Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King has been on my nightstand for a while – and for good reason. It’s one of those books that you have to ‘chew’ on for a while. And while it’s definitely not a quick read, it is one I recommend adding to your theological library.
Written by conservative evangelical scholars Herbert Bateman, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon Johnston. “A canonical and progressive explanation of the concept of the Messiah in the Bible, this work presents a comprehensive picture of both scriptural and cultural expectations concerning the Messiah.”
Divided into three sections, the authors look at the themes of the Messiah in the promises of the Old Testament, reflections and expectations drawn from Intertestamental literature, and the arrival of Jesus recorded in the New Testament.
What makes this book different from other books about the Messiah? The authors’ approach to surveying the three divisions of Messianic testimony. Rather than committing the hermeneutical error of “eisegesis” (reading Jesus back into messianic prophecies), the authors contend the Old Testament authors were divinely inspired to use “open” language that would be later fulfilled by Christ.
So-called “messianic” texts are not to be understood as exclusively Messianic – but intended to point to representative royal leaders of the Davidic line, of which Jesus Christ is the ultimately fulfillment. Basically, rather than reading into the text something that isn’t there, the authors emphasize the progressive nature of the identity of the ideal Davidic king as seen in the OT & NT and reflective literature from the Intertestamental period.
What I loved about the book:
- Overall, this is a beautiful book with full-color charts, indexes, maps, etc.., and a very impressive epilogue dedicated to interpreting Gen. 3:15.
- The authors incorporate insight from literature of the Second Temple era (the time that spans the two testaments). Why is this a big deal since these texts are not inspired? Previously, I was under the impression that Messianic expectations were at a feverish pitch at the dawn of the NT. But the author’s research demonstrates the complexity of the cultural situation in which Jesus was born. Messianic hope was not as monolithic as I believed.
- Gordon Johnston’s chapters on Messianic promises in Psalms and Isaiah are worth the price of the book alone. He includes how each Messianic promise was partially fulfilled in the Davidic line or the historical events – which is extremely helpful in understanding the author’s original intent in writing his prophetic statements.
What I didn’t love about the book:
- The authors’ overall position that there is no exclusive messianic interpretation to many OT passages. Instead, they prefer to view prophetic language as “open-ended” with both an immediate and ultimate fulfillment. Their scholarship is solid and the scope of their research impressive. They are well-respected conservative scholars – but I simply enjoy the approach of scholars like John Sailhamer who sees a more ‘realized’ eschatology in the OT (meaning OT authors and later inspired editors purposefully comprised their texts to highlight the promise of a coming Messiah).
- Author Darrell Bock gave me literary whiplash by approaching New Testament texts concerning the Messiah backwards! He begins his studies with Revelation and works through the NT to the Gospels. Bock said his purpose was to let the easier passages interpret the more difficult ones, but I was unconvinced. Although no less inspired than the Gospel accounts, I simply prefer starting with Jesus’ personal interpretations of prophecies concerning himself.
- With so much emphasis on the ‘progressive’ nature of Messianic revelations, I had hoped the authors would have written more on ‘how’ NT authors came to interpret OT texts from an ultimate fulfillment perspective. For instance, if there was no exclusive Messianic interpretation in OT texts, then how would NT authors come to interpret them as such? Outside of divine inspiration, were there clues in the OT texts that must be considered? Instead the bulk of their time is used to outline patterns of “escalated realization.”
Who should buy this book?
- Pastors, seminary students, or anyone interested in the development of the theme of the Messiah. This is a technical work, so it is suited for individuals with a background in biblical or historical theology or someone well-versed in basic Greek and Hebrew.
- Anyone wishing to build their own theological library. If you don’t have a background in theology, buy it and read it in bite-sized pieces. This would make a great reference book due to the massive scope.
Jesus the Messiah signifies what I love about great theology books. If written with a commitment to the inspiration of Scripture, you can agree with the author’s basic conclusions even if you don’t necessarily agree with ‘how’ they got there. While that’s not always true, in the case of this book, we all agree that Jesus Christ is the promised Messianic King.
For more information about the affiliate links, click here. In exchange for a review, the publisher provided me with a copy of this book.