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Michael Bird: Jesus Is the Christ

Michael F. Bird, Jesus Is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 207 pages, ISBN 9780830828234.

Michael F. Bird, lecturer in Theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia provides the reader a study of how each of the four evangelists present Jesus as the Messiah of early Israel’s expectation. This is the first study that this reviewer has seen to do a comparative study among the gospels as to Jesus’ messiahship. The author begins with Mark and then proceeds to Matthew, Luke (including Acts), and John, and ending with a discussions of common elements as well as what is distinctive to each gospel account.

Embedded within this study is the contention that the declaration of Jesus as Messiah was from the beginning of the gospel message and not a later ascription by the early church looking at the person of Jesus. This is probably the reason Bird begins with Mark which is considered to be the earliest of the gospel messages. Bird, however, goes back to the Old Testament’s understanding of messiahship and shows how Jesus fits within Israel’s expectation of a coming servant-shepherd king that would deliver them from their exile and which deliverance would draw all other nations to worship the one true God. Mark’s gospel, supposedly the earliest of the four gospels, is addressed to a gentile world. Bird takes the pains of careful biblical study to show how the messiah of Israel’s expectations is also the anointed deliverer (Christos = Messia) of all peoples. He does this without making note of the fact that of the four gospels, Mark is the only one who translates from the Aramaic/Syriac language of the Near East for the benefit of his gentile readers.

Though very detailed, Bird’s study is very readable. Aiding this readability is his use of end-notes rather than foot-notes at the bottom of each page. It is a study for the general reader as well as for the more academic reader interested in a comparative study.

After dealing with Mark’s testimony to Jesus as Messiah (Christ), Bird proceeds to a study of Matthew’s testimony which he maintains was directed to a Jewish audience as is evident by his references to Abraham and to David the king. Bird understands Jesus’ ministry as the fulfillment of the ancient prophetic expectation if a promised Davidic descendant who would deliver Israel from exile as a shepherd-king. Bird recalls both Ezekiel’s and Micah’s prophecies of the shepherd who gathers his scattered flock. He also sees a connection between Balaam’s fourth prophecy recorded in Numbers 24:17; “A Star shall come out of Jacob” and the visit of the Magi who followed a star (Matt. 2:1-12) to Bethlehem and gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child Jesus. The Magi represented the goyim (gentiles, Latin) coming to worship the Messiah (Christ) of Israel. Bird went on to substantiate the inter-relatedness between Balaam’s prophecy and the coming of the Magi by indicating the references to a messianic star found in the Jewish extra-biblical targums Levi 1813 and Judah 24:1.

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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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