Is Jesus truly the Messiah so eagerly awaited by Judaism? Part 2
Is Jesus truly the Messiah so eagerly awaited by Judaism? Part 2
The God we worship
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might," (Deuteronomy 6.4) With these words Moses reminded the children of Israel that they were to worship only one God, the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In his speech Moses was repeating the commandments given by God at Sinai: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me." They were forbidden to make any graven image, any likeness of anything they saw in nature and to make it an object of worship. The LORD God, being the Creator of all things, was jealous of his name. He would punish those who broke his command but would show steadfast love to those who kept his commandments.
Sadly, the Hebrew scriptures are very largely a record of the failings of the nation to keep God's commandments and especially in relation to idolatry. Admittedly during the period of the kings there were those who tried to reform national worship and bring people back to God, but they were the exception rather than the rule. In particular Jeremiah's frequent calls to them to turn to God went unheeded. Though God sent them prophets persistently the nation did not respond to their message. (2 Chronicles 36. 15 - 16)
God manifests himself
In our first section we have seen that God made known His will to Israel through the prophets and to us by His written word. There were special occasions when God made himself known by angels. Scripture tells us little about them except that they are innumerable and God used them as His messengers, in fact that is the meaning of the original Hebrew word.
In appearance angels often looked like men, see for example the visit of three angels to Abraham in Genesis chapter 18. God allowed them to use His own name, because they were speaking His word on His behalf - they represented him. During the exodus God said He would send an angel to lead the Israelites and to guard them. They were to give heed to him and not rebel against him, "For he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him."(Exodus 23.21) So the angels were God's messengers, they acted for Him. They bore His name - but we do not confuse them with God Himself.
Coming to the New Testament we read that many people called Jesus Rabbi. Those who were nearer to him called him Lord. So we may ask, was this because God's name was in him as it was with the angels? Jesus is described as the son of God, born of a virgin, Mary. The words of the angel Gabriel to Mary were, "The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." (Luke 1.35)
Jesus was brought up by Mary his mother and Joseph, who was regarded as his legal father. But the boy Jesus knew who his true father was. At the age of twelve when they went as a family to Jerusalem for Passover, afterwards Jesus went missing and was eventually found in discussion in the temple with the teachers. Mary and Joseph were surprised at this, but his answer was, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2.49) Luke sums up the following years of Jesus' life by saying that he increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.
Jesus was loved by many because of his compassion for the common people, the poor and those in need. His preaching was about the kingdom of God, and showed the possibilities of a different way of life - not self-seeking and indulgent but serving God and others. He did not relax the commandments of the law of Moses, but got to the heart of them - murder had been forbidden under the law but Jesus said a man should not be angry or seek revenge. The law forbad adultery but he said that if a man looked lustfully on a woman he had committed adultery with her in his heart. He taught that men should love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. He taught that religious and social devotions such as giving alms, fasting and praying should be done in private and not ostentatiously.
During childhood and growing up he absorbed the teaching of the Hebrew scriptures and was 'taught of God'. The Jews who were hostile to him claimed that when he called God his father he was making himself equal with God but Jesus denied this. He said, "The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing." (John 5.19) Elsewhere he said, "My Father is greater than I," and "My Father is greater than all." (John 14.28 and 10.29) After his resurrection from the dead Jesus had to restrain Mary Magdalene, a devoted disciple, from clinging to him; he said, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God." (John 20.17)
In such words Jesus acknowledged the supremacy of the Lord God and made no claim to be equal to him. Nevertheless he was called Christ, the Messiah, an honourable title. Later, in Paul's letter to the Philippians, we read that because of Jesus' obedience to the Father in giving his life on the cross God had glorified him. The words are, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and has bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil 2. 9-11) This suggests that as God's name was in the angels so it was in the risen Jesus, but notice the last few words of the quotation, 'to the glory of God the Father.'
I would suggest that what you have read in this chapter does not conflict with Jewish understanding of the God to be worshipped. Christadelphians are not Trinitarians. We do not equate God and Jesus, consider them equal and co-eternal - this is a doctrine that came into existence several centuries after the completion of the Bible. Jewish people worship the LORD God who made heaven and earth, the God of your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and so do we. He is supreme and greater than all, the Most High. Jesus, the Son of God, on account of his humility and obedience to his Father, was raised from the dead and exalted to be with the Father in heaven and was made, for us who believe in him, Lord and Christ. As the apostle Paul wrote: "To us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we exist." (1 Corinthians 8.6)
Recognising the Messiah
For me, as a Christian, the Bible would be incomplete if it consisted only of the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures. I say this because the Old Testament leads me to think there is more to come. Think of some of the promises God made to people of the past time. Abraham's words, "God will provide himself a lamb", and God's words to him, "in your seed all nations of the earth will be blessed." To Moses, "The LORD will raise up a prophet like you." To David, "I will raise up a son after you... I will be his father, and he shall be my son. In Isaiah, "Unto us a son is born," and "A virgin shall conceive." But where is the fulfilment of these promises? Who is he? He hasn't appeared and the Hebrew scriptures come to an end. Malachi, the last book of the Hebrew scriptures, predicts the coming of Messiah: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple: the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, says the Lord of Hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?"(Malachi 3. 1-2)
I turn over the page into the New Testament and read, " In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."(Matthew 3.1-3) Then Jesus comes to be baptised by John, who says to him, "I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus was not to be dissuaded, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." In these words Jesus, the Son of God, acknowledged his humanity and recognised that he shared our mortal nature. Human, yet of divine origin, or as John the gospel-writer put it , "The word (of God) was made flesh and dwelt among us." The one who was in the mind of God from the beginning and was foretold in the Hebrew scriptures now appeared.
The coming of Messiah was not unexpected at that time. Matthew tells us that wise men came from the east asking the question, "Where is he that has been born king of the Jews?" In his gospel Luke tells of the child Jesus at forty days of age, taken by Joseph and Mary to the temple for the ceremony of purification. In the temple was Simeon, a devout Jew who was looking for the 'consolation of Israel' and it had been revealed to him that he would not die before seeing the Lord's Christ.
He took the child in his arms and said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of thy people Israel."(1.29-32) On the same occasion a Jewess, a widow of great age, Anna, "gave thanks to God and spoke of him (Jesus) to all who were looking for redemption in Israel." Similarly when John the Baptist appeared, "As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ."(Luke 3.15)
At the age of thirty, as he began his ministry, some recognised him as the long-awaited Messiah. John the Baptist announced him, "Behold, the Lamb of God." Andrew, brother of Peter, said, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ). Another disciple -to-be, Philip, said, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Another, Nathaneal, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!" - all to be found in the first chapter of John's gospel. Others recognised him, some of whom have already been mentioned. Two blind men called him the son of David; Samaritans called him the Saviour of the world; A Canaanite woman called him Lord; Peter said to him, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God;" Nicodemus, a Pharisee, recognised Jesus as a teacher come from God.
There were times in his ministry when Jesus was very popular with the common people. But much of this attention waned when people realised that what he wanted to give them was not the material benefits of life but forgiveness of sins and teaching which would change their lives. He miraculously fed five thousand people and afterwards they wanted to make him a king, thinking he would always provide materially for them, but he told them not to labour for food that perishes but for food that endures to eternal life. When they asked him what they must do to be doing the work of God his answer was that they should believe in him. When he said that he was the bread of life and that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, meaning it in the spiritual sense of absorbing his teaching, they turned away from him. "Will you also go away?" he asked his twelve disciples. Peter replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6.67-69)
So there were some who recognised Jesus as the Christ or Messiah but there were more who did not. Something many Jews found difficult to accept was that God offered salvation to nations other than themselves. Jesus preached at Nazareth and angered them by using texts from the Old Testament showing that God blessed people who were non-Jews: Elijah was sent to Sidon to bless the life of a widow there; there were plenty of lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, but only Naaman the Syrian was healed.
In the first chapter of his gospel John tersely summed up the situation by saying of Jesus, "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not." Often his enemies tried to catch him out in his speech, sometimes manipulating a situation to bring about something for which they could accuse him; they falsely accused him of encouraging people not to pay taxes to Rome. In the end they brought about his death by crucifixion. But the gospels tell us that God raised him to life again and that he is alive for ever more.
In the gospels I read so many things about Jesus which are quite clearly fulfilments of things said about him in the Old Testament, many of them brought about by the actions of others, and often those who would not have wished to promote belief in him. In fact one of the wonderful things about the record of the life of Jesus is that the events that would happen were written beforehand in the Hebrew scriptures. This was so that we would be assured of the fact that Jesus is the one whom God had promised, Christ or Messiah. Jesus knew the Hebrew scriptures and the things it prophesied of him. So he was able to warn his disciples what to expect: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.”(Mark 10.33-34) These events may seem to some just matters of political expediency, but they were much more than that. They were all part of God’s purpose to bring about salvation for all nations through the sacrifice of His own Son.
It is not surprising that those who brought about the death of Jesus should say, "A crucified Messiah? No way!" As Paul wrote it was a stumbling block to the Jews and to the Greeks foolishness. What they failed to see was that Messiah was the Saviour from sin, and this first. During his ministry Jesus had told his disciples not to proclaim him as Christ until after he was risen from the dead. Among the people to whom the risen Christ appeared were two distressed disciples walking to Emmaus. Not recognising him, they expressed their bitter disappointment that the one they thought would redeem Israel had been crucified, and reports that he had been seen again confused them. Then Jesus showed them how they had failed to understand their scriptures. "And he said to them, 'Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."(Luke 24.25-27)
- Very soon afterwards, at Pentecost, Peter preached in Jerusalem. Previously he had not understood that Jesus would be crucified and even tried to prevent it happening, but now he understood and spoke publicly about it to the Jews. "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know - this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it."(Acts 2.22-24) On another day, he added, "And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled."(Acts 3.17-18) He called on them to repent so that their sins would be blotted out and that times of refreshing should come from the Lord, "and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old."(Acts3.17-21) The last few words refer to the promised second coming of Jesus Christ in power and great glory which we believe in and expect to happen.
- At his first coming he was the seed of the woman who would conquer sin and deliver us from the law of sin and death. He was the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world.
- He was the seed of Abraham and through faith, like him we can be counted righteous by God. "In him shall all nations of the earth be blessed ."
- When he comes again he will sit on the throne of David and rule the world in righteousness and peace.
- Abraham and his multitudinous seed will receive their inheritance of the earth. "If you are Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, heirs according to the promise"
- Like Paul, once a Pharisee, later a Christian, we share in the gospel that was preached beforehand to Abraham, found in the Hebrew scriptures, made clear in the New Testament and fulfilled in Christ. Paul's faith was in the hope of Israel - so is ours for as Jesus said, "Salvation is of the Jews."
At the beginning of this booklet reference was made to the fact that Jewish people and Christians have some things in common. This would include a common attitude to a moral code for daily life. In the Old Testament we read the story of the exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt into the promised land - the great national event - and Christians see this as a pattern of their own life's journey from sin into freedom from the law of sin and death. As Moses was the leader of his people from slavery in Egypt the Christian sees Jesus as his Saviour who can deliver him from sin and death.
For a last reference to the Hebrew scriptures, Jeremiah says: "Behold the days are coming says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbour and each his brother saying,' Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31. 31-34) Christians believe they have already entered into this new covenant with God through Jesus Christ; all people, both Jew and Gentile, have the opportunity to do so - now.
Are you looking for the Messiah? I have tried to show that the Hebrew scriptures point forward to the one who was to come to fulfil this role but end without a positive identification of him. Read the whole Bible, your scriptures and ours, and find him who, we believe, gave his life in sacrifice for us and is the Saviour of the world and be able to anticipate his coming again as the anointed Messiah to rule our world, to bring peace among the nations and to establish on the earth the long-promised kingdom of God in which we may have a part.