Out of all the people I have encountered over the years, I find Jewish people to probably be the most difficult to reach for the Messiah. We seem to be living in a day when some Christians are being stumbled by objections by Jewish people. Furthermore, I also see atheists appealing to Jewish objections to Christianity. So I think this is a worthwhile topic. By the way, in my previous post, I gave a few reasons (there are many more), for why I think Jesus is qualified to be called the “Messiah.”
I know it is easy for many Christians to forget that the Gospel is still “To the Jew First” (Romans 1:16). Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamed, is and believes. All are in the present tense. The gospel is, not was, but is the power of God, it is to all who believe, and it is to the Jew first. (1)
I want to go over some of the objections that I have heard and still hear from Jewish people. I will provide some tips and resource that may help:
Objections: #1: The Incarnation and Trinity Issue
While I have heard several objections from Jewish people it is important to remember that there are many Jewish people who are not overly religious. Hence, they are not Orthodox in practice and belief. But for the ones who are Orthodox, they have spent some time learning from counter-missionary organizations like Jews for Judaism and Outreach Judaism. Hence, they are familiar with Christian/Messianic arguments and tend to be ready to give their own apologetic as to why we are wrong about our claims about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah.
One thing that is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to belief in Jesus as the Messiah is the incarnation issue.The study of the Godhead is an enormous task. A study of the Trinune nature of God or the divinity of Jesus/ making a case for a divine Messiah go hand in hand with each other. My advice is to take the time and do a long study of the topic. If you want to do this superficially, you will pay the price. One of the best resources on this topic is my friend John Metzger’s Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God (over 900 pages). For Orthodox Jewish and some conservative Jewish people as well, the idea of God becoming a man is just an impossibility and it goes against their strict monotheism. Hence, God is noncorporeal and that settles it! Many Jewish people assume the entire belief in Jesus’ deity is a Christian invention that developed much later in church history. Hence, for Jewish people, Christian theological concepts like the incarnation, the virgin birth, the Trinity, etc. are totally foreign to both Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures (The Old Testament).
I always cite evidence that the early Christian community resisted idolatry and was not corrupted by Hellenism. And we can give extensive answers to the charge that we are not committing Idolatry and Violating the 2nd commandment. But we have to remember that we are trying to provide a response to paradigms that have been long established in Jewish thought. The paradigm that the Messiah is not God and that the Trinity is something that is a pagan idea is firmly entrenched in Jewish people’s mindsets.
In the end, you may need to just stick with the Tanakh (the Old Testament) and show there is a case for the plurality in the Godhead. But in order to do this you will need some linguistic/hermeneutical skills or rely on those who have done the hard work to provide resources to the Church (see the Metzger book or other resources). And remember, both the incarnation and the Trinity are revealed truths. What was implicit in the Old Testament becomes more explicit in the New Testament. But you may say “But the Jewish Scriptures was what Paul and Apostles appealed to when they witnessed to Jews.” True! However, what text were they using? The Greek Septuagint ( “LXX”, or “Greek Old Testament”) is an ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible, or The Masoretic Text which is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible? Most Jewish people don’t have a high regard for the Septuagint. So now you need to explain why the Septuagint is valid translation.
Messianic Expectations and Maimonides
Another problem in discussing messianism with Jewish people is that the most dominant messianic expectation is one put forth byMoses Maimonides (1138- 1204), who was a medieval Jewish philosopher. His writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Maimonides asserted that since God is incorporeal, this means that God assumes no physical form. Therefore, God is Eternal, above time, Infinite, and beyond space. Maimonides also stated that God cannot be born, and cannot die. For Maimonides, the Messiah will be born of human parents, nor be a demi-god who possess supernatural qualities. Furthermore, for Maimonides, it is clear he was writing in response to Christianity. Here are some of the things he said about the Messiah that are still at the forefront of the minds of Jewish people. The Messiah will:
- Restore the throne of David
- Rebuild the Temple (He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship)
- Gather the exiles (He will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing them back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem)
- Be a descendent of David
- He does not have to perform signs or wonders
One response to the orthodoxy of Maimonides is The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles Reappraised by Marc B. Shapiro.
Is There One Messianic Expectation?
The problem with talking to many Jewish people is that the only messianic expectation is the one put forth by Rabbinic Judaism which came into being after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. So the problem with this is that we dont’ get a broader understanding of what the messianic expectations were pre-70 AD/before the time of Jesus. Before 70 CE, messianic figures could go by a variety of names such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth. It is when we study the entire history of messianism that we get a much broader understanding of the topic. To see more on this, see our posts:
When I was a new Christian I was exposed to popular apologetic works. Messianic prophecy has always been one of the main ways Christian use to show Jesus is the Messiah. The problem is that many of these works treat the topic in an overly superficial fashion. The more I have taught on this topic, the more I realize that one of the first steps is to learn the hermeneutics of prophecy. To simply say some prophecies are about the first coming of the Messiah and others are about the return of the Messiah takes greater clarification. Some of the pertinent questions are the following: Are we sure that when the prophets spoke, they knew for sure about the timetable? Did they know or not know that centuries would come and go between their initial prediction and its actual fulfillment? Are some of the messianic promises gradually being fulfilled or are partially fulfilled and will be completely fulfilled one day? What about typology? These things are important since we see that both Christianity and Judaism have had to make adjustments in their thinking about messianism.
Remember, even in the time of Jesus, we see that the disciples were confused about what the role of Jesus was. And after he rose from the dead, they still thought he would establish the Davidic Kingdom. Jesus says that “ If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”- John 5: 46. Can you show exegetically where Moses wrote about Jesus? The best resource on this topic is Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King.
See more here:
What About an Atoning Messiah?
For the disciple of Jesus, His death is a “ransom” (Mark 10:45), “reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Col. 1:22), and “redemption” (Rom. 3:24; 8:23; Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12–15). Jesus is also called the “Suffering Servant” (Acts 3:13; 8:32ff), and the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). While the Christian community takes these truths for granted, the majority of the Jewish community asserts that the death of Jesus automatically annulled the possibility of Him being the promised Messiah of Israel. Christians tend to cite Isaiah 52:13-53 and Psalm 22 as a slam dunk for a suffering/atoning Messiah. But Rabbinic Judaism sees the Isaiah texts (and for that matter most of the Servant Songs) as being about Israel. Also, no man can atone for anyone else! The gist is that the Suffering Messiah concept eventually made its way into Judaism. I have written more about this here Atonement and the Suffering Messiah in Judaism
But speaking from experience, in order for Christians to cite Isaiah 52-53 correctly, they will need some knowledge of Hebrew. A more recent resource on this topic is The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology [Darrell Bock, Mitch Glaser. Another good online resource is The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) by Peter J. Gentry (just scroll down to the bottom)
Furthermore, an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two: Messiah ben Yossef who is also referred to as Mashiach ben Ephrayim, the descendant of Ephrayim will serve as a precursor to Messiah ben David. His role is political in nature since he will wage war against the forces that oppose Israel. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef is supposed to prepare Israel for its final redemption. The prophecy of Zech. 12:10 is applied to Messiah ben Yossef in that he is killed and that it will be followed by a time of great calamities and tests for Israel. Shortly after these tribulations upon Israel, Messiah ben David will come and avenge the death of Messiah ben Yossef, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace.(2)
What is interesting is that R. Saadiah Gaon elaborated on the role of Messiah ben Yossef by starting that this sequence of events is contingent. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah be David if the spiritual condition of Israel is up to par.(3)
This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a). (4)
Believe it or not, I have barely scratched the surface on all the Jewish objections to the Christian faith. The most well-known Messianic apologist at the present time is Dr. Michael Brown. Dr. Brown has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He has debated many rabbis on shows such as Phil Donahue, and Faith Under Fire. Dr. Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus and is visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is at http://askdrbrown.org.
1. This section was taken from JEWISH EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP, Article 3 of 13: GOD’S UNCHANGEABLE PLAN by Sam Nadler at http://messianicassociation.org/ezine14-sam.God%27sUnchangeable%20Plan.htm?vm=r&s=1
2. Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Mashiach: The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition. New York: S.I.E. 1992, 93-101.