As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”
Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.” (Acts 21:37-39)
There is a passage written in one of the works of Josephus that tells of the Egyptian who started a revolt and lead his followers into the wilderness. I always thought that was interesting detail:
But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place; and if he could but once conquer the Roman garrison and the people, he intended to domineer over them by the assistance of those guards of his that were to break into the city with him. But Felix prevented his attempt, and met him with his Roman soldiers, while all the people assisted him in his attack upon them, insomuch that when it came to a battle, the Egyptian ran away, with a few others, while the greatest part of those that were with him were either destroyed or taken alive; but the rest of the multitude were dispersed every one to their own homes, and there concealed themselves.
Jesus wasn’t the first and he certainly wouldn’t be the last person who met the qualifications to be the messiah. One thing I’ve noticed from scripture is that God raises up ‘Messiahs of the Moment’ to save his people. They were the Judges, like Deborah and Gideon. They were the Prophets like Ezekiel and Huldah. The really good ones would always point them to God no matter how tough times had gotten. This pattern could not have escaped the noticing of the ancient Israelites, who really needed a messiah at about that time. They were, after all, an occupied nation under Roman control. If there was a time they needed a judge, a prophet, or a messiah, it was then. And so it seemed that everyone was constantly looking out for one – someone who would be raised up with the power of God to do a miracle – restore the Kingdom of David to it’s former glory, return Israel to a time where they were free from the control of other nations, and rescue the temple from foreign influences.
John 6:14-15 says: “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, 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.”
The people realized that this Jesus guy checked off a lot of boxes on their list. He was already a popular teacher, he was a miracle worker who displayed the power of God, he matched their interpretations of specific prophecies – wouldn’t it be perfect for him to be their king? For him to ride out in front of his faithful armies? For him to call down fire from the heavens to smite their enemies? For him to restore the temple to it’s former glory? Who could blame them? After all, that’s what you see in Judges and in the various accounts of the prophets – why wouldn’t God do it all over again for them, His chosen people, right here and right now?
They just didn’t realize that Jesus wasn’t that kind of messiah. Fortunately for them, there were no shortage of other candidates to be the kind of messiah they wanted – ones who would lead them … into victories and into defeats. Ultimately, they didn’t have the power to save everyone.
These days I wonder if modern Christianity suffers from the same sort of vision problem. We have our celebrities who check off many boxes on our lists, but they’re the wrong kind of messiahs in terms of people to follow. Some are like the Egyptian, so long as the going is good, they don’t mind having followers and they talk a good game – but once their secret is out, that they can’t live up to their promises, and their teachings are revealed to be false, they tend to scatter without a thought as to the welfare of their followers. The really good ones are the ones who point you away from their own status, their own deeds, their own books, but toward the God that inspired them and gave it all to them. None of us can ever be the messiah, but we can all be a messiah to someone – someone who saves another, someone who gives life by donating blood, someone who helps to save a cause – someone who follows the example of the one who saves us all.