Did Jesus claim to be Israel’s Messiah? To most evangelicals the answer would be in the affirmative but most “liberal” scholars deny that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and that the biblical records declaring him so are early church reflections and are not from the historical Jesus. It’s for this reason that Michael Bird, New Testament tutor at Highland Theological College, has written Are You the One Who Is to Come?:The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Questions in order to affirm that Jesus did in fact claim to be Israel’s Messiah.
Bird is carefully to argue not that Jesus used the title “Messiah” but “that Jesus saw himself in messianic categories, enacting a messianic role or messianic vocation as part of his aim to renew and restore Israel though his various activities” (p.29). Birds seeks to establish his thesis by first reviewing the messianic understanding in the 2nd Temple Judaism (Ch. 2) and refuting major arguments for the denial of Jesus' claim to be a Messiah such as Wrede’s “Messianic Secret” and the early Christians’ “scripturizing of the Jesus tradition” (Ch.3).
Bird spends the next two chapters exploring the messianic question through the Jesus tradition. First, Bird examines certain patterns and themes like “the Son of Man”, “the Anointed One”, kingdom, and “I Have Come” sayings (Ch. 4) then he analyzes the stories leading to Christ’s death, his death, and it’s aftereffects on the early Church. After carefully examination of the relevant texts, Bird makes a masterfully case that Jesus saw himself in messianic categories. Finally, Bird concludes with a final chapter describing the significances of Christ being the Messiah (Ch. 6).
I really appreciate a lot of Bird’s book. I found his review of the relevant texts to be careful and his conclusions to be extremely balanced. I was also excited to see Bird emphasis “the story of Israel”which I believe is the interpretative key in understanding Jesus. He writes “The story of the Messiah can only be understood as part of the story of Israel...Jesus was not a timeless heavenly redeemer imparting esoteric truths to receptive human vessels. The vision of the New Testament authors and of proto-orthodox Christianity is that the day of salvation has been brought to the world through the Messiah of Israel” (pg. 163).
It’s important to note that this is an academic book and some might not be familiar with some of the issues, but those who do or are willing to patiently work through them I highly recommend this book.