The men of Qumran fervently believed in a doctrine of the “last days.” They had fled to the desert and were readying themselves for the imminent judgment when their enemies would be vanquished and they, God’s elect, would be given final victory in accordance with the predictions of the prophets. It was in connection with these end-time events that one of the most fascinating teachings of the sect emerges. The messianic hope loomed large in the thought of the brotherhood. As a matter of fact, evidence shows that they actually believed in three messiahs—one a prophet, the second a priest, and the third a king or prince.
In the document mentioned earlier called the Manual of Discipline or the Rule of the Community, it is laid down that the faithful should continue to live under the rule “until the coming of a prophet and the anointed ones (messiahs) of Aaron and Israel” (column 9, line 11). These three figures would appear to usher in the age for which the community was making preparation.
In another document found in Cave Four and referred to as the Testimonia, a number of Old Testament passages are brought together which formed the basis for the messianic expectations. The first is the citation from Deuteronomy 18:18-19 where God says to Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers.” Next comes a quotation from Numbers 24:15-17, where Balaam foresees the rise of a princely conqueror: “a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth,” etc. The third passage is the blessing pronounced by Moses upon the tribe of Levi (the priestly tribe) in Deuteronomy 33:8-11. The way in which these three quotations are brought together suggests that the writer looked forward to the advent of a great prophet, a great prince and a great priest.
There were three individuals in the Old Testament writings that were referred to as “my anointed ones”—the prophet, the priest and the king (refer to Ex. 29:29; 1Sam. 16:13, 24:6, 1Ki. 19:16, Ps. 105:15). Each of these was consecrated to his work by anointing with oil. The Hebrew word for “anointed” is mashiach, from which we get the English word messiah. The NT doctrine of the Messiah is that each of these three offices found fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth! The people were amazed at His feeding of the multitude and said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (Jn. 6:14, also Jn 7:40; Acts 3:22, 7:37). Jesus also was a priest, not from the order of Levi but from the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7), who offered Himself as a sacrifice and appears for us in the presence of His Father (Heb. 9:24-26; 10:11-12). Also, Jesus was announced as the one who will receive “the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk. 1:32-33). Thus, He will be acclaimed “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16).
Thus, we have found an interesting point of contact between Qumran and Christianity—a point of contact which is also a point of cleavage. The Qumran community and the early Christians agreed that in the days of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies there would arise a great prophet, a great priest and a great king. But these three figures remained distinct in Qumran expectation whereas the New Testament saw them unified in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
One more manuscript that has come to light in recent years provides a fascinating background to the New Testament messianic hope. It has been reconstructed from twelve small fragments, furnishing less than two columns of writing; but this much can be ascertained from its brief contents. It is a prediction of the birth of a Wonderful Child, possibly drawing on Isaiah 9:6-7, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This child will bear special marks on His body and will be distinguished by wisdom and intelligence. He will be able to probe the secrets of all living creatures, and He will inaugurate the new age for which the faithful fervently awaited. Is it not striking that soon after this manuscript was composed, a child was born who fulfilled the hopes of Israel and inaugurated a new age? Although the men of Qumran were mistaken in the details of their messiah, they did expect one whose general characteristics were strikingly illustrated by Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Messiah.
It is not known if some early Christian brought the message of Jesus to this wilderness community. We are left only to speculate on how they would have responded to the Wonderful Child born in Bethlehem who was the Prophet, Priest and King of Israel announced by the Hebrew prophets. In subsequent years to these initial discoveries, one scholar believed he had found a scrap of the Gospel of Mark in the Qumran material. Others in recent years have found references to a suffering “Messiah” and to the “Son of God” in individual scrolls. These discoveries have some very strong implications, one of which is that the ideas of a suffering Messiah and of a Messiah who would be the Son of God were held by Jews before the coming of Jesus and not invented by early Christians as some opponents of Christianity claim.
Maybe someday we will learn if the Messianic hopes of the “men of Qumran” were ever realized before they fled their community, hiding their precious manuscripts in nearby caves. In any case, their writings will continue to stimulate us to understand better that variegated group of people in the first century Israel who encountered the Prophet from Galilee.