What Is Messiah?
Jewish Messiah or Christian God
Many Christians do not understand that the major difference between Christian and Jew is not a question of WHO Messiah is, rather it is a question of WHAT Messiah is. When we ask a Jew to "accept Jesus" we are not asking them to accept the Jewish Messiah, rather we are asking them to accept the Christian God. Why is it that Christian and Jew have such different views on WHAT Messiah is? If this is the fundamental difference between us, it would make sense to explore the Jewish concept of Messiah, and discover WHEN and WHY the view of the divinity of the Messiah became different in Christianity. We must ask the question: did the original believers have the same concept of the Messiah as do modern Christians?
The Shema is often called the "Jewish Profession of Faith," because it begins with the most basic of Jewish concepts: "Hear 0 Israel, The LORD our God the LORD is One.”
From at least the time of Ezra, Jews have been saying this prayer that consists of three passages in the Torah (Deut. 6:4-9, Deut. 11:13-21, and Num. 15:37-41). This prayer is said two to four times a day. Some speculate that this was the prayer being recited by Daniel, for which he was thrown into the lion's den. It is so important that the Mishna allows it to be uttered in any language (not just Hebrew). (M Sot 7: I) It is also the prayer that many Jews have said as they faced death at the hands of persecutors including many who went into the gas chambers of Nazi Germany in WW2. Rabbi Akiva, the second-century sage tortured to death by the Romans for his support of the Bar-Kokhba rebellion, was the most famous martyr to die with the Shema on his lips.
The Talmud records:
"When Akiva was being tortured, the hour for saying the [morning] Shema arrived. He said it and smiled. The Roman officer called out, 'Old man, are you a sorcerer [because Akiva seemed oblivious to the torture] that you smile in the middle of your pains?' 'No,' replied Akiva, 'but all my life, when I said the words, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your means," I was saddened, for I thought, when shall I be able to fulfill this command?
I have loved God with all my heart, and with all my means [possessions], but to love him with all my soul [life itself] I did not know if I could carry it out. Now that I am giving my life, and the hour for reciting the Shema has come and my resolution remains firm, should I not smile?' As he spoke, his soul departed."
These scriptures were an embedded part of Jewish life in the first century, as they still are today. They basically describe the Torah observant Jew and what is expected of him.
To make reference to this group of scriptures, you need only say the first word, imw (shema), and it is understood what you are referencing. When Yeshua was asked what the greatest commandment was, however, he went much further than to give the first word. He left no doubt as to what he was saying.
Yeshua expresses the major profession of Jewish faith and emphasizes monotheism as the first priority of belief Messiah is never confused with God, and is NEVER believed to be God. In the New Testament accounts of the first believers, you will find much disagreement over the question of the association and conversion of Gentiles. You will find discussion of and disagreements over many other issues. However, there is no debate over the deity of Yeshua. Why?
The reason for this obvious absence of discussion on the topic is this was not yet the view held by early believers. Had the belief of the early followers included the deity of Yeshua, the pages of the New Testament would be filled with the stories of conflict over such beliefs. The early followers historically did not take the position that the Messiah was God. If that is the case, WHO and WHAT is Messiah?
The Meaning of "Messiah"
Before we continue further with a discussion on the Jewish view of Messiah we need to ask the question: what does the word Messiah mean? The Hebrew word "Mashiach" means "anointed one" (or chosen one).
This title applies to the High Priest, to the Kings of Israel, and even to Israel itself.
In his book "Early Judaism," Martin Jaffee writes:
1 Samuel 24:5
Here we read of David referring to Saul as hvhy xywml (or "the Messiah of Yahweh").
So, there can be a number of different individuals identified throughout history as a messiah (anointed). However, when you talk of THE Messiah you would be referring to Messiah ben David, the ruler at the end of the age at the time of the Third Temple, and Messiah ben Joseph who dies to bring the kingdoms of Israel and Judah back together.
The Divine Connection
When answering the question WHO or WHAT is the Messiah. it is helpful to read what God tells Moses about the divine connection to Messiah.
In Deuteronomy 18:18 God tells Moses: "18 I will raise up a prophet FROM AMONG THEIR COUNTRYMEN LIKE YOU, and I WILL PUT MY WORDS IN HIS MOUTH, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And it shall come about that whosoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. "
As we can see, the Messiah was to be "from among their countrymen" like Moses. The connection to the divine is that God's WORDS are put in Messiah's mouth. It is important to realize that at no time in history did Judaism ever assign deity to the Messiah himself. Why then did Christianity view Messiah as God?
The Gentile Factor
After 7OCE (AD) the leadership within the "Christian" movement became dominated by Gentiles who had formerly worshiped other gods. How could such a thing happen?
The Death of the Jewish leaders
The following is a list of those Jewish leaders of the sect who were killed before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, most of them at the hands of the Romans or other pagans:
Philip—bound with his head to a pillar, and stoned in Phrygia, AD. 54
James (Yeshua's brother)—stoned, and beaten to death with a club, AD. 63
Barnabus—dragged out of the city and burned, at Salamina, Cyprus, AD. 64
Mark—dragged to the stake at Alexandria, died on the way, AD. 64
Peter—crucified upside-down, AD. 69
Paul—beheaded at Rome, AD. 69
Andrew—crucified at Patras AD. 70
Bartholomew—tortured, flayed alive, then beheaded in Armenia, AD.70
Thomas—cast into a furnace, his side pierced with spears in Calamina, AD. 70
Matthew—nailed to the ground and beheaded at Nad-Davar, AD. 70
Simon Zelotes and his brother Judas Thadeus, both slain, one crucified, and the other beaten to death with sticks, AD. 70
Mathias—tied on a cross upon a rock, stoned, and then beheaded, AD. 70
70 disciples of Yeshua, and fellow travelers of the Apostles—slain, AD. 70
The Jewish leadership was gone as a Gentile leadership rose to fill the void (Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, volume 6, Christianity).
The Beginnings of the Church
An important source of the alienation of Christianity from its Jewish roots was the change in the membership of the church that took place by the end of the 2nd century (just when, and how, is uncertain). At some point, Christians with Gentile backgrounds began to outnumber Jewish Christians.
The Gentile or Greek culture was centered around philosophy and mythology. Their entire perspective was that of having multiple gods. To them the most natural assumption was that Yeshua (Jesus) was a god. But what about all of the passages like John 1 that also say Jesus is God? Remember, that much of our interpretation of scripture is from the perspective of those early "church fathers" who by the 2nd century were comprised of mostly Gentiles well educated in Greek philosophy.
In 'A History of God," Karen Armstrong writes: "Like the divine Wisdom, the 'Word' symbolized God's original plan for creation. When Paul and John spoke about Jesus as though he had some kind of preexistent life, they were not suggesting that he was a second divine 'person' in the later Trinitarian sense. They were indicating that Jesus had transcended temporal and individual modes of existence. Because the 'power' and 'wisdom' that he represented were activities that derived from God, he had in some way expressed 'what was there from the beginning.'
"These ideas were comprehensible in a strictly Jewish context, though later Christians with Greek background would interpret them differently. In the Acts of the Apostles, written as late as 100 CE, we can see that the first Christians still had an entirely Jewish conception of God."
Again, Martin Jaffee writes: "The canonical book of Proverbs portrays wisdom as being God's companion from the beginning of time.
The image was refracted throughout the worlds of ancient Judaism. It informed many of Philo's descriptions of Torah as a divine logos (word, principle) through which Being conceived the world into existence. All that exists is as it should be because the world's structure is undergirded by divine thought, Torah."
By the second century the leadership of Christianity had shifted from a Jewish majority (well educated in the Torah), to a Greek majority (well educated in Greek culture, philosophy and mythology).
As the Jewish sect began to be more dominated by a Greek membership, however, the Greek polytheistic perspective of God also became a more accepted view.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says: "The Trinitarians and the Unitarians continued to confront each other, the latter at the beginning of the third century still forming the large majority."
In time, what had been the majority view became the minority view. Eventually, through creeds, various church councils, and the formation of Christianity as a state religion, the divinity of Messiah became the official church doctrine.
Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (volume 6, Christianity) Councils and Creeds.
Belief in a triune Godhead became the only accepted view of the nature of God. Anyone who believed otherwise would be put to death, although there have been those throughout history that have not viewed the orthodox Trinitarian position as correct. In his article Cosmic Codebreaker, Pious Heretic, about Sir Isaac Newton (for Christian History Magazine),
Karl Giberson writes:
How could Newton have believed that the scriptures had been altered? Was this just a statement of desperation, or is there substance to his claims? We will explore that question later in this chapter.
Newton was forced to keep his views at least partially veiled. The Unitarian position (belief in the One God), however, began to make certain advances in the American colonies. Such notable people as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were Unitarian.
Jefferson, himself, refers to Trinity as:
Jefferson further believed that the "One God" movement would sweep the nation if it was given the religious freedom the founding fathers envisioned. In a letter written to James Smith, December 8, 1822 he says:
The doctrine of the trinity, however, was much too entrenched to be easily dismissed, and those who did not accept the belief were labeled as non-Christian. Although the "One God" perspective is not common among Christians today, the first followers of Yeshua (Jesus) would not have felt uncomfortable with it.
The Early Concepts
In Exploring Church History, Howard Vos writes:
Who Were these Ebonites?
The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) states:
Remember, there was a distinct disagreement between Paul and these believers from Jerusalem who are often referred to in the New Testament as "of the circumcision" or "Judaizers." It is important, however, to note that the dispute was over the application of the law. It was NEVER over the deity of Yeshua (Jesus).
Why? Because Paul's perspective on the subject did not differ from theirs. Most of the dispute over the deity of Jesus came long after Paul's death. If these early followers did not believe that Jesus was God, what did they believe?
In The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart Ehrman writes:
Ehrman goes on to say:
Specifically about the Ebionites, Ehrman writes:
The natural assumption is that the Ebionites simply deleted the text that they disagreed with. However, there is no historic evidence that this group was in the practice of altering or deleting text to conform to their particular beliefs. The evidence, however, is overwhelming that those who espoused the doctrine concerning the deity of Jesus not only altered and added to the text, they did so frequently and as a matter of course.
This was not done to mislead of deceive, but in a sincere effort to "clarify” the text. The result, however, is thousands of verifiable corrupted documents that were used in the compiling of various texts we now call the New Testament.
The Development of "Christology"
Additional "clarification" efforts brought about the formation of various "Christologies" which were a natural progression of attempts to justify the Hebraic scriptures through a Greek philosophy perspective. Over time, four basic Christologies developed.
Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (volume 6/ Christology)
In the New Testament
The Son of God
Many of the Hebraic phrases and abstract concepts were foreign to the new Gentile leaders. Much of the confusion over the divinity of Yeshua began with the first century messianic title, "Son of God." The Gentiles understood this phrase to mean, "God the Son." Again, this was not an effort to deceive anyone. It was simply the most natural interpretation for someone in the Greek culture to have.
In The Doctrine of the Trinity Sir Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting write:
Were John and Nathaniel proclaiming that Yeshua was God? No, the title, "Son of God," is a Messianic title. They WERE claiming that Yeshua was the Messiah, they were NOT saying that he was God. Let's explore other places where we see references to the son(s) of God. In the book of Exodus we see 1he children of Israel called God's son.
The phrase, "son of God, .. is found 46 times in Bible (only once in the Tanakh (Old Testament). The phrase "sons of God " (Plural) is found 11 times in 1he Bible (five times in 1he Tanakh (Old Testament).
The one place in the Old Testament where the phrase, "son of God," is used is in Daniel 3:25 . This is often used as a "proof' of Yeshua's preexistence. Since Yeshua is called the "Son of God" in the New Testament, this Old Testament reference must refer to him also. Is that what is being talked about here?
In Jewish tradition this fourth man walking in the fire is an angel of God. The places in the Old Testament where the phrase "sons of God " is found, especially those in the book of Job (1: 16, 2: 1, and 38:7), are also thought to be a reference to angelic beings. The phrase, however, can also mean followers or chosen of God. Certainly most all of the places you see in the New Testament would be read this way.
1 John 3:1,2
Paul tells us (Romans 8:14) that anyone who is led by the spirit is a "son of God"; and John tells us (1 John 3:1-2 ) that "we" are "now" the "sons of God." Paul and John were certainly not suggesting that WE are God.
Who Am I?
Sometimes it is helpful to look at more than one testimony of the same event to fully see what is being said. When Yeshua asked his talmidim (disciples) who they believed he was, we see that Mark, Luke, and Matthew each have a slightly different version of the event.
Here Peter is proclaiming Yeshua to be the Messiah; he is not saying that he is God.
The Return of the Exiles
Where else in scripture do we find the phrase, "sons of the living God"? It is found in the first chapter of the book of Hosea. Hosea was a prophet to Israel (the northern kingdom) during the time of the divided kingdom.
Hosea 1 :10
In this passage we see the northern kingdom (the house of Israel), who lost their identity because they would not follow God's instructions, brought back from exile at the end of the age. At that time they will repent (return to God), and will be reunited with the southern kingdom (Judah), and will have "one head," "Messiah, son of David," who will rule the world from Jerusalem. Before Messiah, son of David can rule, however, the Northern kingdom, Israel must return from exile. Paul refers to this Romans 8 .
So we see the phrase "son of God" does not mean "God-the-Son," rather it is a messianic title associated with the return of the exiles. But if all that happened was a misunderstanding of the Hebraic term "son of God," why has the belief of Jesus being God persisted through the last 2000 years? One reason for this is that when you view life from a certain perspective, all interpretations, clarifications, or "corrections" are done so as to portray that perspective. We simply see what we choose to see.
The Corruption of Scripture
Early in the second century is when the majority of church 0rthodoxy began to develop; and through the second and third centuries the documents which would make up the New Testament were revised in order to establish the orthodox view. Again, Ehrman documents many of these revisions. It was the Christological debates of the second and third centuries that finally led to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
MATTHEW 1:18 —Corrupt Text: Matthew 1:18 :
LUKE 2:33 —
Corrupt Text:"And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him."
Original Text: "And his father and mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him"
LUKE 3:22 —
Corrupt Text: "And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased."
Original Text: "And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my son. Today I have begotten you."
LUKE 9:35 —
Corrupt Text: "And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him"
Original Text: "And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, the one who is chosen: hear him."
JOHN 1 :34 —
Corrupt Text; "And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. "
Original Text: "And I saw, and bare record that this is the chosen of God. "
1 TIMOTHY 3:16 —
Corrupt Text: "And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh."
Original Text: "And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: Who was manifest in the flesh. "
There was a tremendous effort by the early Gentile "church fathers" to establish Jesus as God. The concept of Messiah being God is one that the Jews, even those of the first century, have NEVER held. Messiah was to be the anointed king and the son of God; but he was NOT thought to be God.
If Messiah is not God (who became a man to pay for the sins of the entire world) what is Messiah?
The Two Messiahs
Messiah is God's agent through whom Israel realizes its redemption. A belief in Orthodox Judaism is that two Messiahs will usher in the end of the age; Messiah son of Joseph (the suffering servant), and Messiah son of David (the conquering king). According to tradition, Messiah ben-Joseph will enable events to bring the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel) back together. However, through this effort Messiah ben-Joseph will die. After this happens, Messiah ben-David will rule both houses of Israel with the Third Temple built in Jerusalem as the center of worship for the entire world.
From the Talmud (Sukkot 528) we read:
Again, from Sukkot 52a we read [as an interpretation of Psalm 2:7]:
Messiah ben Joseph
Let us revisit the Jewish view of Messiah. Remember, there are two Messiahs in Jewish theology; Messiah ben Joseph, then Messiah ben David. It is the death of Messiah ben Joseph that brings the two kingdoms of Israel together. The early followers of Yeshua believed that Isaiah prophesied about Yeshua in passages like Isaiah 53:5 .
Today, these passages are often interpreted as referring to Israel as a nation, however, Martin Jaffee points out in his book Early Judaism:
Since Messiah ben Joseph comes first, what should we look for and how do we know when he will come? We know that Messiah ben David will be a descendent of King David, but what about Messiah ben Joseph? Will he be a descendent of Joseph? No, that is not the reason he is known as Messiah ben Joseph. One reason given for him to have this title is because he at first is not known. Just as Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, so too will the identity of Messiah ben Joseph remain hidden, until he is revealed.
The 9th chapter of the book of Daniel is often called the "Seventy Weeks Prophecy" (490 years). The people of the first century believed this prophecy predicted when the Messiah would come. Daniel lived in Judea 100 years after the northern kingdom (Israel) had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. When Daniel was a young man, Jerusalem and the first Temple were destroyed and the nation of Judah was also taken captive.
Daniel grew up in Babylon where he wrote this prophecy.
Remember, Daniel wrote this prophecy after the first Temple had ALREADY been destroyed. So this prophecy is about the destruction of the SECOND Temple. Daniel received this prophecy BEFORE the second Temple had EVEN been built. ALSO, this is NOT a prophecy about Messiah ben David, because THIS Messiah is killed. It is a prophecy about Messiah ben Joseph. It is his death that brings the exiles back, allowing the northern and southern kingdom to once again be brought together. NOTICE that Messiah comes and THEN the second Temple is destroyed. The second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE (AD). How can this be, since the exiles of the northern kingdom (an event saved until the end of the age) have not yet returned?
What exactly does the prophecy say? It says that Messiah ben Joseph dies before the second Temple is destroyed. It does not say anything about the return of the exiles. However, we know from other sources that it is BECAUSE of his death the exiles return, but the return does not happen UNTIL the end of the age. Could Yeshua, then, be Messiah ben Joseph? There have been those that have speculated this, including Caiaphas, the high priest in the first century.
Why would they plot to kill someone whom they believed was Messiah? Because they believed he was Messiah Ben Joseph who MUST DIE in order for the northern kingdom to return, and ALL of Israel be united as one under the rulership of Messiah Ben David.
Yeshua refers to this death plot (quoting from Psalm 35:19) a few chapters later in John 15:25
If indeed Yeshua was Messiah ben Joseph, his death would have had a tremendous impact on those around him.
A Time of Anguishing Events
The first century is known for some very historic events. In Christianity we look to the life and death of Yeshua. In Judaism one of the most anguishing events was the destruction of the second Temple.
In Tractate Yoma of the Talmud it says:
Remember, that years earlier Yeshua had given this as the very reason he would be killed (hatred without a cause). Also throughout the New Testament he compares his death to the destruction of the Temple.
What an unusual set of circumstances leading up to the death of Yeshua. Although he was actually put to death by the Gentiles (Romans), it was his own people (the Sanhedrin) who sentenced him. This in itself was extremely unusual.
The Talmud says in Tractate Makkot:
And yet, something happened in 30CE that affected the Sanhedrin (the supreme court of first century Judaism) so much they physically removed themselves from the Temple so they could never again impose the death sentence. And indeed the death sentence was never again imposed.
Again, from the Talmud in Tractate Avodah Zara it .'_ay.'_:
That, however, was not the only change in the Temple at that time. Again from Tractate Yoma in the Talmud it says:
The Temple was destroyed in 70CE. What a tremendous coincidence in that these things began to happen forty years before the Temple was destroyed; in 30CE, The only significant event that seems to be connected to this year, the death sentence being administered and would have created such concern was the death of Yeshua who died on Nisan 14, 30 CE on a hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
The Babylonian Talmud says:
To believe that Yeshua was Messiah ben Joseph; that he was resurrected from the dead, and will return as Messiah ben David, fits well within the possibilities of various Hebraic prophecies. However to believe that Messiah is God is a gross misunderstanding of first century concepts and terminology.
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