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Messiah - a great man or a divine person?

T

If Jesus was much more than a simple Jew, does that mean he was God? I was

discussing this question with an Orthodox Jewish friend. He said that such

an idea is completely impossible for Jewish people to accept. So I asked

him, What is your idea of the Messiah?

 

He said that the Messiah is a great man, not a divine person, who brings

peace to the world.

 

I responded that for any man to bring peace to the world is an enormous task

beyond the ability of any mere human. And besides there is one logical

problem. If he is just a great man, what happens when he dies? His answer

was that the Messiah will set up a system which people will fit into because

of his teaching. I said that the problem of human beings is that they don’t

fit into systems.

 

Rabbi Kaplan in his book The Real Messiah? which is an attack on the view

that Jesus is Messiah states something similar: The Jewish concept of the

Messiah is that which is clearly developed by the prophets of the Bible. He

is a leader of the Jews, strong in wisdom, power and spirit. It is he who

will bring complete redemption to the Jewish people, both spiritually and

physically. Along with this he will bring eternal peace, love, prosperity,

and moral perfection to the entire world. The Jewish Messiah is truly human

in origin. He is born of ordinary human parents, and is of flesh and blood

like all mortals.

 

So a mortal is going to bring eternal peace and perfection? The essence of

being mortal is that one is going to die someday. In the early 1990s some

members of the Lubavitch movement began to believe that their leader, Rabbi

Menachem Schneerson, was the King Messiah. Then he had a stroke and later

died. Unable to cope with the idea that the old man in his nineties had come

to the end of his natural life, supporters of the Messianic tendency in

Lubavitch have come up with the idea that he will rise from the dead! Of

course if he is more than just an old man dying and really is the Messiah,

then there is a certain logic in believing he will rise from the dead.

 

However this belief has been pronounced heretical by mainstream Judaism and

for a rather obvious reason. In his book denouncing the Messianic tendency

in Lubavitch, Rabbi David Berger wrote: There is no possibility whatsoever

that the Rebbe would emerge from the dead to be the Messiah. That could be

possible in the Christian faith but not in Judaism. The very suggestion is

repugnant to everything Judaism represents. (The Rebbe, the Messiah and

the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference page 14).

 

We would agree that there is no possibility that the Rebbe could emerge from

the dead to be the Messiah. However the real Messiah does need to have power

over death if he is to deal permanently with the problems which afflict the

human race. In fact he has to have an endless life and to be an eternal

person himself. He has got to be on hand all the time, for all the people of

the world to deal with their problems. All of which makes him anything but a

normal man born of ordinary human parents of flesh and blood.

 

The Tenach indicates that the Messiah will be more than a normal man. A

number of scriptures point to his supernatural origin, even to his divine

nature. In the prophecy of Micah 5 we read of one who is to be Ruler in

Israel (Messiah): But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among

the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One who is

to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.

The one who is to come out of Bethlehem in Judea will have an origin which

is from everlasting (me yemei olamei  from the days of eternity in

Hebrew). Whose origins are from the days of eternity? Only God. Therefore

this prophecy indicates the divine nature of the one to born in Bethlehem.

 

In Isaiah 9.6 we read of one who is to born a child and yet who is El Gibbor

(the Mighty God) and Av Olamee  Everlasting Father / Father of Eternity at

the same time:

 

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government

shall be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful

Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase

of his government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David

and over his kingdom to order it and establish it with judgment and justice

from that time forward even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will

perform this.

 

How can someone be a son and the Everlasting Father at the same time? If he

is a mortal reigning on David’s throne how can he establish it with judgment

and justice forever? Why is he called the Mighty God? One rabbinic

explanation of these verses is that they refer to the godly King Hezekiah,

but this does not make sense. The one spoken of being born as a male child

has to be at the same time an eternal person. In fact he has to be God.

 

In Jeremiah 23.5 we read of the descendant of David who is clearly

identified as the King Messiah. In the next verse we read: In his days

Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell safely: Now this is the name by

which he will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. This name given to the

Messiah contains the divine name YHVH, a clear indication that the Messiah

is to be a divine being.

 

But how can the Messiah be a divine person if there is one God who is

indivisible and rules in heaven? God cannot leave ruling all creation to

come to the earth can he? God never appeared in human form in the Tenach did he?

 

I once heard a talk given by a Jewish lady called Sharon Allen, who had been

raised in a very Orthodox Jewish home. Her marriage to an Orthodox Jew in

New York had failed and she moved with her daughter to the west coast of

America. There she married a Gentile businessman, who loved Jewish ways and

actually helped to build a new synagogue which they attended as a family

together. After a while Sharon said to her husband, You’re so Jewish. Why

don’t you convert to Judaism? He agreed and was told that there were three

things he had to do.

 

 

Jewish people. No problem.

 

he had believed in before. Problem.

 

To Sharon’s amazement he said he could not renounce Jesus. As he had never

been a vocal Christian or attended church during their marriage this came a

shock to her. But then she thought, No problem. Everything that God wants

us to know about the Messiah is in the Jewish Bible. I’ll read the Bible and

prove to my husband that Jesus cannot be the Messiah.

 

She then prayed to God to show her the truth about the Messiah and began

reading the Jewish Bible in Hebrew (which she was fluent in) from Genesis 1

to the end. She never opened the New Testament, but as she read the Tenach

she could not believe what she was reading and the conclusion she was coming

to. Everywhere she found references to Jesus. The miracles he did, the death

he would die, the fact that he would be received by the Gentiles.

 

Apart from the prophecies which speak about the Messiah, she could not come

to terms with the person described in the Bible as the Angel of the Lord,

Malach Adonai. People react to him as though they are seeing God. They are

afraid they are going to die as a result. He gives the word of God, he has

the power to forgive sins. Who is he?

 

She began to read commentaries, the Artscroll series, Rashis commentary,

whatever she could find to give a reason why Jesus could not be the Messiah.

Finding no convincing answer she spoke to her rabbi, who put her on to the

leading anti-missionary rabbis in the USA. Finally she went to a lecture by

Rabbi Immanuel Shochet at her daughters school on why Jewish people should

not believe in Jesus.

 

The Rabbi said that no Jewish person who had been raised in a kosher Jewish

home and kept all the traditions could believe in that man (Jesus). During

the question time after his talk, Sharon raised her hand and told him that

she had done just that but the more she studied the Jewish Bible the more

she came to see that Jesus fitted with the Jewish expectation of the

Messiah. The major theological problem she presented to the rabbi was the

question of the appearances of the Lord in the Jewish Bible. The logical

conclusion she was coming to was that if God could appear in human form to

the Patriarchs, why was it considered impossible for God to appear in human

form in the person of the Messiah? If this is so, then one of the major

theological objections from Judaism to Jesus being the Messiah is removed.

The rabbi, considered the expert in the field of refuting the claim that

Jesus is Messiah could not answer her questions, so she decided to read the

New Testament for herself and came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

 

So does the Jewish Bible point to God being a plural unity, which is vital

to the view that Jesus is the Messiah, or that God is an absolute

indivisible unity, which is vital the view that he is not? Did God appear in

human form in the Jewish Bible?

 

In the very first verse of the Bible we read, In the beginning God created

the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1.1). The word for God (Elohim) is a

masculine plural noun. The word for created (bara) is a singular verb. The

very first sentence in the Bible, with a plural noun and a singular verb,

opens up the possibility of God being a plural unity. In verse 26 of the

creation account God said, Let us make man in our image, according to our

likeness. Why not Let me make man in my image? It cannot be that God is

speaking to the angels, because man is not made in the image of angels. The

rabbinic explanation, that it is the plural of majesty, does not add up

either since there is no example in the Bible of Kings addressing themselves

in the plural. The likely explanation for this and other occasions where God

speaks in the plural of himself, Genesis 11.7, Isaiah 6.8, is that God is a

plural unity.

 

The Bible, especially the Torah, has frequent examples of some physical

manifestation of God appearing to people. In Genesis 3.8 we read that Adam

and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool

of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the

Lord God among the trees of the garden. This shows a physical presence,

someone walking in the garden from whom Adam and Eve thought they could hide.

 

In Genesis 15.18-20 we read of a mysterious figure called Melchizedek (means

King of Righteousness) who is King of Salem (King of Peace) who meets

Abraham and offers him bread and wine. In Psalm 110 which speaks of the

Messiah we read that Messiah will be a priest forever after the order of

Melchizedek. So who was Melchizedek? A pre-incarnate appearance of the

Messiah, an eternal priest offering bread and wine who is King of

Righteousness and King of Peace? To make this person even more intriguing

Psalm 110 begins with the verse, The Lord said to my Lord. So how can the

Lord speak to the Lord? Jesus took the symbols of bread and wine from the

Jewish Passover and applied them to his body and blood offered as a

sacrifice for the sins of the world (Luke 22.19-20).

 

In Genesis 17 the Lord appeared to Abraham and made the covenant with him,

promising him multitudes of descendants and giving him the title deeds of

the Promised Land.

 

In Genesis 18 we read: Then the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the

terebinth trees of Mamre. Then Abraham sees three men, who receive food

from Abraham (6-8), which interestingly breaks the rules of rabbinical

kashrut by mixing milk and meat: So he took butter and milk and the calf

which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under

the tree as they ate.

 

The Lord then tells Abraham he is going to have a child by Sarah (9-15).

Then the men depart for Sodom (16). Although the text does not tell us

that two men depart, when we get to chapter 19 verse 1 the text does tell us

that two angels arrive in Sodom. After the men (angels) have departed in

verse 16, the Lord then tells Abraham what he is going to do in the coming

destruction of Sodom (17-32). After the Lord has heard out Abraham’s plea

for mercy for Sodom the text reads: So the Lord went his way as soon as he

had finished speaking with Abraham: and Abraham returned to his place.

(18.33). The implication of all this is that the three men Abraham sees at

the beginning of chapter 18 are two angels who go on to bring Lot and his

family out of Sodom plus the Lord who appears along with these two angels in

physical form as a man and eats food with Abraham. The two angels and the

Lord part company in the course of the narrative.

 

In Genesis 32 we have an encounter which Jacob had as he was about to cross

over into the Promised Land, returning after 20 years hard labour for Laban

the Syrian for his wives and flocks. He prayed to God, terrified that his

brother Esau will get his revenge and kill him for taking his birthright and

his fathers blessing (Genesis 27). To appease Esau, he sent him gifts and

divided his family and flocks into companies in the hope that this might

give them more protection if they were attacked.

 

Then Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking

of the day. Now when he saw that he did not prevail against him he touched

the socket of his hip: and the socket of Jacobs hip was out of joint as He

wrestled with him. Genesis 32.24-25. To prove that this was not just a

figment of his imagination Jacob then walked with a permanent limp (31).

 

You cant get much more physical than an all night wrestling match. The

person you are wrestling with obviously must have a body. So who was this

mysterious man? The next few verses point to the answer:

 

And He (the man) said, Let me go for the day breaks.'

But he (Jacob) said, I will not let you go unless you bless me.

So He said to him, What is your name?

He said, Jacob.

And He said, Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel (means

prince with God); for you have wrestled with God and with men and have

prevailed.

Then Jacob asked, saying, Tell me what is your name, I pray.

And He said, Why is it that you ask about my name? And He blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel (means face of God): For I have seen God

face to face and my life is preserved. Genesis 32.26-30.

 

The only conclusion one can come to from these verses is that Jacob

identified the man he had wrestled with as being God.

 

So from these verses we see that humans had contact with a being they

identified in human form, but who was also God. He walked in a garden, he

ate food and he wrestled, all very physical activities.

 

In the book of Exodus we read that the Lord came down onto the mountain at

Sinai (Exodus 19.20) and that he wrote the 10 Commandments on tablets of

stone (Exodus 32.15-16). Writing is another physical activity.

 

We also read in Exodus of the Angel of the Lord (Malach Adonai) who would go

before the Israelites to bring them into the Promised Land and to fight

against their enemies. At the moment of the exodus, God says, The

Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honour for

myself over Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen. And the Angel of God

who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the

pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. Exodus

14.18-19. In verse 25, after the Egyptians have pursued the Israelites into

the sea, they say, Let us flee from the face of Israel for the Lord fights

for them against the Egyptians. The Lord then goes before the Israelites

in the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day.

 

Concerning this Angel, the Lord says, Beware of Him and obey His voice; do

not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is

in Him. Exodus 23.21. This sounds like the authority of God is delegated to

Him and His words are as Gods words. He has Gods name in Him and the name

implies His nature. He also has power to pardon or not pardon

transgressions, something which only God can do.

 

In the book of Judges the Angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife

telling them that they would bear a son who should be a Nazirite (dedicated

to God). This son would be Samson. They ask his name and he replies, Why do

you ask my name seeing it is wonderful? (Judges 13.18). Then when they

offer a burnt offering to the Lord, the Angel of the Lord ascends to heaven

in the flame of the altar. Manoah’s response to this is to say to his wife,

We shall surely die, because we have seen God. Judges 13.22. In other

words they recognise that the Angel of the Lord is equal with God.

 

A major Messianic prophecy is Zechariah 14 which speaks of the Lord coming

to rescue Israel from the nations which gather against Jerusalem in the last

days of this age. The text says: Then the Lord will go forth and fight

against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day

His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which faces Jerusalem on the

east. Zechariah 14.3-4. The word used for the Lord is again the Hebrew name

for God, YHVH. This passage is believed by Orthodox Jews to be about the

Messiah and today the Mount of Olives is covered in gravestones. It is the

most prestigious place to be buried, because it is believed that the Messiah

will come and blow the trumpet for the resurrection of the dead from the

Mount of Olives and then those who are buried there will be the first to be

resurrected. The theological problem this raises for Orthodox Jews is that

if we agree that Zechariah 14 is about the Messiah (and we do!) then the

Messiah is called God. Not only this but he will also apparently have feet

and stand on the Mount of Olives. If he has feet presumably he will have the

rest of a body as well!

 

We also read that God has a Son in the Jewish Bible. In a parallel passage

to Zechariah 14, Psalm 2, we read of the Lord dealing with the nations in

turmoil and rebellion against him. In response God says, Yet I have set my

King on my holy hill of Zion. Psalm 2.6. He goes on to say of this one:

You are my Son. Today I have begotten you. Ask of Me and I will give you

the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your

possession. Concerning this person we are told Kiss the Son, lest He be

angry, and you perish in the way when his wrath is kindled but a little.

Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. So this Son will have

authority over the nations. The word for kiss implies worship, so if you

do not worship him you will perish because of his anger, but if you put your

trust in him you will be blessed.

 

In Proverbs 30.4 there are a series of questions: Who has ascended into

heaven? Who has gathered the wind into his fists? Who has bound the waters

in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? The expected

answer to all these questions is God. But the final question is What is His

name and what is His Sons name, if you know? Good question!

 

The encounters between God and people in the Jewish Bible referred to here

imply that God appeared in some recognisable form to humans. Quite often he

appeared as a man. Sometimes he is called the Angel of the Lord, sometimes

not. Often the Hebrew word used in these scriptures contains the divine name

YHVH which Judaism considers to be so holy that it cannot even be

pronounced. Significant prophesies about the coming Messiah imply that he

will have a divine, not merely a human nature.

 

But surely the basic statement of faith of Judaism, the Shema, rules this

out? In Deuteronomy 6.4 we read: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord

is one. God is one so he cant be three!

 

Certainly there can’t be three gods, but the Shema does not rule out the

possibility that God can be a plural unity or three in one. Interestingly it

contains the name of God given three times  twice as YHVH and pronounced

Adonai when spoken by Jewish people and once as Eloheinu. This is a form

of Elohim, the name of God given in Genesis 1.1 with the suffix -enu which

is the Hebrew way to say our God. The basic word however is the plural

word for God, Elohim.

 

The word for one used in Deuteronomy 6.4 is the word echad which means

one, but can mean one in the sense of a unity of more than one. For example

in Genesis 2.24 we read, Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother

and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh. The Hebrew for

one flesh is basar echad. They become one echad through sexual union,

but they remain two people. We read of Israel standing up as one man ish

echad before the Lord. They are united as one people, but they are also

many individual people.

 

There is another word for one, yachid which is used in Genesis 22.2 when

God tells Abraham to take your only son and offer him as a sacrifice. The

word used for Isaac points to him being one in an absolute indivisible

sense. If the text in Deuteronomy 6.4 had used the word yachid for God we

would have to admit that Judaism, Islam and even the Jehovahs Witnesses are

right and that God is an indivisible unity. We would have to acknowledge

that the view that God is a tri-unity and that the Messiah is a divine

person is impossible. But it does not. It uses the word echad which leaves

open the possibility that God is a plural unity. It does not prove that He

is, but the important point here is that equally it does not prove that He is not.

 

A fascinating (though somewhat difficult) book on this subject in The Great

Mystery by Rabbi Tzvi Nassi. Written in the 19th century this book quotes

extensively from Jewish writings to show that Jewish scholars have long

wrestled with the problem of the unity of God as revealed in the Hebrew

Bible. He quotes some astonishing writings which point to a view of God as a

plural unity, in which The Middle Pillar is known as the Memra (Word)

through whom the world was made and the Metatron, the Angel of the

Covenant who reveals God to mankind.

 

He writes of a commentary on the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.4) concerning the

threefold mention of Gods name mentioned above (Sohar, Gen p 15, versa,

Amsterdam Edition): Thus my teacher, Rabbi Simeon ben Yocchai, instructed

me (Sohar, vol 3, p 26) that these three steps in God are three Spirits,

each existing of itself, yet united in One. His words are these: Thus are

three Spirits united in one. The Spirit which is downwards (that is,

counting three) who is called the Holy Spirit; the Spirit which is the

Middle Pillar, who is called the Spirit of Wisdom and of Understanding, who

is also called the Spirit below. The upper Spirit is hidden and in secret.

In Him are existing all the holy Spirits (the holy Spirit and the Middle

Pillar) and all that is light. (Great Mystery page 27-8).

 

He goes on to show how the ancient paraphrase of the Bible by Jonathan ben

Uziel teaches that it was through the Word (or Memra) who is uncreated and

self existing that God created all things: That this Word is the essential

and uncreated Word, one of the Three Heads which are one is evident from His

being the Creator of man, as the Jerusalem Paraphrase of Jonathan ben Uziel

(Genesis 1.27) faithfully teaches me, saying: And the Word of Jehovah

created man in his likeness, in the likeness of Jehovah, Jehovah created,

male and female created He them. (page 32)

 

He gives a number of references from Rabbinic writings to the Divine nature

of the Angel of the Covenant or the Angel of God who appeared to the

Patriarchs and led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness.

Commenting on Genesis 31.11 (And the angel of God spoke unto me in a dream

) he quotes Rabbi Moses ben Nachman who says According to the truth this

Angel promised here, the Angel, the Redeemer in whom is the great name; for

in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength, the Rock of Ages. He is the

same who has said; I am the God of Bethel (Genesis 31.13). The scriptures

have called him Malach (Angel / Ambassador), because through this

designation of an Ambassador we learn that the world is governed through

Him. (page 56)

 

He quotes extensively from a commentary by Rabbi Bechai on Exodus 23.21

about the Angel of the Lord, mentioned above: This Angel is not one of

those created intelligences which can sin … This Angel is one of the

Inherent Ones. For He will not pardon your transgressions. Because he

belongs to the class of Beings which cannot sin; yea He is Metatron, the

Prince of Gods countenance and therefore it is said: to keep thee in the way.

 

He goes on to say that this Angel is the one by whom God is made known in

the world, who must be obeyed as God must be obeyed and whose power to

forgive (or not forgive) sins is not delivered to any of the created

intelligences. So if he is uncreated, who is he? This commentary clearly

distinguishes between created angels who do have the power to sin and this

Angel who is apparently different in nature from any created being. (page 58-60)

 

Developing this theme, he goes on to show how the Memra (word) is not only

described as the Angel of God, but also as Metatron in Rabbinic writings.

Concerning this mysterious figure he quotes Rabbi Simeon be Yochai in Zohar

volume 3 page 227, Amsterdam edition: The Middle Pillar is the Metatron who

has accomplished peace above according to the glorious state there. (page 61).

 

Rabbi Bechai (Zohar page 114 column 1 Amsterdam edition) says of Metatron:

God said to Moses, Come up unto the Lord; this is Metatron. He is called by

this name Metatron because in this name are implied two significations,

which indicate his character. He is Lord and Messenger. There is also a

third idea implied in the name Metatron: it signifies a Keeper; for in the

Chaldee language, a keeper (or watchman) is called Matherath: and because

He is the keeper (preserver of the world), He is called (Psalm 121.4) The

keeper of Israel. From the signification of his name we learn that he is

the Lord over all which is below; because all the hosts of heaven and all

things upon earth are put under his power and might. (page 61).

 

Commenting on Psalm 2 Thou are my Son; this day I have begotten thee he

quotes Tikunei Ha Zohar cap.67, page 130: There is a perfect man, who is

an Angel. This Angel is Metatron, the Keeper of Israel; He is a man in the

image of the Holy One, blessed be He, who is an emanation from Him (from

God); yea, He, Metatron is Jehovah; of Him it cannot be said, He is created,

formed or made; but He is the Emanation from God. (page 70).

 

A man, who is an Angel and who is Jehovah? If Rabbis can reach this

conclusion about the mysterious being we are looking at who appears all over

the Hebrew Bible, why should it be considered so impossible that the final

revelation of this one should come in Him being born in human form and

dwelling amongst us? Is the Memra (Word) whom the Rabbis speak of as being

active in creation the same one as the Logos (Word) revealed in John

Chapter 1, the Word who was made flesh, the one through whom the worlds were

made appearing in human form? And since John was a Jewish disciple of Jesus,

not a Greek philosopher is it not much more likely that he was thinking of

the Rabbinic concept of the Memra as he wrote his Gospel, not the Greek

philosopher Plato’s concept of the Logos?

 

Let us leave the last word on this subject with that Gospel:

 

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was

God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him;

and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life and the

life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the

darkness comprehended it not. … And the Word was made flesh and we beheld

his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace

and truth. John 1.1-5, 14.

T