Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Anticipating Messiah

Once again this year, our denomination is doing a common study during the Advent season. This past Sunday was week three of four. Except we didn't have Life Groups on week 1 and I missed week 2 due to the combination of illness and bad roads. I took my turn teaching this past Sunday, and enjoyed the lesson material. Good class discussion, too.

The devotional for that day talked about the three groups of Jewish people who were anticipating the coming of the Messiah at the time of Christ. But actually, as Pastor Mark said in his first sermon in the series, there were really four groups.

The Sadducees. These were the political leaders, who had modest spiritual credentials. They were open to compromise with their Roman occupiers, so long as they could take their political positions. Blending of religion and state were fine with them.

The Pharisees. These were the religious purists. They cared less about who ruled the civil side of the nation so long as they ruled the religious side.

The Zealots. These cared about Israel returning to an independent nation. Rome had to go. They probably had a sense of religion, and possibly thought the lack of religious fervor contributed to the unfortunate civil situation.

The Essenes. This group separated themselves and lived in a sort of monastery. They were the searchers, the ones who studied the scriptures and other writings as much as they could. I suppose this group probably could care less who ruled the land, or the temple. They just wanted to be by themselves and do their studying.

The question before our class on Sunday was what each of these groups expected the Messiah to be like. We figured the Sadducees anticipated a presidential Messiah: someone who would take the reigns of government and make everything better. The Pharisees would undoubtedly expect Messiah to return Israel to the purest possible form of Judaism. That would make everything right. Yes, Messiah would be a religious fanatic for the law. The Zealots would expect Messiah to be a conqueror. He would raise and lead an army to fight against Rome and free the Jews from the foreigners. And the Essenes would likely think Messiah would be a scholar. Through leading Israel into more knowledge, including spiritual knowledge, the Jews would be saved.

But it seems to me there was another group, one that I've never heard discussed. That group could be called, "Everyone Else". The four groups listed were small. Some of the population at large would align with these four, but I suspect the vast majority just lived their lives. Everyone would have been aware that a Messiah had been prophesied in their scriptures, and that he was overdue for any number of reasons. But I doubt the majority ever gave it a whole lot of thought. Messiah would come. Maybe while they were alive, maybe not. They still had to go to work the next day, struggle to live, try not to get sick, and spend what time they could worshiping I Am.

It seems to me that today we have these same five groups in Christianity in relation to what we believe is the second coming of Messiah. I won't try to make an exact comparison. But we have those who try to compromise between the various interpretations. Some expect the returning Jesus to preside over pure religion, others see him as a conqueror. Some pull away and just study the heck out of prophesy, almost to the exclusion of all other items that could be studied. Then the vast majority of the world's two billion Christians don't give it any thought at all, have no idea what the conditions will be when and after Jesus returns.

So it seems to me current religious expectations. The groups are all there, under other names, but they are there. I probably align most closely with the Essenes, or at least that's what I'd like to do.

I'm not sure there's any real purpose to this post, other than to report on Sunday's class, and muse about the melding of scripture and the conditions of the times in which it was written.

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