphasis is on suffering for the sake of the Kingdom (= for the sake of the Gospel), cf. Matt 5:10; 19:12; Luke 18:29 par, and also Mark 9:47. This is, of course, patterned after Jesus’ own suffering (Mark 8:31, 34-37; 9:12-13; Matt 8:19-20; 10:17ff pars, etc). It is to be expected that the Kingdom (that is, the proclamation of the Gospel) should endure violence and persecution (Mk 10:29-30; 12:1-12 par; Lk 19:14, 27; Matt 11:12; 23:13, etc, and see Acts 14:22).

3. Descriptions of the Kingdom

Jesus’ unique understanding and proclamation of the Kingdom is given deeper expression in the numerous parables and illustrations (Mark 4:26-32 par; Matt 13:24-30, 33 [par Lk 13:20-21], 44-50; 20:1-16; 22:2-14; 25:1-30; cf. also Mk 3:23-27; 4:3-8, 14-20; Lk 14:16-24 and pars). Many of these have an eschatological context; others prefigure his own suffering and death, the spread of the Gospel, and so forth. Especially worthy of note are the teachings and illustrations which describe the character of the Kingdom (and those belonging to it). Here the emphasis is on meekness, humility, mercy and forgiveness, self-sacrifice, a desire for righteousness, etc—all summarized powerfully and concisely in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12). Jesus also symbolizes these Kingdom-traits in the figure of a little child (Mark 10:14-15 par, etc)—the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than the most prominent and influential person in the current age (Matt 11:11/Lk 7:28). Jesus frequently uses this reversal-of-fate motif in his teaching—the poor and humble will pass through the Judgment, while the rich and powerful will not (cf. especially the Lukan Beatitudes [Lk 6:20-26]).

As mentioned previously, there are few references to the Kingdom in the Gospel of John; but one major passage is found in Jn 3:3-8, part of the discourse with Nicodemus. There Jesus makes two parallel statements:

“unless a person comes to be (born) from above, he is not able to see the Kingdom of God” (v. 3)
“unless a person comes to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into [i.e. enter] the Kingdom of God” (v. 5)

The Synoptic idea of faithfulness in following the example and teaching of Jesus (= the Gospel), has been deepened still further in meaning and symbolism—defined as coming to be born from above and from the Spirit. This rather indicates a personal transformation, an entirely new identity: as children/offspring born from God (Jn 1:12-13). The new birth, of course, is dependent upon receiving/accepting Christ as the unique Apostle and Son of God. The other passage in the Gospel of John occurs during the exchange/discourse between Jesus and Pilate (Jn 18:33-38, part of the Passion narrative). In v. 36, in response to Pilate’s question “are you the king of the Jews?”, Jesus ultimately answers:

“My Kingdom is not out of [i.e. from, belonging to] this world…”

When Pilate asks again “You are not (really) then a king, (are you)?”, Jesus defines his kingship in unexpected terms (v. 37):

“Unto this I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world:
that I should witness to the truth—every one that is out of [i.e. from, belonging to] the truth hears my voice”

Jesus’ role and position as King will be discussed further as part of a study on the Messiah as King/Ruler, to begin in the next article (Part 6 of this series). For more on these passages from the Gospel of John, see the second half of my earlier article on the Kingdom of God.

Birth of the Son of God: Matthew 2:2

Matthew 2:2

Today, for the eve of Epiphany, I will be looking at one phrase in the narrative of Matthew 2:1-12—in verse 2, where the child Jesus is described as “the one produced/brought-forth (as) King of the Jews” (o( texqei\$ basileu\$ tw=n  )Ioudai=wn). The Magi ask the question “Where is [pou= e)stin] (this child)…?” This is glossed by Herod’s similar question in verse 4:

“Where is the Anointed (One) coming to be (born)?”
pou= o( xristo\$ genna=tai

Here “King of the Jews” is generally synonymous with “Anointed” (Messiah/Christ). We should note the setting in verse 1, of Jesus’ coming to be born in Bethlehem (the city of David, cf. Luke 2:4, 11). The association with David is stronger in the Lukan Infancy narrative (Lk 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4, 11), but the citation of Micah 5:2 in Matt 2:5-6 does include a reference (or allusion) to 2 Sam 5:2. Also there is a connection to David in the traditional image of the king as a shepherd over his people (v. 6).

By Jesus’ time—following the exile and during Greek/Roman rule—there was a strong nationalistic connotation to the title “king of the Jews”, as indicated in its early use by the Hasmoneans (Josephus, Antiquities XIV.36) and by Herod (Antiquities XVI.311). In all likelihood, early Christians would also have understood the star (Matt 2:2, 7, 9-10) in a “Messianic” sense; at the very least, there were ancient and well-established traditions (and/or superstitions) of stars (and other celestial phenomena) marking the birth (or death) of a great person—such as a king or ruler. Of many references from the Greco-Roman world, see Pliny, Natural History II.6.28; Virgil, Aeneid II.694; Cicero, De Divinat. I.23.47; Suetonius, Augustus §94, Nero §36. Within a specific Jewish context, see Josephus, Jewish War VI.310-12, and also Tacitus, Histories V.13. Cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1993, p. 170. Within the narrative, clearly the Magi pay homage to Jesus as to a king (v. 11).

“King of the Jews” appears in (older) Gospel tradition in the Passion narratives, in two main locations:

The Triumphal Entry

  • Zechariah 9 (cited by Matthew and John)—the oracle declares to Jerusalem: “see! your king comes to you!”
  • The similar context of Psalm 118—entry of the victorious king into Jerusalem (v. 26, cited by all four Gospel [cf. the earlier note])

Each Gospel adds a detail to the citation of Ps 118:26:

  • Mark 11:10—”the coming kingdom of our father David
  • Luke 19:38—”the one coming, the king…”
  • John 12:13—”…the king of Israel
  • Matt 21:9—”Hosanna to the Son of David!” (no specific mention of “king/kingdom”, but see verse 15)

The crowd’s greeting expresses Messianic expectation—that is, for a king who will restore the Davidic kingdom of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6ff).

The ‘Trial’ and Crucifixion

First we have the scene (in the Synoptics) where the High Priest in the Council (Sanhedrin) questions Jesus:

Second, the scene (in all four Gospels) where Pilate questions Jesus:

And note also:

Most notable, of course, is the use of the title “King of the Jews” in the sign attached to the cross overhead, which likewise is present in all four Gospel accounts (with slight variation):

  • Mark 15:26: “The King of the Jews”—this is the simplest form
  • Luke 23:38: “This (is) the King of the Jews”
  • Matt 27:37: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews”
  • John 19:19: “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews”

There is an important connection between the titles “King of the Jews” and “Son of God”, as indicated above. The first of these is central to the Roman scene (before Pilate), the second to the Jewish scene (before the Sanhedrin). As already noted, “King of the Jews” is primarily a political title, “Son of God” a religious/theological title. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they both come together in a unique way in the Gospel of John; indeed, within the fourth Gospel, Jesus as the “Son of God” (or “the Son”) has a special place and function, as well as Christological significance. Consider here the two episodes where Pilate speaks with Jesus:

  • John 18:33-38—specifically related to the title “King of the Jews” (v. 33)
  • John 19:9-11—the context of the title “Son of God” (v. 7), dealing with the question of power and (divine) authority

It is Pilate’s question to Jesus—”are you the king of the Jews?” (v. 33, repeated in v. 37 “are you not then a king?”)—which brings forth Jesus’ response, referring to his birth:

“unto this have I come to be (born), and unto this have I come into the world: that I should witness to the truth—every one being out of [i.e. who is of] the truth hears my voice”

See the earlier note and previous discussion on this remarkable saying, which brings together so beautifully the birth and the death of the Son of God.

Saturday Series: John 18:37

In celebration of this Christmas season, I thought it worth taking a slight detour in order to discuss briefly the only passage in the Gospel of John which specifically refers to Jesus’ birthJn 18:37. There are a number of references to Jesus, as the Word (Logos) and Son of God, coming to earth as a human being (what we would call the Incarnation), and one oblique reference to the birth of the Messiah (in Bethlehem, 7:42). However, only in 18:37 is Jesus’ birth actually mentioned. Let us examine this verse, according to the method and approach adopted in this Saturday Series, to demonstrate how a careful study of the Greek text allows for greater insight into the meaning of the Scripture.

John 18:37

This verse is part of the dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, which makes up the interrogation/trial scene in the Fourth Gospel (18:28-19:16). It clearly draws upon the basic Gospel tradition, in which Jesus’ interrogation before Pilate centered upon his possible identity as “King of the Jews”—a title with strong nationalistic (and Messianic) implications. This is virtually all the information we have about the interrogation scene in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 15:2-5 par), and it is confirmed, objectively, by the written charge applied to Jesus on the cross, recorded (with slight variations) in all four Gospels (Mk 15:26 par; Jn 19:19ff).

While John’s version follows this tradition, it is written in a manner more in keeping with the great Discourses of Jesus that run throughout the Gospel (to be discussed further in the Saturday Series studies). These Discourses have both an historical and a literary aspect, and it is virtually impossible to separate the two. From a literary standpoint, the Discourses follow a basic pattern (with certain variations):

  • A saying, statement or question, by Jesus
  • The reaction of his audience, indicating a lack of understanding of his true meaning, which leads to
  • An exposition of the saying by Jesus

Sometimes the discourse takes on the character of a dialogue, with multiple exchanges between Jesus and his audience. Jn 18:37 puts us in the middle of such a dialogue:

Then Pilate said to him, “Are you not then a king?
Yeshua answered: “You say that I am a king. I have come to be (born) unto this, and unto this I have come into the world—that I should witness to the truth; every one being [i.e. who is] out of the truth hears my voice.”

Both the similarity and the contrast with the Synoptic tradition could not be more clear; for the points of similarity, note the italicized portions here and above:

And Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Yehudeans {Jews}?”
But, answering him, he [i.e. Jesus] said: “You said (it)
(Mark 15:2)

However, according to the Synoptics, that short response is all that Jesus says (Mk 15:5a par). By contrast, in John’s version, there is a more extensive exchange between Jesus and Pilate. Critical commentators naturally would question the historicity of this, in light of the Synoptic tradition. However one judges the matter (that is, the relation between the Synoptic and Johannine versions), there can be no doubt that Jesus’ statements to Pilate, in 18:36-37 and 19:11, effectively serve as a summary of the theology (and Christology) of the Fourth Gospel. This is especially true of the twin declarations in 18:36-37, set at this key climactic point of the Gospel narrative. The statement in v. 36 is negative—Jesus declares that he is not the sort of king Pilate envisions. With the statement in v. 37, on the other hand, Jesus declares the sort of “king” that he truly is. It is a formulation that utilizes and repeats a number of key words and phrases occurring throughout the Gospel, and, especially, in the earlier discourses of Jesus. Let us survey them here, though in order to understand them properly, it is necessary to study them as they appear elsewhere in the Gospel.

First, we have the motif of misunderstanding, which is essential to the Johannine Discourses. In verse 36, Jesus does speak of his “kingdom”, so it is natural that Pilate would assume that Jesus thinks he is a king—i.e. “King of the Jews” (v. 33), in the traditional/conventional sense. Jesus’ response makes clear that Pilate does not truly understand—”You say that I am a king”. This is a notable example of how the Gospel tradition (see above) is developed in John, expanding to include statements of profound theological (and Christological) significance. Such development is intrinsic to the Johannine Discourses.

In fact, Jesus is not at all a king as Pilate imagines; rather, he is something much more. Here are the words and phrases he uses:

1. First, notice the word order and emphasis in his response:
(a) The emphatic contrast: “You [su]…I [egœ]…”—each pronoun is in emphatic position at the beginning of the sentence.
(b) The first sentence ends with the verb eimi (“I am”), while the second sentence begins with the pronoun egœ (“I”)—thus there is embedded here the formula egœ eimi (“I am”) which features so prominently in the Fourth Gospel (3:28; 4:26; 6:20, 35, 41; 8:12, 18, 24, etc). It reflects both Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and his identifying relationship with God the Father. Pilate misunderstands this identity (“You say that I am…”).

2. The demonstrative pronoun houtos/touto (“this”) is often used to specify Jesus’ identity with the truth—i.e., “this water”, “this bread” —the spiritual reality of what the (earthly) object symbolizes, and so forth. Here it indicates the true meaning and purpose for Jesus’ life on earth as a human being. This is emphasized by the grammatical structure—two parallel phrases governed by a prepositional expression (eis touto, “unto this”, i.e. for this purpose):

    • unto this [eis touto] I have come to be born”
    • unto this [eis touto] I have come into the world”

3. These two phrases employ two verbs in the perfect tense, which often indicates a past action or condition that continues into the present. Here it refers specifically to Jesus’ life and existence as a human being. The two verbs are:

  • gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”)—gegénn¢mai (“I have come to be [born]”)
  • érchomai (“come”)—el¢lytha (“have come”)

3a. The verb gennᜠ(genna/w) is a primary existential verb of being/becoming (“come to be”). It is cognate to the verb gínomai (gi/nomai), which has a very similar meaning. Both refer to someone or something coming to be, i.e. coming into existence, happening, etc., which, in the case of a human being often means the person’s birth. The verb gennaœ more properly refers to a human birth, but ginomai can be used in this sense as well. Gennaœ occurs 18 times in the Gospel of John, referring both to the ordinary (natural) birth of a human being (9:2; 16:21, etc), but also for the spiritual birth of believers in Christ (1:13; 3:3-8). Spiritual “birth” is also the meaning it carries in all but one (?) of the 10 occurrences in 1 John as well (2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).

The incarnation of the Word/Son of God, as described primarily in the Prologue (1:1-18), always uses the related verb ginomai, not gennaœ. For example, in v. 14: “The Word [Logos] came to be flesh…” (cf. also vv. 15, 30; overall the verb occurs 9 times in the Prologue). This distinction is important, even though the author would surely accept that Jesus (the Word/Son) was truly born as a human being. In the Prologue, he is referring not so much to his birth, specifically, as to his life/existence as a human being. In 18:37, Jesus is almost certainly referring to his birth, as such, even though the use of gennaœ otherwise differs little from that of ginomai. Both verbs are used for the spiritual birth of believers in 1:13-14. The two-fold use of gennaœ in 1 John 5:18, is more complicated, and involves variant readings which affect the meaning.

3b. The verb érchomai (e&rxomai) is also a principal verb which means “come, go”, and occurs frequently in ordinary narration. However, in the Gospel of John it also carries a deeper significance. Like ginomai, it refers to Jesus (the Word/Son of God) coming to earth as a human being, though with the specific connotation of his ministry and work on earth. Note especially the careful use of the verbs erchomai (“come”), ginomai (“come to be”), and eimi (“be”) in Jn 1:15 and 30. It is thus possible to identify the two aspects indicated by the parallel phrases here:

    • gennaœ: “I have come to be (born)“—Jesus’ birth as a human being
    • erchomai: “I have come into the world”—His human life and ministry

If these two phrases reflect the mystery and power of the Incarnation, the remainder of Jesus’ statement expounds the purpose for it, as contained within the expression “unto this” (eis touto), i.e. “for this purpose”. Space does not allow for a detailed exposition of the remaining words and phrases; here, I can offer only a brief summary:

  • “the world” (ho kosmos)—The noun kosmos (ko/smo$, “world-order, world”) is a key word, occurring 78 times in the Gospel of John (out of 186 total in the NT). It is primarily used in a negative, dualistic sense, signifying the realm of evil and darkness which is opposed to God. However, it also figures prominently in the idea of salvation—the Light (Jesus, the Son) comes into the world of darkness to save humankind. The usage here is similar to that in 3:16, etc (emphasizing salvation), while in the prior statement of 18:36, it is the negative contrast with God that is in view.
  • “witness” (vb. martyreœ)—The verb martyreœ (marture/w, “[give/bear] witness”) is another regular Johannine word, occurring 33 times in the Gospel, and another 10 times in the Letters (also 4 in Revelation), more than half of all NT occurrences. Especially important is the idea of Jesus as a witness—as the Son he makes known the person, presence and nature of God the Father to humankind.
  • “out of” (ek)—The Gospel and Letters of John frequently use the preposition ek (e)k, lit. “out of”) to refer to birth—specifically the birth of believers. One is born from (i.e. coming “out of”) another. As believers, we are born “out of the Spirit”, which is the same as being born “out of God” (Jn 1:13-14; 3:3-8; 1 Jn 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, etc). Here the expression is “out of the truth”, but it essentially means the same thing, from the standpoint of Johannine theology (God = Truth = the Spirit, cf. below). The specific phrase used here by Jesus, “everyone being [i.e. who is] out of the truth”, is similar to that found repeatedly in 1 John (3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18); note also the close syntax (with the participle œn, “being”) in Jn 3:31.
  • “the truth” (h¢ al¢theia)—The word al¢theia (a)lh/qeia, “truth”) is another Johannine key term (25 times in the Gospel, 20 in the Letters, out of 109 in the NT). It refers to a fundamental characteristic of God the Father which is virtually identical with His Person. Jesus, as the Son, also identifies himself as Truth (Jn 14:6, etc).
  • “hears my voice”—The idea of hearing the voice is likewise fundamental to Johannine expression, especially in the Discourses. It goes back to Old Testament tradition—to the Sinai theophany (cf. 5:37), and to the idea of the Prophets hearing God’s word. Jesus, as the Son, hears the Father’s voice, indicating both obedience and the receiving of revelation. In turn, believers respond (in faith) to Jesus’ voice, which reflects and embodies the very voice of God (14:24, etc). See especially Jn 5:24-25ff; 8:43; 10:3ff, 16, 27; 12:47. Jesus’ words in 8:47 are very close to those here in 18:37.

The immediate exchange between Jesus and Pilate closes with Pilate’s famous question “What is (the) truth?” (v. 38). The answer is implicit in the message of the Gospel as a whole, and becomes clear enough through a careful study of the Discourses and other passages. However, if one seeks a more direct answer to the question, it is necessary to turn to the First Letter of John. I leave you today with these words from 1 John 5:6:

“…the Spirit is the Truth”
to pneuma estin h¢ al¢theia

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 1:32-35

Luke 1:32-35

Having discussed the Angelic appearance to Zechariah in the last two notes, today I will be looking at the parallel appearance to Mary in Lk 1:26-38. This annunciation pattern was outlined in the prior note. In both episodes, the “Messenger [a&ggelo$] (of the Lord)” who appears is named Gabriel. This is established in the narrative introduction to the scene (v. 26):

“And in the sixth month, the Messenger Gabrîel was se(n)t forth from God into a city of the Galîl {Galilee} (with the) name (of) Nazaret…”

The mention of the sixth month connects this episode with the prior notice of Elizabeth’s pregnancy in vv. 24-25 (i.e. the sixth month of her pregnancy). The parallel between Mary and Elizabeth is obvious, and, according to verse 36, the two women were also related. The main difference between them has to do with the reason that each was unable to bear a child at the time of the Angel’s appearance—Elizabeth was both sterile/barren (stei=ra) and past the normal age (v. 7); while Mary was a virgin (parqe/no$) and still in the period of engagement (°¢rûsîn) when, presumably, she was not yet living with Joseph (v. 27).

Even more significantly, there is a thematic shift from prophetic motifs (Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, etc) to Davidic royal imagery (from 1-2 Samuel, etc). This is indicated right away with the notice (in v. 27) that Joseph was from the “house of David” (oi@ko$ Daui/d). In referring to Mary specifically as a virgin (parqe/no$) there may be an echo of the famous ‘Messianic’ reference in Isa 7:14 [LXX], as also by the phrasing in v. 28b. It is possible that there is also a (Messianic) allusion to Zeph 3:14-17 [LXX] in vv. 28ff, with the parallel greeting “Rejoice [xai=re]…daughter of Zion” (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 345). The use of xai=re (chaíre) as a greeting in v. 28 is of greater importance for establishing the keyword motif of favor (xa/ri$, cháris) in the passage. It should be recalled the occurrence of this theme in the prior appearance to Zechariah, in which the Angel (Gabriel) appears on the right-hand side of the altar, indicating that God is responding with favor to Zechariah and Elizabeth. The very name Yôµ¹n¹n ( )Iwa/nnh$, i.e. John) means “Yah(weh) as shown favor [µnn]”. The same Hebrew word is at the root of the name Hannah („annâ, hN`j^), the mother of Samuel (1 Sam 1-2), who serves as an Old Testament type/pattern for Mary, both in this scene and the hymn (Magnificat) which follows in vv. 46-55. The Samuel narrative was already alluded to in the prior vv. 23-24 (cf. 1 Sam 1:19-20).

This favor (xa/ri$) is, after the initial greeting (xai=re), expressed in two statements by Gabriel to Mary:

  • “Favored one [kexaritwme/nh], the Lord (is) with you” (v. 28b)
  • “You have found favor [xa/ri$] (from) alongside God” (v. 30b)

These are essentially parallel statements expressing the same idea, given two-fold emphasis. The phrase “the Lord (is) with you” may allude to the name Immanuel from Isa 7:14, which will be discussed in the upcoming note on Matt 1:23. There can be little doubt that the announcement which follows in vv. 31-35 introduces a number of titles with Messianic (and theological) significance, beginning with the declaration of the name Yeshua (Jesus):

“See! you will take/receive together in the womb and will produce a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua.” (v. 31)

The statement contains the three key elements of the birth process: conception, the birth itself, and the giving of a name. Y¢šûa±, like Yôµ¹n¹n, is a Yahweh-name (cf. the earlier article), related to the idea of God’s salvation/deliverance of his people; it will be discussed in detail in the note on Matt 1:21. With regard to the titles in verses 32-33 and 35, there are two important passages which help to elucidate their Messianic and theological significance—(i) from the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 7, and (ii) the Qumran text 4Q246, which was inspired/influenced by the book of Daniel. I set forth the parallels from 2 Samuel 7 (following Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 338) here:

  • “a great name” (v. 9)
  • “the throne of his kingdom” (v. 13)
  • “he will be my son” (v. 14)
  • “your house and your kingdom” (v. 16)

That 2 Sam 7:11-14 was understood in a Messianic sense—that is, as a prophecy of a future Anointed ruler in the Davidic line—is confirmed by the Florilegium text (4Q174[Flor], lines 7-12) from Qumran, along with other writings of the period. On the Messianic Davidic-ruler type, and the early Christian understanding of Jesus as its fulfillment, cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Parts 6-8). I have discussed the important Qumran text 4Q246 in considerable detail in other notes and articles; the parallels of expression with Luke 1:32-35 are striking indeed.

In verses 32-33, we find a sequence of five statements by Gabriel regarding the child Jesus’ identity and (future) destiny; they are each governed by a verb in the future tense:

  • “he will be great [me/ga$]”
  • “he will be called son of the Highest [ui(o\$ u(yi/stou]”
  • “the Lord God will give him the ruling-seat of David his father”
  • “he will rule as king upon [i.e. over] the house of Jacob into the Ages”
  • “there will be no end/completion of his kingdom”

The last two statements are parallel, expressing the same basic idea—that Jesus will rule as king, and that his kingdom will last forever. This eternal aspect of his kingdom marks it as having the character of the Kingdom of God, with the expression “into the Age(s)” being the traditional Greek idiom related to the Hebrew word ±ôl¹m (<l*ou). For the Hebrew term as a name or title of God (±Ôl¹m, “The Ancient/Eternal One”), cf. my earlier discussion in the article on ±Elyôn.

The third statement defines Jesus’ kingship in traditional Messianic terms—i.e., as a future/eschatological ruler from the line of David. In early Christian tradition, this came to be expressed by the use of the title “Son of David” for Jesus; for more on its occurrence in the New Testament, cf. Part 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The first two statements (in v. 32a) are fundamental with regard to Jesus’ identity and future role in God’s plan of salvation. They govern not only the sequence in vv. 32-33, but also what follows in verse 35—that is, of the two halves of the annunciation taken together:

  • “he will be great“—Son of David (Messiah), i.e. ruling as God’s Anointed king upon the earth (vv. 32-33)
  • “he will be called son of the Highest“—Son of God (v. 35), i.e. with God in the highest places

The two implied spatial aspects (on earth / in the highest [heavens]) are expressed in the later Angelic announcement in 2:14 (to be discussed in a subsequent note). At the theological level, the titles Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) and Son of God are the two elements that make up the core early Christian understanding of Jesus (e.g. in Peter’s confession, esp. Matt 16:16 [par Luke 9:20]). Let us consider each of the titles that appear in Lk 1:32a:

“Great” (me/ga$)—The absolute use of this adjective is applied to God himself in the LXX (cf. Ps 48:1 [145:3]; 86:10; 135:5), while it is qualified when used of human beings (e.g., 2 Sam 19:33; Sir 48:22), as in its application to John the Baptist in Lk 1:15 (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 347). Almost certainly a comparison between Jesus and John is intended here. That the title Great (One) essentially refers to God is also confirmed by the (likely) fundamental meaning of the old Semitic word °E~l, “Mighty (One)” (cf. the earlier article). Underlying the expression “Lord God” (ku/rio$ o( qeo/$) in verse 32b, is the ancient Israelite (religious) identification of Yahweh (the Lord [°Adôn]) with °E~l—that is, as the one true Creator God. This connects Jesus back past the time of David to that of the Patriarchs and the origins of Israel. The ancient God of Israel—the God of the Fathers—is the one who gives to Jesus kingship and the everlasting throne.

“Highest” (u%yisto$)—This Greek word translates, and, as a divine title, corresponds with, Hebrew ±Elyôn (/oyl=u#). On this ancient title, and its relation to °E~l, cf. the earlier article on ±Elyôn. It is at least partly synonymous with °E~l in the basic meaning “Mighty, Great, Exalted”, and of the plural °E_lœhîm used as an intensive (“Mightest, Greatest,” etc). In the Greco-Roman world, u%yisto$ was used as a title Zeus, just as “High/Exalted, Highest” might be applied to any deity associated with the Sky. Beyond the occurrences in the Old Testament (LXX) and New Testament, it is also used of Yahweh frequently in pre-Christian Jewish literature (Jubilees 16:18; 1 Enoch 9:3; 10:1; 46:7; 60:1, 22; 1QapGen 12:17; 20:12, 16, etc; cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 347-8).

Verse 35 in the second part of the Annunciation, following Mary’s question (“how will this be?”), relates to this latter name “Most High, Highest” and to Jesus as the Son of God. Note the pair of statements:

  • “the holy Spirit will come upon you”
  • “the power of the Highest will cast shade upon you”

Again, this reflects two aspects of one event or moment—the conception of the child Jesus (cf. verse 31). The declaration in v. 35b combines both aspects as well, in terms of the child’s birth and name (that is, his essential nature and identity):

  • “the (child) coming to be (born)…will be called”
    • “Holy”—i.e. Holy (One), related to the Holy Spirit (of God)
    • “Son of God”—son of the Highest

God as the Holy One, and his holiness, are emphasized frequently in the Scriptures, going back to the fundamental statement in Lev 19:2. The expression “Holy (One)” as a divine title will be discussed further in the note on 1:46ff. The title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=) relates back to key passages such as Psalm 2 and 2 Sam 7 (cf. above), especially as they came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense by Jews and Christians. I discuss the Messianic significance of the title, and its application to Jesus, at length in another article (“Yeshua the Anointed” Part 12). Eventually, orthodox Christians came to understand the divine Sonship of Jesus in a metaphysical sense, but there is little clear evidence of this developed Christology in the New Testament itself. In the book of Acts, Jesus is understood as “Son of God” primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of the Father). However, in the Gospel, this identity is established from the very beginning of his earthly life (cf. also Lk 3:22 par). The relationship between Jesus and God the Father (Yahweh) will be examined further in the next note (on 1:43).

References above marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).