November 5, 2008

Old Testament Messiah

James responds to my previous claim in "More On Faith" in "An Atoning Messiah". Both my claims and his responses deal with two specific passages:

Messiah Cut Off - Daniel 9

In Daniel 9, Daniel is given the following prophesy:

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself [Dan. 9:24-26]

James essentially presents two arguments contesting the credibility of the book of Daniel and the interpretation of the passage as referring to the Messiah:

Timing and Authorship

James cites Harper's Bible Commentary in order to question the credibility of Daniel and explain away many of the amazingly detailed and accurate prophecies in this book. By assuming that the book can not be prophetic and that the manner of Antiochus Epiphanes death contradicts the death of the king in Daniel 11, with whom he is associated, Harper's conludes that the book was finalized during Antiochus's life time.

However, Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 24:15, that Antiochus was a type (one who exemplifies or parallelizes the life of another in some way) of the Antichrist. As a result, the passage is about Antiochus and Antichrist and has not been fully fulfilled. The commentaries I consulted presented some reasonable arguments for where the break occurs. Speaking specifically to it would require more study, but the bottom line in relation to our discussion is that there is a reasonable approach to this passage which does not place it in contradiction with history. As such, the late date given by Harper is not the foregone conclusion they have presented, based, primarily, on the assumption that the book is not true in the first place and an easy readiness to accept supposed contradictions.

If we accept dates given in the book of Daniel, it would have been completed in the late 6th century BC, much earlier than the 2nd century BC date given by Harper's.

Messiah or others?

In responding directly to the passage of Daniel I cited, James makes the unsupported claim that the Messiah here is simply "an annointed one" or leader and tries to identify Messiah as two men in this passage, citing the New Oxford Annotated Bible. He then provides a general response that it's all history recorded after the fact and false prophecies based on the alleged contradiction in the manner of Antiochus's death. I discussed this latter claim above.

As for the identification of the "Anointed One" in the passage, a proper understanding of the prophecy seems to make this pretty clear. In the context of the passage, Daniel understood by the reading of the word of God through Jeremiah the prophet, that the Babylonian capitivity of Israel would last 70 years. Daniel prays to God concerning this knowledge and the future of Israel. While he is praying, God sent Gabriel to reveal to him the passage I cited above (and a few other verses). In the original Hebrew, the word "week" in 70 weeks is really the word seven (seventy sevens). Because the context is Daniel's prayer concerning the 70 years of captivity, this is clearly a reference to 490 years.

Gabriel gives the starting point of this 490 year period as the "going forth of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem". This is generally taken to be the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in Nisan 1, 444 BC. James claims the proper edict is that of Cyrus the Great in 538 BC, but that edict was not to rebuild Jerusalem. Cyrus's proclaimation was to rebuild the temple [Ezra 1:2], whereas the edict of Artexerxes was to rebuild the city [Nehemiah 2:5].

Gabriel further declares that from the commandment to "Messiah the Prince" shall be 69 "weeks" or 483 years. Adjusting for the Jewish prophetic calendar of 360 days versus our solar calendar of about 365 days places the end of the 483 years on Nisan 10, AD 33, considered to be the day Jesus, the Messiah rode into Jerusalem on a colt. This is much later than the lives of Joshua the high priest and Onias III.[1][2] It also presents an amazingly accurate prophecy, even if we accept the very late date of 2nd century BC, still about 200 years before this event took place.

Jesus, the Suffering Servant

While the term servant is clearly applied to Israel, it is also contrasted with Israel.

In Is. 42:7, the servant is sent to open the eyes of the blind. In verse 19, the Lord is condemning those who worship idols and refers to the servent as blind. Later, in verse 24, Jacob and Israel are identified as being judged for their sins against the Lord. Clearly, the latter servant is in need of the ministry of the first servant.

In the following chapters, God refers to Himself as the Savior of Israel [Is. 43:3] and the redeemer of Israel [Is. 43:14]. In the passage in question, similar language is applied to the servant. He bears our griefs, carries our sorrows [Is. 53:4], wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, chastised for our peace, striped for our healing [Is. 53:5] and so on.

In verse 6, the iniquity of us all (the world) is placed on Him. In verse 8, He is stricken for the transgression of the Lord's people (that is, the Jews). The redemptive nature portrayed for this servant is unmistakeable. It strongly contrasts with the blind and sinful state of the servant Israel, who is in need of God's redemption. In chapter 53, the ultimate redemption for sin for all and for the servant Israel is enumerated at the cost of the suffering of the one servant. This is clearly not Israel. Further, this servant is clearly identified with the redemptive role of God. The profile fits no other than "Messiah who would be cut off, not for Himself" as in Daniel and Jesus Christ, the Word [John 1:1], who suffered for sin.

[1] Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 1999. Here's Life Publishers, Inc. pg. 197-201.
[2] Dr. J. Vernon McGee. Thru the Bible Vol. III. 1982. Thomas Nelson Publishers. pg. 586-589.

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