Just recently, I came across this article called The Personality of Mashiach by Rabbi Immanuel Schochet (1935–2013). His bio says he wrote and lectured extensively on the history and philosophy of Chassidism and topical themes of Jewish thought and ethics. He was a renowned authority on Jewish philosophy and mysticism. He was rabbi of Cong. Beth Joseph, and professor of Philosophy at Humber College, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Anyway, I want to look at some of his points about what he considers are the qualities and characteristics of the Messiah. I then will compare his list and consider whether Jesus does meet any of these messianic qualities and characteristics. I also want to make it clear that I AM NOT SAYING that just because Jesus might not meet this rabbi’s requirements nor any perfect list given by the rabbinical community that this means it is settled that he failed at the messianic task.
Keep in mind that this rabbi is a bit on the mystical side. Please note that he calls the Messiah the ‘Mashiach’ which is another word for ‘messiah.’I talk more about that here in our post called Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies?
Anyway he says:
#1: The Mashiach is Human: Mashiach and the Messianic age are the ultimate end for the world, preconceived from the very beginning, for which the world was created.1 Mashiach, therefore, is one of the things that precede the creation.2 This refers, however, to the principle and soul of Mashiach. On the actual level of the physical world’s reality, Mashiach is a human being.
Response: Judging by what I have seen in the other literature by those involved in the Hasidic Jewish movement, this is is a similar theme to what we see in Midrash Rabbah, Bamidar (Numbers) 13:6 where it says
‘From the first day that G-d created in the world, He desired to dwell with His creations in the lowest realms (tachtonim) but he did so until the tabernacle was constructed and he caused His presence (Shechinah) to dwell therein. When the princes came to bring their sacrifices, G-d said, ‘Let is be written that on this day that the world created.”
How does this relate to Jesus? Notice that in the rabbi’s comments, the Messiah proceeds creation. Also note the passage in the Midrash about the emphasis on how God desires to dwell with man. In the Bible, the Shechinah is the visible manifestation of the presence of God in which He descends to dwell among men. The Shechinah glory is seen in a variety of visible manifestations such as light, fire, a cloud, the Angel of the Lord, or a combination of all of these.
For the Jewish people, the ultimate manifestation of the Shechinah was seen in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:16-20). Therefore, in relation to Jesus, the Shechinah 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).”
What’s the point? The rabbi’s comments about the Messiah proceeding creation, and God’s desire to dwell with man has much in common with John’s Gospel about the incarnation.
We should also note that the rabbi says “Mashiach and the Messianic age are the ultimate end for the world, preconceived from the very beginning, for which the world was created.”
Response: Most Christians don’t know that most Jewish people link the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic age together. So what is the Messianic Age? I will offer a definition here by David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod:
The only way to define “the Messiah” is as the king who will rule during what we call the Messianic age. The central criterion for evaluating a Messiah must therefore be a single question: Has the Messianic age come? It is only in terms of this question that “the Messiah” means anything. What, then, does the Bible say about the Messianic age? Here is a brief description by famous Christian scholar: “The recovery of independence and power, an era of peace and prosperity, of fidelity to God and his law and justice and fair- dealing and brotherly love among men and of personal rectitude and piety” (G.F. Moore, Judaism, II, P 324). If we think about this sentence for just a moment in the light of the history of the last two thousand years, we will begin to see what enormous obstacles must be overcome if we are to believe in the messianic mission of Jesus. If Jesus was the Messiah, why have suffering and evil continued and even increased in the many centuries since his death.” – David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod, “Jews and Jewish Christianity” A Jewish Response to the Missionary Challenge (Toronto: Jews for Judaism, 2002), 20; cited in Oskar Skarsaune, In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 302
Another one is given by Amy Jill Levine:
Did Jews reject Jesus because he wasn’t the Messiah they were expecting? That claim that Jews rejected Jesus because he counseled peace and all Jews were looking for some warrior Messiah whose job it would be to get the Romans out of the country misses the variety of messianic ideas that were floating around in the first century. The majority of Jews did not accept Jesus as a Messiah because most Jews thought that the Messiah and the messianic age came together. The messianic age meant peace on earth and the end of war, death, disease, and poverty, the ingathering of the exiles, a general resurrection of the dead. When that didn’t happen, I suspect quite a number of Jews who were highly attracted to Jesus’ message of the kingdom of heaven thought: That’s a good message, but we have to keep waiting. –see Amy Jill Levine, “A Jewish take on Jesus: Amy-Jill Levine talks the gospels” at http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2012/09/jewish-take-jesus-amy-jill-levine-talks-gospels
If you have no idea what texts these Jewish scholars are referring to when they talk about the Messianic Age, here are some hints:
1. The Jewish people are regathered to their land both before and after the Exile: Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12: 14-17; 16: 10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14-23; 32:36-44; Ezek.11:14-20;20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16; 23-31;36:16-36;37:1-28;39:21-29.
2. The Jewish people are ruled by their Messiah with Jerusalem as its capital: Jer. 23: 5-6; 33:17; Ezek. 37:22, 24; Zech 9: 10; 14:9.
3. Israel is recognized by the nations as being blessed: Isa. 62:2; 66:18; Ezek. 36: 23; 36; 37:28; Mal. 3:12.
4. The nations go to Jerusalem to worship God: Isa. 2: 2-4; 56: 2-8; 62: 9-11; Jer 16: 19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech 9:16; Zech 14:16-18.
5. The Temple is rebuilt with the presence of God in it: Isa. 2:2; 56:6; Ezek 37: 26-28; 40-48; 43:1-7; 48:35.
6. 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).
Of course, anyone that is familiar with the premillennial view of eschatology, knows that they believe that many of these texts will be fulfilled at the return of Jesus. Hence, they believe in the restoration of Israel. Most Preterits and amillennialists don’t see any fulfillment of these texts. Anyway, in regards to the rabbi’s comments, 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 covenants and God’s role with Israel and the nations.
Stay tuned for more in Part Two of our series on this topic.