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Yeshua in Context » Applying the Gospels, Identity of Yeshua, Reading Strategies, Study Tips » The Danger of Messianic Misunderstanding

The Danger of Messianic Misunderstanding

Readers of the gospels are repeatedly confronted with Yeshua’s ambiguity, his commands to secrecy, his constant refusal to be defined in straightforward categories. What strategy can we, as readers, employ to absorb the meaning of Yeshua’s identity and his instruction for us in carrying on the messianic mission?

The story of the good confession and Yeshua’s warning to be secret about it is instructive. Why, when Peter confesses accurately who Yeshua is, must Yeshua follow the revelation with a warning? What the disciples encountered in personal involvement with Yeshua is analogous to what we as readers of the gospels encounter. The warning is the same. What do we learn from this story about the danger of messianic misunderstanding?

The story of Peter’s confession of faith in Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 16:13-20; and Luke 9:18-21 is followed by the story of Peter’s rebuke in Mark 8:31-37; Matthew 16:21-26; and Luke 9:22-25.

Just at the moment of understanding who Yeshua is we risk his rebuke for misunderstanding.

God’s plan is not based on the same priorities as human kingdoms. Our distorted understanding of true goodness is bound to interfere with the right unfolding of the messianic age. If people were put in charge of bringing the kingdom, it would be a sad substitution for the infinitely wise outworking of pure love God has in mind.

The problems with human understanding, problems which lead Yeshua to command secrecy from his disciples, are twofold:

(1) Our vision of the messianic kingdom is corrupted by our violent nature, by the idea of conquest as a shortcut to the greater victory of redemption.

(2) Our vision of the messianic kingdom is limited by our lack of understanding the depths of love.

In simple terms, the error the disciples would have been prone to was simply looking for a human revolution. A corresponding error for modern disciples would be looking to the messianic mission of Yeshua as simply a means of personal gratification (my salvation, my afterlife, my blessing).

The identity of Messiah in fact is much more and much different than that of man-made messiahs. The depth of the problem is more than we realize. The means of solution is counter-intuitive. The commitment of God to the solution is firmer than we would guess.

Yeshua’s messianic identity is far greater than a conquering king. The cross would never be our guess. Neither is the cross logically necessary. God can conquer and even save any way he chooses. He chooses to do so in a manner that we will forever seek to understand.

George MacDonald said, “Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more.”

In the Fourth Gospel, Yeshua says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (15:9). The way of Yeshua’s messianic mission is hidden in the mystery of something larger, a love that predates creation, that is the essence of our nature but is veiled by corruption. The way Yeshua loves us comes from the Father, from God in his Direct Being, the Infinite One and his ways.

It is no wonder, then, that mere disciples were in danger of misunderstanding and needed to be warned, “Tell no one that I am Messiah.” It is no wonder that we face the danger of misunderstanding the messianic mission.

So, as readers of the gospels, we, like the disciples, need to assume that our understanding is not yet deep enough. Like the disciples, we might be warned not to act too quickly, not to assume we fully understand, not to be dismayed when the thing we expect does not happen, not to dismiss the suffering, and not to desire retribution on God’s enemies and ours.

Yeshua’s many statements about his identity call us to a deeper understanding. Who is this divine man we are following? He is always more than we think.

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Filed under: Applying the Gospels, Identity of Yeshua, Reading Strategies, Study Tips

2 Responses to "The Danger of Messianic Misunderstanding"

  1. Michael Bugg says:

    Yeshua’s many statements about his identity call us to a deeper understanding.

    I find that’s particularly truein the case of Matthew’s Gospel account. One of the frequent accusations of the anti-missionaries is that Matthew misuses Scripture. Christians in turn try to prove that the prophetic passages that he cites (e.g., the Immanuel passage) are straightforward prophecies of the Messiah.

    Both miss the point: Matthew is not writing apologetic material to convince anyone (which is more Luke’s schtick), but is writing midrashic material to make his already-convinced readers think. “Waitaminute, why the heck did Matthew cite Hosea 11:1? And why did he ascribe a prophecy of Zechariah to Jeremiah?”

    In the same way, we’re supposed to be asking, “What’s with all the secretiveness?” There’s a p’shat reason (if Yeshua openly confirmed He was the Messiah, a revolution would grow up around Him whether He wanted it or not), but also a remez–He is far more than what we think, and if we focus on any one facet too much, we miss the whole.

    Anyway, excellent article.

    Shalom.

  2. Ed says:

    I hope this doesn’t sound ignorant or arrogant, but I always thought that maybe what Judas was trying to do was to force Jesus’ hand; thus the reason for his regret and suicide at the betrayal came when he saw that Jesus was not going to react the way he had hoped. I mention that because of the error you write about in this article. Or was it really all about the bling?

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