Who was the first Comforter?

On one occasion Jesus made a curious promise to his disciples. He said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter” (John 14:16). This implies, of course, that he himself was the first Comforter. But why did he phrase it this way?

Based on hymns found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel Knohl, a professor at the Hebrew University – and a guest lecturer with us here at Israel Study Center – argued that one generation before Jesus, a messianic leader arose and became known as the Teacher of Righteousness.

It is possible to identify this person with Menachem the Essene who held an advisory position in the court of King Herod. Menachem led a very dangerous life, secretly preparing for what eventually proved to be an unsuccessful revolt. His followers believed that he was the Messiah; but he was disgraced and killed by Roman soldiers during the revolt in 4 B.C.E. (Later they understood him to be fulfillment of the suffering servant texts in Isaiah). The Hebrew word that lies behind the above-mentioned “Comforter” is in fact Menachem (מנחם) – same as the name of the Essene leader mentioned by Josephus Flavius.

It is possible that Jesus, by referring to the coming Holy Spirit as “another Comforter,” was identifying himself as the true/ultimate Menachem (מנחם); and that he was calling the Essene community to put its trust in Him instead. Unlike Menachem the Essene, the Ultimate Comforter (Jesus) led a successful rebellion against all the enemies of Israel and by his resurrection overcame even sin and death! (This intriguing interpretation may help to explain Act 2:44-45. According to this text many early followers of Christ Jesus kept “all things in common” just as the Essenes did).

This article originally appeared on Israel Study Center, June 27, 2016 and reposted with permission.