Risto Santala has extensively documented how the writings of the Rabbis actually paint a picture of Messiah which is exactly in accordance with who Jesus of Nazareth actually was(1). He shows how the various Midrashim pointed forward to a singular Messiah figure who would be called by the name of the Lord, who would unite grace and truth, be conceived by the Holy Spirit, do signs and wonders, be called “the truth” and give Israel a new Torah. They even predicted that there would be 2000 years of Torah [following 2000 years since creation], and then 2000 years of Messiah, followed by a 1000 year sabbath on earth. This all makes perfect sense if Jesus is indeed Messiah. And most significantly, the Jewish prayerbook Sidur ha-Shalem contains a prayer for the Jewish New Year which speaks of Messiah as “Jesus, the Prince of the Countenance”.
The New Testament describes the work of Jesus through allusions to the Psalms. But each of the passages alluded to had in fact already been interpreted by the rabbis in their various Targums and Midrashim as applying to Messiah. Messiah was to be despised (Ps. 22:6; 69:19-22); rejected (Ps. 118:22); mocked (Ps. 22:7,8; 69:8,20; 89:51,52); whipped (Ps. 129:3); impaled on a stake (Ps. 22:1,2,14-17); thirsty (Ps. 22:16); given wine nixed with gall (Ps. 69:20-22); have lots cast for his clothes (Ps. 22:18,19); have unbroken bones (Ps. 34:21); rise from the dead (Ps. 16:10); ascend to Heaven (Ps. 68:19); be at the right hand of God (Ps. 80:17; 110:1); be High Priest (Ps. 110:4); judge the nations (Ps. 89:3-5); reign eternally (Ps. 89:35-37); be the Son of God (Ps. 2:7); speak in parables (Ps. 78:2); calm a storm (Ps. 89:10); have Hosanna sung to him (Ps. 118:25,26); be blessed for ever (Ps. 45:1-4,8,18); and come in glory at the Last Day (Ps. 102:6-23). The picture which the rabbinic writings had created of Messiah was exactly the person whom Jesus was and whom the early church preached. Santala’s writings give all the actual rabbinic references.
Further, Santala shows how the idea of a suffering Messiah (so difficult for modern Judaism to accept) was initially taught by the rabbis in their commentaries upon Zech. 12:9-14; 13:6,7 and Isaiah 53. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced” was understood by RaShi, RaDaq and Ibn Ezra as referring to Messiah; and the Talmud [Sukka 52b] agrees with this. The fact the atoning sacrifice spoken of had to be without sin precluded, in earlier Jewish interpretation, any reference to the nation of Israel in this passage; and yet this is how it is now understood in Judaism. A. Lukyn Williams quotes even 16th century rabbis [Rabbi Elia de Vidas and Rabbi Moses Alshekh] as admitting about Isaiah 53: “Our ancient sages have preserved for us the witness of tradition that this refers to the Messiah…. Thus the Messiah suffered on account of our sins, and was wounded” (2).
The Biblical record in Luke 2, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls literature, all indicate that there was a strong wave of Messianic expectation around the time of Jesus’ birth. Yet Israel would not recognize Him. And the Rabbis after the time of Christ began to change their position on Messiah, saying that he would not be a singular person, but rather an idea, a personification, etc. It’s not surprising, therefore, that there is definitely a ‘bad conscience’ within Jewish people about Jesus; hence their anger when you try to share Jesus with them. If you preach Christianity to a Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist, you receive a quite different reaction to what you receive when preaching to a Jew. There is evidently a pang of conscience within the Jewish people, prefigured by the bad conscience of Joseph’s brothers, until they finally accepted Joseph as their Lord. That conscience is surely indicated by the way in which Isaiah 53 is omitted from the Synagogue’s yearly haphtarot readings, and how it is markedly absent from the mediaeval commentaries. There is simply the statement in brackets: “Some things are missing here”. And indeed they are… One rabbi even admitted that Is. 53:2, which speaks of Messiah as being born from land that had not been ploughed and in which no seed had been planted, was clearly a reference to the Virgin Birth of Jesus.
The following bullet point questions can usefully be put to Jews- many of them are discussed within Orthodox circles anyway:
- Can the Torah liberate man or give him salvation?
- What is the basis of salvation?
- Were all of Moses’ laws intended to be eternally binding?
- Where do we make a difference between the commandments of God and those of men?
- Will Messiah give a new Torah?
- How can Torah be kept today if animal sacrifices aren't offered? The contradictions within Judaism are especially apparent when one considers what it teaches about the impossibility of now keeping the laws about making animal sacrifices: "Keeping the law is worth many offerings" (Ecclus. 35:1-5). But the law of Moses includes the commands about making offerings- so how can this law be 'kept' and then such 'keeping' of it be declared as better than making those offerings?
(1) Risto Santala, The Messiah In The Old Testament In The Light Of Rabbinical Writings (Kukkila, Finland: BGS, 1992). See too his The Messiah In The New Testament In The Light Of Rabbinical Writings (Kukkila, Finland: BGS, 1992).