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Michael Bird: Jesus Is the Christ

“Those who express faith in Jesus and join ‘The Way’ are constituted as the people of God in the messianic age.” – Michael Bird

Leaving Matthew behind, Dr. Bird moves on to discuss Luke’s understanding of Jesus as Messiah which flows on over into Acts of the Apostles. In dealing with Luke and Acts, Bird does something this reviewer has not seen done before by anyone else except for perhaps N. T. Wright in the latter’s The New Testament and the People of God. On page 96, Bird compounds Jesus’ messiahship with the group identity of the believers who trust in him. “Those who express faith in Jesus and join ‘The Way’ are constituted as the people of God in the messianic age.” This is an interesting insight. It compressed into a single simple sentence the substance of Wright’s much larger work. Another interesting feature of Bird’s discussion on Luke and Acts is that he omits any references to Luke’s identity. In Acts 16:11, the writer relates “we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis ….” That “we” indicated that the writer was Paul and was part of the apostolic team sent over to Philippi. This indicates that Luke was himself Jewish just as were Mark and Matthew. As Mark, Luke was, no doubt, by virtue of his non-hebraic name, a diaspora Jew addressing the Messiahship of Jesus to a greatly enlarged gentile world beyond even that of Mark’s audience which is suggested in Luke 2:14. This reviewer wished Bird had picked up on these details as it would even further strengthen an already strong argument that Jesus is the Christ of all men.

Moving from the discussion of Luke’s treatment of Jesus as Messiah, Bird goes on to provide a study of the Fourth Evangelist’s understanding of Jesus as Messiah. As Bird points out, John’s favorite phrase is “he who is to come” or the “coming one.” To Bird, Jesus is the “elusive” Messiah. He borrowed the adjective “elusive” from Mark Stibbe’s “The Elusive Christ,” an entry in an 1991 issue of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament (4 L, p. 20). Bird explains that when the crowds seek Jesus, he only allows them to find him when he is ready for them (p. 97). He suggests that the fourth evangelist is not fully aware of the Jewish ideas associated with the title “messiah.” This assertion on the part of Dr. Bird strikes as odd since the fourth evangelist is the most Judaean of the other three evangelists. In point of fact, the fourth evangelist gives more attention to Jesus’ ministry in Judaea and Perea than the other three. The author does recognize that John the Baptizer unequivocally recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. Another prominent feature of the Fourth Evangelist is he records more confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish leaders than do the synoptic gospels. This is no critique of an oversight on the author’s part. Bird may be more attuned to a certain elusiveness present in any relationship of familiarity. The author may be acknowledging that the closer a person is to another, as in the case of Nicodemus’ visit with Jesus, the less aware you are of the other’s significance. This is also apparent in the encounter between Jesus and Nathanael recorded in John 1:43-51. Bird comes down frequently on the repetitive phrase “the coming one,” an expected one who, once he had come, was not recognized or was recognized only by a very few (John 4:25; 6:4; 11:27; 12:13; 18:37).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2015

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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