By far the biggest stumbling block to any consideration of Jesus being the Messiah
is the claim that He is equal with God / Son of God. I was discussing this question
with an Orthodox Jewish friend. He said that such an idea is completely impossible
for Jewish people to accept. So I asked him, ‘What is your idea of the Messiah?’
He said that the Messiah is a great man, not a divine person, who brings peace to
I responded that for any man to bring peace to the world is an enormous task beyond
the ability of any mere human. And besides there is one logical problem. If he is
just a great man, what happens when he dies?
His answer was that the Messiah will set up a way of life, a new system, which people
will fit into because of his teaching.
I said that the problem with human beings is that they don’t fit into systems.
Rabbi Kaplan in his book ‘The Real Messiah?’ which is an attack on the view that
Jesus is Messiah puts it like this: ‘The Jewish concept of the Messiah is that which
is clearly developed by the prophets of the Bible. He is a leader of the Jews, strong
in wisdom, 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
peace, love, prosperity, and moral perfection to the entire world. The Jewish Messiah
is truly human in origin. He is born of ordinary human parents, and is of flesh
and blood like all mortals.’ (1)
So a mortal is going to bring eternal peace and perfection? The essence of being
mortal is that one is going to die someday.
In the early 1990’s some members of the Lubavitch movement began to believe that
their leader, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, was the King Messiah. Then he had a stroke
and later died. Unable to cope with the idea that the old man in his nineties had
come to the end of his natural life, supporters of the Messianic tendency in Lubavitch
began to believe that he would rise from the dead! If he is more than just an old
man dying and really is the Messiah, then there is a certain logic in believing he
will rise from the dead. If not this view is far fetched to say the least!
This belief has been pronounced heretical by mainstream Judaism and for a rather
obvious reason. Rabbi David Berger wrote: ‘There is no possibility whatsoever that
the Rebbe would emerge from the dead to be the Messiah. That could be possible in
the Christian faith but not in Judaism. The very suggestion is repugnant to everything
We would agree that there is no possibility that the Rebbe could emerge from the
dead to be the Messiah. However the real Messiah does need to have power over death
if he is to deal permanently with the problems which afflict the human race. In
fact he has to have an endless life and to be an eternal person himself. He has
got to be on hand all the time, for all the people of the world to deal with their
problems. All of which makes Him anything but a normal man born of ordinary human
parents of flesh and blood.
The Tenach indicates that the Messiah will be more than a normal man. A number of
scriptures point to His supernatural origin, even to His divine nature. In the prophecy
of Micah 5.1 we read of one who is to be ‘Ruler in Israel’: ‘But you Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth
to me the One who is to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from
everlasting.’ The one who is to come out of Bethlehem in Judea will have an origin
which is ‘from everlasting’ (‘mimei olam’– literally from the days of eternity).
Whose origins are from the days of eternity? Only God. Therefore this prophecy
points to someone who will not just be a ‘Ruler in Israel’ (i.e. a king or governor)
but the Messiah. He will come forth from Bethlehem as far as His earthly existence
is concerned, but His real origin will be in eternity.
In Isaiah 9.6 we read of one who is to born a child and yet who is the Mighty God
(el gibbor) and the Everlasting Father (avi ad):
‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be
upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace
there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom to order it
and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward even forever. The
zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.’
How can someone be a son and the Everlasting Father at the same time? If he is a
mortal reigning on David’s throne how can he establish it with judgment and justice
forever? Why is he called ‘the Mighty God’? One rabbinic explanation of these verses
is that they refer to the godly King Hezekiah, but this does not make sense. The
one spoken of being born as a male child has to be at the same time an eternal person.
In fact He has to be God.
In Jeremiah 23.5 we read of the descendant of David who is clearly identified as
the King Messiah. In the next verse we read: ‘In His days Judah will be saved
and Israel will dwell safely: Now this is the name by which He will be called: (3)
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ The name given to the Messiah contains the divine name,
a clear indication that the Messiah is to be a divine being.
But how can the Messiah be a divine person if there is one God who is indivisible
and rules in heaven? Can God leave ruling the universe to come to the earth? Did
God ever appear in human form in the Tenach?
I heard a cassette of an interview given by a Jewish lady called Sharon Allen on
Sid Roth’s radio programme in the USA (4). Sharon had been raised in a very Orthodox
Jewish home. Her marriage to an Orthodox Jew in New York had failed and she moved
with her daughter to the west coast of America. There she married a Gentile businessman,
who loved Jewish ways and actually helped to build a new synagogue which they attended
as a family together. After a while Sharon said to her husband, ‘You’re so Jewish.
Why don’t you convert to Judaism?’ He agreed and was told that there were three
things he had to do.
1. Be circumcised. No problem, he had been circumcised as a baby.
2. Be immersed in water in the mikveh (ritual bath) to show his identification with
the Jewish people. No problem.
3. Appear before the Beth Din (religious court) and formally renounce whatever or
whoever he had believed in before. Problem.
To Sharon’s amazement he said he could not renounce Jesus. As he had never been
a vocal Christian or attended church during their marriage this came a shock to her.
But then she thought, ‘No problem. Everything that God wants us to know about the
Messiah is in the Jewish Bible. I’ll read the Bible and prove to my husband that
Jesus cannot be the Messiah.’
She then prayed to God to show her the truth about the Messiah and began reading
the Jewish Bible in Hebrew (which she was fluent in) from beginning to end. She
never opened the New Testament, but as she read the Tenach she could not believe
what she was reading and the conclusion she was coming to. Everywhere she found
references to Jesus. The miracles He did, the death He would die, the fact that He
would be received by the Gentiles.
Apart from the prophecies which speak about the Messiah, she could not come to terms
with the person described in the Bible as the Angel of the Lord, Malach Adonai, who
appeared at various times to people in the Bible. They react to Him as though they
are seeing God. They are afraid they are going to die as a result. He gives the
word of God; he has the power to forgive sins. Who is he?
She began to read commentaries - the Artscroll series, Rashi’s commentary and whatever
she could find to give answers to her questions. The uncomfortable conclusion she
was coming to was that far from proving Jesus was not the Messiah, the Hebrew Bible
was giving her reasons to believe that He was. Finding no convincing answer she
spoke to her rabbi, who put her on to the leading anti-missionary rabbis in the USA.
Finally she went to a lecture by Rabbi Immanuel Shochet at her daughter’s school
on why Jewish people should not believe in Jesus.
The Rabbi said that no Jewish person who had been raised in a kosher Jewish home
and kept all the traditions could believe in ‘that man’ (Jesus). During the question
time after his talk, Sharon raised her hand and told him that she had been raised
in a kosher Jewish home and kept all the traditions but the more she studied the
Jewish Bible the more she came to see that Jesus fitted with the Jewish expectation
of the Messiah.
The major theological problem she presented to the rabbi was the question of the
appearances of the Lord in the Jewish Bible. The logical conclusion she was coming
to was, ‘If God can appear in human form to the Patriarchs, why is it considered
impossible for God to appear in human form in the person of the Messiah?’ If this
is so, then one of Judaism’s major theological objections to Jesus being the Messiah
is removed. The rabbi, considered the expert in the field of refuting the claim
that Jesus is Messiah, could not answer her questions to her satisfaction and so
she decided to read the New Testament for herself. At this point all her objections
were swept away and she came to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah.
So does the Jewish Bible point to God being a plural unity, which is vital to the
view that Jesus is the Messiah, or does it describe God an absolute indivisible unity,
which is vital the view that he is not? Did God appear in human form in the Jewish
In the very first verse of the Bible we read, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens
and the earth’ Genesis 1.1. The word for ‘God’ (Elohim) is a masculine plural noun.
The word for ‘created’ (bara) is a singular verb. The very first sentence in the
Bible, with a plural noun and a singular verb, opens up the possibility of God being
a plural unity. In Genesis 1.26 God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according
to our likeness.’ Why not ‘Let me make man in my image’? It cannot be that God
is speaking to the angels, because man is not made in the image of angels. The rabbinic
explanation, that it is the plural of majesty, does not add up either since there
is no example in the Bible of kings addressing themselves in the plural. The likely
explanation for this and other occasions where God speaks in the plural of Himself,
Genesis 11.7, Isaiah 6.8, is that God is a plural unity.
The Bible, especially the Torah, has examples of a physical manifestation of God
appearing to people. In Genesis 3.8 we read that Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of
the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife
hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.’
This shows a physical presence, someone walking in the garden from whom Adam and
Eve thought they could hide.
In Genesis 18.1 we read: ‘Then the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the terebinth
trees of Mamre’. Then the text records that there were three men before Abraham
to whom he gave food. Interestingly he breaks the rabbinical kosher food laws (but
not the Levitical ones) by mixing milk and meat (5): ‘So he took butter and milk
and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them
under the tree as they ate’ Genesis 18.8.
The Lord then tells Abraham he is going to have a child by Sarah (Genesis 18.9-15).
Then the ‘men’ depart for Sodom.
Although the text does not tell us that two men depart, when we get to chapter 19
verse 1 the text does tell us that two angels (i.e. the men who departed in Genesis
18.16) arrived in Sodom. After the ‘men’ (angels) have departed in verse 16, the
Lord then tells Abraham what He is going to do in the coming destruction of Sodom
(Genesis 18.17-32). After the Lord has listened to Abraham’s plea for mercy for
Sodom, the text reads: ‘So the Lord went His way as soon as He had finished speaking
with Abraham: and Abraham returned to his place’ Genesis 18.33. The implication
of all this is that the three ‘men’ Abraham sees at the beginning of chapter 18 are
comprised of two angels who go on to Sodom half way through the chapter and the Lord
who stays to the end of the chapter after the two angels have left. So the Lord
appears along with the two angels in physical form as a man and eats food with Abraham.
In Genesis 32 we have an encounter which Jacob had as he was about to cross over
into the Promised Land, returning after 20 years hard labour for Laban the Syrian
with his wives and flocks. He prayed to God, terrified that his brother Esau would
get his revenge and kill him for taking his birthright and his father’s blessing
(Genesis 27). To appease Esau, he sent him gifts and divided his family and flocks
into companies in the hope that this might give them more protection if they were
‘Then Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the
day. Now when he saw that he did not prevail against him he touched the socket of
his hip: and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as he wrestled with him’
Genesis 32.24-25. To prove that this was not just a figment of his imagination Jacob
then walked with a permanent limp (Genesis 32.31).
You can’t get much more physical than an all night wrestling match. The person you
are wrestling with obviously must have a body. So who was this mysterious man?
The next few verses point to the answer:
‘And He (the man) said, ‘Let me go for the day breaks.’
But he (Jacob) said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’
He said, ‘Jacob.’
And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel (means ‘prince
with God’); for you have wrestled with God and with men and have prevailed.’
Then Jacob asked, saying, ‘Tell me what is your name, I pray.’
And He said, ‘Why is it that you ask about my name?’ And He blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel (means ‘face of God’): ‘For I have seen God face
to face and my life is preserved’ Genesis 32.26-30.
The only conclusion one can come to from these verses is that Jacob identified the
man he had wrestled with as being God.
So from these verses we see that humans had contact with a being who appeared in
human form, but whom they identified as God. He walked in a garden, He ate food
and He wrestled, all very physical activities.
At the end of his life, as he was blessing his sons, Jacob looked back on all the
supernatural encounters he had had in his life and identified these with the ‘Angel’
who had kept him:
‘And he (Jacob) blessed Joseph and said: “God before whom my fathers Abraham and
Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who
has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads…”’ Genesis 48.15-16.
In these verses he is equating this Angel with God, the one who has redeemed him
and the one he is asking to bless Joseph and his grandsons.
We read in Exodus 14 of the Angel of the Lord (Malach Adonai) who would go before
the Israelites to bring them into the Promised Land and to fight against their enemies.
Concerning this Angel, the Lord says, “Beware of him and obey his voice; do not
provoke him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him” Exodus
This sounds like the authority of God is delegated to Him and His words are as God’s
words. He has God’s name in Him and the name implies His nature. He also has power
to pardon or not pardon transgressions, something which only God can do.
In the book of Judges the Angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife telling
them that they would bear a son who should be a Nazirite (dedicated to God). This
son would be Samson. They ask his name and he replies, “Why do you ask my name seeing
it is wonderful?” (Judges 13.18). The Hebrew word for wonderful used here is ‘peli’
which is always associated with the wonders of God. Then when they offer a burnt
offering to the Lord, the Angel of the Lord ascends to heaven in the flame of the
altar. Manoah’s response to this is to say to his wife, “We shall surely die, because
we have seen God” Judges 13.22. In other words they recognise that the Angel of
the Lord is equal with God.
A major Messianic prophecy is Zechariah 14 which speaks of the Lord coming to rescue
Israel from the nations which gather against Jerusalem in the last days of this age.
The text says: ‘Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as
He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount
of Olives which faces Jerusalem on the east’ Zechariah 14.3-4. The word used for
the Lord is again the Hebrew name for God.
This passage is believed by Orthodox Jews to be about the Messiah coming at the end
of days and today the Mount of Olives is covered in gravestones. It is the most prestigious
place to be buried, because it is believed that the Messiah will come to the Mount
of Olives, blow the trumpet for the resurrection of the dead and then those who are
buried there will be the first to be resurrected. The theological problem this
raises for Orthodox Jews is that if we agree that Zechariah 14 is about the Messiah
(and we do!) then the Messiah is called God. Not only this but He will also apparently
have feet and stand on the Mount of Olives. If He has feet presumably He will have
the rest of a body as well!
We also read of one who is identified as the Son of God in the Jewish Bible. In
Psalm 2, which is a parallel passage to Zechariah 14, we read of the Lord dealing
with the nations in turmoil and rebellion against Him. In response God says, ‘Yet
I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion’ (Psalm 2.6). He goes on to say of this
one: ‘You are my Son.
Today I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance,
and the ends of the earth for your possession.’
In Proverbs 30.4 there are a series of questions: ‘Who has ascended into heaven?
Who has gathered the wind into his fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?’ The expected answer to all these
questions is God.But the final question is: ‘What is his name and what is his Son’s
name, if you know?’ Good question!
When Nebuchadnezzar has the three Hebrew men cast into the burning fiery furnace
for refusing to worship his image, they are supernaturally rescued by one identified
as the Son of God: ‘I see four men loosed in the midst of the fire; and they are
not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God’ Daniel 3.25.
The encounters between God and people in the Jewish Bible referred to here imply
that God appeared in some recognisable form to humans. Quite often He appeared as
a man. Sometimes He is called the Angel of the Lord, sometimes not. Often the Hebrew
word used in these scriptures contains the divine name which Judaism considers to
be so holy that it cannot even be pronounced. Significant prophesies about the
coming Messiah imply that He will have a divine nature and be much more than a great
But surely the basic statement of faith of Judaism, the Shema, rules this out? In
Deuteronomy 6.4 we read: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ God
is one so He can’t be three!
Certainly there can’t be three gods, but the Shema does not rule out the possibility
that God can be a plural unity or three in one. Interestingly it contains the name
of God given three times – twice as the divine name pronounced ‘Adonai’ (6) and once
as Eloheinu. This is a form of Elohim, the name of God given in Genesis 1.1 with
the suffix ‘-enu’ which is the Hebrew way to say ‘our God’. The basic word however
is the plural word for God, Elohim.
The word for ‘one’ used in Deuteronomy 6.4 is the word ‘echad’ which means one, but
can mean one in the sense of a unity of more than one. For example in Genesis 2.24
we read, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his
wife and they shall become one flesh.’ The Hebrew for one flesh is ‘basar echad’.
They become one (‘echad’) through sexual union, but they remain two people. In
Judges 20.1 we read of Israel gathering together as ‘one man’ (‘ish echad’) before
the Lord. They are united as one people, but they are also many individual people.
There is another word for one - ‘yachid’, which is used in Genesis 22.2 when God
tells Abraham to take ‘your only son’ and offer him as a sacrifice. The word used
for Isaac points to him being ‘one’ in an absolute indivisible sense. If the text
in Deuteronomy 6.4 had used the word ‘yachid’ for God we would have to admit that
Judaism, Islam and even the Jehovah’s Witnesses are right and that God is an indivisible
unity. We would have to acknowledge that the view that God is a tri-unity and that
the Messiah is a divine person is impossible. But it does not. It uses the word
‘echad’ which leaves open the possibility that God is a plural unity. It does not
prove that He is, but the important point here is that it does not prove that He
A fascinating (though somewhat difficult) book on this subject in ‘The Great Mystery’
by Hirsch Prinz. Written in the 19th Century this book quotes extensively from Jewish
writings to show that Jewish scholars have long wrestled with the problem of the
unity of God as revealed in the Hebrew Bible. He quotes some astonishing writings
which point to a view within Judaism of God as a plural unity. He refers to the
‘Memra’ (‘Word’) through whom the world was made, also known as ‘The Middle Pillar’
and the Angel of the Covenant, also known as ‘Metatron’ who reveals God to mankind.
He writes of a commentary on the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.4) concerning the threefold
mention of God’s name (Sohar, Gen p 15, versa, Amsterdam Edition): ‘Thus my teacher,
Rabbi Simeon ben Yocchai, instructed me (Sohar, vol 3, p 26) that these three steps
in God are three Spirits, each existing of itself, yet united in One. His words
‘Thus are three Spirits united in one. The Spirit which is downwards (that is, counting
three) who is called the Holy Spirit; the Spirit which is the Middle Pillar, who
is called the Spirit of Wisdom and of Understanding, who is also called the Spirit
below. The upper Spirit is hidden and in secret. In him are existing all the holy
Spirits (the Holy Spirit and the Middle Pillar) and all that is light.’(7).
He goes on to show how the ancient paraphrase of the Bible by Jonathan ben Uzziel
teaches that it was through the Word (or Memra) who is uncreated and self existing
that God created all things: ‘That this Word is the essential and uncreated Word,
one of the Three Heads which are one is evident from his being the Creator of man,
as the Jerusalem Paraphrase of Jonathan ben Uzziel (Genesis 1.27) faithfully teaches
me, saying: ‘And the Word of Adonai created man in his likeness, in the likeness
of Adonai, Adonai created, male and female created He them.’(7).
He gives a number of references from rabbinic writings to the Divine nature of the
Angel of the Covenant or the Angel of God who appeared to the Patriarchs and led
the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Commenting on Genesis 31.11
(‘And the Angel of God spoke unto me in a dream’) he quotes Rabbi Moses ben Nachman
who says ‘According to the truth this Angel promised here, the Angel, the Redeemer
in whom is the great name; for in the Lord Adonai is everlasting strength, the Rock
of Ages. He is the same who has said; ‘I am the God of Bethel’ (Genesis 31.13).
The scriptures have called Him Malach (Angel / Ambassador), because through this
designation of an Ambassador we learn that the world is governed through Him.’(8).
He quotes extensively from a commentary by Rabbi Bechai on Exodus 23.21 about the
Angel of the Lord, mentioned above: ‘This Angel is not one of those created intelligences
which can sin … This Angel is one of the Inherent Ones. ‘For He will not pardon
your transgressions’. Because He belongs to the class of Beings which cannot sin;
yea He is Metatron, the Prince of God’s countenance and therefore it is said: ‘to
keep thee in the way’.’
He goes on to say that this Angel is the one by whom God is made known in the world,
who must be obeyed as God must be obeyed and whose power to forgive (or not forgive)
sins ‘is not delivered to any of the created intelligences’. So if He is uncreated,
who is He? This commentary clearly distinguishes between created angels who do have
the power to sin and this Angel who is apparently different in nature from any created
Developing this theme, he goes on to show how the Memra (word) is not only described
as the Angel of God, but also as ‘Metatron’ in rabbinic writings. Concerning this
mysterious figure he quotes Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai in Zohar volume 3 page 227, Amsterdam
edition: ‘The Middle Pillar is the Metatron who has accomplished peace above according
to the glorious state there.’(10).
Rabbi Bechai (Zohar page 114 column 1 Amsterdam edition) says of Metatron: ‘God
said to Moses, Come up unto the Lord; this is Metatron. He is called by this name
Metatron because in this name are implied two significations, which indicate His
character. He is Lord and Messenger. There is also a third idea implied in the
name Metatron: it signifies a Keeper; for in the Chaldee language, a keeper (or watchman)
is called ‘Matherath’: and because He is the keeper (preserver of the world), He
is called (Psalm 121.4) ‘The keeper of Israel.’ From the signification of His name
we learn that He is the Lord over all which is below; because all the hosts of heaven
and all things upon earth are put under His power and might.’(11)
Commenting on Psalm 2 ‘Thou are my Son; this day I have begotten thee’ he quotes
‘Tikunei Ha Zohar’ cap.67, page 130: ‘There is a perfect man, who is an Angel. This
Angel is Metatron, the Keeper of Israel; He is a man in the image of the Holy One,
blessed be He, who is an emanation from Him (from God); yea, He, Metatron is Jehovah
(Adonai); of Him it cannot be said, He is created, formed or made; but He is the
Emanation from God.’(12)
A man, who is an Angel and who is Adonai, the Lord? If Jewish scholars can reach
this conclusion about the mysterious being we are looking at who appears all over
the Hebrew Bible, why should it be considered so impossible that the final revelation
of this one should come in him being born in human form and dwelling amongst us?
Is the ‘Memra’ (Word) of whom these writings speak as being active in creation the
same one as the ‘Logos’ (Word) revealed in John Chapter 1, the Word who was made
flesh, the one through whom the worlds were made appearing in human form? And since
John was a Jewish disciple of Jesus, not a Greek philosopher is it not much more
likely that he was thinking of the Jewish concept of the ‘Memra’ as he wrote his
Gospel, rather than the Greek philosopher Plato’s concept of the Logos as is often
taught in Christian theological colleges?
Let us leave the last word on this subject with that Gospel:
‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The
same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him
was not anything made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light
of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.
… And the Word was made flesh and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten
of the Father, full of grace and truth.’ John 1.1-5, 14.
Footnotes (After reading the footnote click the Back button)
The Real Messiah by Aryeh Kaplan page 27
The Rebbe, the Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by David Berger page
I have followed the Jewish convention of not writing out the name of God in full
Exodus 23.19 ‘You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk’ is interpreted
by rabbinic Judaism to mean that you should not eat milk and meat in the same meal.
The name of God is considered too holy to pronounce and is therefore spoken as ‘Adonai’,
meaning the Lord, in Jewish worship. It is not known how the four letters of God’s
name recorded in the Bible should be pronounced. Modern variations are Jehovah and