Rose Publishing is honored to bring you the first of this 3-part series “What Christians Get Wrong About the Bible” by Dr. Matt Williams, associate professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, California. This series covers common misunderstandings of Christianity.
Most today assume that Jewish people of the first century expected the same type of Messiah that WE understand Jesus to be — a suffering, sacrificial messiah who would die for the sins of the world and bring spiritual salvation.
For the Jewish people of the first century, though, we have no evidence that any Jewish person was looking for a messianic figure that would die. From all the literature, we can see that Jewish expectations for the Messiah were varied. Some expected the Messiah to be a king, some a priest, others a prophet. The most popular expectation of the Messiah in the first century was for a warrior king who would be like King David, who would fight against the foreigners in their land, the Romans, and bring freedom. After centuries of foreign oppression, they longed for that day when they would be free.
Here is a sample Jewish text from the time of Jesus:
“See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel… undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction” (Psalms of Solomon 17:21-22).
Another Jewish text says this,
“How fine is the King, the Messiah, who will arise from the house of Judah! He girds his loins and goes forth and sets up the ranks of battle against his enemies and kills the kings …. He reddens the mountains with the blood of their slain and his garments are dipped in blood.”
So, when Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ/Messiah in Matthew 16, he probably expected what every other Jewish person of his culture expected: a warrior king to destroy the Romans.
This is why Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 16:21 are so hard for Peter to understand:
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Since Peter expected a warrior king, Jesus’s teaching about his own suffering and death made no sense.
I talk a lot about unmet expectations about what God/Jesus should do for us today, and relate it to the unmet expectations of the early disciples of Jesus — they expected a warrior king, and got a suffering servant. We expect a magic Genie-God who makes our life wonderful and gives us all that we ask for — we often get something different.
Dr. Matt Williams, Biola University — the associate professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, California. A former missionary to Spain, Matt preaches and teaches at churches throughout the United States and Spain. He is general editor of Colección Teológica Contemporánea, a series of theological books in Spanish, and is the author of two books on the Gospels.