Maranatha (Part 1): Jesus Is Coming Back
Over the years, I have seen the word “Maranatha,” but never really took the time to know what it means. For the longest time I thought it was just the name of a popular contemporary Christian music record company. The implications and meaning of Maranatha are far more significant than most professing Christians today realize.
Maranatha is a word of Chaldean origin that was used in the Aramaic language of the first century. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Maranatha means “our Lord (Master, Messiah) has come” and that “He is coming again,” with a particular focus on future divine judgement. Maranatha appears in the Scriptures one time only, in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” (KJV). Compare the NKJV, “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord come!” Also the ESV, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord come!”
The Jews awaited the Messiah with great anticipation, particularly in the first century, when the land of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Temple were under Roman occupation and authority. They were waiting to be delivered and to have Messiah reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem, giving Israel it’s promised pre-eminence over all other nations—a fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants (Genesis 12:1-3, 2 Samuel 7:16). In Luke 4:16-30, we have the account of Jesus partially revealing Himself as the Messiah. He reads from a portion of Isaiah 61 (v.1 and part of v.2), which was the assigned reading in the synagogue that Sabbath. He then proclaims to those present that “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). The response by those who heard was initially a marveling at His gracious words followed by a dismissive questioning that He was merely Joseph’s (the carpenter) son (v.22). Oh, but how quickly those same people turn on Jesus when He goes on to point out past instances where those perceived to be unworthy (i.e. the Gentiles) were used by and blessed by God as a means of bringing glory to Himself (v.24-27). They were so blinded and enraged by pride that they sought to kill Jesus by throwing Him over a cliff (v.28-30).
My point in drawing attention to the passage in Luke is to show that Jesus revealed Himself as Messiah, but only partially. It was not a coincidence that the passage of Scripture He read from was a Messianic prophecy, or that He proclaimed it fulfilled. Nor was it accidental where He stopped. Isaiah 61:2 continues, “And the Day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:3-11 continues on and partially details how the Messiah’s reign will look. The inability of those present to recognize Jesus as the Messiah was primarily due to how they believed Messiah should come, namely in blazing glory and immediately vanquishing all the oppressors of Israel. Ultimately, though, it was a result of their spiritual blindness (see John 3:27, 1 Corinthians 2:6-14).
The disciples had a similar bias about what they thought the coming of the Messiah would be like. In Matthew 16:13-27, we see Peter, speaking on behalf of the disciples, recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but My Father who is in heaven” (v.17). Jesus goes on to explain to His disciples what is coming next, in particular, His death and resurrection (v.21). Peter, influenced by his opinion of what he thinks the Messiah should be doing when He comes, takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him (v.22). Jesus responds to Peter pointing out that his thinking is man-centric as opposed to God-centric (v.23). He continues, telling Peter that the cost of following the Messiah is high, up to and including death (v.24-26), followed by another prophecy of His second coming (v.27).
After Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, He spent 40 days with the disciples and the first followers of the Messiah (Acts 1:3). During that time, Jesus spoke “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Jesus used the Scriptures to show what He had accomplished and how He fulfilled certain requirements, such as final atonement for sin (Luke 24:44-49). We do not have a word by word account of all that Jesus said, but undoubtedly the detail and breadth of what was discussed would have been comprehensive. At the end of those forty days the response of those who heard all that Jesus had to say “pertaining to the kingdom of God” was to ask “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They knew Jesus was the Messiah and wanted the Messianic Kingdom based in Jerusalem to be established as it is prophesied (Isaiah 52:7-10, Ezekiel 36&37, Joel 3:16-17, Zephaniah 3:15-20, Zechariah 14:9-11). Jesus answers that, for those present, they will not experience (know) the space of time (times) or the measure of time (seasons) of the Messianic Kingdom (Acts 1:7). He then reiterates the promise of the Helper (John 14:16-17) and commissions them to go out as His witnesses (Acts 1:8).
Think about the disappointment these disciples felt. As if just hearing that the promised (prophesied) Messianic Kingdom was not going to be experienced by those present (spoken directly from the mouth of the Messiah) was not disappointing enough, as soon as He finished speaking, in front of their very eyes He was taken up into a cloud out of their sight (Acts 1:9). Undoubtedly you could have heard a pin drop as they “looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up” (v.10). Two angels appear in their midst and give them a gentle rebuke for “gazing up into heaven” (v.11). The angels then prophesy the second coming of Jesus by stating, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (v.11). In using the phrase, “this same Jesus,” they are confirming to those present that He is the Messiah and that He will return to rule in the context of what they had moments before been talking about with Him face to face.
You and I cannot begin to appreciate the emotions and doubts that were experienced by the apostles and the early followers of Jesus at that moment. As Jews, they knew the Scriptures. They anticipated the Messiah’s coming. They longed for His kingdom to be established. They knew the centuries of tragedy and turmoil experienced by the descendants of Israel. To have the Messiah come, but not in the way they thought He should was hard. To witness Him perform a variety of miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead was amazing. To witness Him arrested, tortured, killed in the cruelest way, and then buried must have crushed their hopes. To see Him raised bodily, as He had prophesied, would have restored much joy. In their thinking, the next logical thing on the timeline, now that the Messiah had in fact come, was that the kingdom would now be restored. To hear Him say it would not be happening for them, and then immediately have Him taken from their midst (after spending forty days together) would have been perplexing to say the least.
In the subsequent article, we will look at the anticipation of the Messiah’s (Jesus’) return throughout the New Testament. The world will not have peace and justice until He rules from His throne (Isaiah 9:7). Maranatha!