Matthias Henze in Mind the Gap has a thought-provoking discussion of how understanding the writings that emerged during the 400 year gap between Old and New Testaments affects such a foundational Christian concept as messiah.
Christ is the basis for the word Christian. Christians, most would agree, are those who believe Jesus was the–Greek– christos or–the Hebrew/Aramaic– masshiach. This means that Jesus is the “anointed one”. You may have heard preachers say that Jesus was the messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. I have probably said that myself.
But the Old Testament contains no straight-forward prediction of a coming messiah. Kings were said to be anointed of God, including the Persian king, Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1). Priests and prophets also were anointed ones. However, Henze says, “…there are no texts in the Old Testament that know of the concept of a messiah as an awaited agent of God, a descendant of David, who will appear to reign over a restored kingdom of Israel at the end of time (p. 58).
Jesus and his disciples did not make up this concept. It was an idea from the gap period. It developed in the period between the Old and New Testament. Those of us who have spoken of a messiah in connection with Old Testament prophesies were not totally wrong. There are a number of passages, especially in the Royal Psalms, that could bear this interpretation. It is just that they may base hope for the future on an actual Israelite king like Hezekiah or a hoped-for descendant of David. They were originally not apocalyptic passages about the end of time.
This changed some with the book of Daniel, a book that is so late that it is actually in Henze’s gap. In a vision Daniel sees God give “one like a son of man” royal power over a kingdom that will not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14) This is an apocalyptic passage in that it is not talking about a mundane regime change. But people have interpreted it in different ways. For instance, there is the view that the one who resembles a son of man is an angel.
Henze’s point is that the New Testament concept of the messiah depends ultimately, not on the Old Testament, but on the way that people began to talk about the messiah during the gap period. During this period some of the people began to lose hope in political or military salvation and the literal continuation of the dynasty of David. This prompted a turn to talk of God establishing an end-time kingdom ruled by his messiah.
We know the historical events that led to the writing of the Psalms of Solomon. In -63 the Roman general, Pompey, ended the independence of Israel under the Hasmonian rule that had followed the Maccabean revolt. The Psalms of Solomon refer to this event. But they condemn the Hasmnoneans as much as the Romans. The psalmists identify themselves with “the devout”. They sing a prayer in their 17th psalm for God to restore the fallen kingdom of David, to expel the gentiles and unrighteous rulers, and to set up his messiah as righteous king over the people.
An undated and somewhat damaged scroll from Qumran is called the Messianic Apocalypse. It speaks of the messiah with language based on Psalm 146 about freeing the captives and giving sight to the blind. It says that under the coming messiah:
. . .a man’s rewa[rd for] good [wor]ks shall not be delayed. And the Lord will perform marvelous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id]. For he shall heal the badly wounded, He shall make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor, he shall sati[sfy] the [poo]r, he shall lead the uprooted, and the hungry He shall enrich (?). (p.. 69. Henze’s own ranslation. The brackets show uncertainty about the translation due to damage to the parchment).
This raises the likelihood that New Testament passages like Luke 4:18 and Luke 7:20-22 do not allude directly to the Old Testament but to later messianic interpretations.
One place where both the Messianic Apocalypse and Luke go beyond the Old Testament is in making the resurrection of the dead a feature of the messiah’s dominion.
There is another damaged text from Qumran sometimes called the Apocrypon of Daniel. This text, Henze believes, uses “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” as titles for the messiah. Henze says this has an “astonishing” resemblance to Luke 1:32 in the nativity story:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David (WEB).
Henze’s overall point is that the New Testament concept of the messiah did not emerge directly from the Old Testament, but was mediated by discussion and development found in the intertestamental literature, and that this helps us understand what the concept means.