The Jews believed that the Messiah, the prophet which Moses spoke about, would come and deliver them from Roman bondage and set up a kingdom where they would be the rulers. Two of the disciples, James and John, even asked to sit at Jesus' right and left in His cabinet when He came into His glory. The people of Jerusalem also thought He would deliver them. They shouted praises to God for the mighty works they had seen Jesus do, and called out "Hosanna, save us" when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. They treated Him like a conquering king. Then when He allowed Himself to be arrested, tried and crucified on a cursed cross, the people quit believing that He was the promised prophet. They rejected their Messiah.
Therefore, the promised kingdom was postponed. But God is a covenant keeping God and the kingdom promises are still in force for Israel. Paul told the Roman Church, "I do not desire, brethren that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion that hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sin....For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:23-27,29).
Note that Paul tells the Church that the spiritual blindness of Israel is a "mystery" that had not previously been revealed. For thousands of years Israel had been the one nation that looked to God while the Gentile nations generally rejected the light and chose to live in spiritual darkness. Israel and her inspired prophets revealed monotheism--one God who was personally interested in mankind's destiny of heaven or hell, the path to salvation, the written Word with the Ten Commandments. Yet Israel rejected her prophesied Messiah, and the promises of the kingdom of heaven were postponed. A veil of spiritual blindness fell upon the eyes of the Jews who previously were the most spiritually discerning people. As Paul explained, this hardening in part of Israel led to the blessing of the Gentiles who would believe in Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior.
The Jews rejected Jesus because He failed, in their eyes, to do what they expected their Messiah to do--destroy evil and all their enemies, in this case the Romans, and establish an eternal kingdom with Israel as the preeminent nation in the world. The prophecies in Isaiah and Psalm 22 described a suffering Messiah who would be persecuted and killed, but they chose to focus on those prophecies that discussed His glorious victories, not His crucifixion.
The commentaries in the Talmud, written before the onset of Christianity, clearly discuss the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and puzzle over how these would be fulfilled with the glorious setting up of the Kingdom of the Messiah. After the Church used theses prophecies to prove the claims of Christ, the Jews took the position that the prophecies did not refer to the Messiah, but to Israel or some other person.
During a recent research trip to Israel, I searched in several Jewish theological bookstores in the old city of Jerusalem for some specific material on the Temple and the Messiah. Several times, rabbinical students engaged me in conversation regarding my research. First, they were curious about my genuine interest as a Christian in Israel and in Jewish commentaries on the Bible. Then invariably they turned the conversation to Jesus and His claims to be the Jewish Messiah. The words, "He could not have been the promised Messiah because he failed, he was killed," were spoken in each conversation. They could see that Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament Messianic prophecies--His birth in Bethlehem, coming out of Egypt, living in Nazareth, being preceded by a messenger, awesome miraculous powers and tremendous teaching. However, they still felt as their fathers did two thousand years before: Jesus had failed, he was killed: Therefore, he could not be the glorified Messiah.
During Jesus' ministry, the Jews continually asked His identity because they knew that, according to the prophet Daniel, the Messiah was supposed to come at that time. Jewish commentaries, even during the Middle Ages, admit that the Messiah was prophesied to appear before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. They knew that the book of Daniel declared that the Messiah would come sixty-nine weeks of years (483 biblical years of 360 days each) from the decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That well known decree was given to Nehemiah on the first day of Nisan, March 14, 445 B.C. The final year was A.D. 32 (See: The Unexpected King) The growing expectations of the Messiah's coming is reflected in the scribes' explanation to King Herod that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. It is noteworthy that, before Jesus, no one falsely claimed to be Messiah. First came the genuine, then the copies.
The Two Messiahs of Jewish Belief
The Jews are still looking for their Messiah to come. Although the Church has always taught that the Messiah would come twice, Jewish teachers have rejected the idea. However, recent Jewish commentaries of the Talmud proclaim two future Messiahs. One, they suggest, will appear before the War of Gog and Magog (the coming Russian-Arab invasion of Israel). He will lead the forces of Israel to victory, as described in Ezekiel 38-39. He is called Moshiach Ben Joseph --Messiah the son of Joseph. They claim he will be killed in the battle with Russia, thus fulfilling the suffering Messiah prophecies. Then, they suggest that the second Messiah, Moshiach Ben David --Messiah the son of David, will come forth. He will lead Israel into the promised Kingdom and the "age of redemption." This interesting interpretation is their way of dealing with the undeniable and difficult fact that the Scriptures do prophecy two separate comings of the Messiah: one to persecution and death, the second to glorious victory over the enemies of God and Israel. The curious factor here is that this interpretation of two comings of the Messiah is precisely the claim of the New Testament. However, Christians present the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the prophecies of the first coming during His First Coming, and that He will return to redeem both Israel and the Church in the near future, in the Second Coming.
A startling document came into my possession during my studies in Jerusalem that sheds additional light on the coming of the Messiah. Moses Maimonides, known affectionately as Rambam, was the greatest Jewish commentator and scholar of the Middle Ages. In Jewish tradition they refer to him as follows: "From Moses to Moses (Maimonides), there is no one like Moses." In Rambam's Mishneh Torah, a commentary of the first five books of the Bible, are some startling facts about the history and Messianic claims of Jesus Christ. This great Rabbi reveals his honest intellectual struggle to come to terms with apparent contradictions regarding the separate prophecies about the suffering Messiah and the glorified Messiah. The Mishneh Torah, composed of fourteen volumes, is the most authoritative Jewish commentary of their understanding of the Law of God as it related to Israel, the Messiah and the Temple. The final fourteenth volume, Hilchot Melachim U'Milchamoteihem (the Laws of Kings and Their Wives) is about the coming of the Messiah.
The Qualifications Of The Messiah
Rambam believed that the coming of the Messiah was the key to the restoration of the Temple, the fulfillment of the Torah and the coming of the Messianic age of redemption. "He [the Messiah] will build the Temple, gather the dispersed of Israel. Then, in his days, all the statutes will return to their previous state. We will offer sacrifices and observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, according to all their particulars mentioned by the Torah" (Halachah 1:11).
Compare the qualifications of the Messiah, which Rambam enumerated from his study of the Old Testament prophets, with the history of Jesus Christ. "If a king will arise from the house of David who is learned in Torah and observant of the mitzvot (commandments), as prescribed by the written law and the oral law, as David, his ancestor was, and will compel all of Israel to walk in [their light] and reinforce the breaches; and fight the wars of God, we may, with assurance, consider Him the Messiah. If he succeeds in the above, builds the Temple in its place, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah. He will then improve the entire world [motivating] all the nations to serve God together as [Zephaniah 3:9] states: I will make the peoples pure of speech that they all will call upon the Name of God and serve Him with one purpose" (Halachah 11:4).
In this passage, Rambam has described in the first paragraph the first coming of the Messiah; in the second paragraph the second coming. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies as the Son of David and astonished His listeners as a teacher of the Torah Law. In His unfolding purpose to accomplish the salvation of all those who would believe in Him, Christ allowed Himself to be sacrificed on the cross after fulfilling this first group of prophecies. This ultimate sacrificial gift to mankind was anticipated by God's miraculous offering of the ram to replace Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah almost two thousand years earlier. When Christ returns as promised, He will completely fulfill the remaining prophecies. He will build the Millennial Temple as described in Ezekiel 40-48 and gather the dispersed of Israel into the Kingdom of heaven on Earth.
In one fascinating part of his commentary, Rambam deals with the puzzle about the historical Jesus, the problems associated with His partial fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies and the claims of Christianity. "If he [the Messiah] did not succeed to this degree or he was killed, he surely is not [the redeemer] promised by the Torah. [Rather] he should be considered as all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died. God only caused him to arise in order to test the many, as [Daniel 11:35] states, and some of the wise men will stumble, to try them, to refine, and to clarify until the appointed time, because the set time is in the future" (Halachah 11:4).
This conclusion of Rambam that the death of Jesus proves that He was not the promised glorified Messiah has been repeated for hundreds of years. However, Rambam makes an astonishing admission: If the person legitimately fulfills part of the prophecies, but is killed before completing the restoration of the Temple, etc., he is to be considered as "all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died," not as an imposter.
He then considers the historical evidence he had in his possession about Jesus Christ. As the greatest scholar of his day, he had access to rabbinical literature (which was available at that time) that dealt with the period before the burning of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It is important to remember that most Jews over the last two thousand years have assumed Jesus never lived, died or rose from the dead. Many Jews have thought that the Gospel records of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were contrived documents composed long after the events in question. Even liberal scholars now admit that all the Gospels were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is important because if the Gospel records about the teachings, miracles, prophecies, death and resurrection of Jesus existed within thirty-five years of their occurrence, it is tremendous proof that these events happened. The theories of the higher critical school of the last century, which categorically denied the early existence of the Gospels, have been overturned by recent scholarly research. It is almost impossible now to maintain the previous theory that the Gospels were mythical or imaginative material composed hundreds of years after all living witnesses had died. Why would the Gospels have been accepted as truth by people who were willing to die for their faith if living witnesses could stand up and deny their truthfulness?
Reference: Jeffrey, Grant R., "Heaven - The Last Frontier", Frontier Research Publications, Inc. (1990), p.80-85
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