What Is Messiah?
Jewish Messiah or Christian God
By Rick Richardson
Many Christians do not understand that the major difference between Christian and Jew is not a question of WHO Messiah is, rather it is a question of WHAT Messiah is. When we ask a Jew to "accept Jesus" we are not asking them to accept the Jewish Messiah, rather we are asking them to accept the Christian God. Why is it that Christian and Jew have such different views on WHAT Messiah is? If this is the fundamental difference between us, it would make sense to explore the Jewish concept of Messiah, and discover WHEN and WHY the view of the divinity of the Messiah became different in Christianity. We must ask the question: did the original believers have the same concept of the Messiah as do modern Christians?
The Shema is often called the "Jewish Profession of Faith," because it begins with the most basic of Jewish concepts: "Hear 0 Israel, The LORD our God the LORD is One.
From at least the time of Ezra, Jews have been saying this prayer that consists of three passages in the Torah (Deut. 6:4-9, Deut. 11:13-21, and Num. 15:37-41). This prayer is said two to four times a day. Some speculate that this was the prayer being recited by Daniel, for which he was thrown into the lion's den. It is so important that the Mishna allows it to be uttered in any language (not just Hebrew). (M Sot 7: I) It is also the prayer that many Jews have said as they faced death at the hands of persecutors including many who went into the gas chambers of Nazi Germany in WW2. Rabbi Akiva, the second-century sage tortured to death by the Romans for his support of the Bar-Kokhba rebellion, was the most famous martyr to die with the Shema on his lips.
The Talmud records:
When Akiva was being tortured, the hour for saying the [morning] Shema arrived. He said it and smiled. The Roman officer called out, 'Old man, are you a sorcerer [because Akiva seemed oblivious to the torture] that you smile in the middle of your pains?' 'No,' replied Akiva, 'but all my life, when I said the words, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your means," I was saddened, for I thought, when shall I be able to fulfill this command?
I have loved God with all my heart, and with all my means [possessions], but to love him with all my soul [life itself] I did not know if I could carry it out. Now that I am giving my life, and the hour for reciting the Shema has come and my resolution remains firm, should I not smile?' As he spoke, his soul departed."
These scriptures were an embedded part of Jewish life in the first century, as they still are today. They basically describe the Torah observant Jew and what is expected of him.
To make reference to this group of scriptures, you need only say the first word, imw (shema), and it is understood what you are referencing. When Yeshua was asked what the greatest commandment was, however, he went much further than to give the first word. He left no doubt as to what he was saying. Mark 12:28 "28
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together. and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Yeshua answered him, The first of all the commandments is, dxa yy vnyhia yy larsy imw (Shema Yisrael ADONAI elohenu ADONAI echad.)
Hear, 0 Israel; the LORD our God, the LORD is One: 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Yeshua expresses the major profession of Jewish faith and emphasizes monotheism as the first priority of belief Messiah is never confused with God, and is NEVER believed to be God. In the New Testament accounts of the first believers, you will find much disagreement over the question of the association and conversion of Gentiles. You will find discussion of and disagreements over many other issues. However, there is no debate over the deity of Yeshua. Why?
The reason for this obvious absence of discussion on the topic is this was not yet the view held by early believers. Had the belief of the early followers included the deity of Yeshua, the pages of the New Testament would be filled with the stories of conflict over such beliefs. The early followers historically did not take the position that the Messiah was God. If that is the case, WHO and WHAT is Messiah?
The Meaning of "Messiah" Before we continue further with a discussion on the Jewish view of Messiah we need to ask the question: what does the word Messiah mean? The Hebrew word "Mashiach" means "anointed one" (or chosen one).
• Hebrew: Mashiach (Messiah)
• Greek: Christos (Christ)
• English: Anointed
This title applies to the High Priest, to the Kings of Israel, and even to Israel itself.
In his book "Early Judaism," Martin Jaffee writes:
The English word 'Messiah' renders the Hebrew 'mashiakh,' In its simplest meaning, it denotes 'one who is anointed with oil'" More expansively, it identifies a person consecrated to a divinely appointed task. In the Torah of Moses, particularly in the book of Leviticus, this term is used frequently to describe Aaron, the officiating priest charged with conducting the sacrificial service in the Tent of Meeting.
In the priestly sense, the Messiah is the priest whose sacrificial service in accordance with Torah sustains the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. Messiah also refers to one anointed to serve as king over the Israelite people in its Land. The original anointee was Saul, the first man appointed as king over Israel.
1 Samuel 24:5
5 And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt. 6 And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master. THE LORD'S ANOINTED, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the ANOINTED OF THE LORD.
Here we read of David referring to Saul as hvhy xywml (or "the Messiah of Yahweh").
So, there can be a number of different individuals identified throughout history as a messiah (anointed). However, when you talk of THE Messiah you would be referring to Messiah ben David, the ruler at the end of the age at the time of the Third Temple, and Messiah ben Joseph who dies to bring the kingdoms of Israel and Judah back together.
The Divine Connection
When answering the question WHO or WHAT is the Messiah, it is helpful to read what God tells Moses about the divine connection to Messiah.
In Deuteronomy 18:18 God tells Moses: "18 I will raise up a prophet FROM AMONG THEIR COUNTRYMEN LIKE YOU, and I WILL PUT MY WORDS IN HIS MOUTH, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And it shall come about that whosoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.
As we can see, the Messiah was to be "from among their country¬men" like Moses. The connection to the divine is that God's WORDS are put in Messiah's mouth. It is important to realize that at no time in history did Judaism ever assign deity to the Messiah himself. Why then did Christianity view Messiah as God?
The Gentile Factor
After 7OCE (AD) the leadership within the "Christian" movement became dominated by Gentiles who had formerly worshiped other gods. How could such a thing happen?
The Death of the Jewish leaders
The following is a list of those Jewish leaders of the sect who were killed before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, most of them at the hands of the Romans or other pagans:
Philip—bound with his head to a pillar, and stoned in Phrygia, AD. 54
James (Yeshua's brother) stoned, and beaten to death with a club, AD. 63
Barnabus dragged out of the city and burned, at Salamina, Cyprus, AD. 64
Mark dragged to the stake at Alexandria, died on the way, AD. 64
Peter crucified upside-down, AD. 69
Paul—beheaded at Rome, AD. 69
Andrew crucified at Patras AD. 70
Bartholomew tortured, flayed alive, then beheaded in Armenia, AD.70
Thomas cast into a furnace, his side pierced with spears in Calamina, AD. 70
Matthew—nailed to the ground and beheaded at Nad-Davar, AD. 70
Simon Zelotes and his brother Judas Thadeus, both slain, one crucified, and the other beaten to death with sticks, AD. 70
Mathias tied on a cross upon a rock, stoned, and then beheaded, AD. 70
70 disciples of Yeshua, and fellow travelers of the Apostles slain, AD. 70
The Jewish leadership was gone as a Gentile leadership rose to fill the void (Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, volume 6, Christianity).
The Beginnings of the Church
An important source of the alienation of Christianity from its Jewish roots was the change in the membership of the church that took place by the end of the 2nd century (just when, and how, is uncertain). At some point, Christians with Gentile backgrounds began to outnumber Jewish Christians.
The Gentile or Greek culture was centered around philosophy and mythology. Their entire perspective was that of having multiple gods. To them the most natural assumption was that Yeshua (Jesus) was a god. But what about all of the passages like John 1 that also say Jesus is God? Remember, that much of our interpretation of scripture is from the perspective of those early "church fathers" who by the 2nd century were comprised of mostly Gentiles well educated in Greek philosophy.
In 'A History of God," Karen Armstrong writes: "Like the divine Wisdom, the 'Word' symbolized God's original plan for creation. When Paul and John spoke about Jesus as though he had some kind of preexistent life, they were not suggesting that he was a second divine 'person' in the later Trinitarian sense. They were indicating that Jesus had transcended temporal and individual modes of existence. Because the 'power' and 'wisdom' that he represented were activities that derived from God, he had in some way expressed 'what was there from the beginning.'
"These ideas were comprehensible in a strictly Jewish context, though later Christians with Greek background would interpret them differently. In the Acts of the Apostles, written as late as 100 CE, we can see that the first Christians still had an entirely Jewish conception of God."
Again, Martin Jaffee writes: "The canonical book of Proverbs portrays wisdom as being God's companion from the beginning of time.
The image was refracted throughout the worlds of ancient Judaism. It informed many of Philo's descriptions of Torah as a divine logos (word, principle) through which Being conceived the world into existence. All that exists is as it should be because the world's structure is undergirded by divine thought, Torah."
By the second century the leadership of Christianity had shifted from a Jewish majority (well educated in the Torah), to a Greek majority (well educated in Greek culture, philosophy and mythology). As the Jewish sect began to be more dominated by a Greek membership, however, the Greek polytheistic perspective of God also became a more accepted view.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says: "The Trinitarians and the Unitarians continued to confront each other, the latter at the beginning of the third century still forming the large majority."
In time, what had been the majority view became the minority view. Eventually, through creeds, various church councils, and the formation of Christianity as a state religion, the divinity of Messiah became the official church doctrine.
Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (volume 6, Christianity) Councils and Creeds.
Early creeds began the process of specifying the divine in Christ, both in relation to the divine in the Father and in relation to the human in Christ. The definitive formulations of these relations came in a series of official church councils during the 4th and 5th centuriesnotably the one at Nicaea in 325 and the one at Chalcedon in 451which stated the doctrines of the Trinity and of the two natures of Christ in the form still accepted by most Christians.
To arrive at these formulations, Christianity had to refine its thought and language, creating in the process a philosophical theology, both in Greek and in Latin, that was to be the dominant intellectual system of Europe for more than a thousand years.
Belief in a triune Godhead became the only accepted view of the nature of God. Anyone who believed otherwise would be put to death, although there have been those throughout history that have not viewed the orthodox Trinitarian position as correct. In his article Cosmic Codebreaker, Pious Heretic, about Sir Isaac Newton (for Christian History Magazine).
Karl Giberson writes:
Newton began a sustained reflection on the Christian doctrines and decided that the Anglican status quo was a thorough corruption of the true, original Christianity. These considerations led him to write over a million words on theology and biblical studiesmore than he wrote on any other subject.
Newton's theological investigations convinced him that the doctrine of the Trinity was bogus, a successful deception by St. Athanasius in the fourth century. Newton argued that the Scriptures had been altered and early Christian writers had been misquoted to make it appear that Trinitarianism had been the original faith.
How could Newton have believed that the scriptures had been altered? Was this just a statement of desperation, or is there substance to his claims? We will explore that question later in this chapter.
He [Newton] became repelled by what he perceived as the false religion that surrounded him-an idolatrous faith that worshiped Christ as God, when he was but a mediator between God and man.
Newton was forced to keep his views at least partially veiled. The Unitarian position (belief in the One God), however, began to make certain advances in the American colonies. Such notable people as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were Unitarian.
Jefferson, himself, refers to Trinity as:
. . .an unintelligible proposition of Platonic mysticism that three are one, and one is three; and yet one is not three and three are not one. . .I never had sense enough to comprehend the Trinity, and it appeared to me that comprehension must precede assent.
Jefferson further believed that the "One God" movement would sweep the nation if it was given the religious freedom the founding fathers envisioned. In a letter written to James Smith, December 8, 1822 he says:
The pure and simple unity of the Creator of the universe, is now all but ascendant in the Eastern States; it is dawning in the West and advancing toward the South; and I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States.
The doctrine of the trinity, however, was much too entrenched to be easily dismissed, and those who did not accept the belief were labeled as non-Christian. Although the "One God" perspective is not common among Christians today, the first followers of Yeshua (Jesus) would not have felt uncomfortable with it.
The Early Concepts
In Exploring Church History, Howard Vos writes:
One of the earliest errors was Ebionism. Appearing in fully developed form in the second century, it was in reality only a continuation of the Judaistic opposition to the apostle Paul. Some groups seem to have been quite clear on the essentials of salvation but insisted on law keeping as a way of life. Most appear to have denied the deity of Christ. These views they held in an effort to retain a true monotheism. They put much stress on the law in general and on circumcision and Sabbath keeping in particular. Ebionism practically disappeared by the fifth century. It had little if any lasting effect on the church.
Who Were these Ebonites?
The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) states:
"E-piph-an-ius with his customary confusion makes two separate sects, Ebionites and Nazarenes. Both names, however, refer to the same people; the later going back to the designation of apostolic times (Acts 24:5)
[5 For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.]
And the former being the term usually applied to them in the ecclesiastical literature of the 2nd and 3rd 'centuries. The origin of the Nazarenes or Ebionites as a distinct sect is very obscure, but may be dated with much likelihood from the edict of Hadrian which in 135 finally scattered the old church of Jerusalem.
Remember, there was a distinct disagreement between Paul and these believers from Jerusalem who are often referred to in the New Testament as "of the circumcision" or "Judaizers." It is important, however, to note that the dispute was over the application of the law. It was NEVER over the deity of Yeshua (Jesus).
Why? Because Paul's perspective on the subject did not differ from theirs. Most of the dispute over the deity of Jesus came long after Paul's death. If these early followers did not believe that Jesus was God, what did they believe?
In The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart Ehrman writes:
Christians of the second and third centuries generallyregardless of theological persuasionclaimed to espouse the views of Jesus' earliest followers.
With regard at least to the A doptionists, modern scholarship has by and large conceded the claim. These Christians did not originate their views of Christ; adoptionistic Christologies can be traced to sources that predate the books of the New Testament.
Ehrman goes on to say:
Form-critical analyses of the New Testament creedal, hymnic, and sermonic materials have consistently demonstrated earlier strata of tradition that were theologically modified when incorporated into their present literary contexts. Many of these pre-literary traditions evidence adoptionistic views.
Specifically about the Ebionites, Ehrman writes:
According to orthodox sources, the Ebionites self-consciously traced their lineage back to the apostolic times, and like the earliest followers of Jesus worked to preserve their Jewish identity and customs, including the practices of circumcision and kashrut. They are most commonly portrayed as Adoptionists who reject both the notion of Jesus 'pre-existence and the doctrine of his virgin birth, maintaining instead that Jesus was a 'normal' human being, born of natural generation.
God chose him to be his Son at his baptism and gave him his messianic mission. This he fulfilled by dying on the cross, after which God raised him from the dead and exalted him to heaven. Sources agree that the Ebionites accepted the binding authority of the Old Testament (and therefore the continuing validity of the Law) but rejected the authority of the apostate apostle, Paul.
The sources do not agree about the character and contours of the gospel used by the Ebionites. Most of the fathers from the early second century (Papias) to the late fourth (Jerome) claim that it comprised a truncated form of Matthew (outwardly the most Jewish of the four) writ¬ten in Hebrew, one that lacked its opening chapters, that is, the narra¬tive of Jesus' miraculous birth.
The natural assumption is that the Ebionites simply deleted the text that they disagreed with. However, there is no historic evidence that this group was in the practice of altering or deleting text to conform to their particular beliefs. The evidence, however, is overwhelming that those who espoused the doctrine concerning the deity of Jesus not only altered and added to the text, they did so frequently and as a matter of course.
This was not done to mislead of deceive, but in a sincere effort to "clarify the text. The result, however, is thousands of verifiable corrupted documents that were used in the compiling of various texts we now call the New Testament.
The Development of "Christology"
Additional "clarification" efforts brought about the formation of various "Christologies" which were a natural progression of attempts to justify the Hebraic scriptures through a Greek philosophy perspective. Over time, four basic Christologies developed.
Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (volume 6/ Christology)
In the New Testament
The earliest Christians expressed their explicit Christology with titles and mythological patterns borrowed from the religious environment of 1st century Palestine, where both Hebraic and Hellenistic Greek conceptions of God, history, and destiny were at work. Especially important in a consideration of New Testament Christology is the pervasive eschatological consciousness of the period; many modern scholars think that Jesus himself shared in this consciousness of living at the end of time.
Four early patterns of Christological thinking can be discerned within the New Testament. The EARLIEST of these has two focuses looking backward to Jesus' earthly life as that of an eschatological prophet and servant of God and forward to Christ's coming again as the Messiah, the Son of man. In A SECOND two-stage Christological formulation the earthly Jesus was also seen as the prophet-servant of the last days, but at the same time he was declared to have become Lord, Christ, and Son of God at his RESURRECTION and exaltation.
In THE THIRD pattern, these post resurrection titles were applied retrospectively to Jesus in his earthy period in order to articulate the intrinsic connection between Jesus' earthy ministry and his role as savior. A 'SENDING FORMULA' developed, with God as subject, his Son as object, and a statement of saving purpose, as in John 3:16 : 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not parish but have eternal life' (also Gal. 4:4). At first the moment of sending was identified with Jesus' BAPTISM BY JOHN: '... and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11).'
In the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke, however, the moment of sending is pushed back to Jesus' CONCEPTION OR BIRTH. This is not yet a Christology of preexistence and incarnation, nor of metaphysical divinity; it expresses only the role the man Jesus was to play in salvation history and God's initiative in that role. In THE FOURTH pattern, expressed in the Christological hymns of the Hellenistic-Jewish church, Jesus was identified with the DIVINE WISDOM, OR LOGOS. Philosophical Hellenistic Judaism had conceived of the Logos as the personified agent of the divine being, the agent of creation, revelation, and redemptive action. The earthy Jesus was now seen as the incarnation of this preex¬istent wisdom or Logos. Early Christians appropriated this Jewish speculation in order to emphasize that the God they encountered in Jesus was not an unknown God, but was the same God they had previ¬ously encountered in creation, in human religious experience, and in Israel s salvation history.
In the Johannine writings Jesus' Father-Son relationship with God is projected back into eternity. and this equation of the Son with the incarnate Logos results in the use of the predicate 'God' for the preexistent Word, the incarnate Son, and the risen Christ. But 'God' in this context is carefully nuanced: THE SON IS NOT GOD-IN-HIMSELF. Rather, through the Son, God 'goes out of himself, ' communicating himself in the action of creation, revelation, and salvation. Consequently, 'Son of God' and 'Son,' which were originally terms expressive of Jesus' role in salvation history, acquire a metaphysical import and come to denote his divine being.
The Son of God
Many of the Hebraic phrases and abstract concepts were foreign to the new Gentile leaders. Much of the confusion over the divinity of Yeshua began with the first century messianic title, "Son of God." The Gentiles understood this phrase to mean, "God the Son." Again, this was not an effort to deceive anyone. It was simply the most natural interpretation for someone in the Greek culture to have.
In The Doctrine of the Trinity Sir Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting write:
Responsible historians, both secular and religious, agree that the Jews of Jesus' time held firmly to a faith in a unipersonal God. Church history shows that the concept of even two equal persons in the Godheadthe Father and Sondid not receive formal approval in the Christian community until three hundred years after the ministry of Jesus, at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. This is not to ignore the controversy that came about as a result of Jesus' claim to be the 'Son of God.' But that claim should not be confused with the much later assertion by the Church that he was 'God, the Son'" [pp 29,6,37].
32 And John bore record, saying, I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him.
33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said to me, Upon whom you shall see the spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
34 And I saw and bore record that he is THE SON OF GOD.
35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples,
36 And looking upon Yeshua as he walked, he said. BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD!
37 And the two disciples heard him speak. and they followed Yeshua.
38 Then Yeshua turned, and saw them following, and said to them, Who are you looking for? They said to him, Rabbi, where do you live?
39 He said to them, Come and see. They came and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day: for it was about 4pm.
40 One of the two, which heard John, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
41 He, first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the MESSIAH.
42 And he brought him to Yeshua. And when Yeshua saw him, he said, You are Simon, the son of Jona: you shall be called Cephas, which means: a stone.
43 The following day, Yeshua went to Galilee, and found Philip, and said to him, Follow me.
44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
45 Philip finds Nathaniel and says to him, WE HAVE FOUND HIM of whom Moses in the law. and the prophets wrote. Yeshua of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
46 And Nathaniel said to him, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see.
47 Yeshua saw Nathaniel coming to him, and said, LOOK AN ISRAELITE INDEED, in whom is no guile!
48 Nathaniel said to him, How do you know me? Yeshua answered and said to him, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.
49 Nathaniel answered, and said to him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel
Were John and Nathaniel proclaiming that Yeshua was God? No, the title, "Son of God," is a Messianic title. They WERE claiming that Yeshua was the Messiah, they were NOT saying that he was God. Let's explore other places where we see references to the son(s) of God. In the book of Exodus we see 1he children of Israel called God's son.
22 And you shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the LORD, ISRAEL IS MY SON, my firstborn.
23 And I say to you, LET MY SON GO, that he may serve me: and if you refuse to let him go, I will slay your son, your firstborn. ..
The phrase, "son of God, .. is found 46 times in Bible (only once in the Tanakh (Old Testament). The phrase "sons of God " (Plural) is found 11 times in 1he Bible (five times in the Tanakh (Old Testament). The one place in the Old Testament where the phrase, "son of God," is used is in Daniel 3:25 . This is often used as a "proof' of Yeshua's preexistence. Since Yeshua is called the "Son of God" in the New Testament, this Old Testament reference must refer to him also. Is that what is being talked about here?
25 He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the SON OF GOD.
In Jewish tradition this fourth man walking in the fire is an angel of God. The places in the Old Testament where the phrase "sons of God " is found, especially those in the book of Job (1: 16, 2: 1, and 38:7), are also thought to be a reference to angelic beings. The phrase, however, can also mean followers or chosen of God. Certainly most all of the places you see in the New Testament would be read this way.
"12 But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the SONS OF GOD, to them that believe on his name.
14 For as many as are lead by the spirit of God, they are the SONS OF GOD.
15 That you may be blameless and harmless, the SONS OF GOD. without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
1 John 3:1,2
1 Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the SONS OF GOD: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not.
2 Beloved, now are we the SONS OF GOD, and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
Paul tells us (Romans 8:14) that anyone who is led by the spirit is a "son of God"; and John tells us (1 John 3:1-2 ) that "we" are "now" the "sons of God." Paul and John were certainly not suggesting that WE are God.
Who Am I?
Sometimes it is helpful to look at more than one testimony of the same event to fully see what is being said. When Yeshua asked his talmidim (disciples) who they believed he was, we see that Mark, Luke, and Matthew each have a slightly different version of the event.
29 And he said to them, But whom do you say I am? And Peter answered and said to him, You are the MESSIAH.
20 And he said to them. But whom do you say I am? Peter answering said, The MESSIAH (or the anointed) OF GOD.
15 He said to them, But Whom do you say I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the MESSIAH. The SON OF THE LIVING GOD.
Here Peter is proclaiming Yeshua to be the Messiah; he is not saying that he is God.
The Return of the Exiles
Where else in scripture do we find the phrase, "sons of the living God"? It is found in the first chapter of the book of Hosea.
Hosea was a prophet to Israel (the northern kingdom) during the time of the divided kingdom.
Hosea 1 :10
10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and it shall come to pass, in the place where it was said to them, You are not my people, there it shall be said to them, you are the SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.
11 Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
In this passage we see the northern kingdom (the house of Israel), who lost their identity because they would not follow God's instructions, brought back from exile at the end of the age. At that time they will repent (return to God), and will be reunited with the southern kingdom (Judah), and will have "one head," "Messiah, son of David," who will rule the world from Jerusalem. Before Messiah, son of David can rule, however, the Northern kingdom, Israel must return from exile. Paul refers to this Romans 8 .
19 For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the mani¬festation of the SONS OF GOD.
So we see the phrase "son of God" does not mean "God-the-Son," rather it is a messianic title associated with the return of the exiles. But if all that happened was a misunderstanding of the Hebraic term "son of God," why has the belief of Jesus being God persisted through the last 2000 years? One reason for this is that when you view life from a certain perspective, all interpretations, clarifications, or "corrections" are done so as to portray that perspective. We simply see what we choose to see.
The Corruption of Scripture
Early in the second century is when the majority of church 0rthodoxy began to develop; and through the second and third centuries the documents which would make up the New Testament were revised in order to establish the orthodox view. Again, Ehrman documents many of these revisions. It was the Christological debates of the second and third centuries that finally led to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Orthodox scribes not infrequently altered texts that might be taken to suggest that Jesus became the Son of God only at his baptism (Luke 3:22; Acts 10:37, 38 ; John 1:34 ), or at his resurrection (Rom 1:4), or at some unspecified moment (e.g., Luke 9:35; 1 John 5:18 ). Correspondingly they changed other passages so as to highlight their view that Jesus was already the Son of God before his baptism (Mark 1: 1) or even before his coming into the world (Matt 1: 18). By far the most common anti-adoptionist corruptions simply designate Christ as "God." Sometimes these variants are widely attested (I Tim 3:16; John 1: 18 ); more frequently they occur in a restricted portion of the tradition (e.g., Mark 1:3 ; l John 3:23 ; John 10:33; 19:40 ), or exclusively among the early versions (e.g., Luke 1:17, 76; 2:26 ). On occasion, such changes occur in manuscripts that can actually be dated to the period of concern (e.g. 2 Pet 1:2 ; Jude 5 ). Even when the supporting witnesses are uniformly late, however, they appear to represent vestiges of an ear¬lier age (e.g., Mark 3:11 ; Luke 7:9; 8:28 ). Moreover, Christ's divinity is sometimes affirmed through an exchange of predicates, in which his characteristics and activities are attributed to God (e.g., references to God's blood or passion, cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5: 1), conversely, God's are attributed to him (e.g., Christ as 'judge of the earth,' 1 Cor 10:5,9 ).
Finally, the orthodox emphasis on Jesus' divinity occasionally led to a de-emphasis on his humanity. So far as we can judge, scribes never eliminated the notion that Jesus was fully human. This would have embroiled them in a different set of problems, for then the text could be taken to support Docetic Christologies that the proto-orthodox opposed on another front. But scribes did modify texts that could implicate Christ in human weaknesses and frailties that were not appropriate to one understood to be divine, occasionally changing passages that suggest that Christ was not all-knowing (Matt 24:36) or spiritually perfect (Luke 2:40), and passages that suggest that he was purely mortal (John 19:5) or susceptible to human temptations and sin (Heb 2:18; 10:29). A few examples of changes that were made to the text:
MATTHEW 1:18 Corrupt Text: Matthew 1:18 :
Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way." Original Text: "Now the beginning of Jesus Christ happened this way.
Corrupt Text:"And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him."
Original Text: "And his father and mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him"
Corrupt Text: "And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased."
Original Text: "And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my son. Today I have begotten you."
LUKE 9:35 Corrupt Text:
"And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him"
Original Text: "And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, the one who is chosen: hear him."
JOHN 1 :34 Corrupt Text;
"And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. " Original Text: "And I saw, and bare record that this is the chosen of God. " 1 TIMOTHY 3:16
Corrupt Text: "And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh." Original Text: "And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: Who was manifest in the flesh. "
There was a tremendous effort by the early Gentile "church fathers" to establish Jesus as God. The concept of Messiah being God is one that the Jews, even those of the first century, have NEVER held. Messiah was to be the anointed king and the son of God; but he was NOT thought to be God.
"2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against his ANOINTED,
"6 Yet have set MY KING upon my holy hill of Zion.
"7 I will declare the decree: the LORD has said to me. You ARE MY SON, this day have I BEGOTTEN YOU. "
If Messiah is not God (who became a man to pay for the sins of the entire world) what is Messiah?
The Two Messiahs
Messiah is God's agent through whom Israel realizes its redemption. A belief in Orthodox Judaism is that two Messiahs will usher in the end of the age; Messiah son of Joseph (the suffering servant), and Messiah son of David (the conquering king). According to tradition, Messiah ben-Joseph will enable events to bring the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel) back together. However, through this effort Messiah ben-Joseph will die. After this happens, Messiah ben-David will rule both houses of Israel with the Third Temple built in Jerusalem as the center of worship for the entire world.
From the Talmud (Sukkot 528) we read:
What is the cause of mourning [referring to Zechariah 12: 10 ]? R Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.
It is well, according to him who explains, that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with Scriptural verse, 'And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son.
Again, from Sukkot 52a we read [as an interpretation of Psalm 2:7]:
Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, son of David (may he reveal himself speedily in our days!), 'Ask of me anything, and I will give it to you,' as it is said, 'I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten you, ask of me and I will give the nations for your inheritance.' But when he will see that the Messiah the son of Joseph is slain, he will say to Him, 'Lord of the Universe, I ask of You only the gift of life.' 'As to life,' He would answer him, 'Your father David has already prophesied this concerning you,' as it is said, He asked life of you, you gave it to him, [even length of days for ever and ever].
Messiah ben Joseph Let us revisit the Jewish view of Messiah. Remember, there are two Messiahs in Jewish theology; Messiah ben Joseph, then Messiah ben David. It is the death of Messiah ben Joseph that brings the two kingdoms of Israel together. The early followers of Yeshua believed that Isaiah prophesied about Yeshua in passages like Isaiah 53:5.
Today, these passages are often interpreted as referring to Israel as a nation, however, Martin Jaffee points out in his book Early Judaism:
The identity of this divine servant is given as Israel. but the servant is also to 'raise up the tribes of Jacob.' Is Israel, then, its OWN redeemer?
Since Messiah ben Joseph comes first, what should we look for and how do we know when he will come? We know that Messiah ben David will be a descendent of King David, but what about Messiah ben Joseph? Will he be a descendent of Joseph? No, that is not the reason he is known as Messiah ben Joseph. One reason given for him to have this title is because he at first is not known. Just as Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, so too will the identity of Messiah ben Joseph remain hidden, until he is revealed.
The 9th chapter of the book of Daniel is often called the "Seventy Weeks Prophecy" (490 years). The people of the first century believed this prophecy predicted when the Messiah would come. Daniel lived in Judea 100 years after the northern kingdom (Israel) had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. When Daniel was a young man, Jerusalem and the first Temple were destroyed and the nation of Judah was also taken captive.
Daniel grew up in Babylon where he wrote this prophecy.
26 But after 62 weeks (434 years) the Messiah will be killed but not for himself; then the people of the prince shall come and destroy the city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (Temple); and the end thereof shall be with a flood and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
Remember, Daniel wrote this prophecy after the first Temple had ALREADY been destroyed. So this prophecy is about the destruction of the SECOND Temple. Daniel received this prophecy BEFORE the second Temple had EVEN been built. ALSO, this is NOT a prophecy about Messiah ben David, because THIS Messiah is killed. It is a prophecy about Messiah ben Joseph. It is his death that brings the exiles back, allowing the northern and southern kingdom to once again be brought together. NOTICE that Messiah comes and THEN the second Temple is destroyed. The second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE (AD). How can this be, since the exiles of the northern kingdom (an event saved until the end of the age) have not yet returned?
What exactly does the prophecy say? It says that Messiah ben Joseph dies before the second Temple is destroyed. It does not say anything about the return of the exiles. However, we know from other sources that it is BECAUSE of his death the exiles return, but the return does not happen UNTIL the end of the age. Could Yeshua, then, be Messiah ben Joseph? There have been those that have speculated this, including Caiaphas, the high priest in the first century.
"47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, 'What can we do? for this man does many miracles.
"'48 If we let him alone, all [men] will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. '
"49 And one of them, [named] Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said to them, 'You know nothing at all,
"'50 nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. '
"51 And he spoke not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Yeshua should die for THAT NATION; "52 And NOT FOR THAT NATION ONLY, BUT THAT HE ALSO SHOULD GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE THE CHILDREN OF GOD THAT WERE SCATTERED ABROAD,
"53 Then from that day on they plotted to put him to death. "
Why would they plot to kill someone whom they believed was Messiah? Because they believed he was Messiah Ben Joseph who MUST DIE in order for the northern kingdom to return, and ALL of Israel be united as one under the rulership of Messiah Ben David.
Yeshua refers to this death plot (quoting from Psalm 35:19) a few chapters later in John 15:25 "25
But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in the law, THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.
If indeed Yeshua was Messiah ben Joseph, his death would have had a tremendous impact on those around him.
A Time of Anguishing Events
The first century is known for some very historic events. In Christianity we look to the life and death of Yeshua. In Judaism one of the most anguishing events was the destruction of the second Temple.
In Tractate Yoma of the Talmud it says:
Why was the first Holy Temple destroyed? Because of three wicked things: idol worship, adultery, and murder. But in THE SECOND TEMPLE in which time the Jewish people were occupied studying the Torah and doing good deeds and acts of charity why was it then DESTROYED?
The answer is: It was BECAUSE OF HATRED WITHOUT A CAUSE to teach you, that hate without a cause is equal to these sins and that it is as serious a crime as the three great transgressions of idol worship, adultery, and murder. [Yoma 9]
Remember, that years earlier Yeshua had given this as the very reason he would be killed (hatred without a cause). Also throughout the New Testament he compares his death to the destruction of the Temple.
19 Yeshua answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will you rear it up in three days?
21 But he spoke of the temple of his body.
What an unusual set of circumstances leading up to the death of Yeshua. Although he was actually put to death by the Gentiles (Romans), it was his own people (the Sanhedrin) who sentenced him. This in itself was extremely unusual.
The Talmud says in Tractate Makkot:
A Sanhedrin that effects an execution ONCE IN SEVEN YEARS is branded a DESTRUCTIVE TRIBUNAL. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: Once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say: Were we members of a Sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death. [Thereupon] Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel remarked, [yea] and they would also multiply shedders of blood in Israel! [Makkot 7a)
And yet, something happened in 30CE that affected the Sanhedrin (the supreme court of first century Judaism) so much they physically removed themselves from the Temple so they could never again impose the death sentence. And indeed the death sentence was never again imposed.
Again, from the Talmud in Tractate Avodah Zara it .'_ay.'_:
Forty years before the Temple was destroyed did the Sanhedrin abandon [the Temple] and hold its sittings in Hanuth. Has this any legal bearing?. . .CAPITAL CASES CEASED. Why?Because when the Sanhedrin saw that murderers were so prevalent that they could not be properly dealt with judicially, they said: Rather let us be exiled from place to place than pronounce them guilty [of capital offences] for it is written: And you shall do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall tell you, which implies that it is the place that matters. [Avodah Zara 8b)
That, however, was not the only change in the Temple at that time. Again from Tractate Yoma in the Talmud it says:
FORTY YEARS BEFORE THE HOLY TEMPLE WAS DESTROYED the follow¬ing things happened: THE LOT FOR THE YOM KIPPUR GOAT ceased to be supernatural; the red cord of wool that used to change to white (as a symbol of God's forgiveness) now remained red and did not change and THE WESTERN CANDLE in the candlestick in the sanctuary refused to burn continually while THE DOORS OF THE HOLY TEMPLE would open of themselves. [Tractate Yoma 39:b]
The Temple was destroyed in 70CE. What a tremendous coincidence in that these things began to happen forty years before the Temple was destroyed; in 30CE, The only significant event that seems to be connected to this year, the death sentence being administered and would have created such concern was the death of Yeshua who died on Nisan 14, 30 CE on a hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
The Babylonian Talmud says:
Since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of Passover." (Sanhedrin 43a) To believe that Yeshua was Messiah ben Joseph; that he was resurrected from the dead, and will return as Messiah ben David, fits well within the possibilities of various Hebraic prophecies. However to believe that Messiah is God is a gross misunderstanding of first century concepts and terminology.
Copyright © 2003 Rick Richardson. All rights reserved.
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