My Dad was a Jew, and I am not deaf to the complaints of my Jewish family and friends who doubt that Jesus was the messiah. Like the original disciples and Jews of Jesus’ day, their main expectation was that the messiah would effect an overturning of the world powers and political systems, not die a suffering servant at the hands of the evil and domineering Roman government powers he was supposed to displace.
But the New Testament addresses this difficulty repeatedly and consistently. Its essential teaching is that Jesus fulfilled part of the messianic promises in his first visit, but will complete the establishment of God’s reign and political rule when he returns. This two-stage implementation was not expected from the Old Testament.
1. The Messianic promises Jesus did fullfill
The Messinic prophecies can be divided into two categories – the kingly power prophecies, and the suffering servant prophecies. Jesus fulfilled the latter in his time here on earth, but not the latter. This was confusing to Jews who not only focused on the rule of God (and themselves!) in the coming kingdom of God, but who denied that this was compatible with a suffering servant who would be killed for the sins of Israel. 1
Yet it pleased the Lᴏʀᴅ to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lᴏʀᴅ shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10–12)
2. Jesus’ parables concerning the coming of the Kingdom
Jesus anwered the question of “when will the kingdom actually come” by explaining that it was to be initially invisible and in the hearts of those who believe in Him and surrender to God now through regeneration and faith. He explained this through many parables like that of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), the leaven (Matthew 13: 33-35), and the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13).
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)
3. John the Baptist Doubted
Even the believing Jews were confused by this, esp. John the Baptist, who was imprisoned and evenaually beheaded. Jesus answered his disciples with a list of messianic promises from Isaiah that he was fulfilling.
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11:2-6)
4. Even the disciples were confused by his martydom
When Jesus’ own disciples were confused by his predictions of arrest and death, he told them “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. ” John 14:11 So your concerns are well founded, but copiously addressed in the Gospels. The disciples and the first 3000 Christians were all Jews, including Nidodemus, who took Jesus down from the cross.
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.’” (Acts 1:6-7)
5. Paul the “Jew of Jews” explained the process in detail
Paul the Apostle also addresses the unbelief of Israel as unsurprising given their history of killing the prophets (but there is always a remnant), and how God uses their rejection to bless all peoples (gentiles) as was origignally promised to Abraham. (Romans 9-11)
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,
“I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”
20 And Isaiah boldly says,
“I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21 But concerning Israel he says,
“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (Romans 10:16-21)
6. Messiah Ben David vs. Messian Ben Joseph
Ancient Rabbis in the Talmud, as well as a Targum for Zechariah 12:10 and other sources 2 saw a dichtomy in the prophecies conerning the Messiah, and tried to reconcile these through classifying them under two patriarchs – the prophecies of the kingdom of God and power were associated with David, and those of the suffering servant (such as in Isaiah 53) were associated with Joseph. In fact, many of these Rabbis thought that there would be two messiahs separated by a period of time. 3
These important teachings were abandoned by modern Judaism primarily due to the acceptance of the views of Rabbi Rashi (1040 – 1105 CE) who rejected the Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 52 and 53, essentially rejecting the scriptures that define part of the messianic future as one of suffering and shame. This does not explain, of coure, the rejection of Jesus by the Jews of his day, but it does explain why the two-visit The final event in the divine plan; the end of the world. More is not seen by modern Jews as a viable, if not mainstream Jewish understanding. 4
7. What if someone today claimed to be the Messiah?
If a potential messiah came and did not fulfill my expectations, I would ask them about it. Perhaps my understanding is wrong. If he answered reasonably, I would consider it and search the scriptures to see if their claims were true. The bible records at least a few Jews who did this, including Nidocemus, a member of the Sanhedrin who was open minded and came to Jesus at night as to not be seen (John 3). Or the Bereans, who searched the scriptures because their understanding of the messiah did not include his suffering and death. (Acts 17:11)
Jews who refuse the messianic claims of Jesus often do so because they often focus only on the kingly Davidic claims of the messiah in the TANAKH (Old Testament), entirely ignoring the suffering servant messianic passages. This is why they are unable to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah.
- MESSIAH: SUFFERING SERVANT OR VICTORIOUS KING?(oneforisrael.com) ↩
- Messiah ben Joseph (wikipedia.com) ↩
- Brit Hadasha: The 4th and 7th Day Part 1 – Isaiah 53 (119ministries.com) ↩
- An Orthodox Jew Questions Two Comings of the Messiah (Dr. Michael Brown on youtube.com) ↩