In his book ‘26 Reasons why Jews don’t believe in Jesus’ Asher Norman says this is the job description of the Messiah:
- Have the correct genealogy by being descended from King David and King Solomon.
- Be anointed King of Israel.
- Return the Jewish people to Israel.
- Rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Bring peace to the world and end all war.
- Bring knowledge of God to the world.
He says no faith will be required to believe in the Messiah because when someone has succeeded in doing all six of these things it will be obvious to the entire world that he is the Messiah. He also says that the Messiah will be purely human in origin and character. In saying this he is following the teaching of Maimonides concerning the Messiah (‘Hilchos Melachim 11.1, 4 from the Mishneh Torah’). He says this rules out Jesus as the Messiah because he did not fulfil these six criteria.
This raises some interesting questions:
- How would anyone today provide a genealogy going back to King David?
- If he is to be a king over Israel, in the line of David, who will have authority to anoint him King? In view of the huge divisions between Jewish people today (Orthodox, Hassidic, Reform, Secular, Ashkenazi, Sephardi) how will he be accepted as king by all the Jews?
- Since there are already Jewish people in Israel, does he mean that the Messiah must return all the Jews to Israel, in which case will he expand the present borders of Israel to accommodate them?
- The only site where the Temple can be rebuilt is occupied by the Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa mosques. How will he rebuild the Jewish Temple without arousing the wrath of the entire Muslim world?
- Wouldn’t 3 and 4 be more likely to start a war than bring peace to the world?
- On what basis will he bring the knowledge of God to the world? Make all the Gentiles Torah observant? Or carry on in their different religions, all of which disagree with Judaism on significant points?
- Even if we accept that a mortal leader is capable of doing all this (a tall order to put it mildly), it can’t happen overnight. While the job is in progress, there would have to be some faith in the fact that he is the Messiah who has come to save the world, especially for him to be able to rebuild the Temple, and bring peace and the knowledge of God to the world. Then when he has finished the job, what happens when he dies (as he must if he is a mortal leader)? How will the peace and knowledge of God be maintained, given human sin and frailty?
Despite asking these questions, we agree that the prophets do give a clear picture of the Messiah reigning with power on the earth, bringing about the redemption of Israel, the end of war and universal knowledge of God, with the Temple being rebuilt in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4, Isaiah 11:1-9, Ezekiel 40-48, Daniel 2:44, Zechariah 14). However there is another set of prophecies which speak of the Messiah, being ‘cut off’, ‘pierced’ and suffering as an atonement for sin (Isaiah 52:13-53.12, Daniel 9:25-26, Zechariah 12:10). Isaiah 53 tells us that this ‘Servant’ is one on whom the LORD has laid ‘the iniquity of us all’ and that ‘for the transgression of my people he was stricken.’ In Daniel 9.25-6 we read that ‘Messiah’ will be ‘cut off but not for himself’ (be put to death but not for his own sins) before the destruction of the Second Temple. In Zechariah 12.10 we read that Israel (at a time of conflict over Jerusalem) will look to one who ‘has been pierced’ and mourn for him ‘as for an only Son.’ They will find redemption and deliverance through this one whom they look to.
Because of these two different portraits of the Messiah, in the third century CE the idea of two Messiahs arose – a Messiah ben Joseph who should suffer and die and a Messiah ben David who shall reign in power. This was an attempt to reconcile the portraits of a suffering Messiah with the portrait of a reigning Messiah, which the Talmudists found in the scriptures. The suffering Messiah is given the name ‘Son of Joseph’ because he suffers rejection and humiliation like Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 37-41). The reigning Messiah is given the name ‘Son of David’ because he reigns in triumph like King David.
In modern Judaism the idea of the Suffering Servant Messiah seems to have been deleted and scriptures like Isaiah 53 applied to Israel’s sufferings, not the sufferings of the Messiah. However there are passages in Jewish literature which show that this has not always been the case and that Jewish commentators have seen the ‘Suffering Servant’ as part of ‘Messiah’s job description’ also. For example the Targum of Jonathan (a paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic) begins the passage about the Suffering Servant of the LORD in Isaiah 52.13-53.12 with the words, ‘Behold my Servant Messiah shall prosper.’ A prayer written by Rabbi Eliezer Kalir for the afternoon service of Yom Kippur in around the 7th century quotes from Isaiah 53 and connects this passage to Messiah who ‘bears our sin’ and who has ‘departed from us’ which has become a matter of horror because now ‘we have none to justify us’. Rabbi Alshech wrote in about 1550 about Isaiah 53: ‘Our Rabbis with one voice accept and confirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view.’ Rabbi Eliyyah de Vidas wrote in about 1575 that not only is Isaiah 53 about the Messiah, but those who refuse to believe this must suffer for their sins themselves. Commenting on Zechariah 12.10 Rabbi Alshech wrote about Israel looking ‘upon me whom they have pierced:’ “For they shall lift up their eyes unto me in perfect repentance when they see him whom they have pierced, that is Messiah, the Son of Joseph. … He will take upon himself all the guilt of Israel, and then shall be slain in the war to make an atonement. … On account of their sin he has died.’
While we agree with these rabbis that these scriptures are about the Messiah, we do not agree that they are about a Messiah who is still to come. They refer to the Messiah Yeshua, Jesus, who has already come as the Suffering Servant of the LORD, who laid down His life as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, in fulfilment of Isaiah 53.6: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’ This same Messiah will come again, as He promised to in the New Covenant. This event will happen at a time of tribulation and conflict when He will return to the Mount of Olives and bring in the Messianic Kingdom, reigning with power from Jerusalem and bringing an end to war and the knowledge of God to Israel and the nations. In this way He will fulfil the prophecies of the Reigning King Messiah. To be ready for this event we must now repent and believe in Yeshua the Messiah who died for our sins and rose again from the dead to give forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe in Him.
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