"THE KINGDOM SUFFERS VIOLENCE..."
or
"THE KINGDOM BREAKS FORTH..." ?

 

Contributed by Phoebe Clevenger

 

Jesus viewed the kingdom of heaven as an active force in the world that was energized from within by God's power. He experienced the ever growing intensity of divine favor in his teaching and healing work among people with great needs. The keen awareness of the divine presence at work in everyday life is strongly felt in such sayings of Jesus as, "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you," and also especially, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and men of violence take it by force."1 In the gospel tradition, Jesus is portrayed as experiencing the force of God's reign as he teaches the people. How can these verses be properly interpreted in the historical setting of Jesus' life's work?

 

The ministry of Jesus was anything but ordinary. He expelled demons and ministered to ailing people as he challenged his disciples with a teaching message that centered conceptually on God's reign. What happened was extraordinary. The men and women in his band of followers experienced God's reign dynamically in a personal encounter. People helped other people as they followed Jesus and dedicated themselves to God. Nowhere is the theme of God's reign as a powerful healing force being unleashed in a hurting world more apparent than in the sayings of Jesus concerning John the Baptist. The prophets functioned until John, but now God's kingdom "suffers violence." As we will see, instead of translating, "suffers violence," the action words, the "kingdom of heaven breaks forth" are much closer to the original meaning of the text.2 While in prison, John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus a question. Was he indeed the coming one, or should they expect someone else? Jesus had to explain his mission and the role that John's ministry had played to prepare for it. In the work of John, the climax of the ministry of all the prophets has been attained. Now John has made a breach in the wall which opens an entrance and prepares the way for the ministry of Jesus. Two towering figures are profiled in this description of the redemptive work, John the Baptizer and Jesus himself. But what does "suffer violence" really mean? How is it related to the kingdom of heaven and to the mission of Jesus? Without a sound approach to the translation of the gospels, we lose something of great value from the words of Jesus because they are robbed of the rich imagery of the original language.

 

The art of Bible translation always impacts theology and culture. The King James translation of Mt. 11:12, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take by force" has influenced many Christian theologians and has even found expression in western culture. This saying of Jesus has been improperly translated, wrongly understood and often removed from its original context concerning John the Baptist. Most of the time the verse has been given one of two interpretations. First it was thought to describe how that the kingdom was being attacked by men of violence. Second, and perhaps even more unfortunate, some scholars have suggested that Jesus advocated violence as a part of his kingdom message. He was one of the Zealots, or was like them in the way which he advocated force to attain his political goals. But how can the disciples of Jesus be characterized as "men of violence" like the Zealots on the one hand and "peacemakers" on the other? This saying of Jesus must be translated properly and studied within its original Jewish setting during the first century when John the Baptist's ministry coalesced with the work of Jesus. Here it will be seen that John acts as the breaker, who makes a breach in the wall. Through the opening which John makes, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth from within. Jesus and his mission are the focal point of "the kingdom of heaven breaks forth." The prophets lead up to John the Baptist who then prepares the way for Jesus. But now the movement of Jesus' followers dynamically advances as a force for healing and wholeness in a suffering world.

 

How can the kingdom of heaven suffer violence? The verse does not make sense according to its translation in the King James Version. Nevertheless because of the popularity and the authority accorded to recognized versions of the New Testament, often revisions are viewed with skepticism. Even when the various accepted versions disagree, new translations of the Greek text are not always welcomed. The New International Version, for instance, translates the saying of Jesus by, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." Probably the NIV has more nearly captured the meaning of Matthew 11:12 than any of the other English translations. Here a new translation of the Greek text similar to that of the NIV will be suggested. The question of the Hebrew original of this saying of Jesus becomes of inestimable value when the Old Testament background is seen in Micah 2:13, "The breaker who opens the breach rises up before them..." The tremendous significance of careful Bible translation should never be taken for granted. Each word warrants careful study. The idea that the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing as portrayed in the NIV is much nearer to the original meaning of the text. Since the kingdom of heaven message dominants the teachings of Jesus, Matthew 11:12 is essential for a proper approach to the gospel. Each Greek word and its background in Hebrew as well as the Jewish thought during the first century must be examined to fully understand the teaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom in this text.

 

THE RIGHT TRANSLATION:

"THE KINGDOM BREAKS FORTH..."

 

The Greek verb which is translated as "suffers violence" in the King James Version is biazo. "Suffers violence" is not a good translation. As has been noted, the New International Version rendered this Greek verb as "forcefully advancing." This translation of biazo is more appropriate than the passive idea from "suffers violence" because the active meaning correctly conveys both the force associated with the verb and also mentions the progressive movement of the divine reign. At times, the Hebrew verb paratz, which means "to break forth" was translated by the Greek verb biazo in the Septuagint.3 The idea conveyed by the Greek verb biazo certainly includes the action of "breaking forth."4 Moreover the Hebrew background of this saying of Jesus actually denotes an action of breaking out with strong force. The best rendering of the term in this context is "breaks forth."5 The action originates from within and moves outward. It is a reflexive type of action which is found in the Middle voice of the Greek language. The kingdom's source of power is an internal and not an external source. Likewise the single word biastai, a noun derived from the same Greek verb, is translated as "the violent" in the King James Version and "forceful men" in the NIV. However since biastai comes from the same verb biazo and is closely related to Micah 2:13, it should be rendered as "the breakers," that is the ones making the breach wider as they break out from within the wall. They are the ones who are breaking out with the kingdom. Unquestionably the entire saying of Jesus is connected to the words of the prophet Micah:

 

THE BREAKER AND THE SHEEPFOLD

(Micah 2:13)

 

He who opens the breach (the breaker haporetz) will go up before them; they will break through (partzu), and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king (malkam) will pass on before them, the LORD at their head.

Of great significance here, are the two major figures, "He who opens the breach" and "their king." "He who opens the breach" is one word in Hebrew, "the breaker" haportez. Both of them are connected to Jesus' saying, "The kingdom of heaven breaks forth..." The first part of the verse from Micah 2:13, "He who opens the breach (the breaker haporetz) will go up before them," is related to the words of Jesus, "From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth..." The one who causes the kingdom to break forth is John the Baptizer. Concerning him, Flusser writes, "With John the end-time begins - the decisive eruption into the history of the world."6 John is the breaker (haporetz). He makes open the breach.

 

The mental image created by the verse in Micah 2:13, portrays a sheepfold full of sheep. Often when shepherds tend their sheep in the land of Israel, they build makeshift fences for a sheepfold. They will gather stones and build a temporary holding pen. The shepherds may construct it by making a full circular enclosure, or they may find an already existing natural barrier like a cave in the side of a rocky hillside. They will build the stone wall barricade in a semi-circular fashion that will seal off the cave or other natural enclosure. In John 10:9, the gospel records Jesus' words, "I am the door [of the sheepfold]." Literally he lies in the entrance way of the holding pen. The good shepherd may actually form a human gate as he sleeps at the opening to the sheepfold. Shepherds work diligently to protect and care for their flocks, even risking their lives for the well being of their sheep. The art of shepherding a herd in the land of Israel, frequently required the use of an enclosed sheepfold to protect the livestock at night.

 

After the sheep have been confined all night in the makeshift sheepfold where space is limited, the animals are anxious to break out. In the morning, the shepherd will knock down a section from the piled up stones. He will break open the barricade wall which penned up the sheep all night in a protective enclosure. Anxious to be released from the holding pen, the sheep will rush out as quickly as possible knocking down more stones from the makeshift fence in order to break outside.

 

While in the historical context of Micah, the prophet may have had Jewish exiles held in foreign captivity in mind, the word picture of a shepherd making a breach in a makeshift sheepfold fence possessed rich metaphorical possibilities for describing the process of redemption. In the Hebrew mind, God would use two individuals, like the breaker and the king according to Micah 2:13 in order to make a way for the release of the captives. In the same way that sheep are anxious for release after a night of confinement within the sheepfold, the people will respond to the divine initiative, "...they will break through (partzu), and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king (malkam) will pass on before them, the LORD at their head" (Micah 2:13). Not only are two key figures mentioned in Micah, but also the prophet Malachi refers to the prophet Elijah who would prepare the way for the coming of the LORD. When speaking about John the Baptizer, Jesus quotes Malachi, "This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee'" (Mt. 11:9-10).

 

Very meaningful for understanding the relationship between "the kingdom breaks forth" (poretzet, in Hebrew, biazetai, in Greek) and the "ones breaking out" (portzim, in Hebrew, biastai, in Greek) is the fact that Micah 2:13 refers both to the breaker (haporetz) and the ones who break forth (partzu) with him. The action in the verse is decisive. The breaker makes a breach and the ones inside the sheepfold break forth from within. The idea of persecution, namely that the sheep inside the fold are under attack after the breach has been made is not possible.

 

A major focus of Micah 2:13 is the king. He leads the ones breaking out of the fold with the LORD himself at the head of them. The two key players in the dramatic action described in the verse are, the breaker and the king. David Flusser has demonstrated that these two figures play a prominent part in Jewish expectations pertaining to the coming of redemption. Flusser observes, "...Elijah was to come first to open the breach, and he would be followed by those who broke through with their king, the Messiah."7

 

So far, we have seen that the first part of the verse is better translated, "From the days of John the Baptizer until now the kingdom of heaven breaks forth..." But the second half of the saying of Jesus also raises some serious questions. The NIV translates it as "...and forceful men [the breakers] lay hold of it." The King James Version says, "...and the violent take it by force." The Greek verb translated by "lay hold of" (NIV) or "take by force" (KJV) is harpazo. How should these two words, biastai "forceful men" (NIV) and harpazo "lay hold of" (NIV) best be translated?

 

In consideration of this question, R.L. Lindsey has looked to the second part of the same saying of Jesus in its parallel version from Luke 16:16, "and every one breaks out with it." The NIV of Luke 16:16 reads, "and everyone is forcing his way into it."8 Lindsey is certainly correct in translating Luke 16:16, "and every one breaks out with it." But what about the Matthean version? In Lindsey's view, the verb harpazo "lay hold of" or "take by force" was used descriptively by the editor of Matthew's gospel. The verb was added to the source of Matthew's text as it was edited. According to Lindsey, in Hebrew the best rendering of the saying is, meyame yochanan hamatbil vead atah malchut shamayim poretzet vekol poretz bah "From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth and everyone breaks forth with it." This reconstruction of the saying draws together, Matthew 11:12a, "From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth" and Luke 16:16b, "and everyone breaks forth with it."9 His reconstruction is certainly one possible approach. There is another.

 

With respect to Lindsey's well thought out position, the second part of Matthew's text also makes good sense. A first century Jewish reader of the gospel story would hear the Hebrew idiom from the source text of Matthew 11:12b. The term harpazo may convey the idea of "to pursue" in the sense of, "But seek [pursue] first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Mt. 6:33). The Greek verb harpazo is sometimes translated in Hebrew by terms like, gazal "to steal," lakach "to take," and lakad "to capture" (biblical Hebrew) or even by natal "to take" or tafas "to grasp, or catch" (post-biblical Hebrew). Probably the Greek verb could actually be used for terms in Hebrew like radaf "to pursue" or even bakesh "to seek." I believe that radaf "to earnestly pursue" is the best translation. The text could be translated into Hebrew, meyame yochanan hamatbil vead atah malchut shamayim poretzet vehaportzim rodfim [mevakshim] otah, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth and those breaking forth are pursuing [seeking] it" (Mt. 11:12). This translation brings out the meaning of the Greek text. The concept conveyed by this translation of the verse in Matthew would be similar to the words of Psalm 34:14, "seek peace and pursue it" (bekesh shalom verodfehu). In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Hebrew word radaf "to pursue earnestly" is often used in a similar way. The members of the congregation in the Judean desert are exhorted to pursue earnestly wisdom and righteousness.10 The essence of Matthew 11:12b dynamically portrays the ones breaking out of the sheepfold. They actively pursue the divine purposes in life with all their strength.

 

In any case, the controlling idea of the second part of the saying focuses on the higher values of God's reign. The ones breaking forth with the kingdom of heaven pursue the principles of God's reign with all their might. They possess an intensity for the work of the Lord. The rule of God is sought in every part of their lives. They become subjects of the King, accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and seeking to see the redeeming power of healing love penetrate a world full of people in need of God.

 

JOHN'S DOUBTS ABOUT JESUS

 

John had doubts about Jesus. The question that John sent to Jesus through his disciples, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" is perplexing in light of the gospel accounts concerning the baptism of Jesus. At the waters of baptism, John is portrayed in the gospels as a witness to the voice from heaven. In Matthew, he first refuses to baptize Jesus because he knows who Jesus is. But later while in prison, John the Baptist commissions two of his disciples to approach Jesus with the very serious question concerning the nature of Jesus' own mission. Why did John begin to entertain such strong doubts?

 

The severe skepticism that pervaded John's thoughts concerning the ministry of Jesus is rooted in Jewish messianic expectation. The issue really involved definition and understanding of the messianic task. John, as others during the period anticipated the coming of a deliverer - but not one quite like Jesus. They thought that the anointed one would be more like King David than a suffering servant. He would break the cruel yoke of foreign oppression that Rome and her puppet rulers had placed upon the Jewish people. Woven into the fabric of the gospel record, the prevailing thread of belief appears that the messiah would bring freedom from the political oppression of Rome. John the Baptist anticipated such a messianic figure. The world had been so corrupted by its political and economic systems that a reform of the people was not enough. A supernatural intervention by God was needed.

 

While the Hebrew prophets envisioned a great return of the people to God and social reforms to solve the problems of the common people, the Jewish apocalyptists anticipated a complete transformation of the world order. A new Jerusalem is required and not merely a city reformed or renewed from within. John the Baptist seems to be much more eschatologically minded, which is to say that he expected the end times to come suddenly with the appearance of the one designated for the task. The one who is coming, John explained, possesses a greater task than his forerunner who announces his coming. John acts as his forerunner and announcer. He prepares the way for his coming. But John is not worthy to untie the coming one's sandals. The one who comes will baptize the people with water and with the Holy Spirit.

 

The colorful images of judgment in the minds of the Hebrew prophets and apocalyptists are prominent in the words of John which are recorded in the gospels. The wicked would be burned in the fires of punishment and the righteous would be baptized with the divine favor of the Holy Spirit. The grace of God would be demonstrated to the people looking for his supernatural intervention. They must return to the Lord with a sincere heart. The lifestyle they pursue must change. They must follow a new righteous way of living. While earlier in the gospel record John initially recognized Jesus as the person who would bring about a change in the world order, he began to doubt whether Jesus was the coming one. Perhaps he should anticipate someone else?

John wanted to learn more about Jesus' self awareness. On three occasions in the synoptic gospels, we find very clear and direct descriptions of Jesus' approach to the question of his messiahship. "If you are the Messiah tell us?" Caiaphas asked Jesus (Lk. 22:67). Jesus himself asked Peter, "But who do you say that I am?" (Lk. 9:20)

 

Here for a third incident, John the Baptizer poses the question to Jesus, "Are you the one who is coming, or do we expect someone else?" The issue raised on these three occasions still reverberates through history. What did people say about Jesus? What did Jesus say about himself? In all three instances from the synoptic gospels, a reply is given which is culturally conditioned. In each case, the writers of the record recognized the strong allusion Jesus gives to his mission. He is not the one a person would expect, if he or she were looking for a general to re-establish the political kingdom of King David. But if a person seeks a healer of needy people like the servant of the Lord from Isaiah, then he or she will not be disappointed. The times and the seasons are in the hands of the Father and the final judgment will complete the task. The self consciousness of Jesus was embedded in his view of the servant of the Lord in the writings of the Hebrew prophets. John the Baptist on the other hand longed to see the vision of the eschatological judgment realized. John is really a tragic figure. He is a victim of his own theology.11

 

The doubts of John revolved around his view of the messianic task. The term "coming one," he probably understood more as an eschatological judge. The "coming one" would be like the son of man who is described in the apocalyptic visions of Daniel or the book of Enoch. The coming one would stand before the Ancient of days to receive all authority and power. Daniel gives a vivid description, "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom..." (Dan. 7:13-14). The same title "son of man" is used for the coming one in the book of Enoch. Although the book of Enoch was not accepted by the church and the synagogue as a sacred writing to be included in the Bible, it was widely read by the Jewish people during the time of Jesus. It tells us a great deal about how people viewed the coming one. For example, one passage reads, "And the sum of judgement was given to the Son of Man, and he will cause the sinners to pass away and be destroyed from off the earth...For that Son of Man has appeared, And has seated himself on the throne of his glory..."12 Like Daniel, the Book of Enoch described the coming one as the Son of Man who would be God's judge in the end of time. Because John the Baptist speaks about the "coming one" who will baptize in the fires of judgment and whose winnowing fork is in his hand as the axe is laid to the root, he probably anticipated a sudden apocalyptic change in which the Son of Man would establish an entirely new world order. The sinners would be destroyed and the righteous would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. God's redemption would be consummated in a dramatic eruption into history. The divine intervention into the natural course of human affairs would decisively bring judgment upon the present corrupt world order. The righteous would be saved and the wicked damned.

 

Whatever hopes John had for Jesus at the waters of the Jordan where he baptized so many who were responding to his powerful prophetic preaching, his expectations concerning the coming one were not being fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus. While imprisoned by Herod Antipas in the fortress of Machaerus on the eastern bank of the Jordan river just north of the Dead Sea, John developed severe skepticism concerning Jesus, his message and mission.13 Perhaps as his own fate hung in the balance of an unjust political and judicial system, he longed to see the vision of Daniel fulfilled. All of the Hebrew prophets and visionaries had looked for the coming one. Who is he? When will he appear? In John's mind, if Jesus were the promised coming one, then he should move ahead with his mission. The time is short. Jesus was not doing what John thought the coming one should do. Like many others during the time of the Second Temple as well as throughout history, John expected a different type of messiah. Jesus' answer to John's disciples is not what John wanted to hear. In the very least, Jesus' answer conveys a threatening challenge to John the Baptist. It tells us moreover about how Jesus viewed the messianic task. His view of the coming one and that of John the Baptist's expectations are far from synonymous.

 

THE WARNING OF JESUS

 

The stern warning of Jesus, "Blessed is he who does not stumble over me" carries a nuance in Hebrew which possesses a much stronger force than the English or Greek translations would betray. The strong words form an awesome threat. They caution John the Baptist against serious wrongdoing. To answer the question of John, Jesus says, "Go tell John what you see and hear." Then he refers to well known passages from the prophet Isaiah (29:18-19 and 35:5-6) which describe the ministry of the servant of the Lord more as a healer of suffering humanity than as the final judge who pronounces sentence upon the wicked and the just. Instead of taking the winnowing fork in his hands to bring judgment, he is binding up the wounds of people in a hurting world. The poor hear the good news of the divine favor which is brought through the ministry of Jesus and his disciples.

The verb "to stumble" in the response of Jesus is a strong word for John. It means to sin or fail in a serious matter. John had missed the significance of Jesus' work. Jesus told John's disciples to go and tell him what they had observed as eye witnesses to the ministry of Jesus and to caution him, "Blessed is he who does not stumble over me." In reality Jesus was both defining the messianic task and giving a stern warning. He was earnestly inviting John to accept his mission as it was being fulfilled in the midst of the people. As he begins to praise John, "There is none born among women greater than John the Baptist," he also notes that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. John the Baptist has been left behind. He is excluded from the kingdom movement. Jesus gives John an alarming warning. Although he represents the last of the prophets who yearned for the appearance of the anointed one, John has not understood the messianic task as defined by Jesus. His misunderstanding has its origins in the plurality of messianic expectations of first century Judaism. John embraced an incorrect eschatological scenario which hindered him from joining Jesus' kingdom movement.

 

JEWISH MESSIANIC EXPECTATIONS

 

Views concerning the coming of the Messiah during the days of the Second Temple Period were diversified and far from monolithic.14 The fact that in the gospel record even John the Baptist himself misunderstood the purpose of Jesus makes it clear that he was not alone. Many expected a greater political dimension to the work of the Messiah. In some circles both a political Messiah like King David was expected, along with a second Messiah who would be more of a spiritual leader like the priest. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the mission of Jesus was the fact that he would be crucified. Little evidence from the Second Temple Period suggests that the people were looking for a messianic figure who would be killed. On the one hand, Jesus spoke about the Son of Man who would be rejected and turned over to the Gentiles who would crucify him. On the other, he referred to the future coming of the Son of Man who would fulfill the role of righteous judge and king of the nations. But in the interim period he was like an itinerant rabbi who taught the people and healed their infirmities.

 

For many religious and secular people, the life work of Jesus would have been difficult to understand fully in the context of Israel's plurality of messianic expectations. Groups such as the Sadducees and the priests would not even go so far as to expect a messianic figure. Others like the Pharisees looked for divine assistance in hard times. Popularly many people expected divine intervention and freedom from their slavery to Rome in a similar way that God brought about their deliverance from Egypt. Then Moses was an instrument in the hand of God to save the people from bondage to a foreign power. Moses was the mediator between God and the people. He functioned as a prophet who taught the people and worked miracles. The people were liberated from Egypt as they believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant. In any case, the people listening to Jesus discuss John the Baptist in terms of his prophetic role.

 

They were accustomed to considering numerous traditions associated with divine strategies to bring salvation from foreign oppression. As can be seen from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the reading of the Hebrew prophets was often applied directly to the life situation of the people. When they read Deut. 18:18, "I raise up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses]..." they did not think only of Joshua the historical successor to Moses but looked rather to the coming of the prophet who would work a new miracle of redemption by a second exodus in their days. In late antiquity, many Jewish readers studied the Bible in one hand but kept their eyes on current developments in their common experience with the corrupt political environment that oppressed them. In their hearts of faith, they believed that God had something better for his people. A second prophet like Moses would bring about the change. How everything would take place however, was a subject for wide speculation and open discussion.

 

In spite of such great diversity, Jesus sent John an alarming warning, "Blessed is he who does not stumble over me." When Jesus speaks to the crowds concerning the role of John the Baptist, he uses terms of high esteem by calling him a prophet who is like Elijah. He associates the ministry of John to the great in breaking of the kingdom of heaven movement. Regardless of the diverse opinions concerning the coming of the Messiah, Jesus is hinting at common traditions that would have been widely known even if some of the people would have viewed the popular beliefs about the coming of the Lord's anointed with skepticism or indifference. The rich multiplicity of messianic ideas that circulated during the Second Temple period, provided a forum for exchange and lively discourse.

 

Although opinions fluctuated greatly among the learned as well as the less educated, the pervading Jewish belief in the goodness of the one God of Israel fostered the idea that he would not allow his people to suffer indefinitely. When the people read the texts of the Hebrew prophets, they believed that God was telling them about their generation and the unfolding of his ultimate purpose, namely - the salvation of his people Israel. Not surprisingly, Micah 2:13 and Malachi 3:1 were drawn together and studied as prophecies describing the events that would lead up to the coming of the anointed deliverer. Two towering figures could be seen in the words of both Micah and Malachi. Not only did Jesus call John the Baptist the prophet Elijah from Malachi, but he also hinted at contemporary beliefs concerning the coming of the Messiah. Both Elijah and the Messiah emerge from popular Jewish interpretations of Micah 2:13.

 

Two figures were anticipated. The first would be like Elijah. He would lead a tremendous spiritual renewal among the people which would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah himself. The scenario of Elijah as forerunner and the Messiah as prophetic deliverer who comes after him, possesses deep roots in the diversified teachings concerning the redemption of the people during the time of Jesus. The profiles of these two figures of redemption are described in dramatic detail. The ancient scholars of the Bible possessed a vivid awareness of the divine purpose in their interpretations of the Hebrew prophets. The eternal passion of the prophets is felt in the popular Jewish exposition of their prophecies.

 

ELIJAH COMES FIRST

 

The passion of the prophets and their role in the higher purposes of God, is felt in the words of Rabbi Johanan, "All the prophets prophesied [all the good things] only for the days of the Messiah; but as for the world to come, 'no eye has seen, O God, besides thee, what you have prepared for those who wait for him' (Isa 64:4)."15 The main feature of the message about which the prophets prophesied was identified by the rabbis as the days of the messiah. The anxious waiting for the Messiah is felt in these words. Concerning John the Baptist, Jesus said, "All the prophets prophesied until John..." The ultimate reason for the work of the prophets was to point beyond their days. From the time of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth, and if one can understand it properly, John fulfills the role of Elijah who was designated to prepare the way before the coming of the anointed redeemer.

 

Malachi mentions Elijah by name when speaking about the future day of the Lord. The prophet Elijah is also referred to in the blessing of the Haftorah reading from the Hebrew prophets in the worship of the ancient synagogue. The powerful role of Elijah is reflected in the words of Malachi 4:4-5.

 

THE COMING OF ELIJAH IN MALACHI

 

Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.

At the conclusion of the words of the prophet, Elijah himself is portrayed in his special role in the divine plan. But Jesus quoted the passage from Malachi, "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts." (Mal. 3:1-2) Two figures appear in the verse: 1) my messenger and 2) the Lord.

 

Like Malachi 3:1, two important characters emerge from the reading of Micah 2:13, "The breaker (haporetz) who opens the breach rises up before them; they will break through (partzu), and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king (malkam) will pass on before them, the LORD at the head of them." In Micah, the two figures are portrayed by the designations: 1) the breaker and 2) their king. These two characters, the breaker and their king were interpreted as referring to Elijah and the Messiah in popular Jewish interpretations. A beautiful description of the future redemption is preserved in the homiletical midrash, Pesikta Rabbati which is filled with early Jewish teachings about the holy days as well as rich Bible exposition.

 

ELIJAH AND THE DAYS OF THE MESSIAH

 

When the Holy One, blessed be He, redeems Israel. Three days before the Messiah comes, Elijah will come and stand upon the mountains of Israel... In that hour the Holy One, blessed be He, will show his glory and his kingdom to all the inhabitants of the world: He will redeem Israel, and He will appear at the head of them, as is said, he who opens the breach [the breaker, haporetz] will go up before them; they will break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king will pass on before them, the LORD at their head" (Micah 2:13).16

The vivid portrait of the final redemption of the people of Israel portrays the coming of Elijah as a forerunner of the Messiah. Both Elijah and the Messiah are described here in a Jewish Midrash which speaks about the glory of God's kingdom and which quotes Micah 2:13 as a proof text. The importance of the word, "the breaker" (haporetz) in Micah 2:13 and the mention of the kingdom of heaven as "breaking forth" in the words of Jesus concerning John the Baptist and Elijah become clearer. In Hebrew, the same word is used for both the "breaker" and the action of the kingdom which is described as "breaking forth" ("suffers violence" in the KJV, and "advancing forcefully" in the NIV).17 John the Baptist is like the breaker. But another Jewish parallel to the saying of Jesus is even more precise. It is quoted from an earlier source by the medieval Jewish exegete, Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak) as he explains the meaning of Micah 2:13. Ancient Jewish commentators were keenly aware of the two outstanding figures in the verse, the breaker and the king. Radak comments upon the interpretation of Micah 2:13 by quoting an earlier Jewish source.

 

ELIJAH AND THE MESSIAH

In the words of our teachers of blessed memory and in the Midrash, it is taught that 'the breaker' is Elijah and 'their king' is the branch of the son of David.18

The king in Micah is identified as the branch of the son of David, terminology so often associated with Israel's messianic hope. He is the king Messiah. The action verb from the gospel saying, "...the kingdom of heaven breaks forth..." is connected to the prophecy of Micah concerning "the breaker." In popular Jewish discussions concerning the coming of the Messiah, biblical scholars thought that the change in society had to begin through a period of preparation for the messianic age. The way for the coming of redemption would be preceded by a prophet who would have a ministry like Elijah. The king messiah would then come to complete the task. Jesus viewed the great spiritual awakening which resulted from John's prophetic ministry as the preparation for his own work. David Flusser explains it so well when he discusses his own insights into the relationship between Radak's commentary on Micah 2:13 and John the Baptist.

 

FLUSSER ON JOHN THE BAPTIST

 

David Kimchi [Radak], put the following interpretation upon this verse: 'The one who opens up the breach' is Elijah and 'their king' is the scion of David.' According to this interpretation, which Jesus seems to have known, Elijah was to come first to open the breach, and he would be followed by those who broke through with their king, the Messiah. According to Jesus, the Elijah-John has already come, and those men who have the courage of decision now take the kingdom by force.19

The sheepfold has been broken wide open by the work of John the Baptist. The drama which is unfolding with John's prophetic preaching was already foreseen by the ancient Hebrew prophets. The eruption of the kingdom of heaven has decisively broken into the scene with the healing ministry of Jesus. He teaches the people to love God and to esteem each person with the great human dignity which must be given to every individual created in the divine image. The earlier vision of the prophets has been fulfilled with John the Baptist as a major turning point in the sacred history of divine redemption. But now the kingdom of heaven breaks forth with vigor and power. The spiritual renewal possesses a supernatural potency as the intensity of the divine favor brings wholeness to a hurting world suffering from the outside forces of oppression and the inner needs for healing. Jesus then must be identified with the image of the king from Micah 2:13.

 

David Flusser, the eminent Jewish scholar and world renowned authority on Judaism and early Christianity has called our attention to the early Hebrew commentary on Micah 2:13 and how it throws light upon the saying of Jesus concerning the kingdom, the role of John the Baptist as well as Jesus' own ministry. In fact, the saying has a profound impact upon how Jesus viewed himself and his messianic task. Flusser's brilliant insight and scholarly intuition led him to associate the Jewish interpretation of Micah's words, "the breaker who opens the breach" to the teaching of Jesus, "the kingdom of heaven breaks forth."

 

Interestingly, already in the seventeenth century a Christian scholar, Edward Pococke (1604-1691) arrived at the exact same conclusion basing himself upon a reading of Radak's commentary on Micah. Pococke was an outstanding scholar and impressive linguist during his period. For five years (1630-1635) he served as English chaplain at Aleppo and certainly had access to a wealth of Jewish literature. It is not outside the realm of possibility that he would have discussed the Hebrew commentary of Radak concerning Micah with eminent Shephardic rabbis in Aleppo. Such a conversation would have been conducted in Arabic, a language in which Pococke was also fluent. Pococke explained the importance of Radak's commentary for a proper understanding of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus.

 

POCOCKE ON RADAK

 

To him that was promised to be as such, and was exhibited as such, and hath made good in himself what was promised, well may the title of Haporets in this, or indeed in both senses agree. But if any think, that by Haporets, the breaker, and Malcam, their King, should be meant two distinct persons, let him hear, what the Ancient Jews (as cited by the modern) say, for exposition of this place. Haporets, the Breaker, that is Elias, and Malcam, their King, that is the Branch, the Son of David; and then observe, what our Saviour himself hath taught us, that John Baptist was that Elias which was to come...20

 

After discussing the language of Micah 2:13 and the Jewish interpretation of it by Radak, Pococke comments upon the significance of the prophecy for the gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist is Elijah and Jesus is the branch, the son of David. The kingdom is portrayed because people are breaking forth with the tremendous spiritual renewal which resulted from John's ministry. Pococke continues: that from the days of John the Baptist, the Kingdom of Heaven suffered violence, and the violent took it by force. Mat. 11.10,12. men breaking as it were, and passing through the gate, by his preaching repentance laid open, that they might go in and out: and it will be easy to apply to him this title of the breaker: and so we have in the words, a most illustrious prophecy of Christ, and his forerunner John the Baptist...21

As a philologist, Pococke recognized the great importance of biblical languages for a proper understanding of the gospels. Although Flusser and Pococke use much different words to explain the relationship between Jewish interpretations of Micah 2:13 and the sayings of Jesus concerning John the Baptist and the kingdom, they both have argued the case. John is identified with the breaker. Jesus is claiming to fulfill the role of the branch the son of David. Hence both a twentieth century Jewish scholar David Flusser and a seventeenth century Christian scholar Edward Pococke arrived at very similar conclusions independently of each other. The facts should be more important than the scholar's religious orientation. They both learned from the Jewish literature.22 To sum up the results of our linguistic and historical study of this difficult saying of Jesus, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force," a better translation of the text viewed within its original Jewish context makes the message of Jesus concerning John the Baptist and the kingdom of heaven so much clearer. According to Lindsey, linguistically a much better translation would be, "From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth and everyone breaks forth with it" (Mt. 11:12a and Lk. 16:16b). In keeping more closely with Matthew's version, the verse is best translated, "From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven breaks forth and those breaking forth are pursuing [seeking] it" (Mt. 11:12).

 

Historically it has been seen that some Jewish interpretations of Micah 2:13 and Malachi 3:1ff. taught about two important individuals who would fulfill the redemptive plan of God. Jewish Bible interpreters expected a prophet like Elijah who would call the people to repentance. He would turn the hearts of the children toward their heavenly Father as each would prepare for the day of the Lord. The second figure in the plan of redemption would be the branch the son of David. Like David, he would bring peace and freedom to his people. When Jesus referred to John as the breaker, he was comparing him to Elijah who was to come. As a result of John's work as the breaker, the kingdom of heaven was now breaking forth within Jesus' own ministry of healing. The people experience the power of God. They hear the message of Jesus and are challenged to put it into practice. As the branch the son of David, Jesus is the healer of needy humanity and a teacher of discipleship in the kingdom of heaven. Hence if John is Elijah, then Jesus is the branch the son of David. The promised anointed one had come. Jesus reveals his sublime task and strong self awareness. John the Baptist did not need to look for another. Clearly Jesus claimed to the anointed one of God. He was saying that he is the messiah.

 

JOHN THE BAPTIST AND MODERN CHRISTIANS

 

Today it is difficult for us to express unconditional love to religious people outside our own denominational setting and theological orientation. This is especially true when Christians consider orthodox Judaism as a vibrant faith. Orthodox Judaism is an authentic witness to the historical faith of Jesus. However faith in Jesus can erect an impassable barrier against the ones who so meticulously endeavor to preserve historic Jewish faith and practice which is rooted in the divine promises, eternal covenants and the enduring community of believers who live as Jesus lived. They practice the great grandchild faith of ancient Judaism. Like Jesus who lived the religious life of his people, modern Jews cherish and observe their ancient faith.

 

For contemporary Christians, the unconditional love which Jesus taught his disciples must characterize their attitudes to modern expressions of Jewish faith. We need to understand why multitudes of Jews in the first century rejected Jesus. After all even John the Baptist who stands upon the pinnacle of the Hebrew prophets entertained doubts about him. The issue of the messianic task was not cut and dried.

 

On the other hand, sometimes members of the modern Jewish community have not always appreciated the importance of Jesus for Christians who believe that he is the culmination of God's redemptive plan. His work is not completed. But as the suffering servant of the Lord, he came as a healer and teacher. According to Christian belief, the death of Jesus possesses the power of atonement for sins and transgressions. His promise to return and complete the messianic task forms a foundational doctrine of the church which is not so far removed from many traditional Jewish teachings concerning the coming of the messiah. While some members in both communities express doubts at times about the supernatural coming of the messiah, both Christians and Jews wait. Hence waiting on God, for the messiah's first appearance for the Jewish people and his second for the Christian community, is a shared human experience in both faith traditions. The religious heritage of Judaism and Christianity gives common cause to members of the synagogue and the church. Both long together for Godlike wholeness in a tormented world filled with injustice.

 

Multitudes of first century Jews accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah. Many others rejected him. After two thousand years of disputation and a tragic history of suspicion, the time is ripe for a long overdue mutual acceptance in sincere love and genuine respect. Wrongly Christians have persecuted the Jewish people. Today as each faith community comes to an understanding of the historical context where members of the first century Jewish people both accepted and rejected Jesus as messiah and Lord, we make one small step toward interfaith understanding. Is it possible for modern Christians to show a measure of sympathy for John the Baptist and his sincere doubts even after he baptized Jesus? In light of the fact that Jesus taught about and described his messianic task to an audience with a plurality of messianic expectations, this is perfectly understandable. On the other side of the coin, members of the Jewish community seem more willing to recognize that Jesus' life and ministry satisfied the messianic expectations for many of their ancestors. But as Christians it is more difficult for us to honor the sincere beliefs of our Jewish brothers and sisters who somewhat like John the Baptist doubt whether Jesus fulfilled the messianic task. Can Christians accept and affirm members within the household of the Jewish community who do not confess faith in Jesus but who do live the faith of Jesus? The uncompromising message in Jesus' teaching about love must overcome theological prejudice. Both Judaism and Christianity preach the pursuit of peace. Christians and Jews are enriched when they listen to each other in genuine respect.

 

THE MESSIANIC HOPE

 

The Jewish messianic hope is above all rooted in the deep belief that the one true God is concerned about human suffering and that He will send someone to help. That someone will be like Moses who brought liberation to slaves in Egypt. Israel needed a miracle to escape the torments of slavery. Moses was called to fulfill the mission. Messianic deliverers will be somewhat like Moses. They are anointed to alleviate the suffering of needy people. In a sense, Jesus raised up disciples to continue his ministry. They break forth with the message of God's reign. The messianic task of an anointed community is found as they fulfill the mission to relieve the sufferings of lost and broken humanity. The divine love for his creation must be expressed by finite human beings. God uses a Moses with all of his human weaknesses to bring hope to the camp of slaves.

 

The messianic hope of the followers of Jesus focuses on his mission to help people as well as his future coming. The task before the disciples of Jesus is great. His mission is revealed in the actions of his disciples who exemplify his teachings. They follow their teacher in observing his commandments. His promise to return and complete the messianic work of redemption was strong in the minds of his early followers. As the years have passed, the belief in his second coming sometimes has waned. For many, it remains a vibrant hope and a sure promise. But the work of the messiah has been entrusted to the anointed community of faith. As a messianic community, they are anointed to fulfill the task of the messiah until he returns. Christians are called to model love, forgiveness and acceptance by following the example of Jesus.

 

From the time of John, the preparation was being made. Now the kingdom of heaven breaks forth and all are breaking out with it. The rule of God challenges each new generation with the dynamic message of Jesus.

The kingdom should not be confined to the end times. Jesus moreover never advocated violence or political domination to achieve the goals of the divine rule. In this saying of Jesus, his disciples are not being attacked. They should not be described as suffering violence. Neither should they be described as violent people. He was not teaching violence or force as an acceptable method of operation. Jesus emphasized love, forgiveness and acceptance. The kingdom is the power of God at work to help people. Jesus came to save. He came to teach a way of life. He taught his disciples to follow his example.

 

Jesus says, "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come" (Mt. 11:13). All the prophets look ahead to his coming. The kingdom of heaven is God's reign. It is seen in the activities of Jesus after the preparation was made by John. The divine reign is realized when God's people receive his power to accomplish his purpose. This power is not reserved for the end times. The kingdom breaks forth as men and women experience the God's redemptive power in their personal lives. They share what God has done for them as they help others. Jesus came to bring salvation and healing to hurting people in a world confronted by urgent human need.


Notes

1) Lk. 11:20; Mt. 12:28 and Mt. 11:12; Lk. 16:16. Study the passages in context, see the Beelzebub Controversy Mt. 12:22-30; Mk. 3:22-27; Lk. 11:14-23 and the question of John the Baptist, Matthew 11:2-15; Luke 7:18-28, 16:16.

2) For a summary of different views of commentators, see W.D. Davies and Dale Allison, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, revised edition of ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark), vol. 2, pp. 254-256 and also G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), pp. 91-96. Davies and Allison understand the saying as making reference to the kingdom of God being attacked during the struggle between good and evil in the end times. They view the first phrase as a passive, meaning that the kingdom is under attack, although the Greek word can also be understood as a middle which would describe an action from within the kingdom itself. While they prefer an interpretation which refers to the persecution of the preachers of the kingdom during the eschatological trial, they concede that, "'the kingdom of God breaks in with power, with force', may be a possible translation..." Beasley-Murray agrees with an eschatological emphasis for the verse but he argues for a middle meaning in translation for the first part of the verse. In this point, he is surely closer to the original meaning of the text. He suggests, "The kingdom of heaven is powerfully breaking out (into the world), and violent men are strongly attacking it" as the proper translation. While his argument for the middle meaning, "the kingdom of heaven is powerfully breaking out" is strong, the second part of the translation may not convey the proper approach. At least the parallel in Luke 16:16b, "and every one enters it violently" (RSV) does not seem to describe those who are attacking the kingdom but rather those individuals who are striving with forceful effort to enter into it. At least this is the way the translators of the RSV have understood rightly the Greek text eis auten biazetai. Hence the NIV translates Luke 16:16b, "...and everyone is forcing his way into it." Compare John Nolland who accepts this approach, Word Biblical Commentary Luke (Dallas: Word, 1993), vol. 3, p. 821. These questions will be discussed further. Here we suggest, with R.L. Lindsey (private communication) that a translation such as "The kingdom of heaven is breaking forth and every one breaks forth with it" is much closer to the original idea of the passage (see especially David Flusser, Jesus, German edition, pp. 38-40, English edition, p. 40).

3) Compare the important discussion concerning the wording of Mt. 11:12, in David Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (New York, 1973), pp. 285ff. Though Daube recognizes paratz as a possible translation of biazo as reflected also in the LXX, he shows great caution when he concludes, "Any suggestion as to the original structure is bound to be conjectural" (ibid, p. 300). Study the rendering of the verb paratz in the LXX texts, 2 Samuel (2 Kings, LXX) 13:25, 27 and 2 Kings (4 Kings, LXX, acc. to A) 5:23. The Greek word biazo was an accepted equivalent.

4) See W. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 140-141, "intr. makes its way w. triumphant force." See also H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 314, "having broken through all these constraints" or "may sail out by forcing their way" and the discussion of G. Schrenk in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, pp. 609-614. Unfortunately something of the anti-Jewish spirit from the age of Nazi Germany impacts some of Schrenk's discussion. He accepts a passive meaning. However Schrenk calls attention to the view of Melanchthon, F.C. Baur, Zahn and Harnack when he observed, "A first possibility a. is to take biazetai in the sense of an intr. mid.: 'the rule of God breaks in with power, with force and impetus.'" (ibid, p. 610). From the study of the linguistic evidence and the original Jewish context of the saying in the ministry of Jesus, this first possibility which was supported by a number of influential theologians and New Testament scholars including Melanchthon, Baur, Zahn and Harnack has much to commend itself. It should be rendered, "The kingdom of heaven breaks forth."

5) See also R.L. Lindsey, The Jesus Sources, pp. 77-81.

6) David Flusser, Jesus, German edition, pp. 38-40, English edition, p. 40. Without Flusser's insights, these passages would not be properly understood. He writes, "In Jesus' view, John was a prophet, if you like, the one who was preparing the way of God at the end of time, the Elijah who was to return. With John the end-time begins - the decisive eruption into the history of the world" (ibid).

7) See preceding note.

8) See the fine translation of Luke 16:16b in the New American Bible, by the Catholic Biblical Association of America (with the blessing of Pope Paulus P P. VI, 1970) "...and people of every sort are forcing their way in." I like this scholarly rendering of the text.

9) See Lindsey, The Jesus Sources, pp. 75-83 and his book, Jesus Rabbi and Lord, pp. 101-104. I appreciate the insights I have received from Lindsey from private conversations we have had concerning this passage. David Flusser has explained the verse's linguistic background and its sources in early Jewish thought. Lindsey has suggested a Hebrew reconstruction of Mt. 11:12a and Lk. 16:16b.

10) See the Dead Sea Scrolls and especially the recently published Hebrew texts with the words, rodfe daat "pursue knowledge" (Ben Zion Wacholder and Martin G. Abegg, A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls, Biblical Archaeological Society: Washington D.C. 1991-1992). See now especially 4Q 418, 4Q 424 and 4Q 299. Cf. also the Manual of Discipline 10:18 (J. Licht, p. 219) and compare Isa. 51:1, Psalm 38:21-22, Prov. 16:9 and 21:21. A beautiful homily about Abraham as the model for the person who earnestly pursues righteousness appears in Gen. Rabbah 58:9 (Albeck, p. 629).

11) John the Baptist probably attacked the morally deficient Herod Antipas so strongly because he felt that the end was very near. John was motivated in part by his eschatology. Surely he felt let down by Jesus who did not live up to his expectations.

12) See Enoch 69:27-29, M. Black, The Book of Enoch, Leiden, 1985, p. 66.

13) See the account in Josephus, Ant. 18:116-119 (5:2). It is important to point out a historical note made by David Flusser. He suggested that the mention of Machaerus was probably a mistake made by Josephus. Josephus mentioned Machaerus because of the context in which he wrote, "Machaerus, which was on the boundary between the territory of Aretas and that of Herod" (Ant. 18:111). According to Flusser's approach, John the Baptist most probably was held in custody in Tiberias where he would have been executed.

14) The great diversification on different views of the messianic task cannot be underestimated. See the work of Joseph Klausner for a survey. The research he began is far from complete. Compare Joseph Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (Macmillan: New York, 1955) and James Charlesworth, ed., The Messiah (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).

15) See b. Sanhedrin 99a; b. Berachot 34b and b. Shabbat 63a. See also David Flusser, Die rabbinischen Gleichnisse und der Gleichniserzhler Jesus, p. 270f. and Brad Young and David Flusser, "Messianic Blessings in Jewish and Christian Texts," in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, p. 294.

16) Pesikta Rabbati 35, see the English translation by W. Braude, Pesikta Rabbati (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), vol. 2, pp. 674-675. In Hebrew, see the very fine classic edition of Meir Friedmann, p. 161a.

17) See note 2 above. Ladd believes that the saying describes the presence of the kingdom in the world regardless of a passive or middle voice. The kingdom has been realized as the future realm of the divine rule which is brought into the present experience. See G.E. Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom the Eschatology of Biblical Realism (London: SPCK, 1966), p. 197, note 18. Ladd revised his work on the kingdom in his book, The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980). Ladd writes, "The Kingdom of God means that God is King and acts in history to bring history to a divinely directed goal" (The Presence of the Future, p. 331). For Ladd, the kingdom is primarily the presence of the future rule more than it is reality in the present. He writes, "If God has acted in history in this Kingdom, he will bring history to his Kingdom" (ibid, p. 332).

18) See Radak's commentary on Micah 2:13 in Mikraot Gedalot (Schocken edition, 1938), p. 417b.

19) David Flusser, Jesus, German edition, pp. 38-40, English edition, p. 40. While it is possible that Radak was referring to Pesikta Rabbati 35, it seems highly unlikely. He appears to be quoting an earlier source.

20) Edward Pococke, A Commentary on the Prophecy of Micah. Oxford University Press, 1676, pp. 22-25. I am grateful to my friend, Doug Hill who called my attention to Pococke's commentary. After he heard a lecture which I gave on the relationship between Matthew 11:12 and Micah 2:13, Hill examined Pococke's commentary and discovered that the seventeenth century Hebrew scholar understood the implications of early Jewish exposition of Micah 2:13 and Matthew 11:12. Later one of my students, James Thacker wrote a very fine M.A. thesis on this text and also discovered a hint to the tradition in John Calvin. Apparently Calvin may have become familiar with the Jewish teaching through his contact with the one of the rabbis in the learned family of Abarbanel. It would be difficult to identify who is referred to by a certain Rabbi Barbinel because of more than one rabbi with the same name. In any case, it is clear that Calvin was not able to comprehend the significance of the teaching in the same way that Edward Pococke grasped the implication of Micah 2:13 and Mat. 11:12. See John Calvin, trans., T. Parker, Commentary of Micah (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986), pp. 210-211 and the discussion by James Thacker, "The Kingdom of Heaven is Breaking Forth: a Study of the Relationships between Matthew 11:12-13, Luke 16:16 and Micah 2:12-13" (Unpublished M.A. thesis, Graduate School of Theology, Oral Roberts University, 1990), pp. 63-72.

21) Pococke, A Commentary on the Prophecy of Micah, pp. 22-25.

22) In the final analysis, Flusser's study of the passage is much more objective.

 

Chapter 5 of Jesus The Jewish Theologian by Brad H. Young

 

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