Over the years I have been asked why Jewish people don’t think Jesus is the Messiah. From my own experience, when I have talked to Jewish people about the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah, there is a wide range of thought. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential messiah or a time when there will be a Messianic Age. One thing for sure: To assert that the Jewish community has always held to one view of the Messiah is total nonsense.
However, this is a common objection:
“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).
For starters, in handling this objection, 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.
One of the Jewish expectations is that 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. 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 G-d of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16; 14:9). Another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).
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)
So let’s take Bird’s comment and look how some of the names for Messiah fit into Jesus’ messianic task:
1. The Son of God/Son of David/The Davidic Messiah
What does it mean when Christians say “Jesus is the Son of God?” Even though divine sonship appears in the Jewish Scriptures with regards to persons or people groups such as angels (Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; Dan 3:25), and Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos 11;1; Mal. 2:10), the category that has special importance to the Messiah is the king. When the divine sonship is used in the context of the relationship between Israel and the king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7;89:26-27), the sonship theme places a large emphasis on the fact that the king has a special relationship to God and is called or elected to a specific task as well. Furthermore, there is also a special intimacy between God and the king. The true king was the means by which the Lord related to his people as a nation. The kings were anointed for specific tasks (1 Sam.24:6; 10; 26:9).
While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised King 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.
The existence of Israel is directly related to God’s covenant with Israel and Israel’s relationship to God as the King. The Davidic covenant established David as the king over all of Israel. Under David’s rule, there was the defeat of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. David also captured Jerusalem and established his capital there (2 Sam. 1-6).
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. However, as just mentioned, God did make an unconditional promise to raise up a line of descendants from the house of David that would rule forever as the kings of Israel (2 Sam. 7:5-16; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-370. 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 prophets even spoke of a Davidic Messiah who would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jer 23:5-6; Mic. 5:2-5). Both Hosea and Ezekiel spoke of the Davidic aspect of the Messiah. While Hosea spoke of a time when the northern tribes of Israel would seek out David, Israel’s king (Hos. 3:5), Ezekiel spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a prince and a king to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). This king’s function would help restore the Davidic dynasty after the exile.
The late Geza Vermes, a Jewish scholar, thought that one of the best resources that speak to the messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms that are part of the Pseudepigrapha which is written 200 BC to 200 A.D. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon, they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information into the Jewish religious life and thinking patterns at the time of Jesus. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling Messiah:
“Taught by God, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in God. He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)
” Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles…..to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.”(Psalms of Solomon 18:4,22,26,27,30). (2)
The New Testament authors unanimously declare Jesus as the one who is from the “seed of David,” sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; 2 Tim:2:8; Rev. 22:16). As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. There were two ways for this prophecy to come to pass. Either God could continually raise up a new heir or he could have someone come who would never die. Does this sound like the need for a resurrection? That is exactly how Paul understood Jesus’ Messiahship in Romans 1:1-5:
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This also means the Messiah must come prior to 70 A.D, since in that year all Israel’s genealogical records were destroyed along with the Temple. Within a few decades of 70 A.D., it was impossible to prove who was a son of David and who was not.
Therefore, the fulfillment reached its completion in the Messiah, both son of David and the one greater than David (Psalm 110:1-4). As it says in Luke 1:32-33, “He shall be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.” But in this sense, Jesus is not simply a son of David, but instead, Jesus is the Son of David.
All four Gospels present Jesus as pictures of the “Branch” or “shoot/sprout of the Lord”-a description of the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible: The passages that are usually used to support the gathering of the Jewish people back to the land are Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8. Two of them (Isa 11:11-12 and Jer. 23:5-8) use a name for the Messiah which is ‘Branch.’ Jer. 23:5-8 mentions the “righteous Branch” (semah saddiq) promised by Jeremiah was already promised by Isaiah 4:2 as the “Branch of the LORD” (semah YHVH) a genitive source or origin that declares divine roots.We see the following:
1. The Branch of David: In Jer. 23:5-6 (this is seen in Matthew’s description of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah (Mt. 1:1).
2. My servant, the Branch: Zech. 3:8 (seen in Mark’s description of Jesus as the Servant (Mk. 10:45).
3. The man whose name is Branch: Zech. 6:12 (seen in Luke’s description of Jesus in his human aspects (Lk. 23:47).
4.The Branch of the Lord: Isa. 4:2 (seen in John’s description of Jesus as from God (Jn. 20:31). (3)
The Messianic title “Scepter” is related to the timing of Messiah’s coming in Gen. 49:8-10:
“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
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 decent is now limited to being a son of Judah
3. He is going to be a King
4. The Scepter and Rulers staff indicate royalty
Although the eleven brothers did not fall down before Judah himself, their descendants did prostate themselves before David the first member of the tribe of Judah to reign as king. Genetically, the descendants of the brothers in the brothers did not bow before both Judah and his posterity including his greater son, Jesus Christ. The word “Shiloh” means “to whom it is.” According to Jacob, the scepter, or symbol of self-government concept ended with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (A.D. 70). “Shiloh” had to come before that event. (4)
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.
4. Son of Man/Elect One
“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.
The Pseudepigrapha commonly refers to numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 200 BC to 200 AD. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information into the Jewish religious life and thinking patterns at the time of Jesus.The following examples were taken from The Messiah Texts by Raphel Patai.
“And there I saw him who is the Head of Days, and His head was white like wool, and with him was another one whose countenance had the appearance of a man And his face was full of graciousness, like one of holy angels. And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things about the Son of Man: Who is he and whence is he and why did he go with the Head of Days? And he answered and said to me: This is the Son of Man who has righteousness, With whom dwells righteousness, And who reveals all the treasures of the crowns, For the Lord of Spirits chose him.” (1 Enoch 46:1-3)
“He shall be a staff for the righteous. Whereon to lean, to stand and not to fall,And he shall be a light to the nations, And hope for the troubled of heart. And all the earth dwellers before him shall fall down, And worship and praise and bless and sing to the Lord of Spirits. It is for this that he has been chosen and hidden before Him, even before The creation of the world and evermore.”(1 Enoch 48: 4-6)
I Enoch 51.3: “The Elect One will sit on [God’s] throne”
I Enoch 52.4: “And he said to me, ‘All these things which you have seen happen by the authority of his Messiah so that he may give orders and be praised upon the earth’”
I Enoch 62.5: “…and pain shall seize them when they see that Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory”
I Enoch 62.7: “For the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning, and the Most High One preserved him in the presence of his power; then he revealed him to the holy and elect ones.”
I Enoch 62.14: “The Lord of the Spirits will abide over them; they shall eat and rest and rise with that Son of Man forever and ever…”
I Enoch 69.29: “Thenceforth nothing that is corruptible shall be found; for that Son of Man has appeared and has seated himself upon the throne of his glory; and all evil shall disappear from before his face; he shall go and tell to that Son of Man, and he shall be strong before the Lord of the Spirits.”
As I just said, Jesus made it clear that part of his ministry as the Son of Man was to suffer and die and rise from the dead (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). This demonstrates that one of the most important aspects of Jesus’ messianic task was one of atonement. Jesus’ death is seen as a “ransom” (Mark 10:45), and “redemption” (Rom. 3:24; 8:23; Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12–15). Jesus is also called the “Suffering Servant” (Acts 3:13; 8:32), and “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19).
There are figures in the Bible that were anointed for a specific purpose such as priests and prophets. There are implicit passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a priestly aspect of the Messiah (Hag: 1:12-14; 2:2-4; 20-23; Zech: 3:6-10; 4:2-5, 11-14).3 The priest was anointed in his role as a mediator between G-d and the Jewish people because of his ability make to make atonement (Lev.4:26; 31, 35; 5:6, 10; 14:31).
However, Jesus’ role as a priest goes beyond the function of the priest in the tabernacle. Even though the high priest was consecrated, he was by no means sinless and could not offer up himself for the whole congregation.
Given that Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6), it is no surprise to see Jesus’ current messianic work is a priest-advocate (1 Jn. 2:2; Rom. 8:34). The Christian community affirms the position that Jesus’ death put an end for further sacrifice (Heb. 7:27-28; 9:23-26). During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He displayed a priestly element in His authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:7). Forgiving sins was a prerogative of God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9), and was something that was to be done only in the Temple. So it is significant that 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.’
It is rather futile to ask whether Jesus is qualified by the Messiah by looking at a few texts in the Hebrew Bible and then saying “See, this has come to pass, or that is not come to pass.” We need to examine the titles for Messiah so we can have a much more extensive understanding the messianic mission. When we do this I think Jesus is the one who deserves to be called the “Messiah.”
1. Bird, M.F. 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. Vermes, G. Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels (New York. Macmillan Publishing Co. 1980), 251.
3. Kaiser, W.The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1995), 156-157.
4. Gromacki, R.The Virgin Birth (The Woodlands, Texas: Kregal Publications. 2002), 164.