A Look at Messianic Prophecy: Who is the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15-18

Introduction

Anyone who has studied evidential apologetics will see that many apologists have laid a great emphasis on messianic prophecy as one of the keys to demonstrating Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. One thing that is left out of these discussions is that when it comes to prophecy, it is not always predictive. The Greek word for fulfill is πληρόω (pleroo) – which has a much broader usage than “the prediction of an event.”

For example, in Matthew 5:17- Jesus says he came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets. In this passage “fulfillment” has a sense of embodying, bringing to completion, or perfecting. Fulfillment is one of the main themes of the New Testament, which sees Jesus and his work bringing to fruition the significance of the Jewish Scriptures. However, let’s look at a case of predictive prophecy. For a prophecy to be predictive it must meet the following criteria:

1. A biblical text clearly envisions the sort of event alleged to be the fulfillment.

2. The prophecy was made well in advance of the event that was predicted.

3. The prediction actually came true.

4. The event predicted could not have been staged but anyone but God.

5. Clear Prediction: Is the prophecy publicly available with a reliable text and evident interpretation?

6. Documented Outcome: Is the prophecy documented by publicly available facts?

7. Is there evidence for it in world history?

8. Proper Chronology: Is there empirical evidence that is available presently and publicly to document that indeed the prophecy does predate its fulfillment?

It must be remembered that the strength of this evidence is greatly enhanced if the event is so unusual that the apparent fulfillment cannot plausibly explained as a good guess.[1]

One of the most pivotal texts that speak about the first coming of the Messiah is Deuteronomy 18: 15-18:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15-18).

What is the purpose of a prophet?

A prophet (Heb. nabi) was an individual who received a call from God to be God’s spokesperson, often connected with some crisis that was about to occur, and then announced God’s message of judgment and/or deliverance to Israel and the nations. The word “prophet” occurs over 300 times in the Hebrew Bible and almost 125 times in the New Testament. The term “prophetess” appears 6 times in the Hebrew Bible and 2 times in the New Testament. (2)

In Deuteronomy 18:15-22 and Deuteronomy 13:1-5 , God listed five certifying signs by which a true prophet of God could be recognized:

1. A prophet must be an Israelite, “from among [his] own brothers“ ( Deut. 18:15 ) (Balaam is the exception that proves this rule).
2. He must speak in the name of the Lord, “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name” (Deut. 18:19).
3. He must be able to predict the near as well as the distant future -”If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken” ( Deut. 18:22 ).
4. He must be able to predict signs and wonders (Deut. 13:2).
5. His words must conform to the previous revelation that God has given (Duet .13:2-3).(3)

The Context of the Passage (Deut. 18:15-22)

God, through Moses, warns Israel to remain separate from the evil practices of the surrounding nations (Deut. 18:9-12) and instructs Israel how to tell the difference between a “true prophet” and a “false prophet.” After God had warned Israel about attempting to get supernatural information from bogus pagan sources ( Deut. 18:9-14 ), he announced that he would “raise up for them a prophet like Moses from among their own brothers” (v. 15). Any prophet who speaks in the name of the Lord and his words do not come true is a “false prophet.” God has not spoken through him.

In the same context God tells Israel He will send prophets who will truthfully speak for Him. What’s more, Israel can someday expect a prophet who will be “like Moses,” that God will specially raise up. The word “prophet” is in the singular, so it must refer to some individual prophet in the future. God would “put his words in the prophet’s mouth and the prophet will tell the people everything God commanded him” (v. 18). The wider context (Deut. Ch. 16-18) describes the offices of king and priest. Therefore, this would support the text (Deut. 18: 15-19) being about the Messiah because He is the head of both those offices.

Some critics like to point out that Deut. 34: 10-12 which says that “No prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Does this prophecy mean the end of prophecy had come? Certainly by the time of the final completion of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch as a whole, there had been no prophet who had arisen in Israel like Moses. But this does not mean there is not someone who will come in the future to fulfill the prophecy. After all, if prophecy had ended than why is it in the time of Jesus many Jewish people seem to be looking for the prophet of Deut. 18:15-22? For example:

The people said, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” (John 7:40)

Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)

John the Baptist began to preach, he was asked, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-23).

Also, Peter refers to Jesus as the prophet of Deut. 18:15-18:

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.—Acts 3: 17-24

To see Part Two, Click Here:

To see Part Three, Click Here:

Sources:

1. Points 1-8 are pointed out in R. D. Geivett and G.R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case For God’s Actions in Human History (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1997), 221-223.

2. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. “Prophet, Prophetess, Prophecy,” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 641.

3. Ibid.

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Why the Truth Question Still Matters

C. S. Lewis emphasized in his essay on Christian apologetics that “one of the great difficulties [in sharing the Gospel] is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue ‘True or False’ into stuff about the Spanish Inquisition [or the Crusades]… or anything whatever. You have to keep forcing them back… to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine… their belief that a certain amount of ‘religion’ is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.”-[C. S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” in Walter Hooper, ed., God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970) p. 101.]

Do you know how important truth is to your daily existence? Think about it for a minute:

You rely on truth every day of your life! For example:

  1. You rely on your people to tell you the truth every day. If they tell you the bus arrives at 6:30 and it really arrived at 6:10, you probably will miss the bus.
  2. You rely on your teachers to tell you the truth. If they tell you that you will have a quiz on chapter 2, but you arrive the next day to find out that the quiz is on chapter 4, you may flunk the test. Whether it was a lie or a mistake, you really needed the truth.
  3. People rely on banks to be truthful about how much money they have.
  4. When we buy a car, a computer, or a phone, we rely on those that sell us these items to be truthful with us about whether it works or not.
  5. We attempt to rely on politicians to tell us the truth about what policies they want to have Congress pass so that our country will be a better place to live.

“Is it arrogant to say I think what I believe is true?”

In a culture that is highly divisive, polarized, and pluralistic, many professing Jesus followers have opted for an ultra-humble approach to truth which means they think it is offensive or divisive to proclaim that Jesus  as the only possible Savior for humanity (Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12). We need to remember we are called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

What Does the Bible Say About Truth?

True and False Doctrine: The core of our doctrine is what Jesus taught to and through his apostles. Remember that the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42). Although God does not expect us to attain perfect understanding of this truth, he does expect us to understand sound doctrine—so we live as fruitful and discerning talmidim of Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

True and False Spirits: We need to remember the following verse: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus  is not from God” (1 John 4:1-2). Jesussaid the Ruach Ha Kodesh would be another “Parakletos” or “Advocate” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), who testifies to the truth about Jesus (John 16:13-14). The Bible gives us two ways to test spirits to see whether they are from God. The first is to ask whether the spirits teach the truth about Jesus (1 John 4:1-6). Also, any message about the Good News that presents a different message than the message that the Messiah himself gave through Paul and the other apostles is a false message or a false gospel (Gal. 1:6; see 2 Cor. 11:4).

Remember: God does expect his children to grow in the exercise of discernment—recognizing the difference between truth and error (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Also, one aspect of spiritual maturity is that we are more skilled in our discernment (Heb. 5:14).

The Difference Between Objective and Subjective Truth

Now when it comes to spiritual beliefs, people might say “Well, if you think it is true, that’s good for you. But it is not my truth.” Therefore, we need to explain the difference between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ truth.  You rely on objective truth every day. Objective truth is something that’s not based on your feelings, emotions, or preferences. It is something that is true whether you believe it or not.

Let’s give some examples:

  1. “Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and George Washington was our first president.”
  2. “Donald Trump is our current president.”

These statements are objectively true. It has nothing to do with how you feel about it. These are ‘facts’ of history.

Subjective truth is based on your personal preference or feelings. You might say, “Chocolate ice cream is the best ice cream in the world.” This is all based on our personal likes.

All religions claim to teach the truth. And since they all contradict each other at some level, they can’t all be true.  Thus, while it is true they may have similar view of morality and how to treat our fellow man, at their very core, they all can’t be true.

Something else that needs to be remembered: “Truth is not just what works.” Some people may say to us the following: “If believing in the Messiah works for you and makes a difference in your life, that’s all that matters.” We already discussed the shortcomings of this approach in our introduction.

Therefore, when it comes to truth, we need to ask if it is based in reality. Thus, if we say God exists and the Messiah is the Son of God, the first question is not whether this “works” for the person and makes a difference. The first question is whether it is based in reality. NOTE: To see whether or not our beliefs are based in reality, see our chart on God’s existence.

Think about this! The God of the Bible cares about truth. God’s truth must be learned (meditated upon (Psalm 119) and defended (1 Peter 3:15-17; Jude 3).

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A Closer Look at the Virgin Birth

Introduction

From a traditional perspective, the virgin birth has always been one of the essentials of the Christian faith. Jesus was not born in sin and he had no sin nature (Hebrews 7:26).  For those that hold to the doctrine of original sin, given the sin nature is passed down from generation to generation through the father (Romans 5:12, 17, 19), the virgin birth thwarted the transmission of the sin nature and allowed  for the incarnation. So the virgin birth is important to both the deity and humanity of Jesus.

The First Messianic Promise

It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:

“God said ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.)

“And I will put enmity  between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” [1]

I should also note that Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9) mentions that additional rabbinic opinions support the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah. The point is that we see what is called the “the Proto-evangelium” or the beginning of salvation history.  God was planning on doing something for the entire world.

Let’s look at Isaiah 7: 10-16:

“Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God;  make it deep as Sheol or high as  heaven.”  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”  Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?  Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a  virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name  Immanuel.  He will eat curds and honey  at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good.  For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.”- NASB

Possible Options in Interpreting the Virgin Birth Prophecy

Single Fulfillment

In this case, the virgin birth has one fulfillment which is in the birth of Jesus. In some cases, the interpreter says Isaiah was prophesying of the future birth of Christ and the prophecy has little to do with the immediate context or situation at hand.

So when we look at the single fulfillment view, I do agree that there is a future referent.  However, I do think this has some challenges and I also think the next three options present some more favorable approaches to the issue of the virgin birth.

Double Fulfillment

In this view, this principle states that the prophecy may have more than one fulfillment. In other words, the immediate context shows that the sign is for King Ahaz while the Matthew 1:22-23 is a sign about the birth of Jesus. To read more about this approach, see Craig Blomberg’s article called Interpreting Old Testament Prophetic Literature in Matthew: Double Fulfillment.

Double Reference

In this interpretation, there is one block of Scripture that deals with one person, time, or event that may be followed by another block of Scripture that deals with a different person, time, and place without making any clear distinction between two blocks or indicating that there is a gap of time between the two blocks. While “Double Fulfillment” states that one prophecy can have two fulfillments, “Double Reference” says that one piece of Scripture actually contains two prophecies, each having its own fulfillment. [1]

So in the immediate context, while King Ahaz is under attack, the threat it to him and the whole house of David. God assures Ahaz that peace and safety are at hand. The first sign in vs 13, 14, is that there can’t be any attempt to destroy the house of David will fail. The second sign which is seen in verses 15, 16, is given to Ahaz personally. For Ahaz, an event 700 years in the future (about the Messiah) would make no difference to him. So in vs 15-17- the “You” is again singular and specifically for Ahaz. Before Isaiah’s son is old enough to make moral distinctions between right and wrong, the kings of Israel and Syria will be deposed and their threat removed. This was fulfilled within three years. Isaiah again uses the definite article before the term “boy.” This time there is another boy mentioned in the context.: Isaiah’s son. The boy of vs 16 can’t be the son of vs 14, but refers back to Isaiah’s son in vs 3. God promises that the attack upon him by Israel and Syria will not succeed, and before Isaiah’s son Shear-Jashub, reaches an age of moral maturity, the two enemy kings will cease to exist.

Let’s go a little deeper at the Sign to the House of David in Isa. 7:13-14. In Hebrew, there is a clear change between the singular “you” of vs 9, 11, 16, 17, and the plural “you” of verses 13-14. The sign is not just for Ahaz, but for the whole house of David. [2] In vs  14, we see the word  “Behold,” This Hebrew word draws attention to an event which is past, present, or future. However, grammatically, whenever “behold” is used with the Hebrew present participle; it always refers to a future event. That is the case here. Not only is the birth future, but the very conception is future. This is not referring to a pregnant woman about to give birth. The NASB translates it as “a virgin” which is wrong. The NIV and NKJV translate it as “the virgin”- according to the rules of Hebrew grammar, when finding the use of a definite article “the”- the reader should look for a reference in the immediate previous context. Having followed the passage from 7:1, there has been no mention of any woman. Having failed the immediate context, the next rule is called “ the principle of previous reference”- something that which has been dealt with earlier and is common knowledge among the people. [3]

 Typological Interpretation

Duane A. Garrett says the following in his article called, “Type, Typology” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:

“In typology, the “type” is perhaps the least understood but most important concept in the hermeneutics of biblical prophecy. Typological prophecy occurs throughout the Bible and can be considered the “normal” way that the prophets, including Jesus, spoke of the future. Failure to take this method of speaking into account can lead to gross distortions of the prophetic message.

Typology is often confused with allegorical interpretations and is sometimes wrongly labeled as “double fulfillment.” It also contrasts with what is sometimes called the “literal interpretation.” The idea of a “double-fulfillment” of prophecy is closer to the concept of typology, but as a hermeneutical model it is crude and imprecise. The metaphor of two mountains often accompanies the idea of double-fulfillment. The prophet is said to have seen two separate events in the future juxtaposed like two mountains, one in front of the other. The one event was much closer in time than the other, but he saw the two together through “prophetic foreshortening.” This model does not explain why the two specific events were juxtaposed by the prophet; why two events rather than three, four, or five are juxtaposed; and what the basis for the “foreshortening” is.

The typological interpretation of prophecy asserts that the prophets did not so much make singular predictions as proclaim certain theological themes or patterns and that these themes often have several manifestations or fulfillments in the course of human history. These patterns often have their greatest manifestations in the life of Christ or in the eschaton, but there may be one or more other fulfillments elsewhere in human history, especially in the immediate historical context of the prophet.

The value of typology is twofold. First, it provides an intelligible hermeneutic for dealing with biblical prophecy. The problems of interpreting prophecies, especially those concerning Christ, have often left the interpreter with the unhappy choice of either ignoring the historical and literary context of a passage in order to point the text toward Christ or of focusing exclusively on the historical situation of the prophet with the implication being that the passage in fact has nothing to say about Christ. Faced with this dilemma, some interpreters take Isaiah 7:14 exclusively as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ and employ fairly desperate exegesis to explain why Isaiah would make such a prediction in the context of the Syro-Ephraimite war. Others relate Isaiah 7:14 exclusively to its historical context and in effect say that Matthew was wrong to take it as a prophecy of Christ’s birth (Matt 1:23). In typological exegesis, however, the dilemma is not only avoided but is meaningless.”[4]

Translating the word “virgin”

Some scholars view Isaiah 7:14 as having reference only to the natural conception and birth of the son of the prophetess. Some argue that “alma” sometimes translated “virgin” (KJV, ASV, NIV), refers to a young woman, whether married or unmarried, and should be translated “young maiden” (RSV).  So if Isaiah had intended someone who was a virgin, he would have used bethulah (cf. Gen. 24:16; Levit. 21:3; Judg. 21:12).[5] But as Fruchtenbaum,  notes, “If the women in Isa. 7:14 were a non-virgin, then God would be promising a sign involving fornication and illegitimacy.” [6]

What we do know is that Matthew is using  the Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament ) which uses the word “parthenos” which means “virgin.” The Septuagint written 200 years working before the birth of Jesus, evidently believed that this was a prediction of the virgin birth of the Messiah. It is also true that “parthenos” doesn’t always mean “virgin.” We see this by the Septuagint’s rendering of Gen 34;3 when Dinah is still called a “parthenos” even after she was raped. Amy Jill Levine, an Orthodox Jew who is a specialist in New Testament studies, says the following:

“When, 200 years later, the author of Matthew’s gospel read Isaiah 7:14 in Greek, he saw a prediction of a virginal conception. That is a legitimate reading. Jews, however, reading their Scriptures in Hebrew, see no virginal conception. By applying Isaiah’s prophecy to his own time, Matthew is reading his Scripture in good first-century Jewish fashion. Contemporaneous Jews also took verses out of context and applied them to their own situations.

For example, the well-known Rabbi Akiva, a Jewish teacher executed by the Romans about 135 C.E., is reputed to have said that Bar Kokhba, the leader of the second revolt against Rome (132–135 C.E.), was the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (see the Jerusalem Talmud,Ta’anit 4.8). Similarly, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls see the Prophetic volumes from the Scriptures of Israel as speaking directly to their own time and situation. This form of interpretation, known as pesher (Hebrew for “interpretation”), quotes a Biblical text and then shows its fulfillment. For example, 1QpHab, the Habakkuk commentary from Qumran (“1” stands for the cave where the scroll was found, “Q” is Qumran; “p” ispesher, and “Hab” is the abbreviation for Habakkuk), states that “God commanded Habakkuk to write the things that were coming on the last generation, but the fulfillment of the era He did not make known to him … Their interpretation (pesher) concerns the Teacher of Righteousness [the leader of the Qumran group], to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servant the prophets.” The early followers of Jesus, Jews immersed in the Scriptures of Israel, searched in those Scriptures for teachings that would help them understand the man they believed to be the Messiah. At the same time, they used those Scriptures to help them tell the story of his life. In both cases, they were being thoroughly Jewish.” Note: Feel free to read the entire article here

But Why Would Matthew Create a Virgin Birth Story?

Despite the challenges of translation, we are still left to the issue as to why in the word Matthew would even create a story about a Messiah who was born of a virgin. After all, at the time of Jesus, there was no messianic expectation of a Messiah who would be virgin born. So if Matthew is trying to convince his readers Jesus is the promised Messiah, a made up virgin birth story seems counterproductive. As Craig Evans says,

“In other words, there was a tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth that informed Matthew’s exegesis of Isaiah rather than the text of Isaiah inspiring Matthew’s tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth. There is no need for a divine messiah, and even if someone thought messiah to be divine, there is no evidence that anyone thought this was possible through a virgin birth alone. Of course, the more skeptical readers of Matthew will not find this argument convincing, but I admit that it is an argument like this one that has caused me to pause when I hear people speak of Matthew creating a virgin birth story. Even if Matthew was being apologetic in defense of Mary’s reputation wasn’t an appeal to Joseph as Jesus’ legitimate father an easier answer than a virgin birth?” –See entire article here:

The Virgin Birth and Paganism

Some skeptics still like to assert the virgin birth story is a rip off of pagan or parallel stories. However, in Raymond E. Brown’s highly respected work, The Birth of the Messiah, he evaluates non-Biblical “examples” of virgin births and his conclusions are as follows:

“Among the parallels offered for the virginal conception of Jesus have beneath conceptions of figures in world religions (the Buddha, Krishna, and those of Zoroaster), in Greco-Roman mythology (Presses, Romulus), in Egyptian and Classical History (the Pharaohs, Alexander, Augusts), and among famous philosophers or religious thinkers (Plato, Apologias of Tyana), to name only a few. “Are any of these divinely engendered births really parallel to the non-sexual virginal conception of Jesus described in the NT, where Mary is not impregnated by a male deity or element, but the child is begotten through the creative power of the Holy Spirit? These “parallels” consistently involve a type of hieros gamos (note: “holy seed” or “divine semen”) where a divine male, in human or other form, impregnates a woman, either through normal sexual intercourse or through some substitute form of penetration. In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians, the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus.” [7]

Believe it nor not, I have still barely scratched the surface on this topic. For more info, see Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections, Vol 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections, or The Virgin Birth  by Robert Gromacki.


[1] Jaques Doukhan, On The Way To Emmaus: Five Major Messianic Prophecies Explained ( Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012), 30.

[2] A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 33.

[3] Ibid, 36.

[3] A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 36-37.

[4] Duane A. GarrettType, Typology” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 785-786.

[5] Norman Geisler, Bakers Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1999), 760.

[6] Fruchtenbaum,34.

[7] Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (London: Yale University Press; Updated edition, 1999) 522-523

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“But Jesus never said, ‘I am God.’ ”

Whenever the deity of Jesus comes up in conversations with people from different faiths,  it is common to hear  the standard objection, “But Jesus never said, ‘I am God.’” How might we approach this objection?

In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says that if you search for Jesus at Amazon.com, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history. The New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1).

There are some good reasons as to why Jesus would never say “I am God.” The Jewish Scriptures  forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). And for Jesus to ever say something so explicit would insinuate that he was calling upon his audience to believe in two “Gods”- the God of Israel and Jesus. Also, for Gentiles, such a claim would allow for Jesus to fit nicely into their polytheism (the belief in many gods).

In Judaism, there is a term called “avodah zarah” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God. In other words, any acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zarah. (2)

One way to answer this objection is to discuss what is called Implicit and Explicit Christology:

Second,  remember the following. As Marvin Wilson says:

   The God of Israel was distinct in other ways. Yahweh had an invisible presence; he was pure spirit (John 4: 24). On occasion, however, he manifested himself in visible form. Appearances of the angel of the Lord, and the pillar of smoke by day and the fire by night in the wilderness, were external manifestations of the presence of God. God himself is an incorporeal being; he does not have a body. But the Old Testament often describes God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language. The Torah strictly forbids images and idols of Israel’s God (Exod. 20: 3-6). Yahweh could not be represented in material form. Since Yahweh was incorporeal, Israel’s religion could not be destroyed. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in a.d. 70, Judaism was not destroyed. Judaism simply became a religion of the home, a new “temple in miniature.”  Throughout Israel’s history, it was God’s intention that his people grasp that he was different from other deities. He was an infinite, invisible, transcendent Being, not some local, destructible, concrete entity shaped by human hands. Divine Presence was not to be equated with physical form or works of art. Yahweh could be worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem or he could be worshiped away from the Temple. When Israel worshiped by the waters of Babylon in captivity, God was there. Today,  in theological literature and ecumenical discussion, the Tetragrammaton is usually pronounced “Yahweh.” Whether this pronunciation is exact, or not, must remain uncertain. The lengthy tradition — from Second Temple times — of not taking this sacred name on one’s lips resulted in its pronunciation becoming lost. To avoid possible misuse of the name in synagogue liturgy and Scripture reading, Jews began to render the Tetragrammaton “Adonai,” a tradition that has continued to this day. Today, in addition to Adonai, sometimes other expressions are used in addressing God. These names include Ha-Shem (“ The Name”), Ha-Makom (“ The Place”), Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu (“ The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), Shekinah (“ Divine Presence”), Ribono shel Olam (“ Master of the World”), Ein Soph (“ Infinite One”), and others. Many Christian scholars, when reading Hebrew texts, usually pronounce the Tetragrammaton “Adonai,” out of respect for the Jewish tradition. (Marvin R, Wilson, Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 139-140).

Also as Everett Ferguson says:

The chastisement of the exile largely cured the Jews of the problem of idolatry. Although difficulties with syncretism continued (identification of the God of Israel with the Most High God of Hellenism) continued, the emphasis upon monotheism was one of the characteristics of Jewish belief. This was underscored in the daily recitation of the Shema. Along with their emphasis on his oneness, the Jews also emphasized God’s holiness and transcendence. They put equal stress on the personal nature of God and his nearness to this people. In contrast to Greek and Roman thought, for Jews, God is the measure of all things. The effort to preserve proper reverence toward God led the Septuagint translators, the rabbis, and the Targumists to modify some of the anthropomorphisms of the Bible. Instead of making God the subject, they employed the passive voice: “It was seen before God,” “there was happiness before God.” This practice may account for some of the passives in the Gospels. The divine name Yahweh was not pronounced expect in connection with the temple service instead of Yahweh. A number of substitutes for the divine name came into common use. The Targums regularly used Memra (Word) instead of the personal name of God. Other favorite substitutes were “the Name” “Power” (cf. Mark 14:62). “Heaven” (cf. the preference in Matthew for kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God), “Glory.” Sanctification of the name entered into “the Holy One blessed be he.” (Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third Edition, pg 538).

Let’s heed  these comments by Wilson and Ferguson and take a look at how they apply to Jesus. First,  note that Wilson says:

“Today, in addition to Adonai, sometimes other expressions are used in addressing God.These names include Ha-Shem (“ The Name”), Ha-Makom (“ The Place”), Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu (“ The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), Shekinah (“ Divine Presence”), Ribono shel Olam (“ Master of the World”), Ein Soph (“ Infinite One”), and others.”

“The Name”

What is significant is the statement in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other Name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” How could Jesus be declared as the only one whom God’s salvation is effected? In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer.  James R. Edwards summarizes the importance of this issue:

“In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer. To the Jewish people, an idol could not properly have a “name” because it has no being represented by the name (Is. 44:9-21). The “name” to which the apostles refer does not signify an event, but a person, in whom the authority and power of God was active in salvation. The saving activity of God was and is expressed in the name of Jesus Christ. The name of Jesus is thereby linked in the closest possible way to the name of God. “No other name” does not refer to a second name of God, but to the unity of God with Jesus, signifying one name, one nature, one saving activity. The shared nature of God and Jesus is signaled in the most striking way by the custom of the early church to pray to God in the name of Jesus.” (James R. Edwards,  Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005).

So just as in the Hebrew Bible where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament “the Name” represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior. Furthermore, as Jean Danielou says:

The beginning of the Christology of the Name are already found in the New Testament. On the one hand Old Testament texts mentioning the Name are frequently quoted in the New Testament. Thus Acts 15:17, quoting Amos 9:12, reads:  ‘All the Gentiles upon my Name is called….’ Paul (Rom 2:24 mentioned Is. 52: 5 ‘The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ The same Epistle quotes Ex. 9:16: ‘that my Name might be published abroad in all the earth’ (Rom. 9:17). ….In these various quotations the Name can in fact only mean Yahweh, but it is hard to see why these texts should have been collected in messianic dossiers unless the Name had appeared to have some relation to Christ. There are, moreover, some passages in which this relationship is explicitly stated. Thus Joel 3:5: ‘Whoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved’ is quoted in Acts 2:21 and 4:12 in a somewhat indeterminate  sense. But the same text is repeated in Rom 10:12,as follows: ‘(Christ) is the same Lord (Kurios) of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever, shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Here the Name is clearly that of Christ;…. (Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, trans. John A. Baker (London,: Darton, Longman&Todd; Philadephia,: Westminster Press, 1964), 149.

The Shekhinah,

Once again, note that Wilson says:

“Today, in addition to Adonai, sometimes other expressions are used in addressing God.These names include Ha-Shem (“ The Name”), Ha-Makom (“ The Place”), Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu (“ The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), Shekinah (“ Divine Presence”), Ribono shel Olam (“ Master of the World”), Ein Soph (“ Infinite One”), and others.”

Regarding the Shekhinah, Wilson says:

“In Scripture, the glory of God must not be solely thought of as a localized phenomenon whereby the divine presence is limited to certain holy precincts such as those described above. In Isaiah’s inaugural vision, the seraphim declare, “the whole earth is full of his glory (kabod)” (Isa. 6: 3b). In this and other texts is a “great universalizing” of God’s presence in the world.  Indeed, the psalmist also speaks of nature, “God’s other book,” singing an ineffable song of the presence of God: “The heavens declare the glory of God . . . their voice goes out into all the earth” (Ps. 19: 1a, 4a). In contemporary Judaism, the Hasidic community places considerable emphasis on the manifestation of God’s presence everywhere, especially the celebration of his immanence within the created order. In the post-biblical period, the rabbis used the term shekhinah to refer to God’s indwelling presence in the world. The Hebrew root shakhan means to “dwell,” “stay,” “settle,” “inhabit.” While the Shekhinah had a special attachment to the Temple in Jerusalem, the presence of God may be revealed and embraced anywhere. The Shekhinah could be experienced in the stillness of a moment contemplating the beauties of nature or in the exuberant joy of performing a sacred deed. The rabbis particularly emphasized that the Shekhinah is present when two people come and sit together to study Torah (Mishnah Abot 3: 2, 6). In a similar way, Jesus assured his followers, “For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them” (Matt. 18: 20; see also Col. 1: 19). As one rabbi observes, “The Shekhinah is always associated with God’s nearness. . . . God cannot live together in the same environment with sinfulness. The presence of one excludes the presence of the other.” (Wilson, 169-170).

Regarding the Shekhinah, N.T Wright also says:

In particular, in postbiblical Jewish writing the idea of the presence of God in the Temple was given the name Shekinah, the “tabernacling, abiding divine presence,” the personal presence of the glory of God. So, when John continues by saying, “We gazed upon his glory, glory like that of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1: 14), we should get the point loud and clear. All this means that we should be able to read John with more sensitivity to the nature of his “high Christology.” Obviously he thinks Jesus was and is fully divine (as well as fully human, but he doesn’t need to make that point in the same way). But this doesn’t mean he is simply saying “Jesus is God” in the way of some rationalist apologists. John’s “high Christology” remains very, very Jewish, very much rooted in Israel’s scriptures. His chosen vehicle for his matchless opening statement, the logos, draws not so much on Platonic or Stoic ideas as on the living Word of the Old Testament, as, for instance, in Isaiah 55, where the word goes out like rain or snow and accomplishes God’s work (55: 10– 11). This work, God’s great act of rescue, rooted in the accomplishment of the “servant of the LORD” in chapter 53 and the renewal of the covenant in 54, brings about the new creation in 55, with the thorns and thistles of Genesis 3 and Isaiah 5 replaced by wonderful trees and shrubs (55: 12– 13). It is (in other words) the creator God, and it is Israel’s God, who has become human in and as Jesus of Nazareth. Once we get the speaker turned to the right volume, we can hear this clearly and hear it in relation to everything else, rather than allowing it to drown out all other voices and strands of early Christian music. With this as our framework, we should be able to read right through John and discern what he is actually doing. His Jesus is a combination of the living Word of the Old Testament, the Shekinah of Jewish hope (God’s tabernacling presence in the Temple), and “wisdom,” which in some key Jewish writings was the personal self-expression of the creator God, coming to dwell with humans and particularly with Israel (see Wis. 7; Sir. 24). But this Jesus is no mere ideal, a fictional figure cunningly combining ancient theological motifs. John’s Jesus is alive; he moves from one vivid scene to another, in far more realistic dialogue with far more realistic secondary characters than in most of the synoptic gospels.-( N. T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (p. 103).

I should also note that for the Jewish people, the ultimate manifestation of the Shekhinah was seen in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:16-20). Therefore, in relation to the incarnation, the Shekhinah takes on greater significance in John 1: 1-14. As John says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” “Dwelt” (σκήνωμα), means to “live or camp in a tent” or figuratively in the NT to”dwell, take up one’s residence, come to reside (among).”   As already stated, the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle. John 1:14 literally says,” the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Also, to  repeat what Ferguson says:

The divine name Yahweh was not pronounced expect in connection with the temple service instead of Yahweh. A number of substitutes for the divine name came into common use. The Targums regularly used Memra (Word) instead of the personal name of God. Other favorite substitutes were “the Name” “Power” (cf. Mark 14:62). “Heaven” (cf. the preference in Matthew for kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God), “Glory.” Sanctification of the name entered into “the Holy One blessed be he.” (Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third Edition, pg 538).

The Word/The Memra?

In the Jewish Scriptures, the “Word” is discussed in a manner that takes on an independent existence of its own. As seen in John 1:1-2, the “Word” has a unique relationship with God; all things were made through Him. In this passage, John is emphasizing that the Word is with God and yet God at the same time. Paul taught a similar theme in 1 Cor. 8:6 when he says “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”

There are other New Testament passages that communicate that the Word is Messiah Himself (Eph.3:17 and Col. 3:16; 1 Pet.1:3; John.8:31; 15:17). Furthermore, there are also other passages in the Hebrew Bible that speak of the significance of the Word such as Ps. 33:6,“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,” while in Ps.107:20 the divine word is sent on a mission: “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” But why is the Christological title “Word” so significant in relation to Jewish monotheism in the first century?

In Judaism, one of the most common themes was that God was “untouchable,” or totally transcendent. Therefore, there had to be a way to describe a connection between God and his creation. Within Rabbinic thought, the way to provide the connection or link between God and his creation was what was called “The Word” or in Aramaic, the “Memra.”  The Targums, which were paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures play a significant role in how to understand the Memra. Since some Jewish people no longer spoke and understood Hebrew but grew up speaking Aramaic, they could only follow along in a public reading if they read from a Targum.

The Aramic Targums employed the term “Memra” that translates into Greek as “Logos.”While John’s concept of the Logos is of a personal being (Christ), the Greeks thought of it as an impersonal rational principle. A good way to try to understand the term “Memra,” is to see what a passage in Genesis would have sounded like to a Jewish person hearing the public reading of a Targum. In Gen.3:8, most people who would have heard the Hebrew would have understood it as “And they heard the sound of the Word of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden.” Therefore, it was not the Lord who was walking in the garden, it was the Memra’ (Word) of the Lord. The Word was not just an “it”; this Word was a him.” (Michael Brown, Theological Objections, vol 2 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2000), 18-23.

Jesus and Blasphemy

Another approach to this issue is to ask the question, “Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy?” According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim.  Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? According to Mark 14:62, Jesus affirmed the chief priests question that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world. This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself. Also, many parables which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12).

Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. In Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).

Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29).  It is also evident that one reasons Jesus was accused of blasphemy was because He usurped God’s authority by making himself to actually be God (Jn. 10:33, 36). Not only was this considered by the Jews to be blasphemous, it was worthy of the death penalty (Matt. 26:63-66; Mk. 14:61-65; Lk. 22:66-71; Jn. 10:31-39; 19:7)

Fascinating stuff indeed!

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Book Review: Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J.P. Moreland,

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by [Moreland, J. P.]

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, J.P. Moreland, 2018. 224pp. Crossway.

I first became familiar with J.P. Moreland’s work when I read his book Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. That book was a game changer for me. I have followed his work ever since. When I read his book Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power (2009), it became apparent that Moreland was very concerned that Christians weren’t aware of the power of the scientific naturalism and its dominance over academia and other areas of society. Moreland carries on this theme in much more detailed fashion in his latest book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. Here, I will mention some of the highlights of the book here:

Once again, Moreland wants his readers to know that we have something similar to what Nancy Pearcy discussed in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Both authors discuss what is called a fact/value dichotomy. Facts are objective, provable, testable and public. Ethical values or spiritual beliefs are subjective, private, and have no authority in academia nor the public sphere. The reason for this split is because of scientism. As Moreland says:

“What Is Scientism? Roughly, scientism is the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality. At the very least, this scientific knowledge is vastly superior to what we can know from any other discipline. Ethics and religion may be acceptable, but only if they are understood to be inherently subjective and regarded as private matters of opinion. According to scientism, the claim that ethical and religious conclusions can be just as factual as science, and therefore ought to be affirmed like scientific truths, may be a sign of bigotry and intolerance” (pg. 26).

As Moreland  notes “Scientism is embraced in our culture, our moral and spiritual claims will be “de-cognitivized.” In other words, our deepest beliefs about life, knowledge, history, and reality will seem to be utterly implausible—not just untrue, but unworthy of rational consideration (pg. 31).

Having done campus apologetics for a long time, I have seen the  power of scientism. Moreland is certainly correct about the challenge that lays before us. As long as scientism prevails, Christian beliefs will be marginalized, and we will continue to assume our beliefs can’t hold up in the marketplace of ideas. If parents, churches, and ministries assume our faith is no more than a private, subjective experience that needs to be kept in the four walls of a congregation, the Christian worldview will evaporate in the pubic square. Granted, this is what many secularists want!

As the book goes on, Moreland demonstrates his expertise in philosophy of science. He discusses the areas which science itself can’t justify such as metaphysical truths such as a world of mind, language, theory, the principle of uniformity, objective truth, the reliability of sense perception that are used for gaining truth and knowledge, as well moral “oughts” and logical and mathematical laws. Granted, Moreland has discussed these elsewhere. But he goes into greater detail in this book (see Ch 5).

In Chapter 7 and 8, being that Moreland is an expert on consciousness (see his book on the topic), he also does a fine job of demonstrating why science doesn’t have the final word on the topic. As he says:

“Consciousness exhibits private access. Take any physical entity whatsoever—a rock, an organic chemical, or a state of the brain: Any way you have of knowing things about that physical entity (e.g., its size, shape, mass) is also available to me. If you need to measure it to know its length, then I can do that too. But I have a way of knowing about my own conscious states that is not available to you: direct introspection. As Thomas Nagel and others have pointed out, we could know everything there was to know about the physical aspects of a bat, but we would still have no clue as to the facts about what-it-is-like to be a bat. These facts are privately accessible only to the bat. If all of this is so, then I have greater epistemic authority for Knowledge of my own conscious states than I can ever have of the laws of nature and science” (pg. 80).

One of the most interesting chapters is when Moreland discusses the evaporation of First Philosophy (see Chapter 9). Moreland quotes philosopher George Bealer who says:

“Among the central questions of philosophy that can be answered by one standard theoretical means or another, most can in principle be answered by philosophical investigation and argument without relying substantively on the sciences. The second thesis he calls the “authority of philosophy”: Insofar as science and philosophy purport to answer the same central philosophical questions, in most cases the support that science could in principle provide for those answers is not as strong as that which philosophy could in principle provide for its answers. So, should there be conflicts, the authority of philosophy in most cases can be greater in principle”(pg 100).

Moreland notes that “ The replacement of first philosophy with science—in other words, the emergence of scientism—has radically altered the default worldview of the West, replacing Christian theism with naturalistic materialism. As scientism advocate Patricia Churchland rightly puts it, “Naturalism follows hard upon the heels of the understanding that there is no first philosophy” (pg 101).

Another highlight is Moreland’s chapter called “How We Explain Things” (Chapter 11).

Moreland followers the work of Richard Swinburne who differentiates between scientific/impersonal and personal explanations. Scientific/ impersonal explanations deal with impersonal objects and laws of nature; we observe and measure how some events regularly follow others. In contrast to impersonal and scientific explanations, there are personal (agent) explanations. In personal explanations, a person has the power to choose. And, in most cases, the person makes the choice considering the future. There is a motive, intention, and so forth, and the means carry out a purpose. We see this all the time. If I chose to have a will or life insurance policy drawn up, I am making a choice that involves a future purpose or outcome. No law of nature or impersonal force can account for this. To assert that all explanations of reality can be attributed to impersonal or natural forces (or scientism) ends up as reductionist and fails to give an account for the whole of reality.

This is much more I could say. Despite that Moreland has repeated some small parts of this information in other works, much of it was new and this was a much more detailed, robust treatment of his previous work. This is must read for anyone who is interested in this topic.

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Why Jesus Can’t be the Savior of the World Unless He is the Jewish Messiah

One of the most popular  articles on the JewsNews website is an article called Who exactly is the Jewish Moshiach (Messiah), and why is he so critical to the Jewish people? While Christians take the time to celebrate the Savior of the world, they tend to forget unless Jesus is the Jewish Messiah of both Israel and the nations, he can’t be the Savior of the world. In other words, they can’t be divorced from each other. As Michael Bird says:

The statement that “Jesus is the Messiah” presupposes a certain way of reading Israel’s Scriptures and assumes a certain hermeneutical approach that finds in Jesus the unifying thread and the supreme goal of Israel’s sacred literature. A messiah can only be a messiah from Israel and for Israel. The story of the Messiah can only be understood as part of the story of Israel. Paul arguably says as much to a largely Gentile audience in Rome: “For I tell you that Christ [Messiah] has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8–9), Michael Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 163

Anyone who has talked to people from groups like the author of this article or from groups like Jews for Judaism/anti-missionary groups will generally encounter thee kinds of objections that are mentioned in the article.

In response to this article, there is some overlap with this post and my other post called “Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies? After all, if we can’t even define messianic prophecy correctly and provide some tips on approaching the subject, we will never make any progress.

  1. The Messiah is not divine-he is an earthly figure “anointed” to carry out a specific task.
  2. The Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace.
  3. The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16; 14:9).
  4. The Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).

 There is some overlap in these expectations and Maimonides view of Messiah: Maimonides was a medieval Jewish philosopher whose writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Here are some of his messianic expectations:

  1. The Messiah will be a king who arises from the house of David
  2. He helps Israel follow Torah
  3.  He builds the Temple in its place
  4. He gathers the dispersed of Israel

Sadly, this doesn’t represent the entire scope of messianic thought. And it always lead to the “Heads, I win, tails you lose” approach.  In other words, “Jesus doesn’t fulfill any of the messianic prophecies so we have that all settled and we can move on and wait for the true Messiah to come.” As if  it is that simple.

The reality is that we have the same problem Jesus had when he was here. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness, (4) when God’s enemies would be defeated  and (5) the saints are separated from the ungodly, the former receiving reward and the latter punishment. But  once again, as Beale and Gladd note in their book Hidden, But Now Revealed, the kingdom  that is revealed by Jesus is (1) for the most part invisibly, so that one must have eyes to perceive it (2) in two stages (already- and- not yet), (3), growing over an extended time from one stage to the last stage, (4) God’s opponents are not defeated immediately all together, but the invisible satanic powers are first subjugated and then at the end of time, all foes will be vanquished and judged and (5) saints are not being separated from the ungodly in the beginning stage of the kingdom, but such a separation will occur on the last day, when Jesus’ followers receive their reward and the latter punishment. This topic is also directly related to the topic of the covenants and God’s role with Israel and the nations.

I do want to say that a positive outcome of links like this one and others that discuss why Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus and the common messianic expectations is that it puts Jesus back into a Jewish context which is where he belongs. Many Christians have no context to their faith and know very little about the Jewish background on this topic.  In his book Kingdom Conspiracy,  Scot McKnight summarizes what James Dunn says about understanding the importance of Israel. He says;

“Dunn says we must begin with the story context: ‘It will have to be the context of Israel’s memory of its own monarchic past, of Jewish current experience under the kingship of others, and of the hopes of the faithful regarding God’s kingship for the future. He begins with three simple observations and then drenches those three points in a powerful display of evidence from Judaism of the various nuances at work at the time of Jesus.'”

His three simple observations are these:

(1) God was King over all the earth (Ps. 103: 19); (2) only Israel acknowledges God’s kingdom, and that means Israel’s king (when they have one) is specially related to God the King; and (3) this universal kingship of God will someday, perhaps soon, expand over the whole earth. The integral features in the big story of Israel are these:

God is King, Israel is God’s people and as such is God’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom will someday cover the globe. We can say the story has three nonnegotiables: the universal kingship of God, the covenant kingship of God with Israel, and a future universal rule. These three nonnegotiable beliefs in the Old Testament and in the shaping of Judaism’s story are rarely alone and almost never this abstract or theoretical. Instead they flow into very timely and contextualized expressions, and it is here that Dunn advances our discussion. When those three ideas were at work in real ways with real people in real contexts, they wore all sorts of attire, and Dunn lists the different ways this basic story was told in various contexts:

  1. Return from exile
  2. Hope for prosperity, healing, or paradise
  3. The renewal of the covenant
  4. Building a new temple Return of YHWH to Zion Triumph over, destruction of, and sometimes inclusion of gentiles Inheriting and expanding the land
  5. A climactic period of tribulation Cosmic disturbances leading to a new creation
  6. Defeat of Satan
  7. Final judgment
  8. Resurrection Sheol/ Hades morphing into a place of final retribution This list does not come from one Jewish source. Each of the themes has traces or footings in the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. Each takes on either emphasis or de-emphasis depending on the author and circumstance. Each can be the entry through which the whole story of Israel can be told. It is not as if there are fourteen elements of the one story that we are called to tally up, making sure each gets represented in each retelling of Israel’s future”(pg 46).

Remember:  the Jewish Scriptures don’t reveal an explicit, fully disclosed, monolithic “messianic concept.”  To build on the comments stated here, Stanley Porter says:

Intertestamental and New Testament literature suggests that the expectation was all over the map. Some Jewish people did not expect a Messiah. Others thought that the Messiah would be a priestly figure, still others a royal deliverer. Some scholars interpret the evidence to suggest that at least one group of Jewish thinkers believed there would be two messiahs, one priestly and one royal. From what we know we can be certain that the New Testament did not create the idea of the Messiah. But we can also be sure that there was nothing like a commonly agreed delineation of what the Messiah would be like. The latter point means that modern-day Christians who shake their heads about why the Jewish people did not universally recognize the Messiah, considering all the fulfilled prophecy, really do not understand Old Testament literature.-Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (McMaster New Testament Studies), 29.

Remember, other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One. Therefore, to say Jesus is the Messiah is like asking whether he is the Son of Man, Prophet, Branch, etc.

To see more on this topic, see our previous post called Six Messianic Expectations and One Messsiah

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A Look at Messianic Prophecy: Hints and Signs of the Coming King in the Old Testament

Introduction

One of the most prominent themes throughout the Bible is the kingdom of God. The framework of Israel’s existence and self-understanding was formulated from God’s covenant with Israel and Israel’s servant to God the King. Israel is the people of the king, and the holy land is the land of the king’s rule. Given the Messiah is supposed to be the ideal representative of his people, He has a kingly role as well. Let’s look at some of the messianic texts in the Old Testament that speak about the kingly role of the Messiah.

Genesis 49:8-12:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Gen 49:8-12)-NASB

In the previous context (Gen. 49: 1-7) we see the following issues:

1. Jacob, prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men.

2. God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants.

3. The older brothers are disqualified from the birth-right (i.e., Reuben, Simon, Levi).

4. Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe.

5. Judah: is the name of the son of Jacob/or the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel. (1)

We see the following about this passage:

1. The Messiah has already been declared to be a man, descended from Abraham (Gen. 22:18)

2. His descent is now limited to being a son of Judah

3. He is going to be a King

4. The rule of Judah is envisioned by Jacob as extending beyond the borders of Israel to include the entire world.

We see in the prophecy that “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment. The prophecy declares that Judah will finally lose his tribal independence, and promises a supremacy over at least some of the other tribes until the advent of the Messiah. See more on this here:

The Davidic Covenant

While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-37). In other words, David’s line would eventually culminate in the birth of a person whose eternality will guarantee David’s dynasty, kingdom, and throne forever.

As seen in 2 Sam. 7:1-4, David wanted to build a “house” (or Temple) for the Lord in Jerusalem. God’s response to David was one of rejection. The desire for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty became even more fervent after the united kingdom of the Israelites split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, at the time of King Rehoboam.

The Davidic King in  Isaiah

As we look at Isaiah, he speaks more about a powerful descendant of David, the Messiah with a capital “M”:

 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [David’s family], from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him [an “anointing”] — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD — and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears, but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. . . . In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him. (Isaiah 11:1 – 10).

It isn’t a huge challenge to relate this messianic expectation with the ministry of Jesus. For example:

Acts 10:38
“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”

Matthew 7:28-29
” And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

Also, regarding the ability of the Davidic figure to be a light to the nations, a careful reading of the four servant songs has nonetheless led many scholars to argue that the servant refers to an individual who fulfills in himself all that Israel was meant to be. If we look at  Isa. 49:1-7,  we must take some things into consideration. First, in vs 3, the Servant is Israel, while in vs 6, the Servant is an individual. The Servant will be powerful, bringing God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth,” and yet he will be “despised and abhorred by the nation” of Israel, although rulers of the gentiles will “bow down” to him. So let us keep the following things in mind:

Has there ever been any Jewish person who fits these words, having begun a world religion of Gentiles? With the backdrop of Genesis 12:1-3 in mind, we see in Isaiah 49:6 that  the enlarged mission to the Gentiles climaxes the Servant’s commission from God—“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (v. 6b). “Light” is here parallel with “salvation” (cf. Isa. 42:6).  How does one calculate the probability that a Jewish person would found a world religion that mostly consists of non-Jewish people.

But now we go to read the rest of the chapter:

“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia,from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean. He will raise a banner for the nations  and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah  from the four quarters of the earth.  Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish, and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,   nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.  They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;   together they will plunder the people to the east. They will subdue Edom and Moab,   and the Ammonites will be subject to them.  The Lord will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea; with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand  over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that anyone can cross over in sandals.  There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel   when they came up from Egypt.” –Isa. 11: 10-16.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize none of this has taken place yet.

Another text is the following:

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; dominion will rest on his shoulders, and he will be given the name Pele-Yo’etz El Gibbor Avi-‘Ad Sar-Shalom [Wonder of a Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace], in order to extend the dominion and perpetuate the peace of the throne and kingdom of David, to secure it and sustain it through justice and righteousness henceforth and forever. The zeal of ADONAITzva’ot will accomplish this.” (Isa 9:5-6 CJB)

Every Old Testament prophecy has an immediate context. For the audience in Isaiah’s time, a prophecy about a Davidic King would be worthless if that is something coming hundreds of years later. They needed a hope at that time. So when Isaiah writes it, there is a type. Hence, it is a literal Davidic king at that time period. In observing the immediate context of this passage, one might assert that this passage is referring to Hezekiah’s reign. But it is pointing to the anti-type, the literal Davidic King (the Messiah).

This passage speaks to the everlasting rule of the Davidic King. The figure is called “Wonderful Counselor” (Pele-Yoeitz) which is used only of God and what God does. This is never used of what God does. “Mighty God”  (El-Gibbor) is never used of a mere man. We read in Isaiah 10:21 that “A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.”  The word ‘el’ always refers to a deity.  “Everlasting Father”- “Father” is here in a pre-Trinitarian sense. Jesus  is not literally the Father but he can play the role of a Father in that he cares, protects, etc. “Prince of Peace”- is sometimes used of men in the Hebrew text. In Isaiah, the work of peace is of God only. The significance of this passage is the phrase “there will be no end.” In observing the immediate context of this passage, one might assert that this passage is referring to Hezekiah’s reign. This assertion is problematic since Hezekiah’s reign was one that was rather limited in an international sense.

The Davidic King in the Royal Psalms

Psalm 2

Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’” Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!  (NASB)

What do we see here?

1. Psalm 2 should be read as a coronation hymn, (similar to 2 Kings 11:12) and today marks the moment of the king’s crowning.

2. God tells the person to whom he is speaking that He is turning over the dominion and the authority of the entire world to Him (v 8).

3. David did have conquest of all the nations (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Amalek, etc-1 Chron. 14:17; 18:11).

4. Vs 11-12: One day God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne.

Psalm 89 is another royal Psalm.

We see the following:

1. The Davidic King will be elevated over the rivers and seas (v.24- 25).

2. Just as God is the most exalted ruler in heaven (vv.6-9), the Davidic King is the most exalted ruler on earth (v. 27).

3. The Davidic King will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings.

4. God promises to establish David’s throne and continue his dynasty from one generation to the next for perpetuity (vv.28-29).

The rule of the King as the Son of Man

It should be noted that “Son of Man” is a messianic title. As we see in Daniel 7: 13-14:

I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.  “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

John Sailhamer notes that there is a thematic correlation between Gen 49:8-12 and other passages in the Old Testament. He says:

The plural word “nations” rather than singular suggests that Jacob had a view of Kingship that extended beyond the boundaries of the Israelites to include other nations as well. In any case, later biblical writers were apparently guided by texts in formulating their view of the universal reign of the future of the Davidic king. For example, “Psalm 2:8 “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance”; Daniel 7:13-14, “There was one like a son of man, he was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him.” (see John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Grand Zondervan, 1995), 235.

Conclusion:

The reign of God is one of the most pertinent themes in biblical theology. God has extended His mercy and grace to the human race by allowing us to glance at the role of the kingdom of Godin His plan for the redemption of the entire world. God took the initiate by revealing to mankind a fuller part His kingdom program through the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ miraculous deeds, healings, and power over nature as well as His role as a Suffering Servant was another stage of inaugurating the kingdom of God. Jesus also fulfills the role of the inaugurator of the kingdom of God by being honored and demonstrating the authority to execute judgment. Jesus currently rules over the cosmos at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:24-33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Eph.1:20-21; Col.3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 2 Peter 3:22). Jesus, being the divine Messiah exhibits the same attributes as the God of Israel. One day, Jesus will return to fulfill the promise of completing the earthly aspect of His kingdom work. May all of us as wait with eager anticipation. As the Apostle Peter said,

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat (2 Peter 3:10-12).

Sources:

[1] Michael Rydelnick, The Messianic Hope: Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010),  47-48.

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