Understanding the Bible 14: Messianic Expectations Begin

The period after the return from exile was one of deep confusion for Israel.  For while she had indeed been set free from captivity, the deliverance was partial at best.  The Persians remained the sovereign political and military power in the region (later replaced by a series of empires beginning with Alexander the Great and continuing on to the Romans who ruled well past the end of the New Testament era).  And – perhaps even more distressing – the restoration of the Temple did not result in the return of God’s “glory” to Mt. Zion.  How were the covenant people to interpret these events?  And more importantly, how was salvation to be accomplished in light of them?

It is out of this period that expectations of messiah(s) emerge – the hope for an anointed leader(s) who will be God’s agent of restoration.  Such an expectation was well rooted in the biblical worldview.  And we can understand entirely why Israel’s vision of a messiah was royal or priestly or both.  She was looking back toward her Golden Age – the days of David and Solomon; the time when salvation seemed so close at hand.  And she was waiting for God to bring his deliverance by those means again – that is, by king and Temple.  

But in the midst of Israel’s search to find this “Messiah!” – she failed to notice a deeply profound statement made by the prophet of the exile:  Isaiah.   It was – after all – Isaiah’s messege of hope that brought Israel thru th restoration to Canaan in hope and trust.  Isaiah assured Israel that God was and is very much “on her side – a partisan who will accomplish his will.  But perhaps not by means of king and priest – or at least not in the way Israel imagined king and priest would function.

In this installment of our introduction to the bible, we look at the somewhat cryptic foretelling of a sufferer – a suffering king – who will be instrumental in the completion of the salvation project.  By means of his hardships, sin will be overcome.  It is a passage to which the New Testament will turn in centuries to come and one central to the larger story of salvation as revealed in Jesus.



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