The following summary, not meant to be comprehensive, focuses on the essential points that Sharman believed put Jesus’ life in its proper context. For a fuller exploration, listen to the audio commentary at the bottom of the page. It’s a recording of a lecture given in the 1970s by Emilia Rathbun, a student of Dr. Sharman.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews of Palestine had been under Roman rule for about 60 years, and the spirit of rebellion among the Jews was strong. This was especially true of the militant Zealots who, despite being woefully ill-equipped and outnumbered, advocated armed insurrection against Rome, believing God would favorably intervene on their behalf.
What this intervention looked like, exactly, was a matter of debate. One school believed it would be in the form of a political messiah, the other an apocalyptic messiah.
The Political Messiah vs the Apocalptyic Messiah
The political messiah is the Jewish version of “The Return of the King,” where a strong and wise political leader vanquishes the enemy and once again establishes the Jewish kingdom on Earth in the line of David.
The apocalyptic messiah is a bit different. In this scenario we come to the End of Days, where the heavens open up, the messiah appears, and the evil (read: Romans) are sent to hell, while the good (read: Jews) are lifted up to God’s Kingdom in Heaven to enjoy eternal life.
As mentioned, these two schools of thought were gaining significant momentum and influence, all but ensuring a direct (and as we now know, disastrous) confrontation with the Romans.
Jesus’ mission, Sharman believed, was shaped by this reality, and informed by three critical insights:
He rejected both the apocalyptic and political expectations as ungrounded fantasy.
He understood that a violent, confrontational approach with the Romans would ultimately result in the near total annihilation of the Jewish people.
He believed that the salvation of his people could be found in a deeper understanding of their own religious tradition, which he believed was being obstructed and perverted by the priestly class.