The Messiah in the Tanakh (the Old Testament)
in the Light of Rabbinic Writings
If you do a quick internet search of the topic "messianic prophecies," you will immediately get hundreds of thousands of hits. This is not surprising, since using Old Testament prophecies to prove that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel is Christianity's oldest apologetics tool - a tool that Jesus himself pioneered when he declared to both his followers and opponents:
If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. (Jn 5:46)
All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. (Lk 24:44)
The New Testament writers followed the example of their master, constantly quoting the Old Testament to demonstrate how Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel; Church Fathers and Christian apologists did the same, from the Middle Ages up to our own day.
The great topic of the Messiah, however, is not given much attention today in modern rabbinic Judaism. Certainly, the vague hope remains that the Messiah will one day come and redeem Israel. Yet most Jews remain largely unaware of the richness and depth of the messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible. Often they are caught off guard when they encounter a Christian missionary who tells them about the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, for example, and how this suffering servant is Jesus who suffered and died in atonement for the sins of his people. In reply, Jewish apologists often accuse Christians of taking the words of the Tanakh out of context and artificially making them 'fit' to the life of Jesus, whereas, so they claim, the prophets were really talking about something completely different. For example, they generally interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to Israel, God's servant, and not to the Messiah as Christians have traditionally claimed. The result is often endless biblical and apologetical polemics about whose interpretation of the prophecies is correct.
One useful and indeed essential way to better understand the original context of the Old Testament prophecies is the large body of ancient Jewish literature such as the inter-testamental apocryphal books (e.g. the book of Enoch), Aramaic targums (early translations, often paraphrased, of the Bible into Aramaic), the midrashim, and the Talmud. Even later works such as the medieval Jewish Bible commentators or the mystical Zohar can also be of great help. The Babylonian Talmud itself tells us that "all the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah" (b. Berakhoth 34b), and so an intelligent use of those Jewish sources can assist us tremendously in determining whether or not disputed passages of the Old Testament refer to the Messiah.
In this article, we will see that many of these Jewish sources confirm the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures in establishing the identity of the Messiah of Israel with remarkable clarity, showing that the one person in the history of God's people that best fits this prophetic picture is indeed Jesus of Nazareth.
The Messiah will be the seed of the woman
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel. (Gen 3:15)
This passages speaks of an enmity between the serpent, who has just led Adam and Eve into sin, and a mysterious woman and her seed, who will bruise the serpent's head. Both the Targum Jonathan and the Jerusalem Targum associate this passage with the days of the Messiah who will come and make peace between men at the end of days:
And they [the sons of the woman] will finally make peace in the days of the Messiah-King. (Targum Jonathan Gen 3:15)
They will make peace in the end, at the close of the end of the days, in the days of the Messiah King. (Jerusalem Targum Gen 3:15)
At first sight this prophesy about the Messiah who is the "seed of the woman" seems meaningless - for is not everyone born of a woman? At the same time, the idea also sounds odd because one's seed usually comes from the father. Thus the passage possibly hints at the fact that the one who will bruise the head of the serpent will receive his human "seed" from his mother rather than from his father. Jesus, "born of a woman" (the virgin Mary) without human father, was indeed the "seed of the woman" who came to defeat the ancient serpent (1 Jn 3:8, Rev 19:19-21) and establish peace between Jews and Gentiles, as described in the book of Ephesians. Chapter 12 of the book of Revelation in particular gives us a vivid picture of the woman, her seed the Messiah, and their battle against the serpent:
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law. (Gal 4:4)
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity... so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Eph 2:14-16)
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth... She bore a male child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron... So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world... he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child... And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev 12:1-17)
The Messiah will be Son of Abraham
Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham... and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD... blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 22:15-18)
God promised to Abraham that his seed would be a worldwide blessing and his descendants would become extremely numerous. The midrash tells us how the seed of Abraham will greatly multiply in the days of the Messiah, who will himself be a descendant of Abraham:
In the days of the Messiah, Israel will be compared to the sand of the sea. (Bamidbar Rabbah 2; cf. Santala, 41)
Jesus, of course, was a descendant of Abraham. Through Jesus, the promises made to Abraham were extended to all nations; through him, millions of Christians have come to know the God of Israel and have received the spiritual blessings that He promised to Abraham.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham... (Mt 1:1)
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "and to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "and to your Seed," who is Christ. (Gal 3:16)
The Messiah will be a descendant of Jacob
I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel… Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, and destroy the remains of the city. (Num 24:17-19)
The Aramaic Targums of this passage confirm that the "Star of Jacob" will be the Messiah:
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but he is not near; when a king shall arise out of Jacob and be anointed the Messiah out of Israel, He will slay the princes of Moab, and reign over all the children of men; (Num 24:17; Targum Onkelos)
...but when a mighty king of the house of Jacob shall reign, and shall be anointed Messiah, wielding the mighty scepter of Israel, He will slay the princes of Moab... (Num 24:17; Targum Jonathan)
Jesus was indeed son of Jacob and son of Israel:
Jesus… the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham… (Lk 3:34)
The Messiah will be from the tribe of Judah
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. (Gen 49:10)
This passage informs us that a mysterious "Shiloh" will arise from the tribe of Judah and will rule his people. Yet how do we know that this refers to the Messiah? The targumim, the midrash, and the Talmud all reveal that this "Shiloh" is in fact the name of the Messiah, who will come from the tribe of Judah:
The transmission of dominion shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children's children, forever, until the Messiah comes, to whom the Kingdom belongs, and whom nations will obey. (Targum Onqelos Gen 49:10-12)
Kings and rulers shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor scribes who teach the Torah from his seed, until the time when the King Messiah shall come, the youngest of his sons, and because of him nations shall melt away....How beautiful is the King Messiah who is destined to arise from the house of Judah...How beautiful are the eyes of King Messiah, as pure wine! (Targum Jonathan Gen 49.10-12)
The sceptre will not depart from Judah... until Shilo (‘he’) come, this is the Messiah-King... 'Judah's sceptre' means the Great Synagogue, the Sanhedrin, which was struck and which collapsed... until Shilo come. (Bereshit Rabbah 98; cf. Santala, 50)
What is the name of the Messiah-King?... The LORD (YHWH - יהוה) is his name, because Jer. 23:6 says, 'This is the name by which he will be called: the LORD our Righteousness (יהוה צדקינו)... SHILOH is his name, because it is written in Gen. 49:10, 'until Shiloh comes'... (Lamentations Rabbah 1:16 on Lam 1:15-17; b. Sanhedrin 98b)
Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, being of the tribe of Judah. In addition, the prophecy and its midrash inform us about the time of the Messiah's coming. They reveal that the tribe of Judah must retain its identity and genealogy until the coming of the Messiah, after which the scepter (the rule) would depart from that tribe. Indeed, the Jews preserved their genealogies up to the time of Jesus but lost them soon after, when the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. Rabbi Rahmon interpreted this national calamity as the loss of the sceptre of Judah spoken of in Genesis 49, and he expressed distress at the fact that the Messiah should have appeared before that time:
When the members of the Sanhedrin discovered that the rights of life and death had been torn from their hands a general consternation seized hold of them. They covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth, shouting, 'Woe to us! The sceptre of Judah has been taken away and the Messiah has not yet come.' (cf. Santala, 103)
Jesus… the son of Judah. (Lk 3:23, 33)
Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book. (Rev 5:5)
The Messiah will be a descendant of David
"Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely. now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD (YHWH) OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Jer 23:5-6)
This prophecy speaks of a certain descendant of David who will be a "branch of righteousness" and king, will save Judah and Israel, and will be called "YHWH Our Righteousness" (יהוה צדקינו). The Talmud tells us that Rabbis Shmuel Ben Nahman (260 AD) and Abba Bar Kahana (300 AD) came to the conclusion that this divine name, "YHWH our Righteousness" is none other than "the name of the Messiah" (b. Baba Bathra 75b; cf. Santala, 64). Jesus, whose name means "salvation," fulfilled this prophecy as the Son of David who came to save his people from their sins:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham… (Mt 1:1)
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Lk 1:30-33)
The Messiah will be born of a virgin
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin (almah) shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14)
Around the year 735 B.C. the prophet Isaiah promised a sign to Ahaz, king of Judah: a young woman or virgin would give birth to a son whose name would be "Immanuel," which means "God is with us." The Hebrew word used here for virgin is almah, which means a young, unmarried woman, and is usually assumed to denote a virgin. While the Hebrew text is ambiguous, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated by Alexandrian Jews in the 3rd century B.C.) removes all ambiguity and translates the Hebrew almah with the Greek word parthenos, which can only mean a virgin. If there remains any doubt that the text here speaks of a virgin, we may also ask ourselves: what kind of a sign would this be had Isaiah meant that a young woman would give birth to a child after having normal relations with a man? This would not be a sign at all but quite a normal occurrence; for a "sign" by its very nature should reveal something out of the ordinary. And thus it is most plausible that the prophet indeed announced a future miraculous virgin birth.
As is well known, Mary conceived Jesus while still a virgin:
"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus..." Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God." (Lk 1:30-35)
The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. (Mic 5:2)
The prophet Micah announces that a Ruler of eternal origins will be born in Bethlehem and will reign in Israel. Targum Jonathan identifies this Ruler with the Messiah, translating Micah 5:2: "out of you will come the Messiah." We will also see below how Rabbi David Qimhi sees in this passage the Messiah-King and calls him "God."
As Micah prophesied, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David:
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife who was with child. And while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. (Lk 2:4-6)
The Messiah will minister in Galilee
In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isa 9:1-2)
Isaiah prophecied that a great light would shine in the "Galilee of the Gentiles." It is significant that Jesus grew up in Nazareth in the Galilee, and carried out most of his public ministry in this region, the "Galilee of the Gentiles" where pagans were extensively intermingled with Jews, far remote from the Jewish religious center in Jerusalem.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles..." (Mt 4:12-16)
The Messiah will be a prophet like Moses
The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him shall you hear… (Deut 18:15)
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. (Deut 18:18)
The book of Deuteronomy announces that God will raise up another prophet like Moses. Targum Jonathan adds that this new prophet will be raised up through the Holy Spirit:
The Lord your God will raise up from your midst a prophet by the Holy Spirit who will be like me… a prophet I will raise up from amongst your brethren, through the Holy Spirit. (Targum Jonathan; cf. Santala, 58)
The midrash on Ecclesiastes also speaks of a "Last Savior" who, like the first savior Moses, will ride a donkey, and provide bread from heaven and living water to his people:
Just as there was a First Saviour so there will be a Last. Just as it is said of the First Saviour (Ex 4:20) that ‘He took his wife and sons and put them on a donkey’, so it is said of the Last Saviour that ‘He is lowly and riding on a donkey’ (Zech 9:9). As the First Saviour provided manna (Ex 16), as it is written, ‘Behold I will pour out bread from heaven upon you,’ so will the Last Saviour, as it is written (Ps 72:16), ‘Let corn abound throughout the land.’ Just as the First Saviour opened a fountain, so the Last Saviour will provide water, as it is written (Joel 3:18), ‘A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house.’ (Midrash Qoheleth Rabbati 1)
Jesus' followers recognized him as "the Prophet" whom Moses had announced. In addition, Jesus provided bread from heaven for his people and promised that he would be to them "a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life":
We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. (Jn 1:45)
If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. (Jn 5:46)
Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world. (Jn 6:14)
Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world... I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (Jn 6:32-35)
Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (Jn 4:13-14)
The Messiah will perform miracles
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (Isa 35:5-6)
One sign of the coming of the kingdom of God is the healing of illnesses and releasing God's people from the bonds that afflict them. Healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf were a central part of Jesus' ministry:
And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. (Lk 7:21)
And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them." (Mt 11:2-5)
The Messiah will be a shepherd to God's people
I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them - My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them. (Ezek 34:23-25)
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. (Ezek 37:24-25)
God promised to His people a Davidic shepherd who would guide them and feed them. Both RaDaQ (Rabbi David Qimhi) and Rashi say about Ezek 34 that "my shepherd David" is the Messiah. RaDaQ also states of the prophecy in Ezekiel 37 that 'my shepherd David' is the Messiah-King. He is called David because he is of David's seed." (cf. Santala, 177)
Jesus, Son of David, called himself "the good shepherd" who came to gather his sheep and give his life for them:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep... I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (Jn 10:11, 14-16)
The Messiah will be a light to the Gentiles
And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious. (Isa 11:10)
It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth. (Isa 49:6; see also Isa 42:1,6)
Another sign of the Messianic age is that all nations will come to know and worship the God of Israel. Though Jesus' ministry was initially directed towards the Jews, he never turned away Gentiles who had faith in him and sought his salvation. At the end of his time on earth he commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations:
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. (Mt 15:21)
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations... (Mt 28:19)
God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life. (Acts 11:18)
The Messiah will enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9:9)
The Talmud and Midrash confirm that the king who will enter Jerusalem on a donkey is the Son of David and Savior:
The Son of David will come only in a generation which is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked… if they are righteous he will come in the clouds. If not, he will come humbly and riding on a donkey. (b. Sanhedrin 97b; cf. Santala, 55)
Just as there was a First Saviour so there will be a Last. Just as it is said of the First Saviour (Ex 4:20) that ‘He took his wife and sons and put them on a donkey’, so it is said of the Last Saviour that ‘He is lowly and riding on a donkey’ (Zech 9:9). (Midrash Qoheleth Rabbati 1; cf. Santala, 59)
Jesus indeed rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, as a sign of lowliness and subjection, yet also as the sign of his Messianic kingship:
Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, "The Lord has need of them…" (Mt 21:2-3)
The Messiah will be a rejected cornerstone
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily." (Isa 28:16)
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD'S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. (Ps 118:22-23)
He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isa 53:3)
Isaiah and the psalmist speak of a chief cornerstone that was rejected. Rashi, commenting on Isaiah 28:16 and on Micah 5:2, confirms that the rejected cornerstone of psalm 118 is the Messiah, initially rejected despite being the cornerstone of salvation history:
Behold, I have laid a foundation... and so must it be interpreted: Behold, I am He Who has already laid [a stone in Zion. Already] a decree has been decreed before Me, and I have set up the King Messiah, who shall be in Zion as an אֶבֶן בּוֹחֵן, a fortress stone, an expression of a fortress and strength. (Rashi on Isa 28:16)
And you, Bethlehem Ephratah... from you shall emerge for me the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): "The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone. (Rashi on Mic 5:2)
Jesus, Messiah, Savior, and the cornerstone of Israel, was rejected by his own people:
The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain. (Lk 9:22, Mt 21:42-43)
Come to Him, to that living stone, rejected by men, but chosen by God and precious... Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, " Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, " the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone," and "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense." (1 Pt 2:4-8)
The Messiah will be sold for 30 pieces of silver
Then I said to them, "If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain." So they weight out for my wages 30 pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter" "- that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter. (Zech 11:12-13)
The price paid for the Jesus' betrayal was the same as the price of a slave, 30 pieces of silver (see Exo 21:32) - the same amount that was brought to the potter's field in Zechariah's prophecy.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him. (Mt 26:14-15)
Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders... Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood." And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the LORD directed me." (Mt 27:3-9)
The Messiah will be betrayed by a friend
Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (Ps 41:9)
The psalm describes the poor, righteous man who is unjustly afflicted by many evils and betrayed by one of his closest friends. The same happened to Jesus, betrayed by his disciple Judas:
Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him." Immediately, he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. (Mt 26:48-49)
The Messiah will be meek and humble
He will not cry out, no raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. (Isa 42:2-3)
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (Isa 53:7)
Then as now, the people of Israel expected a triumphant Messiah who would physically deliver them from their enemies. Isaiah, however, announced a meek and humble Messiah who would remain silent even while subjected to unjust afflictions and being "led as a lamb to the slaughter." This is exactly how Jesus reacted to his unjust condemnation and death sentence:
And the high priest arose and said to Him, "Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?" But Jesus kept silent… (Mt 26:62-63)
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. (Lk 23:34)
The Messiah will be beaten and spat upon
I gave my My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. (Isa 50:6)
Jews often consider the suffering servant to be Israel. Here, however, the servant bears the striking characteristics of an individual who is tortured and humiliated, just as Jesus was.
Then they spit in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands. (Mt 26:67)
The Messiah will be pierced
They pierced My hands and my feet. (Ps 22:16)
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 have pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. (Zech 12:10)
Psalm 22 describes, as Jewish commentator M. D. Cassuto has said, "a man tortured in both body and soul," feeling abandoned by God and forsaken by all. Verse 16 in Hebrew reads "like a lion (כארי, ka'ari) my hands and my feet" - which does not make much sense, and which is possibly a corruption of the alternate reading "they pierced (כארו, ka'aru) my hands and my feet." The plausibility of the second reading is strengthened by the fact that the Septuagint (the Jewish translation of the Bible into Greek, dating to the 3rd century B.C.) reads "they pierced" (ὤρυξαν). This shows that the usual translation in Christian Bibles "they pierced my hands and my feet" is not a Christian manipulation of the text but derives from a Jewish translation, and may thus more closely reflect the original text than "like a lion."
Zech 12:10 ("they will look on me whom they have pierced") is interpreted by the Talmud as referring to "the Mashiach, Son of Joseph":
And the land shall mourn... what is the cause of the mourning?... one explained, the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph... 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 the Scriptural verse, and they shall look upon me because they thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son. (b. Sukka 52a; cf. Santala, 186)
Rashi, Radaq, and Ibn Ezra also say that this verse refers to the Messiah Son of Joseph.
When Jesus was crucified, his hands and feet were pierced with nails. In addition, immediately after he died, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear:
And when they had come to the placed called Calvary, there they crucified Him… (Lk 23:33)
One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. (Jn 19:34)
Men will cast lots for his clothes
They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. (Ps 22:18)
The casting of lots for the clothing of the afflicted man of psalm 22 also accurately describes how the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothes at the crucifixion:
Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: " They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots." (Mt 27:35)
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now this tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be." (Jn 19:23-24)
The Messiah will be given vinegar and gall to drink
They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Ps 69:21)
Psalm 69 describes the unjust affliction of a righteous one who is "hated without a cause" (v. 4) and was given gall for food and vinegar to drink, like Jesus on the cross.
They gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. (Mt 27:34)
The Messiah will be sacrificed for our sins
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth... For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. (Isa 53:4-8)
Jews today often consider the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 to be the people of Israel, who have suffered on behalf of the other nations to atone for their sins. This is problematic because an atoning sacrifice must be perfect, without blemish, and this is far from the picture of Israel painted by the same prophet Isaiah, who at times harshly condemns Israel for their sins (cf. Isa 1). A number of Jewish sources, by contrast, associate this suffering figure with the Messiah.
The Targum translates Isa 52:13: "Behold, my servant the Messiah will prosper."
Midrash Tanhuma states that "this is the King, the Messiah, who will rise and be greatly exalted, higher than Abraham, greater than Moses, above the worshipping angels."
Midrash Ruth, commenting on Ruth 2:14, discusses the "Messianic meal": "The fifth interpretation of [Ruth 2:14] makes it refer to the Messiah. Come hither: approach to royal state. And eat of the bread refers to the bread of royalty; and dip thy morsel in the vinegar refers to his sufferings, as it is said, but he was wounded because of our transgressions (Isa 53:5). (Ruth Rabbah 5:6)
Rabbi Elia de Vidas writes: "Thus the Messiah suffered on account of our sins, and was wounded; He who does not wish the Messiah to be wounded for our transgressions may choose himself to suffer and carry his own sins." (cf. Santala, 202)
The Talmud also associates the suffering servant with the Messiah: "What is the Messiah's name? ... the Rabbis said: His name is 'the leper scholar,' as it is written, surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted (Isa 53:4). (Sanhedrin 98b)
Most remarkable is this prayer from the Mahzor Rabbah, prayed on Yom Kippur, the great Day of Atonement:
Then, before the creation, he already set up the Temple and the Messiah… the Messiah our righteousness has turned away from us, and can find no-one who can justify us. The yoke of our sins and our transgressions is a burden to us; and he was wounded for our transgressions, he suffered on his shoulders our iniquities; there is forgiveness for our sins. In his wounds we are healed; it is time to create forever a new creation… He is our God, our Father, our King, he is our Saviour and he will liberate and redeem us for a second time and let us hear of his grace a second time… (Mahzor Rabbah for the Great Day of Atonement; cf. Santala, 207)
The New Testament, of course, interprets Isaiah 53 as referring to Jesus, the paschal lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world:
A man of Ethiopia... was reading Isaiah the prophet... "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? for His life is taken from the earth." So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. (Acts 8:27-35)
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. (1 Cor 5:7)
He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb 9:26)
Not one of his bones will be broken
In one house [the Passover lamb] shall be eaten... nor shall you break one of its bones. (Ex 12:46)
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken. (Ps 34:20)
The prohibition to not break any of the bones of the Passover lamb, reflected in the psalm, was fulfilled when the Romans did not break any of Jesus' bones when died on the cross.
… When they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. (Jn 19:33)
The Messiah will rise from the dead
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. (Ps 16:10)
The ancient hope in the resurrection from the dead, expressed by David in psalm 16, remained unfulfilled in David's own life, as the apostle Peter explained to the Jews assembled in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Christ's resurrection, however, fulfilled this promise of ultimate victory over death.
The angel answered and said to the woman, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen." (Mt 28:5-6)
...the patriarch David... is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. (Acts 2:29-32)
The Messiah will ascend into heaven
You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive; you have received gifts among men, even from the rebellious, that the LORD God might dwell there. (Ps 68:18)
The psalm hints that God will ascend to heaven after having come down from his dwelling place to release captives so that they may dwell with Him. Jesus accomplished this at his ascension, and he prepares a place for his followers in the Father's kingdom.
I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (Jn 14:2-3)
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. (Acts 1:9)
The Messiah will be seated at the right hand of God
The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool." (Ps 110:1)
Who are the two Lords spoken of in this psalm? The midrash on the psalms tells us that this dialogue here is between the LORD and the Messiah:
"Sit at my right hand," – he says this to the Messiah; and his throne is prepared in grace and he will sit upon it. (Midrash Psalms; cf. Santala, 124)
Jesus claimed that he was the one who would sit at the right hand of God:
Jesus said to him, "…hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Mt 26:64)
The Messiah will be a priest like Melchizedek
The LORD has sworn and will not relent, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." (Ps 110:4)
Psalm 110 speaks of a mysterious priest "according to the order of Mechizedek." In the New Testament, the epistle to the Hebrews describes how the priesthood of Aaron, temporary and ineffective, was to be replaced by a new and greater priest "who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life" (Heb 7:16). Jesus is the eternal high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: "You are my Son, today I have begotten You." As He also says in another place: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." (Heb 5:5-6)
We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. (Heb 8:1-2)
The time of the Messiah's coming was predicted
The statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Dan 2) and the four beasts in Daniel's dream (Dan 7) represent four kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. At the time of the fourth kingdom (Rome) "the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever." (Dan 2:44)
The Talmud records how after a time of 2,000 years of Torah should have come the time of the Messiah for 2,000 years, but somehow something went wrong:
The tradition of Elijah teaches that the world is to exist for six thousand years; in the first two thousand desolation; in the next two thousand the Torah will flourish and the next two thousand are the days of the Messiah but on account of our sins, which were great, things turned out as they did. (Sanhedrin 97a)
According to Jewish tradition, the world was created in 3761 BC. The 2,000 years of desolation should have lasted until approximately 1761 BC, at which time would have begun the age of the Torah (according to conservative biblical chronology, the Exodus and giving of the Torah occurred around 1445 BC, which is relatively close). Then, after 2,000 years of Torah, the age of the Messiah should have begun around 239 AD and lasted until 2239 AD. According to the Talmud, therefore, the Messiah should have come already; indeed we are even nearing the end of the Messianic age according to the talmudic calculations!
Jesus appeared and proclaimed the kingdom of God at the time of the Roman occupation in Judea, within the timeframe of Daniel's prophecies.
The Messiah will be cut off before the destruction of the temple
...from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks... And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. (Dan 9:25-26)
- The prophecy: 69 "weeks" (x 7 years) after the command to rebuild Jerusalem, the Messiah will be "cut off," after which the city and sanctuary will be destroyed.
- The command to rebuild Jerusalem mentioned in Daniel 9:25 was decreed by king Artarxerxes of Persia in the month of Nisan of the 20th year of his reign. (Neh 2:1-8)
- Artarxerxes began to reign in 465 BC. The 20th year of his reign is 445 BC. The 1st of Nissan, 445 BC = March 14, 445 BC.
- Daniel's prophecy predicts that there will be 7+ 62= 69 weeks from the command to rebuild Jerusalem to the coming of the Messiah (1 "week" = 7 years).
- 69 "weeks" x 7 years = 483 Babylonian years (one Babylonian year = 360 days)
- 483 Babylonian years = 476 Julian years + 21 days (one Julian year = 365.25 days)
- 445 BC + 476 years = 32 AD.
- March 14, 32 AD + 21 days = April 4, 32 AD. This is the date at which the Messiah was to be "cut off" according to Daniel.
- Passover fell on April 10, 32 AD! If Jesus was crucified on Passover of that year, this is extremely close to Daniel's dating!
Even the Talmud speaks of how 40 years before the destruction of the Temple (i.e. 30 AD, around the time of the crucifixion) the atoning sacrifices lost their power and the gates of the Holy of Holies opened by themselves. The tractate Yoma describes how previously the crimson-coloured strap which was tied between the horns of the bullock on Yom Kippur became white, signifying that God had forgiven Israel's sin. But 40 years before the destruction of the Temple it ceased to turn white. Also the westernmost light on the candlestick in the Temple, which previously remained lighted as a sign that the Shechinah rested over Israel, ceased to burn at the same time:
During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white, nor did its westernmost lamp shine; and the doors of the sanctuary opened themselves Then Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai rebuked them, saying, ‘Temple, why dost thou grieve so? I know this about thee, that thou shalt be destroyed." (b. Yoma 39b; cf. Santala, 105)
It is remarkable that such dramatic changes in the Temple service mysteriously occurred right around the time of Jesus' crucifixion!
The command to rebuild Jerusalem was decreed by king Artaxerxes in 445 BC (Neh 2:1-8). 69 "weeks" of 7 years later brings us to AD 32. In that year Jesus the Messiah was crucified ("cut off"). At the same time, the atoning sacrifices in the Temple lost their power, and shortly thereafter (70 AD) the Romans destroyed the city and the Temple.
The Messiah has two missions to carry out
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God." (Isa 61:1-2)
Isaiah refers here to the Messiah's two missions: the first consists of preaching, healing and setting people free from their bondage, and of announcing his second mission: the day of judgment, the "day of vengeance of our God." Jesus has completed the first mission in his own life and he now continues to carry it out through the Church, awaiting the day and hour of his return to judge the world.
The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Mt 11:5)
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Mt 16:27)
All people will worship the Son of Man
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan 7:13-14)
Daniel's Son of Man here appears to be much more than a mere human, for he receives an everlasting authority over all the world, and all nations and people of the earth worship him!
Rashi writes that this son of man is the King-Messiah. (Rashi on Dan 7:13).
Rabbi Saadia Gaon explains that:
He is the Messiah Our Righteousness; and is it not of the Messiah that it is written, 'he is humble and rides on a donkey'? He will come humbly, not proudly on horseback. Regarding the 'coming with the clouds,' this concerns the host of the heavenly angels; and here is the greatness which the Creator will grant the Messiah." (Rabbi Saadia Gaon on Dan 7)
In the book of Revelation, in a vision similar to Daniel's, we see Jesus reigning over all creation and receiving worship and honor from all creatures:
"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: " Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!" Then the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever. (Rev 5:12-14)
The Messiah is called "Son of God"
Why do the nations rage, and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed One [...] 'Yet I have set My King on my holy hill of Zion.' I will declare the decree: the LORD has said to Me, ‘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 [...] Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way [...] (Ps 2:1-2, 6-8, 12)
Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if you know? (Prov 30:4)
Often it is asserted dogmatically that "God has no Son" in Judaism. But this is not true. Psalm 2 refers to the Lord's 'anointed one' (Messiah), twice called "Son," who will receive the nations as inheritance. The Midrash on the psalms sees in this figure the "one who is to come," the "Messiah-King" before whom all will bow down, and also the "son of man coming with the clouds" of the book of Daniel (7:13).
Rashi also associates the "Son" with the Messiah: "Our Rabbis have taught that this concerns the Messiah-King, and in harmony with this interpretation it can be applied to David himself." So does Ibn Ezra, who reckons that the psalm refers to the "anointing of David as king... or else it concerns the Messiah" (cf. Santala, 119). The Talmud concurs, even associating with Psalm 2 the two Messianic traditions of the triumphant Messiah son of David and the suffering Messiah son of Joseph:
The Rabbis have said that this means the Messiah, the Son of David, who is to come quickly in our time. The Holy One will say to him: ‘Ask of me, and I will give it to you,’ as it is said... ‘this day I have begotten you; ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance.’ And because he saw the Messiah, the Son of Joseph, who was killed… I will ask you for nothing more than life… (b. Sukka 52a; cf. Santala, 120)
The Zohar even appends to the description of the Son ("bar") a quasi-trinitarian statement mentioning the Holy One, His Son, and His Spirit:
You are the good shepherd; of you it is said, ‘Kiss the Son.’You are great here below, the teacher of Israel, the Lord of the serving angels, the son of the Most High, the son of the Holy One, may his name be praised and his Holy Spirit. (Zohar, part III, 307, Amsterdam edition; cf. Santala, 121)
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mt 3:16-17)
The Messiah existed before the creation of the world
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. (Mic 5:2)
We have already examined this verse from Micah and seen how rabbis have applied it to the person of the Messiah. Yet is this Messiah merely human? Micah seems to say that his origins are eternal. Rabbi David Qimhi comments on Mic 5:2:
It will be said in the Messianic age that his 'origins are from old, from ancient time;' 'from Bethlehem' means that he will be of the house of David, because there is a long period of time between David and the Messiah-King; and he is El (God), which is how he is 'from old, from ancient times.' (Qimhi on Mic 5:2)
In Genesis 1:2 we read: "The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." The midrash Rabbah says in this context that "this was the spirit of the Messiah" who was already present at creation. (Bereshith Rabbah 1:2; cf. Santala, 35)
According to the Talmud, the Messiah's name is one of the seven things which were ordained before creation. (b. Pesahim 54a, Nedarim 39b; cf. Santala, 52)
The apocryphal book of Enoch also presents the Messiah and Son of Man as pre-existent before the creation of the world:
And at that hour that Son of Man was named In the presence of the Lord of Spirits, and his name before the Head of Days. Yea, before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of the heaven were made, His name was named before the Lord of Spirits. He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall, and he shall be the light of the Gentiles, and the hope of those who are troubled of heart. All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him, and will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits. And for this reason hath he been chosen and hidden before Him, before the creation of the world and for evermore. (1 Enoch 48:2-6)
Thus we see that Jesus' eternal sonship is not an invention of the New Testament but finds its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures, in apocryphal writings, and is even confirmed in rabbinic literature.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth... All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Col 1:15-17)
The Messiah is called "God"
"Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (YHWH Tsidkeinu). (Jer 23:5-6)
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6)
These two verses indicate that the Davidic king, Messiah and "Son" will be divine. The divinity of the Messiah is a huge subject that will be dealt with elsewhere. For now, suffice it to say that the midrash on Lamentations also attributes the name of God to the Messiah:
What is the name of King Messiah? R. Abba b. Kahana said: His name is 'the Lord'; as it is stated, and this is the name whereby he shall be called, the Lord is our righteousness. (Lamentations Rabbah I.16.51)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Jn 1:1)
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." (Jn 8:58)
And Thomas answered and said to [Jesus], "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28)
To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet 1:1)
See also the article on the Divinity of the Messiah
Main source for this article:
Risto Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings. Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1992.
See also the article by the same author: How Can We Be Convinced that Jesus is the Messiah?
See also: Messianic Prophecies* (PowerPoint)