But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of days and was led into his presence. (Daniel 7:13)
On a Donkey
In the Clouds
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of days and was led into his presence. (Daniel 7:13)
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor. (Isaiah 61:1-2a) (See also Isaiah 11:1-3 and Isaiah 49:6)
…but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:4-5) (See also Isaiah 61:2)
Victory Over Enemies
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed We all, like sheep, have gone astray. . . and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:2b-6) (See also Psalm 118:22)
A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it…Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him…On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. (Zechariah 14:1-9) (See also Isaiah 11:6-9 and Ezekiel 31:24)
After the sixty-two "sevens," the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end,and desolations have been decreed. (Daniel 9:26) (See also Psalm 22:14-18 and Isaiah 53:7-9)
He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14) (See also Isaiah 9:6-7)
Suffering and Victorious Messiah
…because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:10-11)
Teresa Sischy reports, A Christian named Bernice called our office, asking me to pray for her son and his Jewish fiancee. Her desire was for both of them to love and serve Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. I maintained contact with Bernice over the following months, giving her pointers on sharing Messiah with her new daughter-in-law, Laura. I had not heard from Bernice for some time and was planning to call. That Sunday I was scheduled to speak at a church about Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles, and was delighted to see that this was Bernice's church. Not only was Bernice there, but her son and daughter-in-law had come, too. After the service Laura asked me several questions about Jesus. She gave me her telephone number and agreed to meet with me. Please pray that Laura and her husband will both come into a relationship with our living God through His Son, our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus."
Sabrina Babin reports, "Marc A. is a 45-year-old traditional Jewish man. He came to the office with many questions: 'Why do you say that you have peace with Jesus?' 'What does this peace give you?' 'How can I get this peace?' As I spoke to him, he seemed very close to faith. He gave his address and his phone number. He's said he would come to our Thursday night Bible studies. Please pray that the Holy Spirit may guide him."
Shaun Buchhalter reports, "I was at my desk preparing for a visit with a Jewish lawyer who recently came to faith. About 20 minutes before we were supposed to meet, he called to cancel. I was disappointed but decided to make some phone calls. I began by calling Jack (not his real name), whose contact information was given to us by a Christian friend who wanted to remain anonymous. For the first five minutes of our phone call, Jack only seemed interested in knowing who gave us his contact info. Finally I said, 'Listen, I cannot tell you who that person is, but let me simply ask, who do you think Jesus is?' To my surprise, he answered the question and afterward asked me what I believe. I gave him my answer and he asked what Jesus had to do with being Jewish. Since the High Holidays were right around the corner I spoke to him about Yom Kippur, comparing Jesus' sacrifice to the Levitical system.
"At that point Jack said I had caught his curiosity. He told me that he was sitting at a Starbucks across town and if I had some time he would be free for the next hour and a half. Would I meet him there? Since my original appointment cancelled I was free to do so. I brought Ze'ev, one of our missionary trainees, with me and 20 minutes later we were having coffee and sharing our testimonies with Jack. Our time together concluded as Jack asked me to send him some literature. Not that he was open to receiving Jesus, he assured me, but he was curious . . . . Praise God for the Christian who referred Jack to us, and for God's timing! Please pray that Jack's curiosity will turn to a genuine spiritual hunger."
Rob Wertheim reports, "I have continued meeting with Kathy (see our October 2006 newsletter) who was referred to us by a Christian coworker. In the context of reflecting on Yom Kippur, Kathy finally understood how Jesus became our sacrifice. She asked, 'What do I need to do to be forgiven?' I asked if she believes that Jesus died for her, was buried and raised from the dead, and she said yes. I asked if she was ready to receive and follow Jesus and she was! Please pray that God will help her truly surrender her life to Him and that her daughter Nancy will see changes in her mom's life and come to faith as well."
Some say that Zechariah 12:10 refers to the Gentile nations who mourn because of the Jewish martyrs (or a particular unknown martyr) they have killed.
Yet that is not the universal Jewish understanding. According to the views of some rabbis, two Messiahs would make their appearance: Messiah ben Joseph who would be slain in battle, followed by Messiah ben David who reigns as the victorious king. Any number of Jewish sources therefore refer this verse to the slaying of the Messiah ben Joseph. At least one commentator believes that the Messiah ben Joseph dies as an atonement for the sins of Israel. Some Jewish sources which take a messianic interpretation of Zechariah 12:10 are as follows:
A marginal reading to the Targum
At this point it is appropriate to note the relevant part of the Reuchlinianus marginal reading: And I shall cause to rest upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of prophecy and true prayer. And afterward the Messiah son of Ephraim will go out to do battle with Gog, and Gog will slay him in front of the gate of Jerusalem. And they shall look to me and shall inquire of me why the nations pierced the Messiah son of Ephraim."
Kevin J. Cathcart and Robert P. Gordon, editors. The Targum of the Minor Prophets: Translated, with a Critical Introduction, Apparatus, and Notes (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1989), p. 218. This is volume 14 in the series The Aramaic Bible.
According to the authors (p. 19), the manuscript known as the Codex Reuchlinianus is dated to the year 1105 A.D. It has "numerous notes and variants...which inhabit its margins." Cathcart and Gordon say, "Many of these marginalia consist of a single-word variant, sometimes of philological and lexical interest, while a significant minority are longer and often midrashic in content."
Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a
And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart [Zech. 12:12]....What is the cause of the mourning? -- R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained. The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.
It is well with him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep?
Soncino Talmud edition.
Rashi in his commentary to Sukkah 52a (11th c.)
The words, "The land shall mourn," are found in the prophecy of Zechariah, and he prophesies of the future, that they shall mourn on account of Messiah, the son of Joseph, who shall be slain in the war of Gog and Magog.
Cited in A. M'Caul, Rabbi David Kimchi's Commentary Upon the Prophecies of Zechariah, Translated from the Hebrew with Notes, and Observations on the Passages Relating to the Messiah (London: James Duncan, 1837), p. 161.
Note that this interpretation contrasts with Rashi's commentary on the Bible, in which he gives a different interpretation of the passage.
Ibn Ezra (12th c.)
All the heathen shall look to me to see what I shall do to those who pierced Messiah, the son of Joseph.
Cited in M'Caul, p. 158.
Abrabanel (15th c.)
It is more correct to interpret this passage of Messiah, the son of Joseph, as our rabbis of blessed memory have interpreted in the treatise Succah, for he shall be a mighty man of valour, of the tribe of Joseph, and shall, at first, be captain of the Lord's host in that war, but in that war shall die.
Cited in M'Caul, p. 159.
Moses Alshekh (16th c.)
I will do yet a third thing, and that is, that "they shall look unto me," for they shall lift up their eyes unto me in perfect repentance, when they see him whom they pierced, that is Messiah, the son of Joseph; for our rabbis, of blessed memory, have said, that he will take upon himself all the guilt of Israel, and shall then be slain in the war to make an atonement, in such a manner, that it shall be accounted as if Israel had pierced him, for on account of their sin he has died; and therefore, in order that it may be reckoned to them as a perfect atonement, they will repent, and look to the blessed One, saying that there is none beside Him to forgive those that mourn on account of him who died for their sin: this is the meaning of "They shall look upon me."
Jewish scholars have paid more attention to the person of Y'shua (Jesus) in the last hundred years than they have in the previous nineteen hundred. None deny his Jewishness. After all, Jesus was born to a Jewish mother, lived in Israel and taught a group of Jewish disciples. He also celebrated Jewish holidays. Modern Jewish theologian and rabbi, Pinchas Lapide, notes:
The love of Jesus and the academic interest in him and his impact were implanted in me by Jewish teachers like Joseph Klausner, for whom Jesus was the most Jewish of all Jews," Martin Buber, who perceived him as "his great brother," and Leo Baeck, the last luminary of the German school of rabbis, who in the year 1938 at the time of the Nazi Kristallnacht managed to write of him: "We see before us a man who according to all the signs of his personality discloses the Jewish character, in whom the purity and worth of Judaism is so specially and so clearly revealed.1
The main areas of debate and speculation among Jewish scholars about Jesus concern his words. Which did he actually say and which, if any, were added later by other writers who wanted to put forth their own versions of his message?
Did Jesus live? No dispute. Did he die? Absolutely. Yet one issue which is rarely examined by Jewish scholars is the historical event upon which his message stands or falls: his resurrection from the dead. It is the belief in this event which his first century followers took to heart and boldly proclaimed to the rest of the world. It is the central claim of the New Testament. One of his followers, Paul, put it this way:
If we hoped in Messiah in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Messiah has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
1 Corinthians 15: 19-20
Until recently, most Orthodox Jews could reject the resurrection of Y'shua, on the basis that they do not accept the idea of a Messiah who dies and is then resurrected. However, in the summer of 1996 a curious situation developed in the Orthodox community. The Lubavitch Chasidim were hailing their rebbe, the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as King Messiah. He had died two years earlier, yet they were expecting him to rise from his grave. Other Orthodox Jews found this notion to be an embarrassment. Then, the membership of the of the Rabbinical Council of America (1,000 Orthodox rabbis) passed a resolution stating,
There is not and has never been a place in Judaism for the belief that Mashiach ben David will bring his Messianic mission only to experience death, burial and resurrection before completing it.2
In response to this, noted Orthodox rabbi, Ahron Soloveitchik (Yeshiva University dean and head of Brisk Yeshiva in Chicago) offered his own comments. While he stated that he did not believe Menachem Schneerson to be the Messiah, he said that the idea of a Messiah who dies and is later resurrected "cannot be dismissed as a belief that is outside the pale of orthodoxy."3
This quote fueled the controversy even more, as Lubavitch rabbis were quick to embrace his words and non-Lubavitch rabbis were just as quick to explain how Soloveitchik's words were taken out of context.
Today, as some Lubavitch still fervently believe in Schneerson's return, the debate over the concept of a dead and resurrected Messiah continues.
In light of the renewed interest in the Jewish community concerning the death and resurrection of Messiah, it is time for another look at the resurrection claims of Y'shua. This kind of inquiry may be too threatening to many Jews. For the Lubavitchers who now believe in the death and resurrection of Messiah, considering Jesus' claims would cast doubt on their own convictions regarding Menachem Schneerson. Despite this open debate among the Orthodox concerning resurrection, Y'shua remains a non-candidate for the position of Messiah.
For most non-Orthodox Jews, however, there is a variety of other reasons to reject the resurrection of Y'shua. The Jewish atheist, for example, will categorically deny the supernatural. Along with the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna in the wilderness, and the sun standing still, resurrection is not a possibility.
The Jewish agnostic believes that since we can't know one way or the other, the issue is irrelevant to pursue. "How can we judge," the agnostic postures, "nearly two thousand years later, the veracity of supposed 'eye-witness accounts.'"
Others are more pragmatic and espouse that since they have never seen anyone rise from the dead, it is simply not logical to believe in such a thing.
Finally, there is a cultural response from the Jewish community which often makes the issue a moot point long before it is ever taken seriously. Namely, "We Jews don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead because Jesus is not for us Jews to consider--period."
But whether or not the rabbis or the secularists or agnostics give us permission to believe, that does not make it true or false. The resurrection of Y'shua, as with any historical event, must be explored and examined on the weight of the evidence. It is not logical to say that it is okay for Gentiles to believe in the resurrection but it is not acceptable for Jews to believe. Either it happened or it didn't. As Maimonides once declared,
A truth, once it is established by proof, neither gains additional force from its acceptance by all scholars, nor loses any force if all reject it...4
So, exactly what evidence is there to support the claim that Y'shua rose from the dead?
Evidence from the New Testament
Some people will automatically question the documents of the New Testament when attempting to uncover the "historical Jesus." The assumption is that these writers were biased, attempting to interject their own agenda rather than recording what actually happened. But this attitude often stems more from our modern age of cynicism than from any familiarity with the New Testament itself. It is amazing that so many people who have little direct knowledge of the New Testament have dogmatic ideas about its contradictions or its historical inaccuracy. A familiarity with the New Testament should be the starting point of any discussion about Y'shua, if only to know what is the traditional view.
The first four books of the New Testament are called the gospels, the biographies of the life of Y'shua. Each one gives the account from the writer's own vantage point and all four mention the resurrection. When Y'shua was on the cross, his followers were defeated and faithless as they did not understand the necessity for his death. After the resurrection, Y'shua physically appeared to them and from then on, we see changed behavior in their lives. No longer were they cowardly and bumbling, but rather they were transformed into bold proclaimers of the message of the resurrection.
Following the gospel accounts is the book of Acts, which records the history of the first generation of Jewish followers who began to take this message around the world. Their message focused on the empty tomb. The remainder of the books in the New Testament (with one exception) consist of instructional letters, in which the resurrection is mentioned repeatedly as the basis for this faith.
History, it is said, is written by the winners. But at the time of the writing of the New Testament, the followers of Y'shua were a small, persecuted minority. They were hardly the group in power, able to say whatever they pleased. And as for their agenda, they felt compelled to promote the belief that Y'shua rose from the dead. Why else would the New Testament contain such embarrassingly truthful events of the fear, faithlessness and sin of the very community which was promoting this message?
The best way to recognize that the New Testament is actually an historical document is to read it. It is hard to come up with any other conclusion. One of the most famous Jews of this century did just that and discovered something quite remarkable. In a 1929 interview in the Saturday Evening Post, Albert Einstein was asked if he believed in the historical Jesus and he replied:
Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.5
The same documents which tell us that Y'shua lived also mention that he died and rose again. While no serious scholar doubts that Y'shua walked among us, skeptics (both Jewish and gentile) frequently attempt to extract the real history from these documents and throw away what they believe to be myth. Each year a new set of scholars steps up to the plate in an attempt to knock down the traditional life of Y'shua. These new positions are then readily embraced by those who are looking for reasons not to believe. Yet, by the following year a whole new school of thought emerges, taking exception with the previous year's scholarship and going off in a new direction. The Jesus Seminar is one popular example of this phenomenon.
We are left with the question: Were these first century Jewish believers in Jesus the most brilliant deceivers in history, able to interweave truth and fiction in a way that has not been reproduced or uncovered by centuries of challengers, or were they simply sharing the historical events as they happened when they described the resurrection of Y'shua? Until a compelling and lasting alternative is produced, the New Testament must be taken seriously when discussing the resurrection of Y'shua.
Evidence from Counter-Theories
What are some of the alternative explanations to these historical events? And what degree of faith does it take to believe these counter-theories?
1. Stolen by the Disciples
One popular theory about the resurrection, which is even mentioned in the New Testament itself as a charge by Jesus' detractors, is that the disciples stole the body. This provides a convenient excuse not to pursue the issue further, but it ignores the facts.
Fact one: Had the body been stolen by his followers, all that would be needed to disprove the disciples' claim would be to produce the body. No body has ever been produced.
Fact two: There were Roman guards at the site of the tomb. How, then could any of Jesus' followers have stolen his body?
Fact three: There was a giant stone covering the tomb, which would have taken several people to move. The guards could not have overlooked such an operation.
Fact four: Historically, we know that the early followers of Y'shua were persecuted for their belief. They were offered two options: renounce their belief in the resurrection or die. It seems unlikely that, were the disciples to have stolen the body, they would have all been ready to die rather than confess their deeds. It is true that people die everyday for beliefs which are not true. But these are lies which they fully believe to be true. How often do people die for what they know to be a fabrication?
Fact five: Whatever else can be said about the original followers of Y'shua, they themselves certainly believed that Y'shua rose from the dead. They did not steal the body.
2. Swoon Theory
This position states that Y'shua went to the cross and that his hands and feet were pierced, but that he did not actually die. Rather, he merely fainted. Then, after being placed in a damp tomb-bleeding and without food or water for three days-- Y'shua was revived and was healed. He then somehow rolled away the stone, got past the guards and went on to tell others that he had indeed risen from the dead.
One offshoot of this theory came from the late Hugh Schoenfeld in his best selling book, The Passover Plot. Schoenfeld believed that it was Y'shua's plan to pretend to be the Messiah and that he attempted to fake his death by being given a drug (which would have made him swoon, giving the appearance of death). This plan was thwarted when a Roman soldier struck a spear into his side, which caused his death. The body was then hidden and when Y'shua's followers saw "an unknown young man," they mistook him for their risen Messiah.
Schoenfeld gave no reason as to why he accepted much of the New Testament as true and why he regarded some portions as suspect. Perhaps he would have been better off denying that Y'shua ever existed. At least then he would not have been promoting a theory which takes more of a leap of faith than the New Testament account itself. But he knew, as all skeptics do, that the New Testament cannot be dismissed lightly. It is a cohesive, coherent and convincing book.
3. One of Many Resurrections
While Hugh Schoenfeld accepted most of the New Testament as reliable history, only to take a detour around the resurrection, another modern Jewish scholar presents an equally interesting hypothesis. Pinchas Lapide is an orthodox Jewish scholar who has a very unorthodox view of the resurrection of Y'shua. He went so far as to declare,
I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as an historical event.6
Lapide examined the New Testament and concluded that the recorded events are too rooted in history for there to be any major revisions or deceptions involved in the writing. He believes that Y'shua physically rose from the dead. Amazingly, Lapide falls short of recognizing the implications of this truth for his own life. In his book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Lapide regards Y'shua as a type of role model for gentiles to prepare them for the coming of the Jewish Messiah. To reach this viewpoint, Lapide had to reject the very same documents which were the basis for his belief in Y'shua's resurrection in the first place. Indeed, the New Testament mentions on virtually every page the fact that Y'shua is the promised Messiah, the one whose coming was foretold by Moses and the Jewish prophets. There is no consistency or logic in Lapide's argument.
Evidence from Changed Lives
One response to all these "theories" is to say, "Who's to say what is true? It's all a matter of speculation." After all, one can reason, even in this century we are presented with mysteries to which we probably won't get answers--What ever happened to Amelia Earhardt? Who killed Kennedy? Was there a conspiracy in the death of Martin Luther King?
To some people, the controversy over these events is proof that we cannot possibly know for sure what happened concerning an incident which occurred almost two millennia ago.
However, the evidence for the resurrection of Y'shua goes far beyond the discussion of source documents and historical records. In fact, evidence is still being presented today as individuals are experiencing the changed life which is the result of that resurrection.
Y'shua was not a mere victim of a mob. Nor was his death an accident. It was the very purpose of his mission. He gave up his life as an atonement for sin. His words mean nothing apart from this final action. The "good news" is that the Messiah willingly stood in our place and, by dying, took the penalty which rightfully belongs to each one of us. But he didn't stay dead. By rising from the grave he defeated the power of sin and death and enables individuals to have a new relationship with God. And it is this power-- the power of the resurrection--which is available to anyone who believes. This power has been changing lives (of both Jews and gentiles) since the first century.
One Jewish man who knew of this life-changing experience was Alfred Edersheim, the British scholar and author of the last century. His book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, was originally published in the 1880's and is still considered one of the most authoritative sources on the subject. His Jewish view of Y'shua pre-dated the more recent wave of Jewish scholars who have been increasingly curious about the New Testament. To conclude his chapter on the resurrection he writes,
The importance of all this can not be adequately expressed in words. A dead Christ might have been a Teacher and Wonder-worker, and remembered and loved as such. But only a risen and Living Christ could be the Saviour, the Life, and the Life-Giver--and as such preached to all men. And of this most blessed truth we have the fullest and most unquestionable evidence. 7
There is only one reason why a Jew should believe in Y'shua. It is the same reason why a gentile should believe. It has nothing to do with convenience or social standing. Nor does it have anything to do with Y'shua's good moral teachings. The only reason anyone should be for Y'shua is because of who he is and what he has done:
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Messiah Y'shua came into the world to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15
The claims of Y'shua stand alone, even when compared with the sayings of other religious leaders. And to punctuate his claims there is an historical event which stands as a challenge. The New Testament does not present the resurrection of Y'shua as merely part of a creed that must be followed by insiders. It is presented to all people as an historical fact, and there are only two possible responses to it. Either it happened or it didn't.
What do you think? Will your conclusion be determined by the reflex of tradition? Will you dismiss the issue because of twentieth century pre-suppositions? Or will you choose to explore an ancient tomb--where all too few have dared to look.
Rahner, Karl and Lapide, Pinchas, Encountering Jesus-Encountering Judaism-A Dialogue (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co. 1987), p. 104
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, June 21, 1996 (from article: "1,000 Orthodox rabbis reject claim rebbe was Messiah" by Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Jewish Telegraphic Agency)
Jewish Week-American Examiner, July 5, 1996 (from article: "Messiah Debate Swirls Anew" by Eric Greenberg)
Ausubel, Nathan, The Book of Jewish Knowledge, (New York, Crown Publishers, 1964), p. 485
Saturday Evening Post, October 26, 1929
Lapide, Pinchas, The Resurrection of Jesus, (Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 15
Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 629
If Jesus is the Messiah, didn't he accomplish his mission the first time around? Our prophets didn't say anything about a second coming!"
We Jewish believers in Jesus (Y'shua), are often confronted with that "question." The concept of two messianic "comings" gets such responses from both the scholarly and the sophomoric. Some are sincere, others are sarcastic; but whether inquirers are cynical, slightly interested or soul-searching in their approach, the subject is worthy of exploration.
Before asking whether it makes sense for the Messiah to come twice, it is important to examine the biblical picture of the Messiah. Who painted that picture, and what of the critics who interpret it? Is the Bible presentation of the Messiah significant merely to the student of antiquities, or does it have meaning for us today?
Most Jews who do believe in a personal Messiah see him depicted as a triumphant and victorious king. David Kimhi, thirteenth century Jewish Bible expositor, describes this traditional portrait of the Messiah's coming and Israel's redemption:
The Son of David will restore and purify Jerusalem, removing all the heathen idols, as it is written, "They shall come there and take away all the detestable things" (Ezekiel 11:18).
Strangers will be barred from entering restored Jerusalem. Thus her sanctity will not be defiled.
The Messiah will gather all Jewish people from the nations and bring them back to the land with great honor "upon horses and in chariots and litters" (Isaiah 66:20).
The Messiah will ensure Israel's safety and prosperity; the land will yield a miraculous increase, "For as the earth brings forth her growth and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause victory and glory to spring forth before all the nations" (Isaiah 61:11).
The human life span will be greatly increased due to the conquest of evil. "…for as the days of a tree shall be the days of My people" (Isaiah 65:22).1
David Kimhi died in 1235, but his work lives on. He was a grammarian, lexicographer and exegete. He wrote commentaries; including one on Genesis, the Psalms, the Prophets and Chronicles. The famed Jewish scholar is not unlike those of us today who focus on the benefits the Messiah will bestow on each of us and all Israel rather than on the nature of Messiah. Further examination of the Hebrew Scriptures reveals a more detailed portrait than Kimhi painted. Though not as popular, this picture emphasizes his personhood as well as his mission.
Messiah will have his origins in heaven from eternity past, yet he will enter human history as a baby (Daniel 7:13, Micah 5:2, Isaiah 7:14, 9:6).
His royal arrival is to be in the clouds of heaven, but he is also portrayed riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (Daniel 7:13, Zechariah 9:9).
He is coming to bring hope to the meek and afflicted, and also to announce God's day of judgment (Isaiah 61:1-2).
His rule will be one of unprecedented peace and prosperity and he will be king over the entire world (Zechariah 14:1-9, Ezekiel 34:24 95).
He will be the Son of God (2 Samuel 7:12-14, Psalm 2), and he will also be the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13).
Thus, the Messiah is to be an individual who comes according to God's plan and timing, to rule over those who await him.
More liberal Jewish thinkers dismiss the personal portrait of the Messiah. Instead, we find an abstraction—the picture of a "messianic era"—a time of peace, achieved through human effort. Martin Buber contributed widely to this idea,2 as did Franz Kafka3. According to this picture, the Messiah, if he is to come at all, will simply become part of the restoration brought about by Israel's return to the land. Israel's own ingenuity will be the key to bringing in peace and prosperity.
We now have two messianic ideas—one a portrait, with well-defined and recognizable features; the other, a mass of color and indeterminate forms—an abstract. But neither includes all of the qualifications for the Messiah.
In another article, we dealt with another portrait of the Messiah, as shown in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. Talmudist Rachmiel Frydland wrote:
"The subject was never discussed in my pre-war-Poland Hebrew school. In the rabbinical training I had received, the fifty-third chapter of the book of Isaiah had been continually avoided in favor of other, 'weightier' matters to be learned. Yet, when I first read this passage, my mind was filled with questions:
Who is this chapter speaking about? The words are clear—the passage tells of an outstanding Servant of the Lord whose visage is marred and is (sic) afflicted and stricken. He has not deserved any pain or wounds, but was wounded through our transgressions, bruised through our iniquities, and with his wounds we are healed. The text presents the suffering Servant of the Lord who dies as a korban, a recompense for guilt. He is then buried with the rich and wicked, but is gloriously resurrected to life. God permits his afflicted and, at the end, exalted Servant to endure this suffering in order to remove the sins of many.4
How can there be two seemingly contradictory portraits of the Messiah? Could it mean that not one, but two Messiahs will come to fulfill the word of Scripture and the writings of the rabbis? Is there one Messiah with a "split personality"? Or, perhaps the liberal rabbinic teachings of the "enlightenment" are correct in predicting that a messianic era, not the Messiah, will be ushered in through human efforts. This writer will attempt to carry these suppositions to their logical conclusions.
One Messiah: Two Doors
One way to reconcile the disparity in descriptions of the Messiah is to assume that though there will be but one Messiah, there are two possible scenarios for his coming. The Messiah will enter the world through one of two doors—and he will follow one of two scripts which the prophets have written.
If Israel is worthy by her actions of a King Messiah, then it is a reigning king who will appear. On the other hand, if Israel is disobedient to the Holy One, a lowly Messiah will appear, or the coming of the Messiah will be greatly delayed. This teaching can be found in the Babylonian Talmud:
Rabbi Alexandri said:
Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi pointed out a contradiction. It is written, "in its time" [will the Messiah come], whilst it is also written, "I [the Lord] will hasten it"!—If they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not [he will come] at the due time…Rabbi Alexandri said: Rabbi Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, "And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13); whilst [elsewhere] it is written, "[behold, thy king cometh unto thee…] lowly, riding upon an ass" (Zechariah 9:9)!—If they are meritorious, [he will come] "with the clouds of heaven"; if not, "lowly and riding upon an ass'.5
Yet this theory is contradicted in the same section of the Talmud. Rabbi Joshua argues that the Messiah's coming is not contingent on Israel's behavior, but on God alone:
Rabbi Eliezer said:
If Israel repent, they will be redeemed; if not, they will not be redeemed. Rabbi Joshua said to him, If they do not repent, will they not be redeemed? But the Holy One, blessed be He, will set up a king over them, whose decrees shall be as cruel as Haman's, whereby Israel shall engage in repentance, and he will thus bring them back to the right path.6
The Two-Messiah Theory
Another explanation for the contrasting prophecies is the theory of two separate appearances by two different Messiahs. Messiah ben David is expected to bring about the victory, peace and prosperity generally associated with the Messiah. But before he comes, a Messiah, son of Joseph, must first appear. Messiah ben Joseph, also called Messiah ben Ephraim, is named for his famous patriarchal ancestor Joseph, and his son Ephraim. Messiah ben Joseph is to fight as Israel's military commander in the great battle of the last days. He is destined to die as the substitute for Israel's sins:7
[When He created the Messiah (Ephraim, i.e., ben Joseph),] the Holy One, blessed be He, began to tell him of the conditions [of his future mission], and said to him: "Those who are hidden with you, their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke, and they will render you like unto this calf whose eyes have grown dim, and they will choke your spirit with the yoke, and because of their sins your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth."8
The Zohar also assigns to Messiah the role of suffering for our sins:
In the hour in which they tell the Messiah about the sufferings of Israel in exile, and about the sinful among them who seek not the knowledge of their Master, the Messiah lifts up his voice and weeps over those sinful among them. This is what is written: "He was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5) …The Messiah then summons all the diseases and all the pains and all the sufferings of Israel that they should come upon him, and all of them come upon him. And would he not thus bring ease to Israel and take their sufferings upon himself, no man could endure the sufferings Israel has to undergo because they neglected the Torah.…As long as Israel dwelt in the Holy land, the rituals and sacrifices they performed removed all those diseases from the world; now the Messiah removes them from the children of the world…9
There is a degree of logic to the two messiah theory; yet, there are also problems.
Though these interpretations attempt to explain the scriptural passages about a suffering Messiah, they do not fit the biblical picture. Nowhere does Scripture mention a Messiah who will ddie on the field of battle while commanding Israelite armies.
Secondly, the Bible does not mention a Messiah son of Joseph—only a son of David.
Finally, while rabbinic legends about two Messiahs vary, they tend to become more complicated than what is indicated by Scripture. One view even has Messiah ben David coming to resurrect Messiah ben Joseph.10 It takes great leaps of one's imagination to believe in two distinct Messiahs.
One Messiah: Two Appearances
The New Covenant presents another option, consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures. There will only be one Messiah, and according to this theory, he has already come once to fulfill the role of the suffering Messiah. He suffered and died, not only for the sins of Israel, but for the whole world. His name is Jesus (Y'shua), the Hebrew word for "salvation."
Jesus' earthly career did not fulfill the rabbinic speculations about Messiah ben Joseph. But he did fulfill the words of Moses and the Prophets concerning the suffering and lowly Messiah. After his death, God raised him from the dead, and he ascended into heaven. He will return in the clouds at the end of days, bringing eternal and victorious rule over the world.
The New Covenant presents us with one Messiah who will come two times—once to atone for our sins, and once to defeat God's enemies, and thus establish his kingdom on the earth. The Messiah has two major tasks to accomplish. Though he comes twice to accomplish both, he is one and the same person—Jesus.
Why Two Appearances?
Why should the Messiah have to come twice to accomplish his mission? Couldn't he finish it the first time? Isn't the Almighty a better time manager than that? Using the same reasoning, one could question God's efficiency in not revealing the Torah until Moses' day. Why didn't he just give it to Adam? Or to Abraham? The possibilities from our narrow perspective seem endless. The rabbis, aware that such questions arise from finite minds, tell a story to illustrate that our perspective is limited and God knows exactly what he is doing:
Our rabbis ask, 'Why was the world created with a 'bet'? [In other words, why do our Scriptures begin with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet? Why not with the first letter, 'alef' which begins the Ten Commandments? The underlying question is, why didn't God just give the Torah when the world was created?] It is like a king who comes to a city and says, 'I will be your king.' They say to him, 'But why should you be our king? What have you done for us?' So he went out and built a wall, and fortified the city. He defeated their enemies, and brought prosperity. Then he came back and said, 'I will be your king.' And the people said, 'Yes, yes.' Likewise God, when He created the world, did not simply impose His rule on mankind, but first demonstrated who He is through his mighty acts of creation and the redemption of Israel from Egypt. Then He gave the Torah, and Israel accepted His rule."11
The point of that rabbinical story is to show that even God lays groundwork for his plans, rather than beginning with the end result of his work. His plans unfold through the course of human history.
If God is indeed God—all knowing, all powerful, all wise—who are we to question his timing? We should learn from God's stern reply to Job: 'Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding, who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:2-7).
It is not for us to arrogantly question God's methods, but there are answers for those who sincerely want to know. Throughout Scripture, we see God building upon foundations again and again. He spoke, and the universe came into existence…but he wasn't finished. After creation, he began revealing himself to his creatures.
Adam and Eve learned God's discipline when they disobeyed him. Noah and his generation learned God's judgment and the consequences of unrighteousness. Abraham received the first promise that he would father God's chosen people, through whom all the nations would be blessed. Israel learned of God's redemption when he brought us out of Egypt. We learned of his holy character and expectations when he gave us the Torah. We learned that he holds us accountable for our disobedience when he sent us into exile. And we learned how he is faithful to keep his promises when he brought us back to the land of Israel.
As we study the unfolding of these events, it should be obvious that we can trust God to bring the Messiah on schedule. But there is one thing that keeps us from seeing the obvious: we want the Messiah to fit our desires, and are not satisfied with how God would have him to be.
This progressive, unfolding revelation was God's way of enabling us to comprehend his supernatural plans in human doses. It accounts for why God would choose to send Messiah two times. After all, would he usher in peace for all mankind without an adequate era of spiritual preparation? This preparation period was to help people see how dark sin could get before the bright and Morning Star would shine. And who is to say what form that messianic peace was to take? Was it merely external and political, or must it begin with the inner person first?
It is tempting to think that God would send a messiah who would solve the world's problems with a wave of a magic wand. Let us suppose for a moment that God worked that way. Suppose all the world's wealth was suddenly distributed evenly. Suppose everyone was educated. We all know of wealthy families. The father is a physician, the mother a university professor. The children are lawyers, engineers or business executives. Their home holds everything a person might want. Yet, such parents can argue and fight—and get divorced. Children can rebel. Family members can be cruel to one another.
Is education and prosperity our greatest hope? Do the nicest people usually rise to the top? Does knowing what is right enable us to do what is right? Or are there other influences at work? Don't some marriage counselors get divorced? Don't some psychologists still have emotional problems? Don't some physicians get sick? Perhaps as many physicians get sick as do ordinary people. Knowing what is right doesn't especially lead to doing what is right.
We want peace, but everyone has their own idea of what that means. To the person with arthritis, peace means freedom to ambulate without pain. For the black person in Soweto, peace means political and economic equality. For the parents of college students, it might mean having enough money to pay all the bills including tuition. When we don't have what we want, we say we need peace. We create our do-it-yourself formulas for peace and our do-it-yourself descriptions of the Messiah and his role. We want a Messiah who will protect us, provide for us, prop us up and give us pleasure. Such an individual might make a good teddy bear, or a Santa Claus, but is not much of a Messiah. For the Messiah is God's anointed, which means he is holy and we must regard him with awe, not just with jolly good feelings. After all, he holds all the power of the universe in his hands.
Given the option of accountability to God's holiness and his anointed, most act as though they prefer to be left alone. Much of modern Jewry has discarded belief in a personal Messiah. Instead, we are to arrive at the "messianic age" ourselves. Joseph Klausner speaks for many when he writes, "First of all, Jewish redemption can be conceived without any individual Messiah at all—something which is absolutely impossible in Christianity.…Without the Jewish Messiah, Judaism is defective; without the Christian Messiah, Christianity does not exist at all."12
According to Klausner, Judaism does not need a Messiah. The sad fact is that some "enlightened" Jewish people believe that Judaism can function quite well without God. Many would say that all we need are Jewish people and a vague sense of Jewish identity. This is a vain attempt to compensate for the Messiah's delay and for God's apparent silence in recent history. Modern Judaism has, for the most part, elected to regard God's Messiah as a myth to be forsaken, rather than a promise for which we should wait patiently.
It follows that today's educated people do not need to hope in ancient "myths." Far from enlightenment, this is more like mutiny! Nor is it a modern attitude. Thousands of years ago, God said, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider" (Isaiah 1:2-3).
We need not make excuses for God's "delay" in keeping his promises. The Rabbis of the Talmud were near the truth when they said, "…the world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years in the Messianic era, but through our many iniquities all these years hhave been lost."13
Is it realistic to believe that we can bring in the messianic age ourselves? There has not been a single decade in time which hasn't been riddled with war, crime, injustice and natural disasters. What logic could bring a person to conclude that by our efforts alone, we can accomplish what no other generation has been able to do?
We have a basic problem which must be treated before we can entertain any hope of a messianic age. The problem is sin.
This is why the Messiah had to come on a spiritual mission as preparation before he could undertake the more political task of establishing his kingdom. He had to deal with sin disposal to avoid contaminating the Kingdom he wanted to establish. When Messiah returns "the governments shall be on his shoulder" (Isaiah 9:6) and the "Lord shall be king over all the earth."
Once was enough for the Messiah to fulfill his role of the suffering servant, but God has chosen to accomplish all his purposes in a progression of events. We often muse, "When the Messiah comes, then we will have such-and-so" or "then we will be able to do this-and-that." But the Messiah is not the Jewish counterpart of a filled Christmas stocking above the hearth. We must ask ourselves, do we really want him to appear? Are we really ready for the drastic demands he will place on our errant society?
The story is told of a schnorrer in a little shtetl. The townspeople asked only one small favor of him in return for their tzedakah—that the schnorrer should blow the horn when the Messiah comes. But the schnorrer, who was reluctant to take upon himself even the slightest obligation, declined. 'You need sound the horn only once," pleaded the people, "only when Messiah shall appear." The schnorrer replied, "It would be just my luck that he would come tomorrow!"
Are we schnorrers, willing to take good gifts from the Messiah, but only if they don't cost us anything in return? We want peace. We want prosperity. We want victory. But most don't want responsibility. We say, "Jesus couldn't have been the Messiah, because Messiah is supposed to bring peace, and Jesus didn't bring peace!"
To this objection, Arnold Fruchtenbaum's response is well taken: 'Well, since (Jesus) was not accepted, he could not very well bring peace, could he? Furthermore, the purpose of the Messiah's first coming, or as the early rabbis would have it, the purpose of the coming of the first Messiah, the son of Joseph, was not to bring peace but to suffer and die."14
This Jesus did! God requires a response from us. For those who respond, Jesus will come as savior and victorious king. But to those who scoff and deny, Messiah's second coming will not bring peace, but judgment.
The role of the Messiah is not an elected office, at least, not humanly speaking. We will not vote for an individual whom we feel is best able to represent us. If there is to be a Messiah, God alone has the vote, and it is only the Almighty who will be represented.
If we excise portions of the Scripture as myth, and declare that there will be no Messiah, or dismiss the scriptural and personal Messiah in favor of a "messianic age," the purpose of the Jewish people becomes one of two things. Either our purpose dwindles merely to our own survival, or it becomes as groundless and fragile as a soap bubble, reflecting the colors of our most cherished dreams, but without the substance to make them come true.
If the prophecies are myths, there is no reason to take the other promises or, for that matter, the commandments of the Bible seriously. If that is the case, then Judaism is a farce, played out with cruelty worked upon the characters who are the unconscious players in a comic-tragedy.
If we do await the Messiah, is it reasonable to expect that a victorious king will come if Israel obeys the commandments and a humble servant is the "back-up" if she doesn't? It does not seem likely that the Almighty would be in the dark about Israel's response to him, or that he would have to devise a "plan A" and "plan B" based on such a lack of knowledge.
Will there be two Messiahs who come at two different times, or is there one Messiah who comes twice, and for two different purposes? While there is no Messiah ben Joseph mentioned in Scripture, there is no second coming mentioned either. But is it likely that the prophets would describe two different Messiahs, with two different tasks, while naming but one? Or does it make sense to believe that cataclysmic changes must occur in our hearts before they can occur in our world.…The answers are not contingent upon whatever preferences are conducive to our prejudices, but upon God's sovereign plan. We must look to him for the answers if we desire the truth.
Frank Talmadge, Disputation and Dialogue, (New York: KTAV, 1975), 79-81.
"…He [God] put the responsibility for the Redemption of His world into the power of our returning. It is written, Return, ye backsliding children, I will heal your backsliding Jeremiah 3:22). God wants to complete His creation in no other way except with our help. He does not want to reveal His kingdom before we have founded it. He does not want to put the crown of the King of the World on His head except if He accepts it from our own hands." From "Gog and Magog," 173; cited in Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts, (New York: Avon Books, 1979), 281.
"The Messiah will come as soon as the most unbridled individualism is possible…The Messiah will only come when he is no longer needed." From "Parables and Paradoxes," 80; quoted from The Messiah Texts, 301.
I. Epstein (ed.), The Babylonian Talmud, (London: The Soncino Press, 1935), Sanhedrin, 663-664 (98a).
The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 660 (97b).
Some scholars, like Joseph Klausner, say that although this Messiah does die, his death is not for our atonement, as the Christians say (see Disputation and Dialogue, 68). Older rabbinic speculation assigns Messiah ben Joseph a role as the substitute for Israel's sins.
"Pesiqta Rabbati," 161a-b; cited in The Messiah Texts, 112.
"Zohar" 2:212a; cited in The Messiah Texts, 115-116.
The Messiah Texts, 169.
See the Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 1:1 for several versions of this question and its answer.
Disputation and Dialogue, 68.
The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin. (9ia, b).
Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Jesus Was a Jew (Tustin. CA: Ariel Ministries, 1981), 91.
Lord of the Universe! I am Thine and my dreams are Thine; a dream have I dreamed and I know not what it is…If they be good dreams, strengthen and fortify them and may they be fulfilled like the dreams of Joseph; but if they require to be amended, heal them as the waters of Marah were healed by the hands of Moses our teacher, as Miriam was healed from her leprosy, as Hezekiah from his illness, and like the waters of Jericho sweetened by the hands of Elisha. And as Thou didst turn the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, so do Thou turn all my dreams for me into good."
The prayer above, to be said by those who did not know the meaning of a dream they had, is found in the tractate, Berakoth. Our ancestors took dreams and their interpretation very seriously. R. Hisda said, "A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read" (Ber. 55a). And according to the ancient sages, if one dreams of a colt he may hope for salvation (Ber. 56b). They cite the Scripture:
"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you! righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."(Zechariah 9:9)
ISSUES does not venture to prove or disprove the talmudists' interpretation of dreams. But as for the colt…
"The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast (Passover) heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!'
Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
'Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."'
It's commonly maintained that Isaiah 53 was never considered messianic by rabbis and Jewish sages. Sometimes the statement is phrased as, "Judaism teaches" that Isaiah 53 refers to the nation of Israel.
The fact is that Isaiah 53 (more precisely, 52:13 to 53:12) has been interpreted in messianic terms by a wide variety of Jewish commentators over a long period of time. Other interpretations have certainly been offered, including the view first popularized by Rashi in medieval times that the prophet speaks of the nation of Israel. Neverthless the messianic interpretation has a long history in Jewish Bible exegesis, as shown by the quotations below.
Behold, My Servant the Messiah shall prosper.
Targum ("Targum Jonathan") to Isaiah 52:13, various editions (such as Samson H. Levey, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; the Messianic Exegesis of the Targum." Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1974, p. 63).
In the early cycle of synagogue readings
We know that messianic homilies based on Joseph's career (his saving role preceded by suffering), and using Isaiah 53 as the prophetic portion, were preached in certain old synagogues which used the triennial cycle...
Rav Asher Soloff, "The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Commentators, to the Sixteenth Century" (Ph.D. Thesis, Drew University,1967), p. 146.
The addition of 53.4-5 [to the cycle of synagogue readings] was evidently of a Messianic purport by reason of the theory of a suffering Messiah. The earlier part of [the Haftarah] (52.7ff.) dealt with the redemption of Israel, and in this connection the tribulations of the Messiah were briefly alluded to by the recital of the above 2 verses.
The Rabbis said: His name is "the leper scholar," as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted. [Isaiah 53:4].
Soncino Talmud edition.
Ruth Rabbah 5:6
The fifth interpretation [of Ruth 2:14] makes it refer to the Messiah. Come hither: approach to royal state. And eat of the BREAD refers to the bread of royalty; AND DIP THY MORSEL IN THE VINEGAR refers to his sufferings, as it is said, But he was wounded because of our transgressions. (Isa. LIII, 5).
Soncino Midrash Rabbah (vol. 8, p. 64).
The Karaite Yefeth ben Ali (10th c.)
As to myself, I am inclined, with Benjamin of Nehawend, to regard it as alluding to the Messiah, and as opening with a description of his condition in exile, from the time of his birth to his accession to the throne: for the prophet begins by speaking of his being seated in a position of great honour, and then goes back to relate all that will happen to him during the captivity. He thus gives us to understand two things: In the first instance, that the Messiah will only reach his highest degree of honour after long and severe trials; and secondly, that these trials will be sent upon him as a kind of sign, so that, if he finds himself under the yoke of misfortunes whilst remaining pure in his actions, he may know that he is the desired one....
S. R. Driver and A. Neubauer, editors, The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters (2 volumes; New York: Ktav, 1969), pp. 19-20. The English translations used here are taken from volume 2. The original texts are in volume 1. Cf. Soloff, pp. 107-09.
Another statement from Yefeth ben Ali:
By the words "surely he hath carried our sicknesses," they mean that the pains and sickness which he fell into were merited by them, but that he bore them instead. . . . And here I think it necessary to pause for a few moments, in order to explain why God caused these sicknesses to attach themselves to the Messiah for the sake of Israel. . . . The nation deserved from God greater punishment than that which actually came upon them, but not being strong enough to bear it. . . God appoints his servant to carry their sins, and by doing so lighten their punishment in order that Israel might not be completely exterminated.
Driver and Neubauer, pp. 23 ff.; Soloff pp. 108-109.
Another statement from Yefeth ben Ali:
"And the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all." The prophet does not by avon mean iniquity, but punishment for iniquity, as in the passage, "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. xxxii. 23).
Driver and Neubauer, p. 26; Soloff p. 109.
Mysteries of R. Shim'on ben Yohai (midrash, date uncertain)
And Armilaus will join battle with Messiah, the son of Ephraim, in the East gate . . .; and Messiah, the son of Ephraim, will die there, and Israel will mourn for him. And afterwards the Holy One will reveal to them Messiah, the son of David, whom Israel will desire to stone, saying, Thou speakest falsely; already is the Messiah slain, and there is non other Messiah to stand up (after him): and so they will despise him, as it is written, "Despised and forlorn of men;" but he will turn and hide himself from them, according to the words, "Like one hiding his face from us."
Driver and Neubauer, p. 32, citing the edition of Jellinek, Beth ha-Midrash (1855), part iii. p. 80.
Lekach Tov (11th c. midrash)
"And let his [Israel's] kingdom be exalted," in the days of the Messiah, of whom it is said, "Behold my servant shall prosper; he will be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly."
Driver and Neubauer, p. 36.
Maimonides, Letter to Yemen (12th c.)
What is to be the manner of Messiah's advent, and where will be the place of his appearance? . . . And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he will appear, without his father or mother of family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of the dry earth, etc. But the unique phenomenon attending his manifestation is, that all the kings of the earth will be thrown into terror at the fame of him -- their kingdoms will be in consternation, and they themselves will be devising whether to oppose him with arms, or to adopt some different course, confessing, in fact, their inability to contend with him or ignore his presence, and so confounded at the wonders which they will see him work, that they will lay their hands upon their mouth; in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which the kings will hearken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived.
Driver and Neubauer vol 1: p. 322. Edition is Abraham S. Halkin, ed., Igeret Teman (NY: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1952). See Soloff pp. 127-128.
Zohar II, 212a (medieval)
There is in the Garden of Eden a palace named the Palace of the Sons of Sickness. This palace the Messiah enters, and He summons every pain and every chastisement of Israel. All of these come and rest upon Him. And had He not thus lightened them upon Himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel's chastisements for the transgressions of the law; as it is written, "Surely our sicknesses he has carried."
Cited in Driver and Neubauer, pp. 14-15 from section "va-yiqqahel". Translation from Frydland, Rachmiel, What the Rabbis Know About the Messiah (Cincinnati: Messianic Literature Outreach, 1991), p. 56, n. 27. Note that this section is not found in the Soncino edition which says that it was an interpolation.
Nachmanides (R. Moshe ben Nachman)(13th c.)
The right view respecting this Parashah is to suppose that by the phrase "my servant" the whole of Israel is meant. . . .As a different opinion, however, is adopted by the Midrash, which refers it to the Messiah, it is necessary for us to explain it in conformity with the view there maintained. The prophet says, The Messiah, the son of David of whom the text speaks, will never be conquered or perish by the hands of his enemies. And, in fact the text teaches this clearly. . . .
And by his stripes we were healed -- because the stripes by which he is vexed and distressed will heal us; God will pardon us for his righteousness, and we shall be healed both from our own transgressions and from the iniquities of our fathers.
Driver and Neubauer, pp. 78 ff.
Yalkut ii: 571 (13th c.)
Who art thou, O great mountain (Zech. iv. 7.) This refers to the King Messiah. And why does he call him "the great mountain?" Because he is greater than the patriarchs, as it is said, "My servant shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly" -- he will be higher than Abraham, . . . lifted up above Moses, . . . loftier than the ministering angels.
Driver and Neubauer, p. 9.
The same passage is found in Midrash Tanhuma to Genesis (perhaps 9th c.), ed. John T. Townsend (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1989), p. 166.
Yalkut ii. 620 (13th c.), in regard to Psalm 2:6
I.e., I have drawn him out of the chastisements. . . .The chastisements are divided into three parts: one for David and the fathers, one for our own generation, and one for the King Messiah; and this is that which is written, "He was wounded for our transgressions," etc.
Driver and Neubauer, p. 10.
R. Mosheh Kohen ibn Crispin (14th c.)
This Parashah the commentators agree in explaining of the Captivity of Israel, although the singular number is used in it throughout. . . .As there is no cause constraining us to do so, why should we here interpret the word collectively, and thereby distort the passage from its natural sense?. . . As then it seemed to me that the doors of the literal interpretation of the Parashah were shut in their face, and that "they wearied themselves to find the entrance," having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the "stubbornness of their own hearts," and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah, and will be careful, so far as I am able, to adhere to the literal sense.
Driver and Neubauer, pp. 99-100.
Another comment from R. Mosheh Kohen ibn Crispin
If his soul makes itself into a trespass-offering, implying that his soul will treat itself as guilty, and so receive punishment for our trespasses and transgressions.
Driver and Neubauer, p. 112.
R. Sh'lomoh Astruc (14th c.)
My servant shall prosper, or be truly intelligent, because by intelligence man is really man -- it is intelligence which makes a man what he is. And the prophet calls the King Messiah my servant, speaking as one who sent him. Or he may call the whole people my servant, as he says above my people (lii. 6): when he speaks of the people, the King Messiah is included in it; and when he speaks of the King Messiah, the people is comprehended with him. What he says then is, that my servant the King Messiah will prosper.
Driver and Neubauer, p. 129.
R. Elijah de Vidas (16th c.)
Since the Messiah bears our iniquities which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities, must endure and suffer for them himself.
Driver and Neubauer, p. 331.
Rabbi Moshe Alshekh (El-Sheikh) of Sefad (16th c.)
I may remark, then, that our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah, and we ourselves also adhere to the same view.
Driver and Neubauer, p. 258.
Herz Homberg (18th-19th c.)
The fact is, that it refers to the King Messiah, who will come in the latter days, when it will be the Lord's good pleasure to redeem Israel from among the different nations of the earth.....Whatever he underwent was in consequence of their own transgression, the Lord having chosen him to be a trespass-offering, like the scape-goat which bore all the iniquities of the house of Israel.
Driver and Neubauer, p. 400-401.
The musaf (additional) service for the Day of Atonement, Philips machzor (20th c.)
Our righteous anointed is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have non to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound, at the time that the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature. O bring him up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon, by the hand of Yinnon.
A. Th. Philips, Machzor Leyom Kippur / Prayer Book for the Day of Atonement with English Translation; Revised and Enlarged Edition (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1931), p. 239. The passage can also be found in, e.g., the 1937 edition. Also, Driver and Neubauer, p. 399.
Though some say that Psalm 2 is not considered messianic by the rabbis or Jewish sages, the Jewish messianic understanding of Psalm 2 has a long history. Some of the rabbinic sources which take a messianic interpretation of Psalm 2 are as follows:
Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a
Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), 'Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee', as it is said, I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance [Psalms 2:7-8].
Soncino Talmud edition.
Genesis Rabbah 44:8
R. Jonathan said: Three persons were bidden 'ask', viz.: Solomon, Ahaz, and the King Messiah. Solomon: Ask what I shall give thee (1 Kings III, 5). Ahaz: Ask thee a sign (Isa. VII, 11). The King Messiah: Ask of Me, etc. (Ps. II, 8).
Soncino Midrash Rabbah (vol. 1, pp. 365-366).
Pirke de-Rav Eliezer (9th c.), Section 28, on verse 1
All the nations will be gathered together to fight with the Son of David, as it is said: The kings of the earth set themselves, etc.
Cited in A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, p. 123. The Hebrew is from the Lemberg edition of 1874. Williams adds: "It should, however, be stated that the MS. translated by Mr. G. Friedlander (1916) reads 'the house of David' instead of 'the Son of David.' Yet even that MS. is referring to events still future."
Rashi (11th c.)
Our teachers interpreted the subject of this Psalm with reference to King Messiah, but according to its plain meaning it will be right to expound it of David himself...
Cited in A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, pp. 122-123.
Midrash on Psalms (11th c.)
This day have I begotten thee [Psalm 2:7]. R. Huna said: Suffering is divided into three portions: one, the Patriarchs and all the generations of men took; one, the generation that lived in the time of [Hadrian's] persecution took; and one, the generation of the lord Messiah will take. When the time comes, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say: "I must create the Messiah -- a new creation." As Scripture says, This day have I begotten thee -- that is, on the very day of redemption, God will create the Messiah.
Ask of Me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession (Ps. 2:8). God, speaking to the Messiah, says: If thou dost ask for dominion over the nations, already they are thine inheritance; if for the ends of the earth, already they are thy possession.
R. Johanan taught: To three men -- Solomon, Ahaz, and the lord Messiah -- the Holy One, blessed be He, said, "Ask of me." To Solomon, as is written In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said: "Ask what I shall give thee" (1 Kings 3:5). To Ahaz, as is written "Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God: ask it either in the depth, or in the height above" (Isa. 7:11)....To the lord Messiah, as is written Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.
Maimonides (11th c.), introduction to Sanhedrin, chapter 10
The prophets and the saints have longed for the days of the Messiah, and great has been their desire towards him, for there will be with him the gathering together of the righteous and the administration of good, and wisdom, and royal righteousness, with the abundance of his uprightness and the spread of his wisdom, and his approach to God, as it is said: The Lord said unto me, Thou art my son, to-day have I begotten thee.
Cited in A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, p. 122.
David Kimchi (13th c.), comment on verse 12
There are those who interpret this psalm of Gog and Magog, and the "anointed" as the King Messiah; and thus did our rabbis of blessed memory interpret it (b. Berachot 7b).
Hebrew cited in A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, p. 121. The Hebrew is from the edition of Schiller-Szinessy. English translation by Rich Robinson. Kimchi himself interpreted psalm as referring to King David, but his comment shows that the traditional interpretation was messianic.
Yalkut (13th c.), Section 621, similar to the Midrash on Psalms quoted above:
On verse 7:
R. Huna said in the name of R. Idi, In three parts were the punishments divided: one for King Messiah, and when His hour cometh the Holy One, blessed be He, saith, I must make a new covenant with Him, and so He saith, To-day have I begotten thee.
On verse 9:
"Thou wilt bruise them with a rod of iron"; this is Messiah ben Joseph.
Cited in A. Lukyn Williams, A Manual of Christian Evidences for Jewish People (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), vol. 2, pp. 121-122.
Some claim that translating the word bar" (in Psalm 2:12) as "son" rather than as "purity" is a distortion of the Hebrew text in order to make the verse apply to Jesus. It is also claimed that this is not a Jewish interpretation of the verse. And finally, it is said that the word "bar" means "son" only in Aramaic, whereas this psalm is in Hebrew.
Yet some important Jewish sources translate "bar" as "son." The translation can be supported by linguistic arguments. Therefore there is no basis for claiming that this rendering is a "Christian mistranslation." Some of these sources are as follows:
The interpretation of Ibn Ezra (12th c.):
Ibn Ezra rejects the simple and acceptable meaning of 'bar' as pure and inclines to translate it as son, referring it to the "anointed one" in v. 2 and making it the apposite of "Thou art my son" in v. 7. Bar would then allude to Israel.
J. Sarachek, The Doctrine of the Messiah in Medieval Jewish Literature (New York: Hermon Press, 1968), p. 121.
The interpretation of David Kimchi (13th c.), observing the validity of "son" as well as "pure":
Qimchi observes that bar may either be the same as the common Hebrew ben, as in Prov. xxxi.2, or may mean "pure," as in the phrase "pure of heart." "If," he says, "we adopt the reading son, then the sense will be, 'kiss the son whom God hath called a son,' saying, 'Thou art my son;' and the verb must be explained by the custom of slaves kissing the hand of their masters. But if we adopt the reading pure, it means, 'What have I to do with you? for I am pure of heart, and there is no iniquity in me that you should come and fight against me; but it is your part to kiss me and to confess that I am king by the ordinance of God.'
cited in J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms: A New Translation with Introductions and Notes Explanatory and Critical (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), pp. 119-20.
The Isaac Leeser translation of the Hebrew Bible (19th c.):
Do homage to the son.
Isaac Leeser, Twenty-Four Books of the Holy Scriptures Carefully Translated After the Best Jewish Authorities (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company). Leeser's translation was the standard American Jewish translation from 1845 until the Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917.
Willem A. VanGemeren, Professor of Old Testament and Chairman, Dept. of O.T. Studies, Reformed Theological Seminary:
In favor of the traditional translation are the context of the psalm (submission to the Lord and to the anointed), the proposal by Delitzsch that the sequence bar pen ("Son, lest") avoids the dissonance of ben pen (KD, 1:98), and the suggestion by Craigie that the usage of the Aramaism may be intentionally directed to the foreign nations (Psalms 1-50, p. 64).
In The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), p. 72.