How did the New Testament writers view Jesus' title of "Son of God"? What did the early church believes about what it means?
"Messiah" ("Christ" in Greek) is a Hebrew word that essentially means the anointed one. Prior to the crucifixion, the expectation of both Jews and Christians was that a man would arise who would be reminiscent of David, whom Samuel anointed to be king. The Messiah would deliver Israel from oppression and lead her as their king.
The NT authors and the early church saw Jesus as the Messiah; He was the deliverer from spiritual oppression, and the king of a spiritual kingdom. He would some day deliver them from physical oppression, and rule a physical kingdom.
"Son of God" essentially meant God's image bearer. The idea of a "son" in the first century was different than it is today. The term "Son of God" did not so much signify that Jesus was born, or that He had a beginning, or that He was somehow inferior to the Father, but rather that He came from God and bore His image. (cf)
Are the two synonymous?
Yes and no. They signify different things by definition, but in the Person of Christ they were seen as equally valid and important titles, and are often treated as if they were synonymous. Here is a brief sampling of places where we see this:
Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ. -Luke 4:41
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” -John 11:27
But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” -Matthew 26:63
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God -John 20:30-31
The title of "Messiah" doesn't imply any divinity for the individual bearing that title, so it should be considered as distinct from the title "son of God".
Messiah (Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ; mashiach, "anointed [one]") is a term used in the Hebrew Bible to describe priests and kings, who were traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil as described in Exodus 30:22-25. For example, Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia, although not a Hebrew, is referred to as "God's mashiach" in the Bible.
In Jewish eschatology, the term mashiach, or "Messiah," came to refer to a future Jewish King from the Davidic line, who is expected to be anointed with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age. The Messiah is often referred to as "King Messiah" or, in Hebrew, מלך המשיח (melekh mashiach), and in Aramaic, malka meshiḥa.
The Talmud extensively discusses the coming of the Messiah (Sanhedrin 98a, et al.) and describes a period of freedom and peace, which will be the time of ultimate goodness for the Jews and for all humankind.
Historical Messianic figures
Besides Jesus of Nazareth, many historical figures have been considered a Jewish Messiah, but none of them was considered the son of God.
Simon the Sorcerer or **Simon the Magician **was a Samaritan magus or religious figure and a convert to Christianity, baptised by Philip the Evangelist, whose later confrontation with Peter is recorded in Acts 8:9–24.
Surviving traditions about Simon appear in orthodox texts, such as those of Irenaeus, Justin Martyr,Hippolytus, and Epiphanius, where he is often regarded as the source of all heresies. Justin wrote that nearly all the Samaritans in his time were adherents of a certain Simon of Gitta, a village not far from Flavia Neapolis. Irenaeus held him as being one of the founders of Gnosticism and the sect of the Simonians.
Dositheos (occasionally also known as Nathanael, both meaning "gift of God") was a Samaritan religious leader, founder of a Samaritan sect, often assumed to be a gnostic. He is reputed to have known John the Baptist, and been the teacher of Simon Magus. He therefore counts as one of the supposed founders of Mandaeanism.
Simon of Peraea or Simon son of Joseph was a former slave of Herod the Great who rebelled and was killed by the Romans in 4 BC. He has been identified as the messiah of Gabriel's Revelation. He is mentioned by Flavius Josephus. According to Josephus:
There was also Simon, who had been a slave of king Herod, but in other respects a comely person, of a tall and robust body; he was one that was much superior to others of his order, and had had great things committed to his care. This man was elevated at the disorderly state of things, and was so bold as to put a diadem on his head, while a certain number of the people stood by him, and by them he was declared to be a king, and he thought himself more worthy of that dignity than any one else.""He burnt down the royal palace at Jericho, and plundered what was left in it. He also set fire to many other of the king's houses in several places of the country, utterly destroyed them, and permitted those that were with him to take what was left in them for a prey. He would have done greater things, but care was taken to repress him immediately. [The commander of Herod's infantry] Gratus joined himself to some Roman soldiers, took the forces he had with him, and met Simon. And after a great and a long fight, no small part of those that had come from Peraea (a disordered body of men, fighting rather in a bold than in a skillful manner) were destroyed. Although Simon had saved himself by flying away through a certain valley, Gratus overtook him, and cut off his head.
Athronges was a leader of the Jews during the insurrection under Herod Archelaus. He was a shepherd, in common with his four brothers. However, his humble occupation did not work against him: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David had also been shepherds. After proclaiming himself the messiah, Athronges led the rebellion against Archelaus and the Romans. After a protracted struggle Athronges and his brothers were defeated. Josephus wrote of him:
Athronges, a person neither eminent by the dignity of his progenitors, nor for any great wealth he possessed. For he had been a mere shepherd, not known by anybody. But because he was a tall man, and excelled others in the strength of his hands, he was so bold as to set up for king. This man thought it so sweet a thing to do more than ordinary injuries to others, that, although he risked his life, he did not much care if he lost it in so great a design.
He had four brothers, who were tall men themselves, and were believed to be superior to others in the strength of their hands, and thereby were encouraged to aim at great things, and thought that strength of theirs would support them in retaining the kingdom. Each of these ruled over a band of men of their own (for those that got together to them were very numerous). They were every one of them also commanders; but when they came to fight, they were subordinate to him, and fought for him. After he had put a diadem about his head, he assembled a council to debate about what things should be done, and all things were done according to his pleasure. So, this man retained his power a great while; he was also called king, and had nothing to hinder him from doing what he pleased.
Together with his brothers, he slew a great many of both of Roman and of the king's forces, and managed matters with the like hatred to each of them. They fell upon the king's soldiers because of the licentious conduct they had been allowed under Herod's government; and they fell upon the Romans, because of the injuries they had so lately received from them. But in process of time they grew more cruel to all sorts of men, nor could anyone escape from one or other of these seditions, since they slew some out of the hopes of gain, and others from a mere custom of slaying men.
Once, they attacked a Roman company at Emmaus, soldiers who were bringing grain and weapons to the army, and fell upon Arius, the centurion, who commanded the company, and shot forty of the best of his foot soldiers. The other Romans panicked after this slaughter, left their dead behind them, and were saved by Gratus, who came to their assistance with the king's troops that he commanded. Now these four brethren continued the war a long while by such sort of expeditions, and they much grieved the Romans; but they did their own nation also a great deal of mischief.
Afterwards they were subdued; one of them in a fight with Gratus, another with Ptolemy; Herod Archelaus took the eldest of them prisoner; while the last of them was so dejected at the other's misfortune, and saw so plainly that he had no way now left to save himself, his army being worn away with sickness and continual labors, that he also delivered himself up to Archelaus, upon his promise and oath to God to preserve his life. But these things came to pass a good while afterward.
Menahem ben Judah was one of several Jewish Messiah claimants around the time of the Jewish War and is mentioned by Josephus. He was the son of Judas of Galilee and grandson of Hezekiah, the leader of the Zealots, who had troubled Herod, was a warrior. When the war broke out he attacked Masada with his band, armed his followers with the weapons stored there, and proceeded to Jerusalem, where he captured the fortress Antonia, overpowering the troops of Agrippa II.
Emboldened by his success, he behaved as a king, and claimed the leadership of all the troops. Thereby he aroused the enmity of Eleazar, another Zealot leader, and met death as a result of a conspiracy against him (ib. ii. 17, § 9).
Some identify him with Menahem the Essene including Israel Knohl (English edition, 2001) who makes this identification from two purportedly messianic hymns from Qumran. He may be identical with the Menahem ben Hezekiah mentioned in the Talmud (tractate Sanhedrin 98b) and called "the comforter that should relieve", and is to be distinguished from Menahem ben Ammiel, the Messiah of the Sefer Zerubbabel.
Vespasian was Roman Emperor from AD 69 to AD 79. He founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was from an equestrian family that rose into the senatorial rank under the Julio–Claudian emperors. Although he fulfilled the standard succession of public offices, and held the consulship in AD 51, Vespasian's renown came from his military success: he led the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 and subjugated Judaea during the Jewish rebellion of 66. Josephus as well as Tacitus, reporting on the conclusion of the Jewish war, claimed that it was Vespasian who was predicted in Jewish scripture to be the messiah.
Simon bar Kokhba was the Jewish leader of what is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE, establishing an independent Jewish state which he ruled for three years as Nasi ("Prince"). His state was conquered by the Romans in 135 following a two-year war.
Documents discovered in the modern era give us his original name, Simon ben Kosiba. He was given the surname Bar Kokhba (Aramaic for "Son of a Star", referring to the Star Prophecy of Numbers 24:17) by his contemporary, the Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva. After the failure of the revolt, the rabbinical writers referred to bar Kokhba as "Simon bar Kozeba" ("Son of lies" or "Son of deception").
Despite the devastation wrought by the Romans during the First Jewish-Roman War (66–73 CE), which left the population and countryside in ruins, a series of laws passed by Roman Emperors provided the incentive for the second rebellion. The last straw was a series of laws enacted by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, including an attempt to prevent Jews from living in Jerusalem; a new Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, was to be built in its place.
The second Jewish rebellion took place 60 years after the first and re-established an independent state lasting three years. For many Jews of the time, this turn of events was heralded as the long hoped for Messianic Age. The excitement was short-lived, however; after a brief span of glory, the revolt was eventually crushed by the Roman legions.
The state minted its own coins, known today as Bar Kochba Revolt coinage. These were inscribed "the first (or second) year of the redemption of Israel". Bar Kokhba ruled with the title of "Nasi".
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