An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim
Appendix VI –
Messianic Prophecies & Principles
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…
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?
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.
“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.
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 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). 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)
but was written into the Hebrew Bible early on. (Note Gen. 49:10).
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.
The Prophecies (and
A quick look at the key messianic prophecies shows the diversity (and vagueness) of the concept:
As a result of the Messiah’s arrival and actions, the following specific outcomes are expected:
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.).
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:
As Messianic Prophets:
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.
 "The Hidden History of Jesus and the Holy Grail", Sir Laurence Gardner, (lecture notes, 30 April 1997).
 See Zarathushtra’s Yasna 30.3-5, Hom Yasht 30:9 and related.
 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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