Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah?

(This is an edited version. Click here to read the article in full )

In May 2005, Nick Howard spoke to the Christian Union at Durham University, on the subject Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah? A number of Jewish students were at the event and after the talk there was a lively question time! The following is an edited transcript of Nick's talk.
There is no more important question in all the world than: “Who is the Jewish Messiah?” because, as we shall see, “the obedience of the nations is his”. In AD 33 the Jewish high priest Caiaphas said to Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One,” and he said, “I am”. So Jesus clearly declared himself to be the Messiah of the Jewish people.

My aim in this talk is to build up a picture from the Hebrew Bible of what the Messiah is supposed to be like, so that we can see whether or not Jesus fits that picture. In chapter 49 of Genesis, Jacob addresses his twelve sons before he passes away. When he gets to Judah, he says that Judah’s family tree will be the royal line, and out of it will come a king who will rule over all the world:

"The sceptre will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his."

Jacob says that a king will come from the line of Judah who will be so great, so powerful, that all the nations will submit to him in obedience. This is the Messiah and throughout the Hebrew Bible his future coming is prophesied. In the book of Numbers, for example, we find the prophet Balaam speaking these words:

"I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
A sceptre will rise out of Israel…
A ruler will come out of Jacob."

Balaam, speaking centuries after the time of Jacob, says that God still has a Messiah on the agenda for Israel: a ruler, a star, a sceptre. Later still we find King David declaring that the Messiah, God’s king, will rule the nations with an iron sceptre.

A passage from Deuteronomy 18 gives us another piece of the jigsaw that will lead us to the identity of the Messiah. The Lord says to Moses:

"I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account."

At first sight this passage does not appear to be about the Messiah. But on closer analysis it is clear that it can be about no one but him. We are told that this prophet will be like Moses. To be on a par with Moses would mean ruling the people of Israel in such a way that they would never be the same again. In other words this prophet-ruler will transform Israel in a way that stands comparison with the transformation brought about by Moses. That would involve, at the very least, a massive overhaul to the very laws that Moses himself introduced. No ruler could transform the laws of Moses unless he had the all-powerful authority of the Messiah. So it is clear that the prophet-ruler predicted in Deuteronomy 18 must be one and the same person as the King foreseen by Jacob, Balaam and King David.

Daniel chapter nine adds some very important details to the picture we are building up:

“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.”

Did you catch the last line? “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” That is so important because it tells us that the Messiah has to come and be “cut off”, or killed, before the destruction of the Second Temple (the First Temple had already been destroyed by the time that Daniel was writing). So what we’re looking for, according to the Prophet Daniel, is for the Messiah to come and be killed before the year AD 70. Who fits the bill apart from Jesus? Remember that the Messiah was supposed to be like Moses – well Judaism has no one to rival Moses between his time and now, let alone AD 70. But Jesus was indeed a prophet-ruler with words from God to transform Israel, just like Moses. Jesus also matches up to the kingly language of Jacob and Balaam and David: he was, and is, a king. Listen to this passage from Luke chapter one:

"The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end'."

Now, going back to the passage in Genesis, someone might ask, “In what possible sense does Jesus have the obedience of the nations?” Well, in every country of the world there are people seeking to live their lives in obedience to Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, who rose again from the dead in accordance with Psalm 16. And he calls for your obedience, for it is right and sensible to honour God’s king. Let me read from the second Psalm, in which the Lord is speaking to his Messiah:

"Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery."

This is a king to be feared, so I urge you to get on the right side of Jesus even today.

The Torah says, “Hear O Israel: the LORD our God the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.” Who among us can say they’ve always done that, day after day, consistently throughout their lives? As the Psalmist has said, “There is no one good, not even one.” However, Jesus offers hope because if you become one of his followers, then you can join with them in saying the words of the prophet Isaiah: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we have been healed.” Jesus went to his death for the sake of his followers, so that all their sins could be transferred to his account, for as he hung on the cross he received the punishment that they deserved. Who is going to be punished for your sins, you, or Jesus?

May I urge you to turn to him and receive his forgiveness. It can be hard following King Jesus, living for him instead of living for yourself. But in the words of Daniel, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” This is about heaven, this is about hell. At that point there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Yeshua is mankind’s one king. He is the only one who can save you and open up the door to eternal life in God’s perfect place.
This article first appeared in the December 2005 edition of the Herald

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