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.
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)
Let me offer some reasons why I think Jesus has started to complete the messianic task:
#1: Gentile Inclusion
In Aryeh Kaplan’s The Real Messiah: A Jewish Response to Missionaries, we see a list of some of the common expectations for the Messiah:
In the Messianic age, the Jewish people will dwell freely in their land. There will be an “ingathering of the exiles” when all the Jews return to Israel. This will eventually bring all the nations to acknowledge the God of Israel and acknowledge the truth of his teachings. The Messiah will be king over Israel, but in a sense, rule rover the nations. The Jewish concept of the Messiah is that which is clearly taught in the prophets of the Bible. He is a leader of the Jews , strong in wisdom and power and spirit. It is he who will bring complete redemption to the Jewish people both spiritually and physically. Along with this, he will bring eternal love, prosperity and moral perfection to the world.
The Jewish Messiah will bring all peoples to God. This is expressed in the Alenu prayer, which concludes all three daily services:
May the world be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty. Let all the humans call upon Your Name and turn all the world’s evildoers to You. Let everyone on earth know that every knee must bow to you….and let them all accept the yoke of Your Kingdom
Jesus is the only messianic figure that has opened a door for non-Jews to come to know the one true God. Just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world (Gen 12:3), the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” . In relation to Jesus’ Messiahship, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that the church is now the home of 1.4 billion adherents which are predominately Gentiles. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But 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).
As Richard Baukham says:
“Matthew frames the whole story of Jesus between the identification of him as the descendant of Abraham in the opening verse of the Gospel and, in the closing words of Jesus at the end of the Gospels, the commissions of the disciples of Jesus to the make disciples of all nations. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham (1:1-2) not with Adam, as Luke’s does (3:38) nor with David, which would have been sufficient to portray Jesus the Messiah the son of David, which certainly is an important theme here in Matthew’s Gospel. However, for Matthew, Jesus is the Messiah not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. He is the descendant of Abraham through whom God’s blessing will reach the nations.”(2)
#2 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.” (3)
#3:The New Covenant
In Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we see the Promises of the New Covenant:
1. God promises regeneration (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26).
2. God promises the forgiveness of sin (Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 36:25)
3. God pledged the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27).
4. God promises the knowledge of God (Jeremiah 31:34).
5. God promises His people would obey Him (Ezekiel 36:27; 37:23-24; Jeremiah 32:39-40).
6. The fulfilling of this covenant was tied to Israel’s future restoration to the land (Jer. 32:36-41; Ezek. 36:24-25; 37:11-14).
Before Jesus rose from the dead, he made a promise that was related to the New Covenant passages:
Just like the giving of the Torah (with Moses), the New Covenant needs someone to inaugurate it. As Jesus says:
“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, so that He may be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not see Him nor know Him. But you know Him, for He dwells with you and shall be in you.” John 14:16,17
So we can conclude with following syllogism:
1. If Jesus rose from the dead, He can send the Spirit and inaugurate the New Covenant.
2. Jesus rose from the dead
3. Therefore, Jesus is the inaugurator of the New Covenant.
To see evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, see here:
There are many other reasons why I think Jesus is the only one who has truly begun to fulfill the messsianic task. I also know Rabbinic Judaism has a criteria for what they think the Messiah will do. I have discussed that in greater length here. In our next post, we will list some more reasons why Jesus is the Messiah.
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. Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian in a Postmodern World (Carlisle: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 33
3.See The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament here.