did the Old Testament instruct people to recognize God's promised messiah?
child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am
a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene... 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.
was a crackpot.
3.1 Who or what is the Messiah?
Hebrew word mashach, that we translate messiah, means anointed
one. The Greek translation of the same word, christos, is our
word Christ. Therefore, when you hear the English-speaking Christian
talking of Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Christ, they are referring to their
belief that Jesus is the Anointed One, or the Messiah as promised in the
prophets of ancient Israel spoke quite often of the Anointed One. The significance
of anointing is that it was a ceremonial sign of being set apart for a special
purpose, and as a symbol of having God's power or approval. Ancient Israel's
prophets, priests, and kings were all anointed for their respective duties
within the nation. In a minor sense, each of these were anointed ones.
future Anointed One, however, was specified by prophecy to come at a certain
time, in a specific place, having a certain lineage, be called "Mighty God",
accomplish specific tasks, suffer rejection and seeming defeat, yet establish
a kingdom that would destroy all of its enemies. The Anointed One would
rule this kingdom forever.
3.2 Which Old Testament prophecies did pre-Jesus Jews believe
spoke of the coming Messiah?
Of all the Old Testament
prophecies which Jesus fulfilled, there are two major reasons to concentrate
on those which we clearly know pre-Jesus Jews believed spoke of the future
1.) Now that Jesus
has come, Christians could theoretically be accused of describing as messianic
only the prophecies that Jesus seems to have fulfilled.
2.) Modern Jews who
reject Jesus could, likewise, theoretically deny as messianic those prophecies
that he actually did fulfill.
In order to prevent
Christians or Jews or anyone else from reinterpreting ancient Israel's messianic
expectations after-the-fact, it must be determined which parts of the Old
Testament ancient Judaism agreed upon as pertaining to God's promised Anointed
One. This is accomplished
by turning to individuals having a personal background of Judaism, or having
intricate knowledge of ancient Israel's long religious and political history.
This will help to more objectively answer the question "What
were the people in Jesus' day supposed to be looking for in the way of a
The problem encountered
here is not a lack of information about what this Anointed One will be or
do, but an information overload. Over 456 passages of Scripture were declared
by the Jews to be Messianic in nature. Because of so many, only a fraction
of the specific passages claimed to be messianic will be presented. The
scriptural passages themselves will not be introduced until later
when they will be compared side-by-side with what Christians believe are
their New Testament fulfillments.
1. Genesis 3:15 - The Messiah will come:
This is the first Messianic
prophecy in the Bible that promises God will send a male descendant through
Adam and Eve to defeat and destroy Satan. Semitics Professor Charles Feinberg
documents that, "There has never been a time, from ancient days to the present,
when the Messianic interpretation of Genesis 3:15 has not had its able advocates."
2. Deuteronomy 18:15 - The position he will hold:
Here God promises that
one day he will raise up a prophet as great as Moses by whom God will call
everyone to account. According to Paton J. Gloag,
The Talmud asserts
'that Messiah must be the greatest of future prophets, as being nearest
in spirit to our master Moses.'... This prediction, then, could only receive
its accomplishment in the Messiah. 3
3. Isaiah 9:6,7 - The nature of his identity:
These verses, frequently
seen on Christmas cards, include the words, "For
to us a child is born... And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty
God, Everlasting Father...". The
chief significance being that the Anointed One will be the everlasting Mighty
God AND will be born as a child. The Targum of Isaiah,
which is an ancient rabbinical commentary, confirms Jewish belief in the
Messianic nature of this passage,
His name has been
called from old, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, He who lives forever,
the Anointed One, in whose days peace shall increase upon us. 4
4. Daniel 9:24-27 - When he will come:
This passage prophecies
that after the decree goes out to rebuild Jerusalem, the "Anointed One,
the ruler" would arrive after a period of seven plus sixty-two shabuim,
or cycles of Sabbaths (a Sabbath being one year out of every seven when
no crops are planted). This is 69 cycles of seven years, or 483 years. After
this last cycle has begun, the "Anointed One" will be killed and, afterwards,
Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed.
Because of this passage's
specificity, even the Jewish Talmud describes its content as having indicated
the end of the Messiah. It is an interesting observation that outsiders
to Judaism, like Tacitus and Suetonius, also noted the Jewish anticipation
of the Messiah's arrival. Referring to the time around Jesus' appearance,
Tacitus recorded in his work Histories:
There was a firm persuasion...
that at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers coming
from Judea were to acquire a universal empire. 5
5. Micah 5:2 - Where he will come:
Micah states that the
Anointed One will come from Bethlehem although having existed "from ancient
times". Gloag comments on this passage:
All the ancient Jewish
interpreters adhere to the Messianic meaning... So also the testimony
of the Targums is in favor of the Messianic interpretation of the prophecy.
6. Psalm 22 He will suffer:
This describes the same
specific details of suffering and mockery to which a great number of smaller
passages clearly prophesy the Messiah would be subjected. John Ankerberg
quotes Moishe Rosen that early rabbinical writings describe this Psalm as
painting a grim Messianic picture: "The Messiah's body is bent low". 7
7. Isaiah chapters 52-53 - His death will be a guilt offering to God,
but he will again "see the light of life":
These chapters contain
a great deal of Isaiah's extensive writings about the Anointed One as the
servant of the Lord. They speak of the Anointed One's innocence as well
as his mortal punishment. The giving of his life will be for the intercession
and justification of those whose sin he bore. But it goes on to state that
the Lord will prolong his days and he will see the light of life and divide
the spoils of what his death accomplished.
This passage is one
believed to have influenced some Jews to conceive of a two-Messiah idea.
Dr. Raphael Patai writes,
When the death of
the Messiah became an established tenet in Talmudic time, this was felt
to be irreconcilable with the belief in the Messiah as the Redeemer who
would usher in the blissful millennium of the Messianic age. The dilemma
was solved by splitting the person of the Messiah in two. 8
The New Testament's overall record of Jesus' actions matches the issues
and events that were prophesied. Although many passages concerning the Messiah
could be covered, Hebrew scholar Alfred Edersheim extensively reviewed the
rabbinic commentaries on the Messianic prophecies. As to whether or not
the New Testament claims accurately reflect Messianic expectations, Edersheim
Accordingly, a careful
perusal of their  scripture quotations shows that the main postulates
of the New Testament concerning the Messiah are fully supported by rabbinic
statements. Thus, such doctrines as the pre-mundane existence of the Messiah;
his elevation above Moses, and even above the Angels; his representative
character; his cruel suffering and derision; his violent death, and that
for his people; his work on behalf of the living and of the dead; his
redemption and restoration of Israel; the opposition of the gentiles;
their partial judgment and conversion; the prevalence of his Law; the
universal blessings of the latter days; and his kingdom - can clearly
be deduced from unquestioned passages in ancient rabbinic writings...
There is, indeed, in rabbinic writings frequent reference to the sufferings,
and even death of the Messiah, and these are brought into connection with
our sins... 9
How were the messianic prophecies being interpreted in Jesus' day?
Having established some
proof of the prophecies which are Messianic in nature, we now need to see
how they were being interpreted prior to Jesus' arrival. For we know that
when Jesus began his ministry, many people would accept him as the Christ,
others would not, and still others would later be swayed one way or another
by ensuing events.
This mixed manner in
which Jesus was received is better understood in light of knowing the
expectations in circulation at that time about the coming Messiah. While
there was general agreement on which parts of Scripture were speaking of
the promised deliverer, as we've just reviewed, not everyone was in agreement
on the exact nature of that persona.
People differed in their
answers to the question "How will we know him when he gets here?" Many Jews,
and even Roman occupation forces to a lesser extent, had their eyes out
for a military conqueror. That is the temporal vision of which Messiah had
popularly been cast; someone who might extricate the geopolitical nationstate
of Israel from its territorial occupation by foreign armies.
-- THE TWO-MESSIAH INTERPRETATION
Besides the conquering
king prophecies, Scripture also foretold of the Messiah's rejection, suffering,
and death. Being paradoxical to an eternal messianic kingdom, this led some
Jews to conclude that the totality of messianic prophecies actually spoke
of two different Messiahs.
The fact that prophecies
stated the Messiah would hold the offices of both priest and king
was cited as further support of a two Messiah interpretation. This is because
the offices of priest and king were strictly separated. Priests were to
be descendants of Aaron from the tribe of Levi, while kings were
to be of King David's line from the tribe of Judah. Therefore, because
this prophecy extremely limited the section of the populace from which the
Messiah could come (though other prophecies even narrow it down even further),
it may have seemed more probable that Scripture spoke of two men, not one.
In the two Messiah interpretation,
a first Messiah, referred to as Messiah ben-Joseph, would fulfill
the prophecies concerning the priestly acts including suffering and death.
A second Messiah, referred to as Messiah ben-David, would then follow
to fulfill the prophecies describing a conquering king whose rule would
be divine and eternal. In the minds of many, suffering and dying just did
not seem to be a fitting description of the military super-general some
Jews interpreted Scripture to be indicating.
-- THE ONE-MESSIAH INTERPRETATION
Of course, other Jews
believed that there would only be one Messiah. Scripture never referred
to the Anointed One in any kind of plural sense. In fact, certain prophecies
speak of a singular individual who will perform both priestly and kingly
duties. Proponents of the single Messiah interpretation likely concluded
that God would work out whatever paradoxes were involved with one who was
supposed to both die and somehow rule eternally. Perhaps it occurred to
them that Scripture was not trying to describe two Messiahs who would
each come to earth once, but one Messiah who would come twice.
all these different avenues of ancient Jewish thought are two subtle yet
interesting facts that enhance the overall believability of the Bible:
1.) Although the ancient
Jews recognized within Scripture a paradox (perceived contradiction) about
a Messiah who was eternal but would be born and die, the paradox was let
stand. The point is that statements were not edited out because they did
not make sense. They were left in because it was all taken as the Word
of God. The creative interpretation of two Messiahs was uncalled for and
need not have been constructed as a safety net to make sure God or his
prophets had not gotten confused.
2.) The fact that
many Jews of Jesus' day denied his unique fulfillment of the messianic
prophecies is itself a testimony that Jesus did not precede those prophecies.
For one cannot say that
- messianic prophecies
were written by the Jews to make it look as though Jesus had fulfilled
- believe that the
Jews are still waiting for someone to fulfill the prophecies because
they do not think Jesus did.
Only one or the other
can be true. So because Jews at that time did reject Jesus as the Christ,
and many still do, clearly the hundreds of specific Messianic prophecies
came before Jesus, not afterwards.
In the next section,
we will now look at those messianic prophecies and see if their fulfillments
can actually be found in the person of Jesus.
NEXT: Does Jesus fulfill the
When were the biblical
books written? <the short version>