Allow me to ask you two seemingly unrelated questions: Have you ever seen the face of a “messiah”?; have you ever seen something that combines all three, i.e., Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity? You can answer “yes” to both if you’ve seen the photo I attached above.
When I was driving by a mosque yesterday, I couldn’t help but stop to take a photo of this huge sign proudly hung on the front wall of the building. What a bizarre aggregate of many different things! In the photo, the Judeo-Christian notion of messiahship is assumed by this Indian man with a turban, whose name and picture are hung on the front wall of an Islamic shrine in a Canadian city.
So, I did research to make sense of the confusing photo I saw.
This man’s name is Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. He was born in 1835 and died in 1908. He was an Indian and, most of all, the founder of Ahmadiyya Islam—named after him—in India. He was much more than a founder because he claimed that he himself was the coming messiah fulfilling Islam’s latter-day prophecies. Ahmadiyya Islam is aware of Jesus (Isa), but it merely considers him as a mortal human prophet. Ahmadiyya Muslims believe that Jesus died a natural death in India, and they claim that his tomb is located at the Roza Bal shrine.
Well, I’m glad that I didn’t use more than ten minutes reading about them.
What I’d like to write today, however, is not about this kind of self-appointed “messiahs” but about the one true Messiah who came, as had been prophesied.
Second Temple Judaism period—which started approximately in the late sixth century BC and came to an end with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD—was a fascinating era in many aspects. Alexander the Great (365–323 BC)’s conquests and the spread of Hellenism, the translation of the LXX (Septuagint), the Maccabean war, the Hasmonean dynasty, the Siege of Jerusalem in 63 BC and Roman occupation, and the appointment of Herod the Idumaean as proxy king over Judea are only some of the numerous captivating events that transpired during this period.
In my opinion, two of the most representative traits of Second Temple Judaism are legalism and apocalypticism. Despite Sanders’s (and his followers’) claims, there is little evidence to dispute that Judaism of that era was indeed a legalistic religious framework of works-righteousness (Porter, 2016:111). Also, the Jews’ apocalyptic hopes were apparent; their expectation of the prophesied Messiah was strong especially under Roman rule. One of the factions within Judaism, the Zealots, for instance, were well known for their unquenchable longing for the coming of the Messiah who would come and destroy Rome and recover the glory of Israel.
This was the context into which Jesus was born around 4 BC in Bethlehem. And this One True Messiah (Mark 1:1) defied both expectations—legalistic and apocalyptic-eschatological—of Second Temple Judaism:
The Apostle Paul stresses that law observance would get us nowhere by saying that the Son of God was born under the law so that he might redeem those under the law (Gal 4:4–5). Everyone who believes in Christ—not those who (attempt to) observe the law—is given righteousness because Christ is the end (τέλος) of the law (Rom 10:1). Most of all, Christ himself made it clear to Thomas that no one could come to the Father except through him because Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). So, the teachings of the Messiah that the Jews were longing for were subversive to the legalistic disposition of Second Temple Judaism.
Jewish apocalyptic belief was that the Messiah would come and make Israel great again, so to speak. The Messiah would recover the purity of the temple, ushering in “an era of national renewal for Israel” (Burge 2019:44). Their longing for the Messiah was closely related to “a future age of peace and prosperity”; in other words, Jewish apocalypticism was, as it were, a “desire to return to the ‘good old days’” (Bond 2017:13). Again, Jesus Christ shattered that dream by not succumbing to their banally worldly hankering. The One True Messiah came not to restore the glory of Israel but to “suffer [and die] and rise from the dead on the third day” so that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46–47).
So, the One True Messiah, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, came to save those who believe in him. This is the gospel, of which I am not ashamed because it is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). It is in the scandalous cross and empty tomb of Christ—not in the restoration of the glory of national Israel—that we see God’s power.
And this One True Messiah will return to judge the world.