Unknown and Yet Well Known1
One of the greatest tragedies of history has been the horrific anti-Semitism of the Western world. How could anyone ever justify the medieval Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian and other European pogroms, or the genocide of the Holocaust?2-5 Much of this anti-Semitism grows out of Christian accusations that Judaism is guilty for shedding the blood of Jesus Christ. The conclusion is then drawn that Judaism’s own blood must be shed:
And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” — Matthew 27:25, RSV.
. . . lest innocent blood be shed in your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, and so the guilt of bloodshed be upon you. — Deuteronomy 19:10, RSV.
The fact is that Judaism did not understand the person and mission of Jesus. However, the fact also is that Jesus’ own disciples did not understand his person and mission either. Judaism participated in Jesus’ apprehension and death at the same time that his true followers forsook and abandoned him. Thus, Judaism did nothing that the rest of the world has not done, would not have done, or would not yet do — given the opportunity.
As just noted, Judaism is not alone in misunderstanding the nature of the Messianic secret.6 Neither is Judaism alone in misinterpreting the tabernacle/Temple metaphors or in misconstruing the nature and actions of the One-and-Only God.7 However, Judaism has been alone in its persistence to understand and accept historical truth. For this reason, it is only through the millennial journey of Judaism that the Christ event can be truly seen, heard and understood.
After returning to the Promised Land from Babylonian exile, Judaism freely acknowledged the visible absence of YHWH. There was no cloud by day and no pillar of fire by night. When the Second Temple was built, there was no divine confirmation. There was no Shekinah presence, no cherubim, no mercy seat, no ark of the covenant, and no tables of the Law. The Second Apartment or Most Holy Place of the Temple was entirely void.
Those who returned from exile also acknowledged that the Davidic kingship and kingdom had not been restored. Neither had the Aaronic priesthood been fully reinstated or the prophetic office reinstituted. Not only was YHWH himself absent, but all his anointed agents or representatives also were missing.
Furthermore, Judaism recognized that its sovereignty had not been restored and that Jerusalem, the Temple and the Torah had not attracted world attention as the prophet Isaiah had foreseen:
And nations shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
— Isaiah 60:3, RSV.
Nevertheless, in spite of all these disappointments and its own ignorance of its role and destiny, Judaism tenaciously held to critically important truths:
1. Judaism clung to the ultimate validity of the tabernacle/Temple — despite a fundamental misunderstanding of its metaphoric significance.
And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision:
make it plain upon tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its time;
it hastens to the end — it will not lie.
If it seem slow, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay. . . .”
. . . [T]he Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.
— Habakkuk 2:2, 3, 20, RSV.
2. Judaism clung to the conviction that an Anointed One (Mashiach/Moshiach/Messiah) would return as a human person. He would return to historically inaugurate the restoration of the throne and kingdom, the Temple and priesthood, and the prophetic office and rule of Torah that YHWH himself had first ordained.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion —
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
— Isaiah 61:1-4, RSV.
3. Judaism was prepared to accept the future appearing and salvific role of a human Suffering Servant.
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. . . .
. . . he shall see the fruit of the travail
of his soul and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous;
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out his soul to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
— Isaiah 53:1-6, 11, 12, RSV.
4. Judaism alone profoundly believed and longed for the actual return of the One-and-Only Creator-God, YHWH himself. N. T. Wright has set forth an impressive array of biblical evidence that documents Judaism’s unique belief in the return of YHWH.8
On that day the branch of YHWH shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel . . . Then YHWH will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain. — Isaiah 4:2-6.
Then the moon will be abashed, and the sun ashamed;
for YHWH of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and before his elders he will manifest his glory.
— Isaiah 24:23.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our god; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is YHWH, for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
For the hand of YHWH will rest on this mountain.
— Isaiah 25:9, 10.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!”
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy . . .
And the ransomed of YHWH shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
— Isaiah 40:3-5, 9-11.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of YHWH,
make straight in the desert a highway for our god.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of YHWH shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of YHWH has spoken.”
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your god!”
See, the Lord YHWH comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
— Isaiah 40:3-5, 9-11.
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your god reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of YHWH to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for YHWH has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
YHWH has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our god.
— Isaiah 52:7-10.
YHWH saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle . . .
So those in the west shall fear the name of YHWH,
and those in the east, his glory;
for he will come like a pent-up stream
that the wind of YHWH drives on.
And he will come to Zion as Redeemer,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says YHWH.
And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says YHWH: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth . . . — Isaiah 59:15-17, 19-21.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of YHWH has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the people;
but YHWH will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
— Isaiah 60:1-3.
Go through, go through the gates,
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway,
clear it of stones,
lift up an ensign for the people.
YHWH has proclaimed
to the end of the earth;
Say to daughter Zion,
“See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him . . . ”
“Who is this that comes from Edom,
from Bozrah in garments stained crimson?
Who is this so splendidly robed,
marching in his great might?”
“It is I, announcing vindication, mighty to save . . .
I have trodden the winepress alone . . .
I looked, but there was no helper;
I stared, but there was no one to sustain me;
so my own arm brought me victory,
and my wrath sustained me . . . ”
It was no messenger or angel
but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old . . .
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence . . .
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
— Isaiah 62:10, 11; 63:1, 3, 5, 9; 64:1.
For thus says YHWH:
I will extend prosperity to [Jerusalem] like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream . . .
You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bodies shall flourish like the grass;
and it shall be known that the hand of YHWH is with his servants,
and his indignation is against his enemies.
For YHWH will come in fire,
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to pay back his anger in fury,
and his rebuke in flames of fire.
For by fire will YHWH execute judgment,
and by his sword, on all flesh;
and those slain by YHWH shall be many . . .
For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. — Isaiah 66:12, 14-16, 18, 19.
Then he brought me to the gate, the gate facing east. And there, the glory of the god of Israel was coming from the east; the sound was like the sound of mighty waters; and the earth shone with his glory . . . As the glory of YHWH entered the temple by the gate facing east, the spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and the glory of YHWH filled the Temple.
While the man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me out of the Temple. He said to me: Mortal, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet, where I will reside among the people of Israel forever. — Ezekiel 43:1-7.
I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, says YHWH of hosts . . . The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says YHWH of hosts; and in this place I will give peace, says YHWH of hosts. — Haggai 2:7, 9.
Jerusalem shall be inhabited like villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and animals in it. For I will be a wall of fire all around it, says YHWH, and I will be the glory within it . . . Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says YHWH. Many nations shall join themselves to YHWH on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that YHWH of hosts has sent me to you. YHWH will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem. — Zechariah 2:4, 5, 10-12.
Thus says YHWH of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says YHWH: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of YHWH of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. — Zechariah 8:2, 3.
See, a day is coming for YHWH, when the plunder taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle . . . Then YHWH will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives . . . then YHWH my god will come, and all the holy ones with him . . . And YHWH will become king over all the earth; on that day YHWH will be one, and his name one . . . Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, YHWH of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths . . . — Zechariah 14:1-5, 9, 16.
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says YHWH of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to YHWH in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to YHWH as in the days of old and as in former years. — Malachi 3:1-4.
Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people . . .
— Psalm 50:3, 4.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before YHWH; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.
— Psalm 96:12, 13.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of YHWH, for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
— Psalm 98:8, 9.
As N. T. Wright declares, “This catalogue is impressive in its range and scope, and indicates that the theme would have been well known in the second-Temple period.”9 No other nation, religion or people held these promises, hopes and expectations, and held them so passionately. Yet the same people who so passionately believed this also believed that the One-and-Only Exalted God, YHWH, could not and would not die. Thus, Judaism simply failed to understand that YHWH himself would return as the promised Suffering and Dying Messianic Servant. Judaism failed to understand that YHWH would thus fulfill all the metaphors of the tabernacle/Temple and that he would thus inaugurate the new covenant, the new Creation, the new kingdom.
However, that which Judaism did not understand has not been understood by the rest of humanity either. Judaism’s role in the death and resurrection of YHWH as Jesus Christ is representative of what all mankind would have done had they, too, been present. Furthermore, Christianity in all its forms — cultic, mystical, sectarian, heretical and orthodox — has yet to comprehend the real Jesus Christ. It has yet to comprehend the truth of the Christ event as YHWH’s own revelation, disclosure and presence to all humanity. Nevertheless, it now is clear that Jesus
believed himself called, by Israel’s god, to evoke the traditions which promised YHWH’s return to Zion, and the . . . important traditions which spoke of a human figure sharing the divine throne; to enact those traditions in his own journey to Jerusalem, his messianic act in the Temple, and his death at the hands of the pagans (in the hope of subsequent vindication); and thereby to embody YHWH’s return. . . . [Thus, it is long since time to forget] the “titles” of Jesus, . . . forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus of Nazareth conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror-image of that unthinking would-be orthodoxy. Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet telling a story about YHWH returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple’s destruction and celebrating the final exodus. . . . [Thus,] Jesus . . . was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given him by the one he knew as “father,” to enact in himself what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself. He would be the pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He would embody in himself the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God.10
Judaism did not see, hear or understand this — and neither have we. Yet Jesus does not come to us as one unknown. Rather,
[w]e come to him as ones unknown, crawling back from the far country, where we had wasted our substance on riotous but ruinous historicism. But the swinehusks — the “assured results of modern criticism” — reminded us of that knowledge which arrogance had all but obliterated, and we began the journey home. But when we approached . . . we found him running to us as one well known, whom we had spurned in the name of scholarship or even of faith, but who was still patiently waiting to be sought and found once more. And the ring on our finger and the shoes on our feet assure us that, in celebrating his kingdom and feasting at his table, we shall discover again and again not only who he is but who we ourselves are: as unknown and yet well known, as dying and behold we live.11
- See Nicholas Thomas Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), p. 662.
- See Abba Eban, Heritage: Civilization and the Jews (New York: Summit Books, 1984).
- See Britannica Online, s.v. “Spanish Inquisition,” at www.britannica.com/topic/Spanish-Inquisition.
- See Kathleen Kern, “Chronology of Anti-Semitism,” in We Are the Pharisees (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1995), pp. 109-122.
- See Malcolm Hay, Europe and the Jews: The Pressure of Christendom on the People of Israel for 1900 Years (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960), pp. 25, 26. Hay’s book appeared originally in 1950 under the title, Foot of Pride (from Psalm 36:11).
- See “The Messianic Secret,” Outlook (Prequel 1999.7).
- See “The Covenantal Presence,” Outlook (Prequel 1999.8).
- Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 616-621.
- Ibid., p. 621.
- Ibid., pp. 651, 653.
- Ibid., p. 662.