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Discovering the Jewish Messiah, part 1

May 5, 2010

When beginning a study on Christianity’s claims for Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, it is very easy to come across as though we hate Christianity or are trying to destroy it.  That is not our purpose.  We are simply using Christianity’s claims as a platform for delving into the depths of Jewish Scripture to get a clearer understanding of what the Hebrew Scriptures teach about the messiah, the nature of God and the end-times.

Unlike Christianity, which holds that anyone who does not believe in Jesus as savior is doomed to eternal condemnation (Hell), Judaism teaches that “the righteous of all nations have a place in heaven.”  Therefore, we have no need to destroy or belittle another faith system, even if we believe that faith system to be in error.

What is the error of Christianity? The basic error of Christianity is its claim that Jesus is the Jewish messiah and therefore Christianity is consistent with Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures. As we will see in this unit, the Christian concept of the messiah is not consistent with the Jewish concept which comes from the Hebrew Scriptures.

When making an honest investigation of Christianity’s claims, therefore, it is prudent to begin with the subject of the messiah.  The reason for this is clear; this is the primary claim that Christianity is making – the Jewish messiah came, we didn’t understand who he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to do, and so we missed him. Thus, this is also the first issue that missionaries will bring up when trying to convince a Jewish person to believe in Jesus.

Even though the Christian concept of the messiah (a divine sacrifice) is repugnant to most Jewish people, the concept of messiah is one which is very familiar to the Jew (one of the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith is that we eagerly await the coming of the messiah).  It is for this reason that it makes a good point of engagement, and an important place to begin this study.

The Real Messiah

Since the subject of the messiah is the primary point of engagement between missionaries and Jewish people, it is vitally important that we have a clear understanding of whom and what the messiah is, according to the Hebrew Scriptures.  Without having a clear understanding of the Jewish messiah, we might be easily convinced to accept the counterfeit being proffered by other faiths.

Counterfeit Division

In the United States, The Secret Service is exclusively responsible for the investigation of counterfeiting of money.  While the Secret Service constantly reviews the latest reprographic and lithographic technologies to keep a step ahead of counterfeiters, their training primarily involves not learning all the different ways in which money can be counterfeited – the possibilities are endless.  Rather, it primarily involves learning what real money looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like, etc.  For it is only in knowing the real thing intimately, that one can identify a counterfeit no matter what form it comes in.

In the same way, when we have an intimate understanding of whom and what the messiah is, looks like and will do, it becomes amazingly easy to identify a counterfeit when it is presented to us.

משיח – ANOINTED

The word “messiah” is the English pronunciation of the Hebrew word “mashiach”.  This causes a problem because by using the English pronunciation, the true meaning of the word becomes obscured.  The word mashiach is a form of the word “limshoach” which means to pour.  A mashiach is something which has been anointed with oil in order to serve a special purpose.  We will see in the following passages that in the bible, there was a custom to pour oil on people or things in order to consecrate them for service to God.

Shemot (Exodus) 29

7 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.

8 “You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them.

9 “You shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and bind caps on them, and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute. So you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

Shemot (Exodus) 30

22 Moreover, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

23 “Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty,

24 and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a            hin.

25 “You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.

26 “With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony,

27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense,

28 and the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand.

29 “You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy.

30 “You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to Me.

31 “You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations.

ואת־אהרן ואת־בניו תמשׁח וקדשׁת אתם לכהן לי׃ 30

1Samuel 16:13

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.

1Kings 19:16

And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.

Isaiah 45:1

Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:

Tehillim (Psalms) 105:15

“Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.”

We see that hundreds of people, and things were anointed for a special purpose, many of which were anointed for service in the Tabernacle (Mishkan) or Temple (Beit Hamikdash).  However, in each and every case except one, the word HaMashiach “THE Messiah”, doesn’t exist.  In each and every case the person or item is “a mashiach.”  The only time that the word, “Hamashiach” can be found in the Jewish bible is in the book of Vayikra.  However, it is quite clear from the passage that this is not referring to the future messiah, but rather, to the High Priest.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 4:3

If the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.

אם הכהן המשׁיח יחטא לאשׁמת העם והקריב על חטאתו אשׁר חטא פר בן־בקר תמים לה’  לחטאת׃

Given that there are so many people and things that are referred to as messiahs in the Hebrew Scriptures and that there isn’t any specific reference to a person called, “HaMashiach,” where do we get the concept of the messiah from in the first place?

Most people think that the concept of the messiah comes only from the Prophets, but the truth is, this concept of a time at the end of days when Israel will be redeemed and vindicated and the world will know true peace and worship the G-d of Israel is hinted at in the Torah itself.

We see in the Parshah Vayechi – Bereishit (Genesis) 49:1-2 that Jacob gathers his children together to bless them and to reveal when the messiah would come.  The text says,

“And Jacob called unto his sons, and said: ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days. Assemble yourselves, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.”

The Hebrew text reads:

(1)  ויקרא יעקב אל־בניו ויאמר האספו ואגידה לכם את אשׁר־יקרא אתכם באחרית הימים׃

(2)  הקבצו ושׁמעו בני יעקב ושׁמעו אל־ישׂראל אביכם׃

The above passage is curiously written for two reasons.  Firstly, we know that the sons of Jacob did not live to see the “end of days” or Messianic era.  This is easily dealt with since the Jewish people are the direct descendants of the sons of Jacob and therefore it can be said that we (or our descendants) will see the “end of days”.  The more curious part of this passage actually lies in the fact that Jacob never actually went on to tell his sons what would befall us in the Messianic Era or “end of days”.

Rashi comments that Jacob wanted to tell his children when the messiah would come, which would provide comfort to their descendents during times of exile, but the Divine Presence deserted him and he was unable to do so. Jacob then understood that although he had this information, God did not want the time of the End to be known.  According to the Stone edition of the Chumash, “Israel would find its comfort not in deadlines but in faith and performance of God’s commandments.”

However, the point of our exploration of this passage is in the fact that this is the first time we come across the concept of the “End of Days – באחרית הימים” in the Torah.  Thus, we have our first indication of the Jewish concept of a messianic era.

Judaism – the Jewish people – are the originators of the idea of “HaMashiach”.  Since the Hebrew Scriptures make no reference specifically to The Messiah, or a person called, “HaMashiach,” the concept developed from a careful examination of all the texts referring to this “End Days” or Messianic era.

The result of this careful examination is an understanding of certain key elements of what would take place during the messianic era and a key figure which reveals himself as part of this incredible time.

Some of the verses which clearly and consistently tell about the messianic era also talk about an anointed king, a mashiach, who will reign during this supernatural time of universal peace and worship of the God of Israel.

The fact that there is no reference anywhere in the Jewish bible to a person called, “HaMashiach” creates a problem for those who would like to believe that there is only one such person in history, that being the unique person of Jesus.  Such believers assert that the bible clearly points to him as the one and only messiah, that there are over 300 messianic prophecies in the Jewish bible that he fulfilled, and that the odds of this happening are so low that no one else could possibly be the messiah.

However, the fact that the concept of the mashiach is not explicit in the Hebrew Scriptures, but rather, implicit, leaves room for a lot of speculation. And, as we will discover through the course of this text, none of the supposedly 300 prophecies specifically point to Jesus.  Most of these supposed “messianic prophecies” are either not prophecies or not messianic.  Of the few verses we have left, we find that either Jesus didn’t fulfill them, or they are verses written in such a way that while they may or may not apply to him, they certainly cannot be used as proof of anything.

The name “Christianity” means “of the messiah”.  The word Christ is the English form of the Greek word, “Christos”, which means Mashiach – Messiah.  The religion of Christianity is so named because its primary focus is on this concept that there was only one messiah in all of history and that is Jesus.  That being the case, it may come as a surprise to Christians that the bible doesn’t ever make reference to The Messiah in any specific way.  This, however, is not a problem in Judaism, since the messiah is not a central theme in the Jewish bible.  What is the central theme of the Jewish bible?  God’s relationship to the Jewish people; the coming of the messiah is just one part of that relationship.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. folke Holtz permalink
    May 6, 2010 10:42 pm

    Excelent.

    It shows that the moshiach was and is the high prisert and the king of Israel whit no conection with the Christan mangod at all. The Christian view of Messiah is the one from the Nicea consil in 325 and to the establish fact of trinity at 381. It is very clear that the elected mangod Messiah have nothing to do with the Jewish Moshiach.

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