September 19, 2011

Michael Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?

This is more of a brief note than a full-scale book review because I've been a little swamped lately. But I didn't want to let this great book go by without mention. In it Bird undertakes the much contested question in Jesus Studies concerning Jesus own self-presentation: who did he say and show himself to be? And for Bird, this means investigating the intention and identity exhibited by Jesus, arguing that Jesus "saw himself in messianic categories" (29). This proceeds, after an introductory chapter, with a careful though certainly not exhaustive look at messianic expectation in Second Temple Judaism, which provides the essential background and material for what is to follow, arguing that while there was indeed a variety of expectation, or in some cases even lack there of, during this period, even amid this diversity there were ideas and trajectories that were recognizably messianic. He then looks at whether Jesus declined the messianic role, undertaking specifically a study of the Markan Messianic secret motif, as well as interacting with the idea that Jesus' messiahship was only a post-resurrection inference, concluding that Jesus acted in such a way to deliberately arouse messianic hopes. The third chapter looks at how Jesus redefined the role of messiah in his own ministry, with a focus on how Jesus understood the "Son of Man" imagery and also the royal imagery that arises out of Israel's Scripture. The fifth chapter focuses in on Jesus final week and death as keys to seeing Jesus messianism. He concludes the chapter, "I think that Jesus' deliberate attempt to act out a messianic vocation is the smoking gun that explains the messianic testimony of the early church" (158).

These careful investagations lead him to the conclusion that several patterns and themes from the Jesus tradition come together to show that "Jesus' career centered on several messianic scenarios based upon the themes of victory, temple, and enthronement, and these were related to sociopolitical circumstances of Palestine in the first century," and that Jesus saw his role as "'the man' who will be vindicated and receive a kingdom" (159). He then concludes the book with a relatively brief yet helpful constructive chapter thinking about what understanding Jesus as Messiah means for the Christian faith, looking at such themes as relation to Israel, eschatology, and christology proper.

Bird's book is relatively brief, considering the vast amount of terrain it covers, but I found it enjoyable and well argued. He has woven a number of important threads of the Gospels together to paint a coherent picture of Jesus as the Christ, and specifically of Jesus as one who took that role upon himself and acted it out. I am appreciative of his arguments and his great learning, and will certainly refer to it any time questions arise concerning Jesus and his messiahship.

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