Regardless of their religious persuasion, righteous men and women still looked forward to the coming of the Messiah during the intertestamental period. Poets sang psalms, and the common people prayed, talked, and dreamed of His arrival—a Davidic King who was destined to save His people.
One group waiting for the Messiah was the Essenes, which formed during the Maccabean conflict. The Essenes believed that the temple priests in Jerusalem were corrupt and the temple was in need of serious reform. In their view, the coming of the Messiah was near. They believed He would join with them to throw off the oppressive yoke of Rome, whose rulers had conquered Palestine some 60 years before the birth of Jesus.
Like the Reformation that preceded the Restoration, the intertestamental period also witnessed events that prepared the world for the coming of Jesus Christ. This time had a remarkable production of religious literature, including the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek and the beginning of the creation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apocrypha. During this time the ideas about angels, resurrection, and the concepts of heaven and hell became developed and refined.
However, without a prophet to guide them, the Jews debated the meaning of the scriptures and about who the Messiah would be. While most people waited for a Davidic Messiah (one descended from King David), others championed a Messiah who was the son of Aaron—a priestly Messiah. Still others did not expect the Messiah to come.
So many expectations had built up among the different groups during the intertestamental period that the groups did not know how to recognize the true Messiah when He came to them. None of the groups—scribes, Pharisees, Essenes, or Sadducees—accepted John the Baptist as a prophet or Jesus as the Messiah. Some members of these groups became the primary adversaries of John and Jesus during their ministries (Read Matthew 21:23–46).
The debates and arguments among the differing groups about the Messiah continued. The first prophet of the new dispensation, John the Baptist, announced the coming of the true Messiah and clarified the type of salvation He would provide. Indicating Jesus Christ, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Many Jews accepted John as he prepared the people for the coming of Christ.
When Jesus Christ began His ministry, He taught the people “as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:29). He had many discussions with the religious leaders, clarifying the doctrines of marriage, resurrection, the Godhead, and His role as the Savior. Since many of the religious leaders rejected Him (Read Matthew 26:4), Jesus told them: “Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.” He added, “If God were your father, ye would love me” (John 8:19, 42).
Because they expected a Messiah so different from Jesus, they rejected Him. Thankfully, we live in an age when the truths of the gospel are built on the foundational teachings of prophets and apostles (Read Ephesians 2:20). We do not have to choose among the spiritual crosswinds that arise without the guidance of prophets and apostles. As we follow our latter-day prophets and apostles, we will come to understand the true doctrine of the Savior Jesus Christ, as was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“For [I] saw him, even on the right hand of God; and [I] heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:23–24).
May the Lord help us to come to the knowledge of serving Him alone. Shalom!