Why did Luke choose to begin his gospel account with first-hand accounts of what four people expected the messiah to be like? Why did he deem it important to share the messianic predictions of Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and John the Baptist?
In part, Luke’s inclusion of these four messianic descriptions helps us realize that most Jews envisioned a different kind of messiah than the kind Jesus turned out to be. It is important for us to recognize this for it allows us to better understand why Jesus inaugurated His public ministry by clarifying what His messianic mission would be like. Knowing that errant expectations abounded, we can now see that Jesus needed to separate Himself from the public’s misconceptions or risk becoming their puppet messiah.
Throughout Jesus’ years of public ministry, He was frequently pressured by people to become the kind of messiah they wanted Him to be. In John 6:14-15 we read of one such attempt by a crowd of people to force Jesus to comply with their preconceived notion of His messianic mission:
“After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
Here was a crowd of people that recognized Jesus as the long-awaited prophet/messiah, and thus the rightful King of the Jews. But because of their distorted view of the messiah’s mission, they assumed the way in which He would acquire the throne was through force. They also believed that the prophesied era of peace, which the messiah was to usher in, could only be achieved if Israel’s enemies were overthrown. This was the only approach they had ever witnessed for making peace. They (like virtually all of us) never imagined another way is possible.
Now, if I had been in Jesus’ position, I would have feared that, despite my best efforts, I would simply end up being used as a pawn to carry out somebody else’s political or religious agenda. Astonishingly, Jesus never seems worried that the crowds’ misconceptions of His messianic character would ultimately trap Him into becoming their puppet messiah. If Jesus had feared this, He would have made understanding and adhering to the fundamentals of His messianic ethos a prerequisite for being accepted as one of His disciples. Yet, as we’ve already seen, this was not the case. Jesus chose violent Zealots (like Simon) and profit-driven traitors (like Judas Iscariot, who regularly stole from the disciples’ common purse, and Matthew, who was a tax collector making a profit off of the Roman occupation). It was not a requirement that Jesus’ disciples be on board with His messianic mission. His disciples often had no clue as to what Jesus was all about. On more than one occasion Jesus completely baffles His disciples. “Who can this be?!,” His disciples bewilderingly exclaim.