Perceptions and Misperceptions of the Messiah

Perceptions and reality are not always the same. This is especially important when considering God and His truth.

My wife and I like to exercise by taking walks in our neighborhood. One beautiful Sunday morning a while back, as my wife walked along the sidewalk, a car driven by a middle-aged lady with a frown on her face pulled up beside her. In a stern voice, she reprimanded my wife for exercising instead of being in church on that day. My wife replied that we went to church on Saturday. But the lady insisted, If you read your Bible, you would go on Sunday.

She was sincere. She thought my wife was breaking the Sabbath by exercising on a Sunday morning. But according to the Bible, she was mistaken. Sunday, the first day of the week, is not the day God set aside as the weekly Sabbath. Jesus Christ and the apostles kept the seventh-day Sabbath that was set apart from the week of creation as holy time (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11).

In her mind, my wife was profaning God’s holy Sabbath. Her perception of the Sabbath was that it was Sunday. This was what she had learned sometime in the past. She did not know that it wasn’t biblical.

The basis of perception

The world around often has an influence on our beliefs—often without our realizing it. Renowned psychologist Jerome S. Bruner, who founded the “‘New Look’ school of psychology, … showed that people’s perceptions of objects and events are often influenced by unseen social and cultural conditions” (The Washington Post, June 7, 2016).

People live their lives and make their decisions based on their perceptions of things. Those perceptions or viewpoints may or may not be accurate. Children walking outside on a moonlit night can feel as if the moon is following or moving along with them. The end of a rainbow can appear to be just a short distance away. We’re familiar with the expression of “seeing things through rose-colored glasses.” Anger, fear or being in love can affect our perceptions of people or events.

The word perception is from the Latin percipio, and it involves the organization, identification and interpretation of sensory information. We receive information through our five senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. But then that information has to be processed or interpreted.

In other words, our interpretation or understanding of things is often greatly influenced by many factors, such as our previous experiences, our family, our friends, the culture we live in, even our moods.

The same is true of our religious beliefs and practices.

A perception of the Messiah

Two thousand years ago, many in the Jewish world anticipated the coming of a savior, the Messiah who would restore the kingdom of Israel (John 4:25; Matthew 11:3). For several generations they had suffered under the oppressive rule of the Roman government. Their expectation was based on a number of prophecies in the Old Testament.

For instance, Isaiah wrote: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Some recognized Him when He came. Most didn’t. Why? They had formed a perception of the Messiah that was not true. They thought the Messiah would come in glory and power, overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to its past greatness. That was their perception.

They missed the prophecies that showed two comings. Before that glorious coming in power, He would first come as a humble servant to die for the sins of humankind (Isaiah 52 and 53).

As confirmation of His divinity, He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Instead of seeing that as a miracle, the Jewish religious leaders accused Him of being illegitimate! “Then they said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God’” (John 8:41).

Jesus replied, “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word” (verse 43). They were so certain of their understanding of what the Messiah would be like, so locked in on earlier perceptions, they were unable to entertain anything different.

As a result, the majority of the Jewish world rejected the true Messiah and is still waiting, looking for His coming. “He came to His own [Jesus was also a Jew], and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). They missed out on a great opportunity at that time. (That is not to say that they have lost their chance for salvation—they will yet have an opportunity in the future.)

In their eyes, His death only confirmed what they believed. He had come claiming to be the promised Messiah, lived a few years and then was put to death like a common criminal. The Messiah was supposed to abide forever. The lot of the Jewish nation was unchanged—no kingdom had been set up!

The Greeks’ misperception

However, as Paul showed, it wasn’t only the Jews who had a false conception of God and His plan: “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). He was nothing like the gods the Greeks worshipped. The Christians believed in a god the people could take and put to death? And through that death, men were supposed to be made better? To the Greeks, it was foolishness!

Wrong ideas or information can keep you from better things. Misperceptions can become an obstacle to the truth.

Modern misperceptions of the Messiah

But many churches today seem to forget the many clear passages the Jews focused on: The Messiah will be a conquering King! He will literally return to rule the world and establish the Kingdom of God on the earth!Today Christians recognize the Old Testament passages about a suffering Servant and about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They see what His countrymen missed then.

But many churches today seem to forget the many clear passages the Jews focused on: The Messiah will be a conquering King! He will literally return to rule the world and establish the Kingdom of God on the earth!

Does your perception of Jesus Christ include this reality? Do you look forward to His second coming in power? Read more in our articles “Born to Be a King” and “When Will Jesus Return?

The traditions of men

A lot of ideas, customs, superstitions and erroneous teachings have been passed down from generation to generation. No topic has been more inconsistent and confusing as religion. No book’s contents have been more distorted than those of the Bible.

The Church of God, a Worldwide Association, the sponsor of this website, believes that the Bible is the written Word of God and that it is the foundation of all truth (John 17:17; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). We believe that its authority is greater than that of all human institutions. There are religious beliefs and practices that have been passed down for thousands of years that cannot be found in Scripture.

Christ castigated the people of His day for substituting teachings of men for the commands of God. “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). He says such worship is in vain—it’s useless.

Misguided teachings of men have been passed down for generations, and few today question if they are right. Jeremiah wrote of a time in the future when people will finally understand that the mistaken traditions they were taught by their forebears are totally erroneous.

After first quoting the words of God: “For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes,” Jeremiah says, “O LORD, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come to You from the ends of the earth and say, ‘Surely our fathers have inherited lies, worthlessness and unprofitable things’” (Jeremiah 16:17, 19).

Don’t accept religious teachings just because they are believed by others or have been around a long time. Check them out. Paul wrote, “Test [or prove] all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

About the Author

Bruce Gore

Bruce Gore

Bruce Gore served as a pastor for more than 50 years in the Church of God. He grew up in the South on a farm and met his wife to be at college in Pasadena, California. Bruce and Phyllis were married for more than 50 years before her death in 2019. They had four children and 14 grandchildren.

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