Category Archives: Judaism

PODCAST: Finding Jesus in the Jewish Feasts

Discussion of the biblical feasts, (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles) their spiritual lessons, and how they point forward to Christ.

Audio:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170420-FindingJesusintheJewishFeasts.mp3

Music:
“The Itis” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

 

PODCAST: The Transcendence Argument – The Self-Disclosure of the God of Israel

Piggybacking on the ideas of Yehezkel Kaufmann and John Oswalt, this argument builds on the uniqueness of the ancient Israelite claims about the divine to show that such a perspective could only have come about through divine revelation. My co-host was Jackson Ferrell who can be found (among other places) at https://chocolatebook.wordpress.com/ and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCApG0JBkT6PzJEWLMZ0IZOw

Podcast link:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20160919-TranscendenceArgument.mp3

Resources mentioned:
Yehezkel Kaufmann’s The Religion of Israel:
https://www.amazon.com/Religion-Israel-Beginnings-Babylonian-Exile/dp/0805203648/

John Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths:
https://www.amazon.com/Bible-among-Myths-Revelation-Literature/dp/0310285097/

John D. Currid’s Against the Gods:
https://www.amazon.com/Against-Gods-Polemical-Theology-Testament/dp/1433531836/

Tom Gilson’s counter-argument to the Jesus legend theory:
https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/05/the-story-of-jesus-is-unimaginably-great-therefore-its-true/

How Jesus’ New Covenant Priesthood Fulfills the Promises of God to Israel

At this point in history Christian evangelism to the Jewish people is something of a minefield. Because Christian-identifying gentiles have so often oppressed Jews, any attempt to proselytize has, to many Jews, become synonymous with anti-semitism—a kind of spiritual pogrom. In addition, it is not uncommon for traditional Jews to accuse Jewish Christians of self-hatred and of abandoning their people to join an oppressor. For many of these traditional Jews, becoming a Jewish Christian is more shameful than becoming a Jewish atheist.

As grievous as the church’s antisemitism has sometimes been, and as understandable as it is for Jews to be wary of the Christian faith, whether or not self-identifying Christians have been antisemites is not logically connected with whether or not the Christian faith is itself antisemitic, let alone with whether or not it is un-Jewish to accept it as one’s own. To underline this point, it would be advantageous for us to go back before the antisemitism in the church to the days of Jesus’ Jewish apostles. When we do, we fill find in a New Testament document entitled “The Epistle to the Hebrews” an argument centered in Tanakh (the so-called Old Testament) that the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah is the logical outworking of the acceptance of God’s Tanakh. Though other Jewish (and gentile) Christians made various arguments to this effect, the author of this epistle’s argument focuses on the fact that Jesus’ covenant has a better priesthood, covenant, sacrifice, and ministry than that in the covenant made through Moses. More than that, he establishes that the Tanakh itself points to the fact that these Mosaic ordinances were only temporary until the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

A Better Priesthood

In chapter 7 of this epistle our author highlights a priesthood which predates Levi’s—that of Melchizedek, king of Salem.1 Melchizedek was a priest of God whom Abraham gave tithe to;2 and since Levi was still, so to speak, in the loins of his great-grandfather Abraham, this means that in some sense the entire Levitical line paid tithe to Melchizedek through Abraham. Of this man we know next to nothing. His birth, death, and ancestry are never even alluded to. And yet David, when writing of Messiah, said that the Lord had sworn of him, “you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”3 This new prophesied priesthood, which is not by Levitical line but by oath of God, is the key to the author’s argument in this section. After all, if the Levitical priesthood was perfect and eternal, why would God mention another to come after it?

Although the great Rabbi Maimonides wrote that Jesus could not be Messiah since he caused the Torah to be altered,4 David’s prophecy of a new priesthood tells us differently. As our author tells us, “when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.”5 In other words, if David looked forward to a different priesthood, this means the old one was passing away. And since this priesthood was at the center of God’s Torah, and the Torah was at the center of the covenant, the priesthood of Messiah (whom both the Torah and the rabbis taught would be of the line of Judah, not Levi) would initiate a new covenant.

Although Melchizedek is only apparently immortal (since we never learn of his birth, death, or ancestry), the Messiah’s priesthood truly is eternal. This is one reason why His priesthood is superior to that of the Levites: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.”6 An eternal priest is able to make intercession for his people to the end of the age.

More than this, “he has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (7:27). This underlines the fatal weakness of the old priesthood: its priests had to make offerings continuously. In contrast, Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself was final and fully efficacious, and His remaining priestly work consists of making intercession for those who draw near to him (7:25).

A Better Covenant

Now, if a change in the priesthood requires a change in the law, what has happened to the covenant which commands the keeping of the law?7 For this the author quotes at length (in chapter 8) from the prophet Jeremiah, who told the Jewish people, on behalf of God, that:

the days are coming… when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hears, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people… For I will be merciful to their iniquities and I will remember their sin no more.”8

It is important to note that this new covenant is not made with gentiles as if God would abandon the Jewish people. It is instead a covenant made with the Jewish people but extended beyond the boundaries of ethnic Israel to the nations who are blessed through them This is why the Jewish apostle to the gentiles, Paul (also known as Saul or Shaul), wrote of a gospel which went “to the Jew first and also to the [gentile].”9 Furthermore, he warned gentile converts to Jesus as Messiah that if they thought of themselves as superior to the Jewish people, who are God’s “tree” by nature, God would remove the gentiles (branches which were not natural but grafted in) from His people.10 This teaching undermines the rabbinic narrative that Christianity, properly practiced, is part and parcel with the gentile abuse of the Jewish people just as it undermines the claim of any antisemite to be a Christian in good standing.

In any case, an obvious question presents itself here: if a new covenant is spoken of, where does that leave the old one? According to the author of this epistle, “in speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”11

This does not suggest that the Tanakh is useless. As the Jewish believer in Jesus, Adolph Saphir, wrote:

And yet no portion of Scripture can ever become antiquated, losing its instructiveness, significance, and value. No period of the history of God’s people, no type, no institution, no event of any dispensation, can be forgotten; nothing that God has said, given, or done, will be lost. For the eternal Spirit, who saw the end from the beginning, hath so ordered it that the whole Scripture ministers unto all generations of His people, that as the fathers cannot be made perfect without the children, so the children who are privileged to see the better things provided for them by God are gathered unto the fathers, and blessed with the ancient household of faith…”12

It is not that what God had revealed through Moses was useless, but that it anticipated what He would reveal through Christ. In the case of the covenant, it looked forward to a new covenant, spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, where sins would be cleansed fully by a different kind of high priest and the law of God would be written on our hearts instead of on tablets of stone.13

A Better Sacrifice

If the priesthood has changed, and the covenant with it, what kind of sacrifice remains for sins? Although it is common for the rabbis to claim that prayers will have to substitute for our offerings until the temple is rebuilt, the author of this epistle gives an answer which is much more tightly integrated into the fibers of the Tanakh. Indeed, our author reminds us that, “the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”14 If the basis for both our forgiveness and for the Mosaic covenant is sacrificial blood, and the Mosaic covenant can no longer offer blood sacrifices, there must be a new covenant if there is to be forgiveness of sins.

In chapter 9 our author summarizes the procedure of sacrifice for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). On this day alone could someone enter into the full presence of God in the temple’s most holy place, and even then only the high priest. This mediator, “entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.”15 Upon this fact our author hangs his most essential point. This sacrifice obviously could not perfect either the priest or the people since (1) it had to be offered over and over and (2) it could not open the way into the most holy place, and the presence of God, for all. The Day of Atonement was centered around an imperfect priest making imperfect sacrifices for a people who were not perfected by them. This doesn’t make those sacrifices useless, however. They served their purpose at the time they were given. But if this is so, “how much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”16 Through the final and perfect sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah, we may have complete forgiveness of sins and the Spirit of God motivating our motives, actions, and intentions.

Ministry

For our author, the old covenant sacrificial system pointed to something greater to come. If the new covenant, priesthood, and sacrifices are better, then the ministry which our high priest performs on behalf of his people is as well. Since the New Covenant was established upon better promises, then also “the ministry Jesus has received [is] superior” as well.17 Why? In summary, because:

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”18

Final Thoughts

What is the application for those living today? Because of what Jesus did, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”19 and “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.”20 Furthermore, we may be grateful that God fulfilled what was only a shadow in his beautiful Torah, forgiving us of our sin by the ministry of our New Covenant High Priest and by making a way to cleanse our conscience from sins once for all.

1. Or, more literally, King of Righteousness, King of Peace.

2. See Genesis 14.

3. Psalm 110:4, ESV. All additional biblical citations are from the ESV.

4. See his work The Laws Concerning the Messiah.

5. Hebrews 7:12.

6. Hebrews 7:23-25.

7. As we read in Exodus 24:7, “Then [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.‘”

8. Hebrews 8:8-12, quoting from Jeremiah chapter 31.

9. Romans 1:16.

10. Romans 11:16-21.

11. Hebrew 8:13.

12. Saphir, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Exposition, Kindle edition.

13. Compare the giving of the Old Covenant law in Exodus 19-20 to the inauguration of the New Covenant by the writing of God’s law on the heart in Acts 2, both taking place on Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks.

14. Hebrews 9:22.

15. Hebrews 9:7.

16. Hebrews 9:14.

17. Hebrews 8:6.

18. Hebrews 9:24-26.

19. Hebrews 10:10.

20. Hebrews 10:19-20. See also Matthew 27:51, which tells us that at the time of Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

The Early Church’s Attempts to Understand the Relationship Between the Human and Divine Natures of Christ

     We have a tendency in modern times to think of what one believes as not particularly important. However, this tendency doesn’t always serve us well. Beliefs are like dominoes– one belief logically impacts another. Our belief about one topic is in some way connected to our belief about another topic, and our beliefs cannot help but impact our actions, attitudes, and well-being. So it is for how we view Christ’s divine and human natures.

     The early church was capable of seeing how a false belief about Christ’s nature could impact other beliefs, such as the atonement. For Christ to be joined to humanity, which was necessary for us to be saved, He had to be truly human. For Him to be be capable of fully saving us and connecting us to God, He had to always be truly God. This was also important for maintaining consistency with the biblical witness, which painted a picture of Christ as genuinely human and genuinely divine (John 20:20-29). There were numerous attempts to reconcile these biblical claims, finally culminating in the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) which defended the orthodox view of Christ’s two natures. Before then, however, there were many missteps.

Adoptionism Graphic     Though the textual critic Bart Ehrman might argue that adoptionism/exhaltation was perhaps the church’s earliest attempt to make sense of who Jesus was, the biblical witness seems to argue otherwise. In any case, this view can be found as early as the second century in the views of Theodotus of Byzantium and Paul of Samosata. Adoptionists thought of Jesus as a holy man who was adopted as the Son of God at baptism due to His good works. Paul of Samosata’s concern in particular was of protecting strict monotheism, so he spoke of Jesus as, “a man adopted by God as his special human son. Jesus entered into a unique position in relation to God without actually becoming God. Paul of Samosata placed Jesus somewhere above other humans due to his elevation to sonship by the Father and somewhere below God due to his humanity and God’s absolute oneness” (Olson). After this adoption, He was thought of as divine in a sense, though not before, meaning He could not be the eternal God– the One who could say, “before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). While this was an attempt to reconcile the biblical data, it leaned so far toward one truth that it ultimately failed to affirm the other truth. In this view, Jesus was 100% man at His birth.

DOCETISM

     Another attempt to explain why scripture talked of Jesus as being divine but also of having a human body erred in the opposite way from adoptionism. Docetism comes from the Greek dokein, meaning “to seem.” In other words, Jesus was written about as if He was human because He pretended to be so. One variant of this view was more Gnostic influenced– if Christ was a pure being, it would have been improper for Him to have a body: “According to some docetists, Christ was so completely divine that he could not be human… For these docetists, Jesus’ body was a phantasm” (Ehrman, p. 15).

     Another variant had Christ abducting the body of a man named Jesus and then leaving the man to die on the cross: “For them, Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood human. But Christ was a separate person, a divine being who, as God, could not experience pain and death” (Ehrman, p. 15). A view somewhat similar to this latter one was called Apollinarianism, wherein the divine Logos took a human body. In this view, there is no human mind, but only a divine mind inhabiting a human body. These views ultimately failed as well. There can be no atonement if God did not fully join Himself to humanity. Further, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that He had a true human body: “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39, ESV). He also had a human mind (see Luke 2:52, Mark 13:32).

Nestorianism

     After these early and more extreme attempts to reconcile Jesus’ humanity and divinity, there were two more complicated solutions proposed. The first was Nestorianism. Nestorius’ view was that within Christ there were in fact two distinct persons– one human and one divine. This view allowed for side-stepping the difficult truth that God was born of a woman. By strongly separating the natures, Nestorians could claim that it was not God who has born, but simply Christ. As Nestorius wrote in his second letter to Cyril:
“Everywhere in Holy Scripture, whenever mention is made of the saving dispensation of the Lord, what is conveyed to us is the birth and suffering not of the deity but of the humanity of Christ, so that by a more exact manner of speech the holy Virgin is called Mother of Christ, not Mother of God. Listen to these words of the Gospels: ‘The book of the birth of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham’ [Matt. 1:1]. It is obvious that the son of David was not the divine Logos” (Noll).

     This view failed to join humanity in divinity in one person, and was rejected at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., though it still lives on in the Church of the East (not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox Church). It was followed by a Christological view that was essentially an extreme reaction to it: Eutychianism.

EUTYCHIANISM

     Eutychianism, far from separating the natures of Christ, joined them together. For Eutyches, the human nature of Jesus was subsumed by the divine, creating what was essentially a new nature. Christ was therefore not human enough to be joined to us nor divine enough to be truly consubstantial (of the same nature) with the Father. The Council of Chalcedon sought to deal with the Eutychian issue and to re-affirm Ephesus’ condemnation of Nestorianism, arguing for a truly orthodox view of Christ’s two natures.

ORTHODOXY

     The one thing that all of the aforementioned views have in common is that they go to one extreme or another in an attempt to hold on to one piece of truth about who Christ was. In contrast, the Council of Chalcedon’s orthodox definition managed to keep Christ’s natures in their proper balance. Chalcedon confessed, “one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood… to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Chalcedonian Creed, 451 A.D.) In other words, Christ was one person who possessed two natures– one fully human and the other fully divine. There was no confusion of natures, nor separating Christ into two different person. This also allowed for Jesus to be a true savior of mankind, “for we would not be able to overcome the author of sin and of death unless he whom sin could not stain nor death hold took on our nature and made it his own” (Noll).

 Sources Cited

Ehrman, B. D. (2003). Lost Christianities: the battle for Scripture and the faiths we never knew. P. 15. New York: Oxford University Press.

Noll, M. A. (1997). Turning points: decisive moments in the history of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. Kindle Edition.

Olson, R. E. (1999). The story of Christian theology: twenty centuries of tradition & reform. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version : the ESV Study Bible.. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Why Does John’s Gospel Call Jesus “the Word?”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).This New Testament passage is very well-known in Christian circles, but it is not widely understood. In order to properly understand this passage, we must first understand the Jewish tradition that preceded it.

Psalm 33:6 says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made.” This Psalm emphasizes what is already stated in Genesis chapter 1– God spoke the universe into existence through His Word. In time, as Jewish thinkers reflected on this teaching, they began to conceive of God’s Word having a personality distinct from God, but tied directly to Him. In the Rabbinic mind, the transcendent God of the universe could not interact with us personally. But how could He do so? There needed to be an intermediary– His Word.

The Targums were Aramaic translations of the Tanakh (Old Testament). However, they also included commentary that the translators thought better explained the text. It is here that we see the idea of the Word having personality and an identity distinct from God, but still identified with Him, begin to take shape in the Jewish mind. (Quotes taken from Michael L. Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Volume 2)–

“And they heard the sound of THE WORD OF THE LORD God walking in the midst of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).
Above we see that the Word of the LORD was considered by Jews to have both personality and identity.
“The Word of the Lord created man” (Genesis 1:27).
“The Word of the LORD sits upon his throne high and lifted up and hears our prayer whenever we pray before him and make our petitions” (Deuteronomy 4:7).Similarly, Deuteronomy 31:3 was translated from “The Lord your God will pass before you” to “The Lord your God, his Word will pass before you.”Thus we see that in the Jewish tradition preceding John’s Gospel, God’s Word is Him, but yet is somehow different from Him.

Philo, a Jewish Greek-speaking philosopher, developed this concept further. He referred to the Word (Gr. Logos) as “the second G-d,” “mediator,” “firstborn,” “Name of God,” and “Archangel.” He also seemed to connect the Word with the Messiah when he said, “For that man is the eldest son, whom the Father of all raised up, and elsewhere calls him his first-born, and indeed the Son thus begotten followed the ways of his Father…” (Philo, De confusione linguarum 4:45).

Furthermore, the Zohar (a Jewish book of mysticism that is the center of Kabalic teaching) teaches specifically that the Messiah is part of a Triune Godhead in its commentary of Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema– “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our G-d, the LORD is one.”):
“Why is there need of mentioning the Name of God three times in this verse? …The first (name of God) is the Father above. The second is the stem of Jesse, the Messiah who is to come from the family of Jesse through David. And the third one is the Way which is below and these three are one.” Thus, we also find some strong Jewish support for the Messiah (who is the Word of God) being identified WITH God.

It is this tradition which John is most probably reflecting upon when he wrote his Gospel, though certainly the Greek concept of the Word (logos) being an organizing principle of the universe is probably also in view.

Is Isaiah 53 About the Messiah?

A Jewish Interpretation

Isaiah 53 is one of the most quoted passages by Christians from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) as prophesying about Jesus. The most significant portion from this chapter is as follows:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of G-d, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:3-7).

It is a popular belief in Rabbinic Judaism that this passage is not about Messiah at all, but about the nation of Israel. However, even though Jewish apologists state emphatically that Jews do not interpret this passage as being about Messiah, up until the Middle Ages many rabbis believed (with some diversity of interpretations) that this passage was indeed about the Messiah and not Israel. Yefeth ben Ali in the 10th century interpreted the passage this way: “G-d caused these sicknesses to attach themselves to the Messiah for the sake of Israel. . . . The nation deserved from G-d greater punishment than that which actually came upon them, but not being strong enough to bear it. . . G-d appoints his servant to carry their sins, and by doing so lighten their punishment in order that Israel might not be completely exterminated.”

R. Elijah de Vidas in the 16th century took this teaching even further. He taught that, “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.” In the same century, Rabbi Moshe Alshekh said 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.”

Even the Zohar, the most significant book in Kabbalistic (Jewish Mysticism) literature supports the idea that Isaiah was referring to Messiah in his 53rd chapter. Zohar II, 212a says that if the Messiah had not, “lightened [Israel’s every pain and chastisement] 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.'” This mirrors the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b, Soncino edition), which says:
“The Rabbis said: [the Messiah’s] 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.”

Another Jewish tradition tells us that one of the Messiah’s chief missions is to suffer for the sins of Israel. We read that, “[G-d told Messiah] the conditions [of his future mission], and said to him: ‘Those who are hidden with you [your generation] their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke… and because of their sins your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth. Do you accept this?’ … [Messiah said to G-d]: ‘Master of the Worlds! With gladness in my soul and with joy in my heart I accept it, so that not a single one of Israel should perish; and not only those who will be alive should be saved in my days, but even the dead who died from the days of Adam the first man until now… This is what I want, this is what I accept!’” (Pes. Rab. Pp. 161a-b)

A Contradiction

The sages of old debated the issue of the coming of Messiah. Early in the debate, they realized that there seemed to be contradictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures. For instance, there were two different descriptions in the Tanakh of how Messiah would come. Thus, some came to this conclusion: “If [Israel] will be righteous, [the Messiah will come] on the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13); if they will not be righteous, [he will come] as a poor man riding upon an ass (Zech 9:9)” (B. Sanh. 98a).
It was also difficult to reconcile those passages that taught Messiah would die for Israel’s sins (Isaiah 53, Zech 12:10) and those that taught He would rule an eternal kingdom (Psalm 45:6-7, Daniel 7:14). Eventually, the idea that there must be two Messiahs emerged—Messiah son of Joseph (who would suffer as Joseph suffered) and Messiah son of David (who will rule as David ruled). It was believed that in the end of time, Messiah son of Joseph would be slain and Messiah son of David would then rise up— “And he (Armilus—anti-Messiah) will slay Messiah ben Joseph and it will be a great calamity for Israel… [Those of Israel who have no faith will say], ‘this is the man for whom we have hoped; now he came and was killed and no redemption is left for us…’ And to those who are left… Messiah ben David will reveal himself” (Patai, Messiah Texts).
Instead of two different Messiahs, which is never an idea stated in the Tanach, why not one Messiah with two different missions and thus two different comings? Why should Messiah not come in both ways (Zech 9, Daniel 7) instead of part of G-d’s holy word not being fulfilled? Isaiah 52 gives us the answer: Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.”
Messiah will be brought high and rule over the world. But first, he will suffer and die for our sins to provide the atonement which was hinted at in the Temple system. This is the only solution which takes into consideration all of Scripture, and has a lot more in common with traditional Jewish interpretations than what many Rabbis teach today.
But who is this Messiah? Could it be the one whom Christians call Jesus but His earliest followers referred to as Yeshua? Could it be the one whom, like Joseph was left for dead by his brothers, raised up to be the savior of the Gentiles, and will one day open the eyes of his Jewish brothers to show them that he is their living savior as well? As G-d tells us in Zechariah 12:10, in the day of G-d’s judgment on the nations:
“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”