I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many Jewish people through the years about their Messiah. I’ve found a lot of common ground with them about prophecies concerning the Messiah. However, I’ve also come across some major disagreements. For those Jews who believe the Messiah will be a person, one thing we can agree on is that the Messiah begins life as a baby. Question is, was it the baby Jesus?
Ask an Orthodox Jew about the Messiah and they will tell you he will come to Israel. Here is the 12th principle of The Thirteen Fundamental Principles:
“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Messiah; and although he may tarry, even though I wait every day for his coming.” (Shloshah Asar Ikkarim,The Thirteen Fundamental Principles, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, 12th century AD)
Orthodox Jews believe so strongly in the Messiah that they will often bless each other with the words, “you shall live to see Meshiach.” The word “meshiach, mashiach, moshiach” (Messiah) means “anointed.” Jews believe God will send a man, the Messiah, to bring Jewish exiles back to Israel, rebuild the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem, establish Israel as the leading nation of earth, and bring utopia to the world by ridding it of all evil. Rabbi ben Maimon (Maimonides) believed the Messiah would be an ancestor of King David, a student of the Torah, would compel Israel to walk in the ways of the Torah, would rebuild the Temple, fight and win great military battles on earth, and lead all nations to worship Jehovah. Maimonides believed the Messiah would be an extremely wise man and powerful military leader, but not a miracle worker and certainly not God.
[There is also an old tradition among some Jews that there will be two Messiahs, one called Mashiach ben Joseph and another known as Mashiach ben David. Messiah ben Joseph would come first and prepare the world for ben David’s arrival. Messiah ben Joseph would be killed during a battle with Israel’s enemies (based on Zechariah 12:10 – “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”). A time of great trouble would come upon Israel after ben Joseph’s death, but then Messiah ben David would arrive to avenge ben Joseph’s death, raise ben Joseph from the dead, and bring in the great time of Israel’s peace.]
Where Orthodox Jews view the Messiah as a human being, many Conservative and Reformed Jews view “messiah” more as the concept of establishing justice through the effort of many humans, not necessarily one “anointed” person who defeats Israel’s enemies and ushers in universal peace. So, which is it? Will Messiah be a man or a concept? Will Messiah be one person or many people?
Israel’s namesake, Jacob (Israel), was dying. He called his 12 sons and said to them, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.” (Genesis 49:1) This is an extremely important portion of Scripture for Jews. Israel’s patriarch Jacob is going to tell his sons, the heads of the 12 Tribes of Israel, what is going to befall them “in the last days.”
The “last days” in the understanding of Jacob and his sons was when God would bring about all the blessings in the covenant He made with Abraham. God promised Abraham He would make him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, bless those who blessed him, curse those who cursed him, and bless all the families of the earth in him (Genesis 12:1-3). God passed the prophetic blessing along to Abraham’s son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob. Now it was time for Jacob to pass it along to his sons, who would be the heads of the great Hebrew nation.
Jacob first spoke to his oldest son Reuben, then to Simeon and Levi. After that Jacob prophesied to Judah, who was the ancestor of Israel’s great king David. Here’s what Jacob told Judah about what would befall him “in the last days.”
“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s children shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, And his teeth whiter than milk.” Genesis 49:8-12
The “scepter” would not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until “Shiloh” comes. The Hebrew word for “scepter” is sebet and is used for the first time in Genesis 49:10. The word was used for a rod or staff that signified authority or special office of authority. Jacob was saying that the staff of authority would not depart from Judah “until Shiloh comes.” The Hebrew word siloh comes from the root word shalah (requires, to draw out) and carries the idea of being in peace and prosperity. The city of Shiloh was the first seat of government after Joshua led Israel into Canaan. “The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control.” (Joshua 18:1) It was at Shiloh that Joshua divided up the land for the remaining tribes of Israel that had not yet received their inheritance. You can read more about events in the life of Israel in Shiloh in Judges, 1 Samuel, and 1 Kings. The prophet Jeremiah also mentioned the city of Shiloh several times in his prophecies concerning the future of Israel.
The Hebrew prophet Moses also spoke about the future coming of a great prophet to Israel who would be like Moses. Not everyone is in agreement that this future prophet like Moses would also be the Messiah, but many believe he is.
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.” Deuteronomy 18:15-18
God sent many prophets to Israel from the time of Moses to the time of Malachi. Most spoke of a future age of universal peace for Israel and the other nations of the world.
“Therefore wait for Me,’ says the Lord, ‘Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations To My assembly of kingdoms, To pour on them My indignation, All My fierce anger; All the earth shall be devoured With the fire of My jealousy. ‘For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the Lord, To serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, The daughter of My dispersed ones, Shall bring My offering. In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds In which you transgress against Me; For then I will take away from your midst Those who rejoice in your pride, And you shall no longer be haughty In My holy mountain. I will leave in your midst meek and humble people, And they shall trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness And speak no lies, Nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; For they shall feed their flocks and lie down, And no one shall make them afraid.” Zephaniah 3:8-13
[Also read Hosea 2:20-22; Amos 9:13-15; Isaiah 2:1-4; 32:15:18; 60:15-18; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 8:23; 14:9; and Jeremiah 31:33-34]
So, who is the ‘anointed one’ God will send to Israel? We’ll see in the next part of our special study about what Christians and Jews believe about the baby Messiah.
(Read more about Jesus and the Virgin Birth in a free Ebook)