“This Jesus” takes historical approach to Jesus’ identity

“This Jesus: Martyr, Lord, Messiah” by Markus Bockmuehl discusses how the church began to view Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ.

This Jesus takes historical approach to Jesus identity

Arthur Daniels Jr., Writer

“This Jesus: Martyr, Lord, Messiah” sets out to substantiate the idea that it is historically valid to see Jesus as the natural cause of the faith of early Christians. In contrast to the recent popular scholarship which attempts to divide the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith,” author Markus Bockmuehl deliberately departs from this forced amputation and tries to demonstrate a historically responsible case, set in a first century Jewish context, for a unified Jesus whose life and teaching inspired the church’s faith in him as both lord and messiah.

Bockmuehl begins by establishing some historical sources for Jesus, from Roman historians like Tacitus and Suetonius, to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and Rabbinic literature, to Christian sources outside the New Testament and finally to the Gospels themselves. By keeping the Gospel story of Jesus within the context of first-century Palestinian Judaism, Bockmuehl shows how the Jesus of history, found in various sources, was in continuity with the Christ of faith we find in his followers that developed after his death and resurrection, contrary to modern attempts to separate the two.

Messianic fulfillment

In chapter two, Bockmuehl presents the case that Jesus was the promised Jewish messiah, but not according to all standards of Jewish expectations of what the “messiah” was to be in first-century Jewish expectation. He starts by presenting the Old Testament understanding of what a “messiah” was and how messianism was perceived in ancient times.

He proceeds to show how Old Testament messianic texts and other ancient Jewish writings before and after the first century established a framework for recognizing true messianic fulfillment, whether in one person or a number of persons throughout Jewish history. He then goes on to show that one can detect in the Gospels “an overall scheme of messianism which agrees with many of the familiar themes of contemporary Jewish hope.”

How the church changed its view of Jesus

In his final chapter, Bockmuehl addresses the concern of how we got from the historical Jesus of Nazareth to the exalted and worshiped Christ we find in our creeds by asking and answering the question, “Why was Jesus exalted to heaven?”

Using important New Testament passages like Paul’s affirmation of the importance of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:14 — “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain,” — Bockmuehl demonstrates that only a continuity between the body placed in the tomb and the one “raised” could explain why the early church began to view the person of history as the exalted one of its faith.

Bockmuehl further elaborates on the idea of worshipping Jesus and its implications for a monotheistic Jewish community. Utilizing ancient Jewish pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and works of Philo of Alexandria, Bockmuehl shows how that even in Jewish literature, there was a precedent for an exalted figure who could be highly viewed with God as mediator of his transcendent grace to fallen humanity.

Bockmuehl then goes on to make a good point about recovering the Jewish nature behind the exaltation of Jesus, which is difficult to brand as Greek philosophical paganism and a corruption of monotheism, as some have charged. With this background and understanding, he finds that it is not all that hard to see how the historical Jesus of Nazareth could legitimately become for the church the exalted Christ without compromising its strict, monotheistic Jewish foundations.

Summary of themes and future hope

He concludes his book with a short summary of the major themes discussed, reaffirming the thesis that the orthodox Christian picture of a unified Jesus of history and Christ of faith is a legitimate and plausible understanding of the person of Jesus. The brief epilogue reflects on the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth we derive from the past, present and future hope of the exalted lord and messiah who is yet to come.

Connection between Jesus of history and faith

Overall, Bockmuehl’s approach in “This Jesus” is a welcome addition to the scholarly world of books attempting to deal reasonably and historically with the issue of whether or not there is a real dichotomy between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.”

His apologetic in this area is unorthodox and unusual, but it is refreshing and worthwhile reading for those interested in this particular area of study in Jesus research. Some may question his use of Old and New Testament apocryphal and pseudepigraphal sources and rabbinic literature, since other portions of these writings present theological and historical problems irreconcilable with orthodox Protestant Christian tradition.

However, he seems to use them responsibly to present his case for a Jesus whose Jewish background contributes substantially to our understanding of how the Jesus of history and Christian faith were always one, and should continue to be seen in that light.

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