5.1 The Jewish Messiah
That Israel needs a dramatic salvation at the present time is evident to all; time and again the Old Testament prophets remind us that " It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" ; the arm of flesh cannot save man. There is in the Old Testament scriptures much teaching about a Messiah who will save Israel politically and the seed of Abraham spiritually. It is therefore of the utmost importance for all of us, not least the Jewish race to whom the Bible primarily refers, to search those Scriptures to find the Truth about Messiah's identity.
The importance of the subject is well summarized by two Jewish writers, Chaim Pearl and Reuben Brookes, in 'A Guide to Jewish Knowledge': " The belief in the Messiah...is as fundamental to us in our modern world as ever it was in days gone by. It is this Jewish teaching on Messiah which gives Judaism its character of optimism and which must inspire us to achieve national redemption...when the Law of God will reign supreme...Jews who remain faithful to this teaching of their ancient faith have constantly before them an ideal which can fill their days with a practical programme of noble activity, which will help towards ...the Kingdom of God on earth" .
But just desiring the coming of Messiah isn't enough: " Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion and a bear met him...the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come...even the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?" (Amos 5:18,19; Mal.3:1,2).There are inherent problems with any religion which seeks the salvation of man from the Mosaic system. The point must be made that even within the Old Testament there is ample indication of a recognition of these problems, as we will now proceed to show.
The New Covenant
" Behold, the days come saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with them in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt" (Jer.31:31-34). The fact that a new covenant is spoken of indicates that the first covenant had some weaknesses; if it was all that man needed for salvation a second covenant would not have been necessary. There is therefore the implication that this new covenant was to be better than the first. Jer.31 goes on to say that this new covenant would be established with Israel when laws of God are written on the hearts of Israel, and all Jews know God " from the least to the greatest" . It will also be at a time when Israel's sins are forgiven - and therefore have been confessed: " All shall know Me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" . A massive repentance of Israel, and Jewry in totality knowing the ways of God, has not yet occurred since the time of Jeremiah. Today many Jews living in the land are atheists. There is a time in the future, therefore, when after a massive national repentance this new covenant will be established with Israel.
This new covenant replaces the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant, and must therefore be based around the sacrifice which superseded them. Seeing that " the life is in the blood" and that sin brings death, it follows that the only way to properly make amends for sin under the Old Covenant was for the sinner to die. However, God was prepared to accept the offering of animal blood to represent the sinner's recognition that he deserved death. This was by reason of the fact that it pointed forward to a greater, more effective sacrifice, on account of which God was willing to forgive men's sins. That sacrifice must therefore have been of a perfect human being. This was prophesied in Gen.3:15 - the " seed of the woman" would overcome permanently the seed of the serpent, i.e. sin, although at the same time himself being temporarily wounded by sin. The means of victory over sin was therefore to be through one individual. The victory over sin which he was to win would be at a certain point in time, when he would be " bruised" , or temporarily wounded, and sin thereby overcome. Therefore after this sacrifice the animal sacrifices could be suspended. It is this total access to forgiveness of sins which the new covenant speaks of. Thus Zech.9:9-11 speaks of Messiah coming into Jerusalem " lowly and riding upon an ass" - just as Jesus did. Speaking of him we read there :" By the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water" . Thus the new covenant made through Messiah would be through his blood, which would enable victory over sin to the extent that there could be escape from permanent death, the result of sin, by means of resurrection. Isaiah 49 is a marvellous prophecy of how Messiah was rejected by Israel, and therefore offered to the Gentiles. He is encouraged in language which has links with the passage just considered in Zech.9: " I will give thee (implying 'in sacrifice') for a covenant of the people...that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; and to them that are in darkness (spiritually? In death?), Shew yourselves" (Is.49:4-9). This precisely fits the case of Jesus - rejected by Israel, accepted widely by the Gentiles, whose blood is the means of a new covenant. The destruction of the Temple, priesthood and altar soon after his death shows the impossibility of continuing any longer under the Old Covenant. The blessings of that new covenant are there for the taking by any who wish to associate themselves with Messiah's sacrifice by baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Now consider Hos.3:4,5: " The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice...Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king...in the latter days" . This same total Jewish repentance is here said to be after being a long time without offering the animal sacrifices of the law, and without a king or member of the royal (Davidic) line as their leader. Surely that time is now - " the latter days" of Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, when Israel will be regathered and invaded in a final holocaust before Messiah's coming.
The watchful Bible reader will notice a sharp difference between the promises to Abraham and the Mosaic law. Abraham was promised a seed who would inherit the earth for ever (Gen.13:15-17; 22:17,18; 17:8). He was promised eternal life because of his faith. Faith may be hard, but it is something we are capable of. To keep every little command of the Mosaic law in perfection was almost impossible - and " Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Deut.27:26). Thus Habakkuk commented " The just (justified in God's sight) shall live by faith" (Hab.2:4). The Old Covenant's emphasis on works (e.g. Lev.18:5) was unrelated to this requirement of faith. The very existence of Divine Law results in our warped, sinful human nature being unable to totally obey it. Our very nature leads us to disobey whatever God clearly tells us. The fact that the Law did not promise salvation but the promises to Abraham did suggest that the Old Covenant of the law was a temporary measure until the coming of the promised seed of Abraham. We either keep the sacrifices and every letter of the Old Covenant, or accept that Messiah, the seed of Abraham, has come.
The Day Of Atonement
On the day of atonement the High Priest entered the Most Holy place to make a covering for the sins of Israel. That place was the supreme place of God's manifestation to man, and yet man generally could not enter it; he could not go beyond the veil. The High Priest had to offer blood for his own failures and those of the people, and he could not remain in that place. His brief, annual visit thus showed how close access to God was possible, but was yet to be more comprehensively developed. The offering for the sins committed by Israel during the past year meant that the sacrifices for sins which had been offered during that time were not sufficient. And of course how could they be, seeing they were the blood of animals? It is a Divine principle that the life is in the blood. Sin results in death. Sacrifice for sins therefore necessitates the death of the sinner; a substitute animal will not do. But if the sinner were to literally pour out his own blood in death, then he would be dead and without salvation. The Mosaic Law made no promise of eternal life or resurrection, only of long life now. Thus the Mosaic system could not offer eternal life - i.e. salvation. But it was appointed by God, and those sacrifices were acceptable to God to some degree. There was purpose in their being offered, but of necessity they must have been a temporary measure, suggesting that what was required was a human offering who could somehow overcome death and make a sacrifice from which he and others could benefit.
This point is made explicit by the prophecy of Ps.40:6-8, a clear prophecy of the Messiah: " Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart" .
This describes Messiah as being totally obedient to the word of God, coming specifically to end the system of sacrifices which were not ultimately what God wanted; a human offering was necessary.
If our reasoning so far has been followed, then it is to be expected that Ps.110 should speak of an everlasting priest " after the order of Melchizedek" (Ps.110:4) - a priest to whom even Abraham paid tithes, and who had no proven genealogy - i.e. he was not a priest under the Old Covenant. The person David is speaking of is his great descendant who was promised to him; and David was of the tribe of Judah. Therefore his Messiah-descendant would be a priest but not of the tribe of Levi, showing that Messiah was to bring in a new priesthood. Seeing that all records of genealogy were lost soon after the time of Jesus, it was impossible for the Levitical priesthood to operate after him, seeing that priests had to be able to prove their genealogy (Ezra 2:62). This all strongly suggests that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah who established a new priesthood and therefore a new covenant on his death. " Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Ps.110) shows that Messiah was to be declared an immortal priest at a certain point in time; therefore he could not have always had immortality. In the light of all this, it is not surprising that David describes this great Messiah as " my Lord" (Ps.110:1), who was to sit on the right hand of the throne of God in Heaven (he would not have spoken in such a way concerning his son Solomon). Thus Messiah was to be greater than David, and all men. For of no other person are such high honours spoken as sitting in Heaven on the right hand of God.
So far we have shown it was necessary for Messiah to be:
- An acceptable offering for sin whose sacrifice benefited others
- A man, whose blood was shed.
- A man totally obedient to the Word of God.
- The seed of Abraham whose coming would end animal sacrifices and reliance on the Mosaic system for those who recognized Him.
These things are amplified and repeated in many other prophecies of Messiah. The Old Testament speaks so much of Messiah so that there would be no excuse for him not being recognized when he came. The fact that Jewry disagrees within itself about what Messiah will be like, indicates that they need to apply themselves more fully and on a personal level to Bible study of the prophecies of Messiah.
Zechariah 3 is a vision of Messiah in the presence of a number of Angels who " stand by" (v.1,4). He is clothed with " filthy garments" which are then changed to priestly robes, and he is promised that if he is obedient " I will give thee places ...among these (Angels) that stand by" . Messiah was thus capable of failure; he had a change of nature, to that of Angels', after first bearing the " filthy" human nature. An Orthodox Jewish commentator has paraphrased the passage as, " In the resurrection of the dead I will revive thee, and give thee feet walking among the Seraphim" - i.e. the Angels. That commentator was correct in reasoning that a change of nature from human to Divine involves death - the end of the sinful, human nature - and resurrection and transformation in order to exist in the new immortal nature.
That Messiah would be subject to a resurrection was hinted at right back in the promises to David: " I will set up thy seed after thee...I will establish His kingdom" (2 Sam.7:12). For the phrase " set up" the Septuagint uses a Greek word elsewhere translated 'resurrect'. This great seed of David was to be the son of God (2 Sam.7:14) and also a literal descendant of David (v.12). Thus Messiah was to have one Divine and one human parent, as prophesied in Is.7:14 " A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" - God with us. The meaning of the child's name being related to the means by which he was born, it follows that a 'virgin' here does not just mean a young woman. The Septuagint translation of the Bible, made by Egyptian Jews 200 years B.C., uses the word 'parthenos' for " Virgin" , which definitely means a virgin in the sexual sense. Thus we have here a prophecy of a virgin birth of Messiah, by the direct activity of God upon the virgin rather than that of a man.
David himself recognized that the promise about his seed was not just relevant to his natural son Solomon: " My house is not so (at the moment)...Thou hast spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come" (2 Sam.23:5; 7:19). Psalm 16:10 describes Messiah's brief death and resurrection: " Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption" - i.e. he would be raised before decomposition of the body set in. And after this, he was to ascend to Heaven: " In thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Ps.16:11). This cannot apply to David, seeing he died and has been buried many years.
Other hints at a virgin birth are to be found in the description of David's Messiah-seed as the begotten son of God (Ps. 2:6,7; 89:26,27). For God to beget a son involves His action upon a woman to make her conceive His son, without the intervention of a man. This is exactly how millions of people believe and have believed since the first century that Jesus of Nazareth came into existence.
It is a consistent Divine principle that sin must result in death. In order for Messiah to resurrect from death to eternal life and ascension to Heaven (" pleasures for evermore" , Ps.16:11), he must therefore have been sinless. This is confirmed by a number of other scriptures. Thus Messiah is called by God " the man that is my fellow" (Zech.13:7) - a man can only be called God's " fellow" due to his supreme righteousness. Messiah " is just (righteous), and (therefore) having salvation" (Zech. 9:9). Thus he was to bring salvation to others through his own righteousness.
For this reason Jer. 23:5,6 calls Messiah " The Lord our righteousness" , showing that through that one man's perfect character, God's righteousness would be imputed to His people. He was to be the promised seed of David: " I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and prosper...he shall be called, the Lord our righteousness" . The fact that the Targums apply this to Messiah shows that the promised seed of David was not just Solomon, as many Jews claim, seeing that he can hardly be called " The Lord our righteousness" due to his later apostasy.
This prophecy has several descriptions of a man who has to suffer greatly in order for salvation to be attained. The following points about Messiah emerge from Isa.52:13-53:12:
- He was to suffer physically more than any other human being will ever do (52:14).
- His suffering would result in 'sprinkling' " many nations" (52:15). The idea of sprinkling recalls the sprinkling of the blood in order to atone for sins under the Law, perhaps specifically referring to the sprinkling of the water of separation for cleansing (Num.19). The blood of his sufferings would therefore enable people from many nations to have forgiveness of sins.
- The news about him would be widespread, but be disbelieved by the Jews (52:15; 53:1-3).
- Messiah's own people would deliberately stop themselves perceiving his Messiahship: " We hid as it were our faces from him...we esteemed him not" (53:3). This recalls the language of Lev.13:44,45, suggesting that Israel would perceive Messiah as smitten with the leprosy of sin. The record of the New Testament, along with the commentaries of the Talmud, show that many Jews have branded Jesus as a sinner unfit for their association.
- One of the reasons for this would be because of his sufferings (53:2,3). " There is no beauty that we should desire him...we did esteem him smitten of God" ; i.e. Israel generally would not be able to accept the idea of a suffering saviour/Messiah. This is a frequent Jewish objection to Jesus.
- He would have a distinctive hallmark of not speaking up in his own defence (53:7).
- He was perfect, although he died with wicked men (53:9). The idea of a Messiah who dies is also expressed in Mic.5:1 and 2 Sam.23:7, both admitted by Rabbis to be Messianic passages.
- God worked through Messiah's death to make it a sacrifice for sins, as a result of which he obtained eternal life for himself and carried away the sins of " his seed" (53:10,11). Messiah was " bruised" to overcome sin - as prophesied of the Messianic " seed of the woman" in Gen.3:15. Therefore the once-off victory over sin prophesied back in Gen.3:15 was fulfilled in the death of Messiah described in Is.53.
- Through his suffering and death, " he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (53:12). " Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed...he shall see (the result) of the travail of his soul" (v.10,11), indicating that Messiah was to be resurrected.
So many other prophecies speak of this suffering Messiah in language which does not ring totally true of those characters, e.g. David and Hezekiah, to whom they may primarily refer. Thus Ps. 22 speaks of a group of men mocking the Messiah as he stood in agony, his bones sticking out (v.17), God appearing not to respond to his prayers(v.1-3), his hands and feet pierced (crucifixion is about the only form of death or torture which could be described like this,v.16), his clothes parted amongst his persecutors (v.18), and then many people worldwide coming to praise God because of His vindication of His servant by answering his prayers for deliverance from death (v.22-31).
This indication that Messiah was crucified needs to be coupled with passages which speak of Israel rejecting their Messiah, to show that Jesus is the only likely candidate. No other person claiming to be Messiah has been so consistently rejected by all Jewry. Ps.118:22 speaks of Messiah as the stone that the Jews rejected (He is called " the stone" in Gen.49:24; Dan.2:43,44; Zech.3:8,9). Isa.8:14 speaks of Him as the stone which Israel will stumble at. It is also worthwhile considering how many of those who typified Messiah such as Moses, David, Joseph and several of the judges were initially rejected by their brethren, although later accepted.
We have outlined so many characteristics of Messiah from the Old Testament that to anyone with a fair general knowledge it must be evident that there is great similarity between the Jewish Messiah and the claims made about Jesus Christ. So far we have made no reference to the New Testament, although much of our reasoning can be found there too. The Christian account of Christ dying as the perfect, sinless sacrifice for sins, a man of our nature who managed to overcome sin and through whom salvation from sin is now available to the whole world, all chimes in so accurately with the Old Testament record of the Jewish Messiah. The Jewish attitude to Messiah in rejecting him due to his suffering and lack of worldly appeal was and is definitely true of the Jewish attitude to Jesus Christ. This cannot be the result of a forgery by Christians. Especially telling is Zechariah's prophecy of the Jews weeping as a man for his only child, when at his second coming they see the marks in the hands where they crucified Christ (Zech. 12:10; 13:6). The style of their weeping will help them realize how God felt at the (temporary) loss of His only son at their hands through the crucifixion. These references to the fact that Israel were to reject their Messiah and then eventually accept him after a long time is surely one of the clearest indicators that Jesus Christ is indeed their Messiah. Time and again Israel are reminded that the Messianic Kingdom can only come on a major repentance of Jewry (Lev. 26:40-42; Dt. 30:1-3; 1 Kings 8:47,49; Jer. 3:12,13; 4:1,2; Zech. 6:15; Is. 59:20: Ps. 81:13,14; Acts 3:19,20 R.V.; Rom. 11:15). That Kingdom will be when Israel nationally accept the New Covenant. This has already been made, seeing that Israel have broken the Old Covenant by their disobedience, resulting in God's divorcing of them, and the destruction of the temple and priesthood make it impossible to keep the Old Covenant. It therefore follows that Israel's repentance and their acceptance of the New Covenant are the same thing. We have shown above that their repentance will be for killing their Messiah, through whom the New Covenant was made. All logical analysis points to this Messiah being Jesus- and the sooner Israel accept him, the quicker His Kingdom will be established.
Finally, may I say that if only the idea of accepting Jesus as Messiah can be accepted as possible, so many familiar Scriptures will open to you as having echoes of the crucifixion; e.g. Isaac carrying the wood of his own sacrifice and obediently allowing himself to be offered as the first seed of Abraham so clearly points forward to the record of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. May we also say that the popular idea that Christ was God and existed before his birth destroys the purpose of Messiah as outlined in Scripture. The seed of David and Abraham can hardly have existed before their time; and to be a good, powerful High priest he had to be of our nature, able to sin, but yet completely overcoming our fleshly nature which he shared to open a way for us to join him in being given God's nature, which cannot sin and therefore die.
But above all, pray for humility and understanding so that the Scriptures themselves can give you that courage and ability to accept that which has seemed impossible for so very, very long.