Who Do You Say I Am? A Look at Jesus/Part Two

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Given these issues, it is important to examine the issue of Jesus and blasphemy in ancient Judaism.”Blasphemy in ancient Judaism was regarded as ‘stretching out one’s hand against “God” by impugning God’s honor and holiness (Sipre Deut 221 on Deut 21:22). God was blasphemed when, among other things, one ascribed divine powers to oneself or laid claim to dignity and position. A person might be a fool for claiming to be the Messiah, but not a criminal. This was demonstrated by Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Second Jewish Revolt (A.D. 132-135), who openly proclaimed to be the Messiah and was believed to be the Messiah by Rabbi Akiba (see Shurer: The History of the Jewish People).  Despite Bar Kokhba’s claim to Messiahship, as far as we know, he was never accused of blasphemy for making such a claim.  After Bar Kokhba died another failed Messiah in the history of Judaism, it was clear he did not meet the messianic expectation for the Jewish people.  And when the Messiah dies, you move on to another one.  In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day,  for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

As N.T. Wright says,
“If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his explicit or implicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian, see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and to regard him as the Messiah. There were several other Messianic or quasi-Messianic movements within a hundred years either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by authorities, or by a rival group. If your Messiah is killed, you conclude that he was not the Messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family (But note: Nobody ever said that James, the brother of Jesus, was the Messiah.) Such groups did not go around saying that their Messiah had been raised from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless they were telling the truth.” (John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright. The Resurrection of Jesus. Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press. 2006, 71).

So the Jewish authorities did not find Jesus’s claim to be the Messiah as blasphemy. So something else triggered the accusation of blasphemy in the trial scene of Mark 14. In other words, it was not just Jesus’ affirmation of being  the Messiah. According to Mark 14:62-Jesus affirmed the chief priests question by saying He is the Messiah, the Son Of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world . This is what is called the “self-understanding of Jesus.” This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone.  Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself. Jesus’ claim that he would not simply be entering into God’s presence, but that he would actually be sitting at God’s right side was the equivalent to claiming equality with God. And of course, we see the chief priest accuses Jesus of blasphemy  (Mark 14:63-65). (see James R. Edwards, Is Jesus the Only Savior, pgs 90-91).

There is a comment about this issue in the late third century. Rabbi Abbahu says: If someone says to you, ‘I am God,’ he is lying, ‘I am the son of man’ he will regret it: ‘I will ascend to heaven,’ he said it but will not carry it out.” (Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anith 2.1 65b, quoted in Hengel, Studies in Early Christology, 181).  If this is correct, this rabbinical saying (admittedly dated from over 150 yrs suggests the Jewish leaders also understood Jesus’ words “I am” to be the claim of God. Of course, Jesus is also accused of blasphemy in by asserting his authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:7). Scribes did not forgive sins. Forgiveness was a divine prerogative of the God of Israel.

Robert Gundry has lent support to the authenticity of the Jesus’ reply to the high priest’s statement. (1) The combination of sitting as God’s right hand and coming in the clouds of heaven appears nowhere in the NT except on Jesus’ lips;(2) the Son of Man in nowhere else associated with the notion of sitting at God’s right hand;(3) the saying exhibits  the same blend of oblique self reference and personally high claims that characterizes other Son of Man sayings (Mark 2:10,28; 8:38:13:26); (4)  even though Psalm 100:1 concerning sitting at the right hand alluded to frequently in the NT, the substitution of “the Power” for “God” though typical for Jewish reverential usage occurs nowhere else in the NT; (5) Mark is unlikely to have created such a prediction to the Sanhedrin which they did not, in fact, see fulfilled- (See Robert Gundry, Mark, A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, pgs 917-918); cited in William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith: 3rd edition, pg 318.

As Richard Bauckham says in his book God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, that while Greeks focused on philosophical matters of the nature of the divine, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with God’s divine identity. The God of Second Temple Judaism was identifiable by three unique attributes: (1) The God of Israel is the sole Creator of all things (Isa. 40:26, 28; 37:16; 42:5; 45:12; Neh. 9:6; Ps 86:10; Hos. 13:4; (2)The God of Israel is the sovereign Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35); (3) The God of Israel is also the only the only being worthy of being worshiped (Deut. 6:13; Psalm 97:7; Isa. 45:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). Jesus’ divine identity is affirmed by the fact that He is given the same attributes as God.

Through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus comes to participate as God’s sovereign Ruler over all things (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:44;26:64; Acts 2:33-35; 5:31; 7:55-56; 1 Cor.15:27-28; Phil. 2:6-11; Eph. 1:21-22; Heb. 1:3; 1 Peter 3:22). Jesus is seen as the object of worship (Matt. 14:33; 28: 9,17; John 5:23; 20:28; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8-12). He is also the recipient of praise (Matt. 21:16-16; Eph. 6:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev. 5:8-14) and  prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17,21; 22:16,19;1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor.12:8). Jesus is also the Creator of all things (Heb 1:2; John 1: 1-3; Col. 1:15-16; 1 Cor. 8:6). The divine identity of God is seen in Jesus’ suffering, death, and glory.

The worship of Jesus by Jews in the first century was not the same as “apotheosis,” which can be defined as accepting a human figure as divine-read Paul and Barnabas’ rejection of being worshiped in Acts 14. Thus for non-Jews, “pagans” a proper conversion to the early Messianic faith meant a radical break with their previous religious groups and practices.  As Larry Hurtado says, devotion and worship of Jesus was not prompted by the apotheouis traditions of divine heroes- Jesus was not fit into a pantheon of Gods (see Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry W. Hurtado). And for Jews, in 1 Cor 8:6, Paul  gives a reformulation of the Jewish monotheistic creed-the Shema (see Deut 6).. but he now includes Jesus in context of Jewish monotheism.

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