08.05.04 Lk. 7:18-23 (See also Mt. 11:2-6)
QUESTIONS BY JOHN THE BAPTIST.
18 Then John’s disciples told him about all these things. So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord, asking, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?”
20 When the men reached Him, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to ask You, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?’”
21 At that time Jesus healed many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and He granted sight to many blind people. 22 He replied to them, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. 23 And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed.”
Herod Antipas had arrested John the Baptizer, who was now sitting in the Machaerus Fortress prison wondering if he would ever be released or face martyrdom. John had been certain that Jesus was that messiah, but now he was in the dungeon with no end in sight. Understandably, he was beginning to question if his perception of Jesus was correct. He never hesitated in preaching the truth; his was the proverbial “fire and brimstone” message, but there was a serious problem.
John was probably expecting Jesus to declare His messiahship or discuss the replacement of the corrupt temple Sadducees. But there were no less than three issues that were problematic for him:
- Jesus made no preparations for the triumph of Israel or an overthrow of the oppressive Roman Empire.
- Jesus made no suggestions of the wrath of God coming upon sinners who refused to repent.
- Jesus made no mention of the encroaching paganism from the Greeks that had plagued the Jews for more than three centuries.
“Or should we expect someone else?” Since John’s message was not being confirmed by Jesus he questioned if Jesus really was the Messiah or if he had been wrong. The Baptist, like most people of today, would have appreciated a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, the Master Teacher responded in such a manner whereby the prophet had to think through the answer for himself. For more than four centuries, the people of Israel had been expecting their political-messiah who would restore their national pride in the form of an empire like King David’s.
A major theme of John was, “Repent, judgment is near.” Jesus was extremely compassionate toward the poor, the crippled, the common folk of the land, and even to the common Pharisees in the community synagogues. Jesus was, however, extremely judgmental of the corrupt religious leaders of the temple in Jerusalem. Since John’s anticipated image of the Messiah did not reconcile with the person Jesus, he essentially asked, “Are you the Messiah who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” The point isn’t that John was wrong in his statements, but that his perspective of time was confused. The apocalyptic and judgment prophecies that John was expecting will occur in their fulfilled time when Christ returns, a point that John may not have understood very well. Possibly, the most significant question that John had was that if Jesus was truly the Messiah, why was he still sitting in prison when Isaiah 61:1 clearly states that the Messiah would release all captives (prisoners)? Furthermore, John knew he was not an ordinary prisoner! He knew from childhood that he had a divine appointment to call the Jewish people to repentance for the coming of the Messiah. He was faithfully executing his duty and expecting the true Messiah to have him released from his prison chains. Consequently, it was important to ask why he was sitting in a fortress dungeon east of the Dead Sea. Jesus answered by identifying six signs that the Messiah would demonstrate, that are as follows:
- He will make the blind see (Isa. 29:18; 35:5)
- He will make the lame walk (Isa. 35:6; 61:1)
- He will cleanse the lepers (Isa. 61:1)
- He would make the deaf hear (Isa. 29:18; 35:5)
- He would raise the dead (implied in Isa. 11:1-2, although not specific)
- He would evangelize the poor (Isa. 61:1-2)
Essentially what Jesus told John’s disciples was, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard.” Jesus was not about to make a public or private statement to the Jewish community indicating that He was the Messiah. Rather, He simply fulfilled the prophetic words of Isaiah to let them determine for themselves that He is their Messiah. The answer Jesus proposed was essentially this: “Listen to what I say and do, then decide.” But what John so passionately wanted to hear, Jesus did not mention.
When to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners.
One can only imagine what John thought of when his disciples told to him the response by Jesus, and that the portion of Isaiah’s prophecy about being a released prisoner was not mentioned.
“Jesus healed many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits.” Luke, a professional medical doctor, noted the differences between diseases and demonic possession.
“The blind receive their sight … those with skin diseases are healed … the dead are raised.”
Not only did Jesus refer to His ability to fulfill prophecies about Himself, but He specifically pointed to the messianic miracles that first century Jewish people expected that their Messiah would be able to perform. Therefore, He clearly but indirectly said that He was their Messiah.
While Bible scholars often compare the expectations of John with the reality of Jesus, there were a number of differences between the two that most certainly must have entered the mind of John. Notice the following couplets:
John wore a rough garment and a prayer shawl (mantle) 
Jesus wore simple dress and a prayer shawl like any other rabbi
John preached repentance within the bounds of the Old Testament
Jesus preached repentance and full life within the bounds of the Kingdom of God.
John preached nationalism for Israel
Jesus preached the Kingdom of God for the whole world
John had taken the Nazarite vow
Jesus enjoyed feasting
John upheld the traditions of the rabbis in fasting, prayers, and washings
Jesus honored Torah traditions, not rabbinic traditions
The people loved John and believed he was a prophet
The people loved Jesus and some believed in Him
John was discredited and the religious leaders insinuated that he was a devil
Jesus was discredited and the religious leaders said He used the power of the devil.
John did not give a prophetic utterance or perform a miracle
Jesus gave numerous prophecies and performed many miracles
John was martyred and was buried
Jesus was martyred, was buried, but rose again on the third day!
These differences, except for the last set, might make anyone question if they were on the path God assigned them.
08.05.04.Q1 What is the miracle or mystery of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q521?
There is literary evidence that suggests the Essenes believed that an anointed figure or person would come and bring sight to the blind. Among the hundreds of scroll fragments found in cave 4, one is most interesting. Fragment no. 521 (4Q521), often called the Messianic Apocalypse, has a reading that is similar to, but not identical to, Isaiah 61:1-5. Both the words of Jesus and those recorded on the 4Q521 fragment contain an insertion of one phrase not found in Isaiah – that is that the dead shall be raised to life. It clearly demonstrates the Essene writers did not quote the biblical text, but wrote to declare that this prophetic passage would be a messianic miracle. The mystery of 4Q521 is how did the Essenes know that would happen? What was their source of information? In both Jesus’ teaching and 4Q521 this statement is immediately before the reference to preaching good news to the poor. Scholars believe this scroll fragment is a clear indication that the Essene community expected the messiah to perform at least one “messianic prophecy.” This presents two significant questions for scholars today:
- How did the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, know that the messiah would raise the dead to life long before Jesus was born?
- And when Jesus did raise the dead to life, how did the news affect them?
08.05.04.A. DEAD SEA SCROLL 4Q521 WITH PHRASE “THE ANOINTED ONE” A record of the first century B.C. era of Isaiah 61, provides ample evidence that some first century Jews, the Essenes, understood this to be a Messianic passage. Photograph courtesy of the Israel Museum.
When Jesus responded to John’s disciples, he combined segments from two passages written by the prophet Isaiah: verses 61:1 and 35:5-6. They understood the messiah would rise the dead, even though this was not in the Isaiah passage. It is a classic example of ipsissima verba and ipsissima vox that was previously described. This fragment was written about three decades before the birth of Jesus and, therefore, is worth citing. It begins by announcing the coming of “the anointed one,” meaning the Messiah.
1 [for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his Messiah, 2 [and all] that is in them will not turn away from the holy precepts. 3 Be encouraged, you who are seeking the Lord in his service! (Blank space) 4 Will you not, perhaps, encounter the Lord in it, all those who hope in their heart? 5 For the Lord will observe the devout, and call the just by name, 6 and upon the poor he will place his spirit, and the faithful he will renew with his strength. 7 For he will honor the devout upon the throne of eternal royalty, 8 freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twisted. 9 Ever shall I cling to those who hope. In his mercy he will jud[ge,] 10 and from one shall the fruit [of] good [deeds] be delayed, 11and the Lord shall perform marvelous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id] 12for he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the meek, 13 give lavishly [to the need]y, lead the exiled and enrich the hungry.
Dead Sea Scroll Fragment, 4Q521.1-13
The words of the Essene writer (above) and the words of Jesus were drawn from two passages from the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners.
5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy,
for water will gush in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
Jesus responded to John by stating, in essence, that the prophetic messianic events (listed in Isa. 61) were being fulfilled. In all likelihood since John was very familiar with the Essenes near Damascus and those living on the edge of the Dead Sea (Qumran), he was familiar with this interpretation of Isaiah 61. Recall that his parents were of the same clan as the Essenes, and those near Damascus most likely raised him after his parents passed on. When he preached in the Judean Wilderness and ate the proverbial “honey and locust,” he was in Essene territory. So the forerunner of the Messiah and the Essenes may have had more in common that what scholars believe today.
Finally, the perspective that John the Baptist had was limited to the calling that was upon his life. He had no concept of the cross; that Jesus would die and rise again; and that through Him all humanity could find salvation and eternal life. As important as John’s ministry was, the irony is that he pointed men to the light which he himself did not see.
. The proverbial “fire and brimstone” imagery,” was not fulfilled by Jesus in His first coming, but will be upon His return.
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. (Video “C”).
. These same distinctions were made in Lk. 6:18; 8:2; 13:32.
. For a description of the three messianic miracles, see 06.03.08.Q1, 06.03.08.Q2, 06.01.03, John 4:25 as well as the related video link 06.03.08.V and 06.01.03. See also the comparison of Dead Sea Scroll fragments 4Q278 and 4Q521 with Luke 4:16-30 at 06.02.02; See also Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Miracles. 4; Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 10, Session 2.
. W. E. Vine is typical of many scholars who have made minimal reference to the Jewish characteristics of Scripture. For example, every Jew knows that the “mantle” was a prayer shawl, but it is not mentioned (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:105-06). Another example is the Hebrew term “Torah” which is translated as “law.” Yet every Jew knows that it also means “instruction,” a definition that is missing from Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:354-56.
. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 161; Eisenmann and Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered. 237.
. Wilkins, “Peter’s Declaration concerning Jesus’ Identity in Caesarea Philippi.” 325.
. Miller, “The War of the Scrolls.” 44; Wilkins, “Peter’s Declaration concerning Jesus’ Identity in Caesarea Philippi.” 324-326.
. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 156.
. It is important to note that the Essenes had great difficulty reconciling the prophetic passage of the suffering servant with the prophetic passages of the victorious king. Therefore, they concluded there would be two messiahs.
. See 08.03.04.Q4.
. Martinez. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated. 394. Letters within the square brackets are either unreadable or missing in the original scroll.
. See section on the Birth of John the Baptist.