Was Jesus the Jewish Messiah?

Following the conquest of Israel by the Assyrians in 722BC and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587BC, the Jewish people in exile in Mesopotamia longed for a time when God would restore the Jewish nation to its former glory under King David (c.1004BC - c.971 BC).

 

Longing for a king like David

The Jewish prophet Amos, writing just before the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BC looked ahead to the restoration of Israel after the exile. “The kingdom of David is like a fallen tent, but in that day I will set it up again and mend its broken places. I will rebuild its ruins as it was before.” (Amos 9:11)

Writing about the same time, Hosea declared that “Israel will live many days without a king or leader, without sacrifices or holy stone pillars… After this, the people of Israel will return to the LORD their God and follow him and the king from David’s family.” (Hosea 3:4-5)

 

The prophet Isaiah, also writing around this time, looked ahead to a powerful military leader descended from Israel’s most successful warrior, King David: “He will rule as king on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom. He will make it strong by ruling with justice and goodness from now on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:7)

The prophet Jeremiah, also foresaw a time when a 'good branch' would sprout from David's family tree: "The days are coming", says the LORD, "when I will raise up a good branch in David's family. He will be a king who will rule in a wise way; he will do what is fair and right in the land." (Jeremiah 23:5)

The prophet Ezekiel, writing after the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC looked ahead to a future time when God would save his people: “Then I will put over them one shepherd, my servant David.” (Ezekiel 34:23) 

The prophet Micah announced that this mighty ruler would be born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah… from you will come one who will rule Israel for me.” (Micah 5:2).

 

Bethlehem by night (Sengaska)

Bethlehem by night  (Sengaska)

 

Jewish expectations of a Messiah

By New Testament times, most Jews were eagerly awaiting the coming of the ‘Messiah’ (Hebrew) or ‘Christ’ (Greek), meaning ‘the Anointed One’. There were many views on what the Messiah would be like.

Some expected the Messiah would be a great spiritual leader like Moses, who would lead the people to a new freedom - a new 'Exodus'. They remembered Moses's words, "The LORD your God will give you a prophet like me, who is one of your own people." (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Others looked for the coming of one 'like a son of man' as foreseen by the prophet Daniel - "someone who looked like a human being coming on the clouds in the sky... He was given authority, glory and the strength of a king. People of every tribe, nation and language will serve him. His rule will last for ever, and his kingdom will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)

But most expected that ‘the one who is to come’ would be a great military leader like King David, who would expel the Romans and set up a new Jewish state of Israel.

 

To many Jews, Jesus of Nazareth could not be the expected ‘Messiah’ because he didn't fulfil their expectations of the 'Messiah' or ‘Christ’.

A man who encouraged his followers to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39) and entered Jerusalem meekly on a donkey (see Mark 11:1-11) could not be the military leader who would overthrow the Romans.

Knowing that he was brought up in Galilee, some believed Jesus couldn't be descended from King David or have been born in Bethlehem (see John 7:40-44 & Matthew 13:55-57).

Many Jewish religious leaders felt that a man who challenged their interpretation of the Sabbath laws (see Mark 2:23-28 and Matthew 12:9-14) and associated with those who were ‘unclean’ under the Law of Moses could not be the expected prophet (see Mark 2:13-17).

Others saw his claims to a special relationship with God as ‘blasphemy’ (profound disrespect for God) (see Matthew 9:1-3, 26:63-68, Luke 5:17-21 & John 8:48-58).

 

Mary's Spring, Nazareth (Almog)

'Mary's Spring' in Nazareth - where Jesus was brought up  (Almog)

 

Was Jesus the Messiah?

The New Testament tells us that, while some doubted, many Jews did believe that Jesus was the ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’ promised by God.

At the beginning of the New Testament, the Angel Gabriel announced that the new king of David’s line was about to be born. He told a startled young Mary that her son Jesus would be called "the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of King David, his ancestor. He will rule over the people of Jacob for ever." (Luke 1:32-33)

When Jesus began his ministry aged about 30, he was baptised by John in the River Jordan. Over the next couple of days, John and his followers spotted Jesus several times among the crowds. John called out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Andrew – one of John’s followers – rushed to find his brother Simon, exclaiming, “We have found the Messiah” (the ‘Christ’) (John 1:41).

 

After being arrested by Herod Antipas, John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come?” (Luke 7:19). He wanted to be sure that Jesus really was the Christ or Messiah who was promised by the Old Testament prophets. Jesus asked the messengers to report what they saw to John: “The blind can see, the crippled can walk … the dead are raised to life and the Good News is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22).

Jesus said that John had fulfilled Malachi's prophesy about the messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah: "I tell you, John is more than a prophet. This was written about him: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the way for you.'" (Matthew 11:9-10) (see Malachi 3:1) Jesus also recognised John as the 'Elijah figure' who would come before the Messiah: "And if you believe what they said, you will believe that John is Elijah, whom they said would come [before the Messiah]." (Matthew 11:14) (see Malachi 4:5) 

 

En route from Jerusalem to Galilee, Jesus met a Samaritan woman by a well. She pointed out that her ancestors worshipped in the temple on Mt Gerizim while the Jews worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem. Jesus told her that a time was coming when true worshippers would not be restricted to worshipping in any one place as they would worship anywhere “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). The woman said the promised Messiah – the Christ – will explain everything when he comes. Jesus replied, “I am he.” (John 4:26)

Later, Jesus and his disciples travelled north to the Gentile villages around Caesarea Philippi. Here, Jesus asked his disciples who people really thought he was. Some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist, returned from the dead; others thought he was Elijah. Jesus then asked the disciples for their opinion. Peter replied, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:27-30)

 

Banias, Temple of Pan (EdoM)

The Temple of Pan at Banias (Caesaria Philippi)  (EdoM)

 

In c.520BC, the prophet Zechariah had announced that God would send a new king: “Shout for joy, people of Jerusalem! Your king is coming to you... He is gentle and riding on a donkey, on the colt of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)  On ‘Palm Sunday’ in 30AD, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfil this prophesy of a ‘king like David’ made by Zechariah some 500 years earlier (see Matthew 21:1-11).

After being arrested later that week, Jesus was brought before Caiaphas – the Jewish High Priest. “The high priest asked Jesus… ‘Are you the Christ, [the Messiah] the Son of the Blessed God?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am. And in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God.” (Mark 14:61-62)

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