The Serving and Served Messiah

I said in one of my posts on Friday that, today, I would write about my church’s Bible study.  We’re going through A Fragile Stone, Peter: Jesus’ Friend, with Michael Card.

A point that Michael Card has made more than once is that Jesus was not exactly the sort of Messiah that Peter and many Jews at the time were expecting.  According to Card, Jesus was a Messiah who would serve others and suffer and die to bring people forgiveness, whereas Peter and many Jews were anticipating a glorious ruler who would be served rather than serve.  What’s more, Card believes that Peter’s disappointment in Jesus, not Peter’s fear, was what was behind his threefold denial of Jesus.  Peter was disappointed when he saw Jesus being arrested and afflicted, even as Jesus did nothing to stop it.  For Card, Peter didn’t deny Jesus out of fear, but he did so because he didn’t know who Jesus was anymore.

What’s my reaction to this scenario?  You can read here for Thom Stark’s thoughts on the debate over whether or not there were Jews prior to or during the time of Jesus who anticipated a suffering Messiah (and Stark’s post also contains links to Richard Carrier’s posts, which Stark is seeking to refute).   We can say, however, that, after the first century, there were rabbis who had a conception of a suffering Messiah (see here).  But, whether or not there were Jews before or during the first century who expected a Messiah who would suffer, I agree with Card that—-looking at the Gospels themselves—-Peter in the narratives did not expect for Jesus to suffer and die.  In Mark 8:32, after all, Peter rebukes Jesus when Jesus says that the Son of Man will suffer, be killed, and rise again after three days.  I do not think that a suffering Messiah was anywhere in Peter’s Messianic expectations.  And that may have been one reason that Peter was swinging his sword when Jesus was arrested.

I am somewhat reluctant, though, to embrace Card’s narrative that Christianity is better than Judaism because Christianity had a serving Messiah, whereas Judaism expected a powerful and glorious Messiah who would be served by others.  I’ve heard evangelicals abuse this sort of notion.  One evangelical in a class that I once took made the blanket statement that “the Jews were all about power”, which prompted a negative response from a Jewish student in the class!  I’m not suggesting in the least that Michael Card is anti-Judaism, for he quotes the rabbis and depicts Jesus observing Jewish customs.  But I do believe that presenting Christianity as a religion of service and Judaism as a religion that longed for a powerful Messiah can encourage unfair stereotypes of Judaism.

It’s not just that the Torah emphasizes such values as compassion for others, but I also suggest that perhaps Judaism’s Messianic expectations in the first century, too, had an element of compassion.  The Messiah, according to first century Judaism, was to be one who would deliver the oppressed of Israel, bring peace, and punish evildoers.  Is this not an act of service, which enhances the lives of others?  Sure, this Messiah would be served, honored, and glorified, but Christians believe that Jesus will be served, honored, and glorified when he comes back.  What’s the difference?

At the same time, I will say that I, as a Christian, appreciate Jesus taking on himself the role of a servant.  What Michael Card says on page 54 resonates with me: “Does the fact that Jesus was waiting on the shore to serve the disciples breakfast make you, like Michael Card, want to fall down and worship Him more than if He had been waiting with legions of angels?”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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