Over the years I have been asked why Jewish people don’t think Jesus is the Messiah. One of the most common responses is an online article called 7 Reasons Why Have Jews Rejected Jesus For Over 2,000 Years: A Must Read For Every Jew. As we see in the article, we have the traditional messianic views that are informed by Rabbinic Judaism and Maimonidies. Some of the messianic expectations are:
There is the promise of a future age of perfection characterized by universal peace and recognition of God. (Isaiah 2:1-4; Zephaniah 3:9; Hosea 2:20-22; Amos 9:13-15; Isaiah 32:15-18, 60:15-18; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 8:23, 14:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34)
Many of these prophetic passages speak of a descendant of King David who will rule Israel during the age of perfection. (Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezekiel 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hosea 3:4-5).
The article also says:
What is the Messiah supposed to accomplish? The Bible says that he will:
- Build the Third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28).
- Gather all Jews back to the Land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6).
- Usher in an era of world peace, and end all hatred, oppression, suffering and disease. As it says: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)
- Spread universal knowledge of the God of Israel, which will unite humanity as one. As it says: “God will be King over all the world—on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9).
Here is another quote that is similar:
“The state of the world must prove that the Messiah has come; not a tract. Don’t you think that when the Messiah arrives, it should not be necessary for his identity to be subject to debate – for the world should be so drastically changed for the better that it should be absolutely incontestable! Why should it be necessary to prove him at all? If the Messiah has come, why should anyone have any doubt?” (Rabbi Chaim Richman, available at http://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).
So after we read the online article and this quote, we are supposed to assume it is all settled. Jesus didn’t bring the messianic age, gather the Jewish people back to the land, nor restore the Davidic throne nor the Temple. If it was only that simple. And to assert that the Jewish community has always held to one view of the Messiah is complete nonsense. I want to mention that there are other answers to some of the other objections in this article on our resource page. Also, see Michael Brown’s Five Volume Set Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus. Also, I think it is evident that if Israel isn’t faithful to the covenants, God will still reach the nations for his purposes. But for now, let me mention the following:
For starters, let me offer some words of advice: Words and concepts are separate entities. “Word-bound” approaches to what really are concept studies can lead us astray. Messianism is a concept study. The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Hence, they could be viewed as “a messiah.” However, this does not mean they are “the Messiah.”
Also, just as a king could be viewed as “a son of God,” it does not mean the king is “The Son of God.” The term “messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was one of the official titles for Jesus within the New Testament. The “one who is anointed” was commissioned for a specific task.
Interestingly enough, the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus thought there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22). In the words of Michael Bird:
“The role of the Messiah is multifarious. There was no single and uniform description of the messianic task.” Furthermore, before 70 CE, messianic figures could go by a variety of names such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth.” (1)
I have already offered some tips on how to interpret Messianic prophecy. I also offer an extensive bibliography and some other resources as well. But in this post, I want to mention a few of the messianic expectations that were evident during the Second Temple period.
#1: The Son of Man
“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. First of all, “Son of Man ” is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, the Son of Man was to suffer and die and rise from the dead (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). Third, the Son of Man would serve an eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31). In other words, there is a correlation between the returning Son of Man and the judgment of God.
The term “Son of Man” in the time of Jesus was a most emphatic reference to the Messiah (Dan. 7:13-14). The title reveals divine authority. In the trial scene in Matthew 26:63-64, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Dan. 7:13 and Ps. 110:1 to Himself. Jesus’ claim that he would not simply be entering into God’s presence, but that he would actually be sitting at God’s right side was the equivalent to claiming equality with God. By Jesus asserting He is the Son of Man, he was exercising the authority of God.
As Randall Price notes:
“ The concept of the Messiah as a “son of man” after the figure in Daniel 7:13 is expressed in a section of the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch known as Similitudes, which has been argued to have a date as early as 40 B.C. While we will deal more with this messianic title in the next chapter, it should be noted that scholars have found in Similitudes four features for this figure: (1) it refers to an individual and is not a collective symbol, (2) it is clearly identified as the Messiah, (3) the Messiah is preexistent and associated with prerogatives traditionally reserved for God, and (4) the Messiah takes an active role in the defeat of the ungodly. New Testament parallels with Similitudes (e.g., Matt. 19:28 with 1 Enoch 45:3 and Jn. 5:22 with 1 Enoch 61:8) may further attest to a mutual dependence on a common Jewish messianic interpretation (or tradition) based on Daniel’s vision.” (2)
#2: A Miracle Working Messiah
Even though miracles are often overlooked in the traditional messianic expectation (as in the article I posted), it is evident that Jewish people at the time of Jesus did look for signs/miracles to accompany the Messiah’s work. In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43). In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. But if the kingdom is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”- Luke 4: 18-19
Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in the Luke 4 text:
“He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (3)
Also, Paul says:
“ For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24
Paul notes here about how Jews demand signs. While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God. Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that the “signs” will confirm his call:
God says, “I will be with you. And this will be אוֹת “the sign” to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
“If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exod 4: 8-9).
We see the signs are used to help people believe.
Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)
The Works of Jesus
“Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)
“Sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does, 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod. 4: 1-9). In the exchange between Nicodemus said to Jesus, Nicodemus said, We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). Also, the signs of Jesus are part of the apostolic preaching:
#3 A Prophetic Messiah
Moses and Jesus both claim to speak the words of God. It is also evident at the time of Jesus, that Jewish people were looking for a prophet like Moses. 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
Peter is referring to the Deut 18: 15-18 text:
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.
Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).
We see in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority. Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent from God. In response, Moses defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have. Moses says, ” Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord” (Num.16:28).
As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:
So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7: 16-18)
So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world. (John 8:26)
For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12: 49-50).
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:24).
For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8).
To summarize, when Jesus speaks, it is not His own word that he gives to the people, but that of the Father; it is as if God is speaking to us. Also, there is a similar relationship between those who do no heed the words of Moses and those who do not listen to the words of Jesus. For example, Moses exhorts and warns the people about the consequences of not heeding the Word of God:
” See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut 30: 15-20).
Of course, one of the underlying themes of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Word (John 1:14). Likewise, Jesus, who is the Word incarnate and the new Moses gives a similar warning:
“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5: 22-24).”
These were just a few of the messianic expectations at the time of Jesus. To see some of the reasons, Jesus has begun to fulfill the messianic task, see our resource page.
Sources: 1.M.F. Bird, Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 35. Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran.
2.See The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament at http://www.worldofthebible.com/Bible%20Studies/The%20Concept%20…;
3. See Evans, C.A., and P. W. Flint, Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997). Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran.