If it is so obvious that Jesus is the Messiah, why didn’t the disciples understand it?

Over the years, I have been asked if the messianic prophecies are so clear about the coming of Jesus, why didn’t the disciples understand His mission? This question can be dealt with in a number of ways.

First, we must understand the different messianic expectations at the time of Jesus. As I have  said before, there wasn’t one dominant messianic expectation at the time of Jesus

Secondly, we need to understand the various ways the New Testament authors interpret the Jewish Scriptures. 

Third, we need to possibly consider the words of Michael Heiser here. He says:

“Have you ever wondered how it was that the disciples never seemed to get the things that Jesus told them about himself? Think about it. When Jesus told them that it was time for him to go to Jerusalem and die, it angered and scared them (Matt. 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32). No one replied, “That’s right—I read that in the Scriptures.” Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying such a thing (Matt. 16:21-23). The truth is that the disciples had little sense of what was going on. Even after the resurrection their minds had to be supernaturally enabled to get the message (Luke 24:44-45). We shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples. They weren’t dumb. Their ignorance was the result of God’s deliberate plan to conceal messianic prophecy. Paul talked about the need for that when writing to the Corinthians: But we speak the hidden wisdom of God in a mystery, which God predestined before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew. For if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:7-8) Had Satan and the other powers of darkness known that instigating people to kill the messiah was precisely what God had designed to accomplish their own doom, they never would have done it. The gospels are clear that Satan and demons knew the prophesied son of David had come (Matt. 8:28-29; Luke 4:31-35). The Old Testament was clear that would happen at some point. But what it concealed was the plan of redemption.

Let’s take Isaiah 53 as an example. It’s clear that God’s servant would suffer for sins—but the Hebrew word translated “messiah” (mashiach) never occurs in the passage. It occurs only once in all of Isaiah—and then it is used of Cyrus, a pagan king. The word never occurs in Jeremiah or Ezekiel, and is only found once in the Minor Prophets (Hab. 3:13) where it speaks of the nation. The occurrences in the Psalms refer to Israel’s king. Only a handful of them are quoted by New Testament authors of the messianic king—but their application only became clear after the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even the label “son of God” isn’t helpful since Israel is called God’s son in Exod. 4:22-23, and kings like David got that title, too. As shocking as it sounds, there isn’t a single verse in the Old Testament that refers to a suffering messiah (mashiach) who would be God incarnate, die, and rise again. That’s deliberate. What we do get in the Old Testament are all the pieces of that profile scattered in dozens, even hundreds of places. The portrait could only be discerned after the fact. The plan of salvation was a cosmic chess game that had to be won. The rest of prophecy figures to work out the same way—fulfilments hidden in plain sight.” – Michael Heiser, The 60 Second Scholar: 100 Insights That Illumine the Bible

Feel free to check out our post called Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies?

Also, see Heiser’s clip here: How Biblical Prophecy is Unclear and Why- Michael S. Heiser

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