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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Appendix VI – Messianic Prophecies & Principles

Introduction and Warning:

Surely there is no topic we will deal with that will “push more buttons” or cause more confusion that that of Messianic Prophecies and Principles. For Jews, the Messiah is the symbol and the active agent of the deliverance of Israel. For Christians, the Messiah was Jesus (who was killed by those unaware Jews). There is no room for compromise between them and if you attempt to find common ground you’ll likely start a fight. So let me throw the first punches…

Messianic prophecies and principles originate within Judaism and the Hebrew language. What arrogance it takes for any non-Jew to tell a Jewish scholar that they understand the Messiah and Hebrew scripture better than they do. How absurd it is that we are in a position where people who aren’t even marginally literate in Hebrew claim that they understand Hebrew prophecy better than one born and raised into it. I find it more than absurd – it’s offensive and irrational. So, I guess that makes me “anti-Christian” or heretical. Or does it?

Christianity has never been a religion about Jesus; it was from the onset a religion about “Christ”. And, although the Paulines stole the word (translated into Greek) and concept from the Jews, they soon made it clear that they were talking about something/someone entirely different. The “rub” occurred when the Paulines decided to steal the story of Jesus and transform it into messianic fulfillment that was quite different than that of Judaism. And that wouldn’t be so bad except that they went to the next step and claimed they understood Jewish messianic prophecies and principles better than the Jews. Indeed, many Paulines would say that they understand Judaism better than the Jews.

Because this “touchy subject” is part and parcel of any discussion of Jesus, I feel compelled to offer this view and summation. If you’re one of the close-minded Christians who can’t stand to have your “faith” challenged, I suggest that you turn to the Epistle of James and read it until something clicks.

The Basics:

There are few subjects in Judaism more complex and convoluted than that of "messiah" (i.e. "anointed one" from מָשִׁיחַ or Mašíaḥ/masah which in Greek is Χριστός or Khristós/chriein). Volumes have been written about single aspects of the Messiah within Judaism. The Christian literature is even more voluminous. An excellent summary has been provided by S.H. Levey:

“The Messiah will be the symbol and/or the active agent of the deliverance of Israel. He will be of Davidic lineage, though he may have a non-Davidic predecessor, the Ephraimite Messiah, who will die in battle. Elijah will herald his coming and will serve as His High Priest. A world conflict will rage between Rome, variously identified with Gog, Amalek, Edom, and Armilus, on the one hand, and Assyria or Eber, on the other, indicating that to the Targumist, Assyria and not Babylon was the real enemy of Israel, and this will result in the annihilation of both at the time of the Messianic advent; the enemies of Israel will be shattered either by divine or Messianic intervention. The Messiah will bring an end to the wandering of Israel, and the Jewish people will be gathered in from their Dispersion to their own land; The Northern Kingdom will be re-united with Judah. The drama of the Exodus from Egypt will be re-enacted; in this drama Moses may participate, made possible by a resurrection of the dead. The Messiah will live eternally. He will restore the Temple and rebuild Jerusalem, which will enjoy divine protection for itself and its inhabitants. He will have sovereignty over all the world and make the Torah the universal law of mankind, with the ideal of education being realized to the full. The Messiah will have the gift of prophecy, and may have intercessory power to seek forgiveness of sin, but he will punish the unrepenting wicked of his people, as well as of the nations, and have the power to cast them into Gehenna. There will be a moral regeneration of Israel and of mankind. The Messiah will be a righteous judge, dispensing justice and equity, the champion of the poor and the oppressed, the personification of social justice. He will reward the righteous, who will surround him and eternally enjoy the divine effulgence. The essence of the Messiah will be faith in God; and he will vindicate that faith, and the faithfulness of Israel, in the eyes of all the world.”

“The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation”, Monograph of the Hebrew Union College 2:, S.H. Levey, Cincinnati (1974), pp.142f. (as derived from the Jewish Targums).

We literally have thousands of years of analysis, commentary, opinion, and discussion to work from and the conclusion is simple – it’s too complex an issue. We can’t even decide it its one person, two people, or more. We certainly have no clue as to when the messiah is coming, even though people have been predicting “any day now” for three millennia. Some think that he has already come and gone. Luckily, it is not our goal here to work all that out. We are only interested in the messianic expectations and beliefs as were common during the time of Jesus and that were accepted by John, Jesus, and James. I suppose, out of necessity, we should briefly discuss why those beliefs are different than Paul’s.

The Source:

The Hebrew verb “Mashiah” (of which “Messiah” is the Anglicized form) was derived from the Egyptian word “messeh” which is “the holy crocodile”. Its use derived from the fat of the messeh being used by the Pharaoh's sister-brides to anoint their husbands upon marriage. (The Egyptian custom arose from a similar practice in old Mesopotamia)[1]. Originally, in the Hebrew Bible, “mashach” simply meant “anointed” and referred to Aaron and his sons who were anointed with oil to be consecrated to the service of God.  (Ex. 28:41; 30:30; Lev. 8:12). The word is later used in the Hebrew scripture to describe a special divine status in relation to Cyrus the Great of Persia (who freed the Israelites from their Babylonian captivity):

"Thus said the Lord to His Anointed [מָשִׁ֫יחַ - mashiyach] to Cyrus whose right hand I have holden to subdue nations before him... (Isaiah 45:1).

Later, the Jewish High Priest was termed 'the Anointed [Mashiah] of God” as when the Jewish monarchy was established, the same term was applied to the king. He was “the Anointed of the Lord” because he was installed in the high office by receiving the sacrament of anointment (1 Sam. 9:13; 10:1; cf. 16:13 where David is anointed). In 1 Kings, Solomon is anointed by Zadok, thereby becoming “ha-mashi'ah”, “the Anointed One” (1 Kings 1:39). Finally, we read of a prophet receiving holy anointing: Eliza was commanded by God to anoint Jehu as king over Israel and Elisha as prophet (1 Kings 19:16).

But there was another use of the term that evolved over time – an “anointed one” would usher in the ultimate ending of Judaism: the coming of God’s Kingdom on Earth. This concept seems to originate in other more ancient religions (e.g. Zoroastrianism/Mazdaism[2]) but was written into the Hebrew Bible early on. (Note Gen. 49:10[3]).  After the Babylonian exile, the idea of a “savior Messiah” grew continuously until the Roman occupation of Judea which many Jews believed was the primary sign of the end-of-times.

Fundamental to understanding the Messiah concept is knowing that the Jews believed they were “the chosen” priestly nation with the God-given duty to provide a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” as a model for all other nations. This purpose required a state of perfect “righteousness” – complete obedience to the Will of God. But when the Israelites proved unable to manifest such piety, despair led to a different hope: that God would intervene through God’s chosen “Anointed Ones” - a prophet like Moses, a perfect Priest, and/or a righteous King (of the line of David). This Messiah would usher in the “End of Days” where the righteous would rule God’s Earthly Kingdom.

The Prophecies (and resultant expectations):

A quick look at the key messianic prophecies shows the diversity (and vagueness) of the concept:

  • He was to be a “second” Moses (prophet)
  • He was to be a “second” Davidic king (descended from David) (Isaiah 11:1 via Solomon; 1 Chronicles 22:8-10, 2 Chronicles 7:18).
  • He was to be a “second” Melchizedek (Kingly Priest)
  • He was to be a faithful priest (as opposed to Eli)
  • He was to be a Rejected and Betrayed  
  • The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:11-17).
  • He was to be a killed-and-resurrected Davidic king
  • He was to come in power ‘on clouds’
  • He was to re-established the Sanhedrin  (Isaiah 1:26).
  • He was to come in weakness ‘on a donkey’
  • He will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with "fear of God" (Isaiah 11:2)
  • He was to be a Teacher of the Gentiles
  • He was to be a “Breaker” (Micah 2.12-13) of both external enemies and of internal power elites within Israel (and ‘stone of stumbling’)
  • He was to be a Suffering Servant
  • He was to be Ruler of All Nations (and destroyer of all wicked, so there could be peace in the world). Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance (Isaiah 2:4).
  • He was to be Sacrifice for the sins of Israel
  • He was to Redeem (Release) Israel from bondage to foreign powers
  • He was to Save (in the future) all those who believed (in the present)
  • Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
  • He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)
  • He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 52:7)
  • He will give you all the worthy desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)
  • He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13-15, Ezekiel 36:29-30, Isaiah 11:6-9)

 

As a result of the Messiah’s arrival and actions, the following specific outcomes are expected:

  • The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
  • Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
  • The Temple will be rebuilt resuming many of the suspended mitzvoth (ritual cleansing) (Ezekiel  37:26-27).
  • Jews will know the Torah without study (Jeremiah 31:33)
  • The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
  • There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
  • Nations will recognize the wrongs they did to Israel (Isaiah 52:13-53:5)
  • The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
  • Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)
  • All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
  • All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12)
  • Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
  • Peace will endure among all nations (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3)
  • Perfect harmony and abundance in nature (Isaiah 11:6-9)
  • All Jews return from exile to Israel (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5)
  • Universal acceptance of the Jewish God and Jewish religion (Isaiah 2:3; 11:10; 66:23; Micah 4:2-3; Zechariah 14:9)
  • No sin or evil; all Israel will obey the commandments (Zephaniah 3:13; Ezekiel 37:24)

Ezekiel 37:24-28 sums up many of these requirements when it proclaims:

“And David my servant shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. they shall also follow my judgments and observe my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Yaakov my servant, in which your fathers have dwelt and they shall dwell there, they and their children, and their children's children forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover, I will make a covenant of peace with them, it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, which I will give them; and I will multiply them and I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them forevermore. And my tabernacle shall be with them: and I will be their God and they will be my people. Then the nations shall know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary will be in the midst of them forevermore.”

Christians speak of Jesus’ total fulfillment of messianic prophecies while ignoring the obvious facts. When you point out the fact that many of these clearly defined prophecies haven’t happened, they answer that they will when Jesus returns in the “second coming”. Others, they say, were fulfilled in some figurative or imaginative manner. And, of course, they refuse to acknowledge that the New Testament writers took great liberty in writing in fictional episodes specifically to have Jesus fulfill prophetic expectations (e.g. virgin birth, born in Bethlehem, pierced by sword, etc.).

Messianic Claimants:

As the Seed of a woman, the Messiah had to come out of humanity. As the Seed of Abraham, the Messiah had to come from the nation of Israel. As the Seed of Judah, he had to be of the tribe of Judah. And, as the Seed of David, he had to be of the family of David. At the time of Jesus, there were thousands of potential Messiahs. It is worthy to note that there have been many messianic claimants. I offer just the list that appears in the writings of Josephus as an indication of how widespread and varied messianic belief was at the time (there were earlier and later claimants as well).

As Messianic Kings:

  • Judas (of Sepphoris, Galilee), son of Hezekiah the "brigand chief".
  • Simon of Perea, a former royal servant.
  • Athronges, the shepherd Prince of Judea.
  • Judas (of Gamala), the Galilean (mentioned in Acts 5.37).
  • Menahem, so or grandson of Judas the Galilean.
  • John of Gischala, son of Levi.
  • Simon bar Giora of Gerasa.
  • Jesus, a wise man condemned by Pilate (generally acknowledged as a later insertion).

As Messianic Prophets:

  • The Anonymous Samaritan.
  • Theudas (mentioned in Acts 5.36).
  • The Anonymous Egyptian (Jew).
  • An Anonymous "Impostor".
  • Jonathan the refugee.

Because none of these individuals achieved even a small part of the required accomplishments of the Messiah, we can be certain they were either imposters or were wrongly accepted as a Messiah by others. But that in itself reflects how desperate the people were for a “savior”.

Some Final Thoughts:

We probably wouldn’t have a religion centered upon Jesus if it wasn’t for those who claimed him to be “Christ”. It’s hard to say in the larger scheme of things whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing – an awful lot of harm has been done in the “name of Christ” over the last 2,000 years. For me, the worst part of Christianity and the messianic focus has been that it deprives us of something larger and better – a view of Jesus that teaches, guides, and inspires without demanding that we forfeit reason, common sense, and control over our own concept of the Divine.



[1] "The Hidden History of Jesus and the Holy Grail", Sir Laurence Gardner, (lecture notes, 30 April 1997).

[2] See Zarathushtra’s Yasna 30.3-5, Hom Yasht 30:9 and related.

[3] Here we can see the evolving concept in the newer texts of Jewish scripture. The original Hebrew text of Genesis 49:10 reads: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” However, in the Greek (LXX) version, it reads: “A ruler shall not fail from Judah, or a prince from his loins, until there come the things stored up for him; and he is the expectation of the nations.”



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