Many historians, clerics and commentators who have written about Jesus of Nazareth assert that the Jews of his time had fallen away from God and that Jesus’ mission was to persuade them to repent their sins and redeem their relationship with God. Some of these writers consider Jesus divine, others do not, but many claim that the Jews, entrenched in sin, rejected Jesus. They also claim that Jesus was opposed to the law and the overly difficult rules the Jews lived by. Supposedly he opposed the High Priest, the other priests, the rituals and ordinances.
In all these versions, Jesus is—whether directly or indirectly—the founder of a new religion, replacing Judaism. And the Jews are cursed by their failure to acknowledge their messiah, and in some iterations, responsible for his death. They have killed God.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was a great and good man. I don’t believe he considered himself to be the son of God, except in the sense that Jews consider themselves the children of God, made in his image. Jesus was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died a Jew.
What then was his understanding of his mission? I believe he considered himself the Messiah—that God had given him a messianic mission and that he accepted it, knowing the mortal risks involved. The Jews of Jesus’ era had many ideas of the nature of the Messiah—king, priest, warrior, prophet, perhaps a combination of these roles. Jesus surely did not consider himself to be a king; in his view there was only one king—almighty God. He surely didn’t consider himself to be a warrior, except perhaps in a metaphorical sense. He would surely never have borne arms.
It is possible that he considered himself to be a prophet, in the sense that many Hebrew prophets warned their people that if they did not do God’s will, negative, even fatal consequences would follow. However, contrary to many tales, the Jews of Jesus time had not fallen away from God, but they were subject to huge, powerful and vicious empire. Jesus realized that his people had been pushed to their limit, and he feared they might explode into violence in an attempt to drive the Romans out of their land. He knew that violence would be not only fruitless, but disastrous. Although his people were brave and intelligent, they could not hope to defeat the vast and powerful Roman empire. The murder of John the Baptist crystallized his thought and catalyzed his action. He would have to find the way to convince the Romans to abandon their occupancy of Israel—without using violence. That is the crux and the conundrum of The Murdered Messiah.