Digging Deep: Why Jesus is the Jewish Messiah

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Editors Note: “Digging Deep” is a series of posts that seek to go below the surface level of issues. These are usually 4,000 plus word essays that inform the reader much more than a typical blog post might. The other post in this category is An In-Depth Analysis of the Doctrine of Regeneration.


Throughout the ages, the Jewish people have looked with great expectation and hope for their coming Messiah. The Old Testament is full of prophecies and types, from Genesis to Malachi, concerning the Messiah. Many have had their spotlight, claiming they are the Anointed One, but over time, they have been proven false. One man has stood out among all the others who the Jews have deemed false, Jesus of Nazareth. The historicity of Jesus has no strong arguments against it, but the Messianic nature of Jesus has been a splitting point of beliefs for Jews and Christians. Jesus did fulfill some of the prophecies but not the king-like prophecies the Jews were expecting. This causes real problems with Jewish thought. He and his disciples taught that he would return and fulfill the rest of the prophecies. So can these claims be trusted? This is important because if His prophecy fulfillment certifies Him as Messiah, then His words can be trusted no matter which prophecies He did not fulfill.

The prophecies Jesus did fulfill give proof that He is the one true Jewish Messiah and He will return to fulfill the rest. In order to argue for this, I will first explain the Jewish understanding of the Messiah. Second, I will explain the Christian understanding of Christ’s Second Coming. Third, I will state and defend some major prophecies Jesus fulfilled. Fourthly, I will wrestle with and answer rebuttals from Jewish thought. Finally, I will state why accepting Jesus as Messiah is the most logical thing to do in light of the previous arguments. My hope is that any Jew (or Gentile) may see that even though Christ did not fulfill their expectations of a Messiah, He will be back to complete the task.

Jewish Understanding of the Messiah

The Jewish belief of the mashiach, Hebrew for “anointed one,” has been a part of the Jewish belief before the first word was ever written for the Old Testament. The Torah does not give any detailed prophecies that Jews traditionally ascribed to their Messiah. The Torah is full of foreshadows of the Messiah, but it is the Prophets that truly begin to set the stage of what the Jews can look for in the Messiah. Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, explains his traditional faith’s beliefs like this:

“The Messiah, then, was an ideal figure who embodied the hopes of a godly, patriotic Jew of the time. He would be a descendant of David and Solomon. He would be uniquely wise and knowledgeable, upright, courageous, and patriotic, loyally devoted to God. God’s power would back him, and God’s wisdom would guide him so that he could overthrow Israel’s enemies and establish God’s kingdom of justice, truth, and peace, wherein the Jewish people would worship and obey the one true God, and enjoy permanent prosperity and happiness.”

Obviously, this has not happened. One can understand the frustration of Jews whenever people believe that a man is the Messiah whenever the Jews believe these are the utmost requirements.

Christian Understanding of the Second Coming

During the first century, a particular Jewish man from Nazareth started preaching and teaching across the land of Israel. His name was Jesus, and He had quite a large following for teachers in the first century. He performed many miraculous signs and wonders such as calming a raging sea and healing all kinds of diseases and handicaps. People began noticing commonalities He had with some of the messianic prophecies. He even explained in great detail how He was the one prophesied about in the Old Testament. Jesus was ultimately crucified for His claim of being the “King of the Jews.” His followers believed him and were willing to die torturous deaths, like He did, for His name’s sake. The whole life of a Christian is built around this faith: Jesus was the promised Messiah, died for our sins, was resurrected three days after He was crucified, ascended to heaven, and will come back to gather His people to live with Him forever.

The return of Jesus, deemed the Second Coming, is an essential belief of all Christians. Jesus was vague when describing His return. His descriptions paralleled passages in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Amos, and Zephaniah. He describes the coming of the Son of Man, how Jesus normally referred to himself, most vividly in Matthew 24:29-31:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Other than this passage, Jesus usually tells his followers about the signs of the end times, not how it will happen. Apparently, Jesus decided to not emphasize this subject very much in public. When He was alone with his disciples at the Last Supper, He told them “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” This is the clearest verse of Jesus telling anyone He will certainly come back, and He told it to His disciples privately.

On the other hand, the apostles wrote about Jesus’ return all throughout the rest of the New Testament and preached it with boldness to everyone. An angel prophesied in Acts 1:11 that “Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Paul wrote in Titus 2:13 that he waits “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The writer of Hebrews tells his readers in 9:28 that Jesus “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” John wrote Revelation, which is an entire book on the Second Coming. Though Jesus talked about the subject more privately than publicly, his Second Coming was definitely an event that he taught and his disciples believed, anticipated, and preached.

Major Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus

Now that terms and understandings are explained, a good description and case for the fulfillment of prophecy by Jesus is needed. Six categories of prophecy bring about the most convincing arguments: His ancestry, birth, person, ministry, death, and resurrection (This list will be derived from sections in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson), 168-192 and Herbert Lockyer, All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 48-85, 101-183). The ancestry of the Messiah was apparently a very important part of His role. If anyone arose claiming to be the Messiah, all anyone would have to do would be looking at a genealogy. He was to be of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David. Matthew and Luke both gave a section of their gospels to list the genealogy of this Nazarene to prove that He was of the family line of which the Messiah was prophesied to come.

A couple of prophesies about the Messiah’s birth are noteworthy. According to Micah 5:2, He was to be born in Bethlehem. Matthew and Luke record in their gospels that Jesus was in fact born in Bethlehem. One of the most controversial prophecies is Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Whether or not Isaiah was talking about a “young maiden” or an actual virgin will be debated for many more centuries (I understand in some circles this is not considered a prophecy but more of a foreshadowing or a type. However, Jesus fulfilled this type perfectly, thus I conclude it is a legitimate point to make in this argument). However, Jesus fulfilled this perfectly in Matthew 1:18, 25 and Luke 1:26-35.

The pre-understanding of the Messiah’s personhood has been one of great debate. Nevertheless, there are some clear prophecies as to not just who but what He will be. Micah 5:2 says, “From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (NASB). How can a mere man have his “goings forth from eternity?” Isaiah, when prophesying of the coming Messiah, says in chapter 9 verse 6 that He will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Why would anyone call a mere man “Mighty God” or “Eternal Father?” Several more could be mentioned but this point is clear: the Messiah was to be God Himself on earth. That is exactly who Jesus said He was and who His followers proclaimed He was.

The Messiah’s ministry was to be a very telling sign. Put simply, His ministry would show that He was in fact the Messiah. Isaiah 40:3 says that the Messiah will have a forerunner. Malachi 4:5-6 says that he will be Elijah. The four gospels tell of John the Baptist who was preaching repentance and baptizing. Jesus said in Matthew 11:13-14: “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come.” According to Isaiah 9:1, the Messiah’s ministry was to begin in Galilee. Jesus first preached in Galilee. One of the biggest proofs would be that He would be a worker of miracles. In all four gospels and a number of outside sources, Jesus is described as healing the sick, blind, deaf, mute, calming storms, and even raising the dead. He was to also be a “light” to the Gentiles. Acts records the apostles teaching this and taking Jesus’ gospel to Gentiles to the ends of the earth.

The bulk of prophecy that Jesus fulfilled was concerning His death. Leading up to His death, the Messiah was to be betrayed and sold for thirty pieces of silver. Matthew records this being fulfilled through Judas Iscariot. From there, the list goes on: He was to be accused by false witnesses (Prophesied in Psalm 35:11; fulfilled in Matthew 26:59-60), silent before those accusers (Prophesied in Isaiah 53:7; fulfilled in Matthew 27:12), spit upon (Prophesied in Isaiah 50:6; fulfilled in Luke 22:63), wounded and bruised (Prophesied in Isaiah 53:5; fulfilled in Matthew 27:26), and mocked (Prophesied in Psalm 22:7-8; fulfilled in Matthew 27:29). Through all of this, He was to have not one bone broken. Normally in Roman crucifixions, the soldiers would break the legs of the men being crucified to make sure of their death. However, Jesus’ legs were not broken, but He was pierced with a spear, thus fulfilling another prophecy from Zechariah 12:10.

There is only one explicit verse that Christians have historically seen as a messianic resurrection prophesy. Psalm 16:10 says, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your holy one see corruption.” Peter in Acts 2:29-33 explains that David saw corruption because he died and that the Jews could visit his tomb. Jesus was resurrected and therefore did not see corruption. This resurrection has brought about power over death. According to prophecy, this would be something God would do, and doing it through His Messiah seems like a legitimate medium.

Jewish Rebuttals and Christian Answers

Jesus fulfilled many prophecies of the Old Testament but none of the “kingly” prophecies. Can the Messiah really come once, fulfill some prophecy and then come back later? A number of objections rise up when a Jew hears of a proclaimed mashiach saying he has to come back a second time. David Klinghoffer, a Jewish journalist and apologist, wrote about what he believes a Jew in the first century would have thought about Jesus:

“So Jesus gathered crowds of five thousand. So he performed magical feats like producing food for multitudes from a few loaves or fishes. So he performed faith healings. So he’s even reported to have revived two individuals thought to have died. Very nice! But let him do what the ‘son of man,’ the promised Messiah, had been advertised as being destined to do from Daniel back through Ezekiel and Isaiah and the rest of the prophets. Let him rule as a monarch, his kingship extending over ‘all people, nations and languages.’ Let him return the exiles and rebuild the Temple and defeat the oppressors and establish universal peace, as the prophets also said.”

This is probably how most of the well-learned Jews thought about Jesus. The fact that He was proclaiming He was the Messiah and telling others to do the same, infuriated the Jews because they knew he was absolutely nothing like what they had studied about in Old Testament Scripture. Even the Christian writer Brendan Byrne admits, “It was hard to reconcile the idea of Jesus as Messiah with the ignominious end of his public career. Moreover, it came loaded with dangerous political overtones, since messianic claims of a Davidic cast inevitably entailed royal status and authority.”

One controversial passage in the Old Testament stands out among all of the Messianic prophecies and brings up the greatest argument for the necessity of the Second Coming. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 has been called the passage of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah describes a man that is not appealing, struck by God, and bears the sins of everyone even though he was innocent. This is a perfect picture of Jesus as described in the New Testament. Many scholarly Jews would scoff back quickly, “This is obviously talking about the nation of Israel. Just look at the context of the surrounding chapters.” Yes, the surrounding chapters do focus on the nation of Israel, but the chapters are about the redemption of Israel. Isaiah 53 is about the man that will usher in this redemption. Only for the past thousand years, religious Jews have interpreted this passage as being the entire nation of Israel. The Targum, Talmud, and the highly influential ninth-century rabbinic leader, Sa’adiah Geon, all interpreted Isaiah 53 as referring to one person.

So how does Jesus fit the mold of the Suffering Servant better than anyone else in history? The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Jesus “was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him…” Jesus’ rejection by the Jews and death on the cross is a highly accepted fact because it has been recorded in many other first and second century accounts of history other than the New Testament. These events go right along with Isaiah 53:3d “he was despised, andwe esteemed him not” and verse 7a, “he was oppressed, and he was afflicted.”

“So what?” a Jew might say at this point, “Many men were hated and crucified. That doesn’t make someone the Messiah.” Very good point, but what other so-called “fake” Messiah in history has been attributed with a substitutionary death? In verse 11 Isaiah shows that this Servant would “make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” That sounds similar to how Paul viewed Jesus’ death in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sinwho knew no sin, so that in him we might becomethe righteousness of God.” R. T. France describes the work and mission of the Messiah as such:

“The work of the Messiah on earth is one of humiliation, suffering and death (the Suffering Servant; also Zc. 12:10; 13:7); even his kingship is conceived in terms of lowliness (Zc. 9:9). He heals the sick and preaches the good news to the poor (Is. 61:1). The results of his work will be the justification of those for whom he has vicariously suffered (Is. 53), comfort and relief for the suffering (Is. 61:1 as interpreted in Mt. 5:3-4 and, probably, Lk. 4:17-21), and peace and prosperity to his people (Zc. 9:9-10).”

According to the passages that France cited, the Messiah must be a lowly, humble, persecuted, redeeming, suffering servant of God. That description sounds nothing like the Jewish description of the kingly, powerful Messiah. Yes, Jesus did fulfill Isaiah 53, but He still did not reign as king or gather all the Jews to the homeland. The question now becomes, “What view of the Messiah is dominant: a suffering servant or a powerful king?”

At first glance, having a combination of a suffering servant and a powerful king in one person sounds like a paradox, but it is not. However, having both in one lifetime is. One person in one lifetime would not be able to completely fulfill all the duties of the Suffering Servant and the powerful king. Some Jews have offered the belief of two Messiahs, Son of David and Son of Joseph, had to come to fulfill all the prophecies. On the other hand, the Scriptures mention nothing of this. The two Messiahs theory is a human attempt at interpreting God’s seemingly contradictory Word. The word “root” in Isaiah 53:2 is the same Hebrew word “sheresh” as in Isaiah 11:10 that refers to the Messiah as the “root of Jesse.” According to this similar imagery, these two views of the Messiah should not be two different people, but just one person.

Logical Reasons for Accepting Jesus as the Messiah

Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled Isaiah 53 and a great number of other prophecies perfectly, but why should anyone logically trust that he is coming back to fulfill the rest? First, as already explained, the Messiah would have to come twice. That is not prophesied explicitly but is very much implied by the two very different natures of messianic prophecies. The greatest logical reason is the argument that since Jesus fulfilled so many of the prophecies, not believing him would be foolish. Some would argue that it is possible that some prophecy fulfillments could have been engineered by Jesus. While that is possible, the major ones that have been discussed in this essay could not have been faked. Only God can orchestrate something so perfect.

Josh McDowell, a highly respected apologist within the Christian community, states that Jesus fulfilled 60 major prophecies and 270 ramifications of the Old Testament. He goes on and explains how impossible that is: “Using science of probability, we find the chances of just forty-eight of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person to be right at one in 10157. (a one followed by 157 zeros!).” That number is astounding! It is unfathomable and makes a very strong point. Therefore, since Jesus is one in 10157 in fulfilling prophecies, there is reason to believe he will come back like he said. His fulfillment of these prophecies alone gives Him the credibility needed to believe anything He says. At this point, much faith is not needed to conclude that He was the Jewish Messiah.

Conclusion

Jesus has made his point clear; he will be back for his people. He came and fulfilled the redemptive prophecies necessary to usher in the new covenant and make himself trustworthy of anything else he had to say. The Jewish understanding of the Messiah was and is correct. The Messiah will be a reigning king, just not yet. Jesus said many shocking things and in Matthew 25 He said that He will be the judge of the universe at His return. This would sound like lunacy if He had not fulfilled all of the prophecies that He did. The eternal destiny of souls hangs in the balance of the response to this Messiah. McDowell makes the most important observation when he wrote, “[Jesus] alone can fulfill the greatest prophecy of all for those who accept it-the promise of a new life: ‘I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you’ (Ezekiel 36:26)” Out of all the prophecies Jesus fulfilled, this is the main one that matters. He is mighty to save and able to reconcile all who believe in him to God. The Jewish people have been given their Savior, their Messiah, and their King. He was wounded for their transgressions and crushed for their sins. Now, they, and the rest of the world, must repent and see that the chastisement he was under can bring them peace and make them to be accounted as righteous.

Bibliography

Brown, Michael L. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections. Baker Books, 2003. Get this book here.

Byrne, Brendan. 2003. “Jesus as Messiah in the Gospel of Luke: Discerning a Pattern of Correction.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 65, no. 1: 80. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed November 1, 2012).

France, R. T. Jesus and the Old Testament. London: Tyndale Press, 1971. Get this book here.

Klinghoffer, David. Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History. Double Day, NY: Doubleday, 2006. Get this book here.

Lockyer, Herbert. All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973. Get this book here.

McDowell, Josh. A Ready Defense. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1993. Get this book here.

______________ More Than a Carpenter. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale. Revised and updated edition, 2009 Get this book here.

______________. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999. Get this book here.

Rosen, Moishe. Y’Shua: The Jewish Way to Say Jesus. Chicago: Moody Press,1982. Get this book here.

Strong, James. Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001. Get this book here.

Whiston, William. The New Complete Works of Josephus. Kregel Academic, 1999. Get this book here.

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2 thoughts on “Digging Deep: Why Jesus is the Jewish Messiah

  1. Pingback: Digging Deep: An Exegetical Look at Colossians 1:24-29 | Broken Shepherd

  2. Pingback: Digging Deep: An Exegetical Look at Ezekiel 34:22-24 | Broken Shepherd

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