Most Jews and Christians agree that after a long time of trouble, God will establish Israel as the foremost nation in the world and will bring about universal peace. That’s where the Messiah comes into the picture. Some Jews believe the Messiah will be a man from the lineage of King David, with impeccable spiritual credentials, who will lead Israel to defeat the great armies of the world and bring in a time of universal peace. Some Jews believe the people of Israel will rise up with the help of God and bring in a time of lasting peace through the principles of messiah. Christians believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel and will come back to earth a second time to defeat the armies of the world and establish great peace in Israel. So, who’s right?
First, let’s look for common ground. Christians and Jews have much to agree upon because both view the Hebrew Bible as the Word of God. Jews would agree with Christians that many passages in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament to Christians) refer to God’s Messiah. They include Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-10; 42:1-4; 59:20; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Hosea 3; Zechariah 14; and Ezekiel 37:24-27.
“David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” Ezekiel 37:24-27
The Messiah of Israel will be “David My servant.” How can that be since King David died almost 3,000 years ago? Will God raise David from the dead and place him on his throne in Jerusalem again? No, Jews and Christians believe the future king will be from the lineage of David. Notice what happens when the Messiah is king over all the people.
- they will all have one shepherd
- they will walk in God’s judgments
- they will observe God’s statutes, and do them
- they will dwell in the land that God gave to Jacob His servant, where their “fathers” lived
- they will live there with their children and their children’s children, forever
- the Messiah will be their “prince” forever
- God will make an everlasting covenant of peace with Israel
- God will establish Israel and multiply the people
- God will set His sanctuary in their midst forever
- God’s tabernacle will also be with them
- God will be their God and Israel will be His people
- The nations will know that the Lord set Israel apart when His sanctuary is in their midst forevermore
Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah God promised to Israel, but that the leaders of Israel rejected Him when He presented Himself to them in Jerusalem. Christians point to all of the Messianic verses in the Hebrew Bible and say that Jesus fulfilled or will fulfill all of the promises God made to Israel. So, why don’t Jews believe that?
Jews have had about 2,000 years to respond to Christian claims that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, so the list is pretty long. Here are six of the reasons I’ve heard most often from Jewish friends through the years.
- Jesus was not a descendant of King David and King Solomon, so He couldn’t be the Messiah.
- Jesus did not rule Israel from David’s throne while He was on earth, so He couldn’t be the Messiah.
- The Temple in Jerusalem was standing when Jesus was on earth, so there was no need to rebuild it. The Romans destroyed the Temple within a generation after Jesus was crucified and has never been rebuilt, so Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah.
- There has been no universal time of peace since Jesus was on earth, so He couldn’t be the Messiah.
- The nations of the earth have not come together to know God and worship Him, so Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah.
- All of the Jewish exiles have not returned to their homeland, so Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah.
Christians respond to these and other reasons from Jews that Jesus could not be the Messiah by explaining that while many of the people of Israel and Samaria responded to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the religious leaders of Judaism (e.g. Pharisees, Saducees, Sanhedrin) rejected Jesus and convinced the Roman governor to crucify Him. Christians say that God raised Jesus from the grave and received Him back into Heaven, where He waits for the Day He will return to Israel to establish the Messianic Kingdom.
Jews respond to Christians that the Hebrew Bible does not mention anything about the Messiah coming to earth twice, so they won’t accept this answer about a “Second Coming.” While some Jews through history have viewed Jesus in a positive light, most believe Jesus was a false messiah. One of the reasons Jews claim this is that Jesus contradicted the Torah while He was on earth and taught people that the commandments of Moses were no longer to be obeyed.
Christians respond that Jesus made it abundantly clear during His earthly ministry that He supported every part of the Law and Prophets.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20
Jews respond to this by supporting the words of the Pharisees and Sadducees quoted in the Gospels about how Jesus disobeyed the Law by healing on the Sabbath (e.g. John 9:13-16 – “Therefore some of the Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’). It is a common tactic when rebutting evidence to use an opponent’s own evidence against them. However, Jews who quote John 9:16 as evidence against Jesus should be careful to quote the entire verse – “Therefore some of the Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’ And there was a division among them.”
It’s important to note that some religious leaders in Israel took Jesus seriously and were opposed to opposing Him. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, visited Jesus by night to question Him (John 3). Nicodemus later spoke in defense of Jesus (though in a weak manner) and was called down by his fellow rulers (John 7). By the time the religious rulers convinced the Roman governor to kill Jesus, Nicodemus had become a true believer in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19). After Jesus’ resurrection and return to Heaven, one of the leading members of the ruling council of Israel (Sanhedrin) recommended that the council not oppose Jesus’ apostles in case they might be found to fight against God.
“Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” Acts 5:34-39
What is the real reason Jews don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah? We’ll see in the next part of our look at Christians, Jews, and the Baby Messiah.
(Read more about this in a free Ebook, Defending Christmas In An Unbelieving World )