Is Jesus the Messiah?
"Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ." (Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20)
"I firmly believe, in complete faith, in the coming of the Messiah, and although he may tarry, I daily wait for his coming." (Rabbi Maimonides)
According to the Hebrew prophets, the Messiah is a king-like figure from the line of David who would, among other things, rescue Israel from her oppressors, return Jerusalem to the Jewish people, and usher in an age of peace (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 11; Jeremiah 23:5-8; 30-31; Hosea 3:5).
There is evidence that Jewish messianic expectation was high at the time of Jesus, associated with hope of liberation from Roman occupation.
Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah, the "anointed one" predicted in the Jewish Scriptures. The word "Christ" comes from the Greek for "Messiah," (it is actually a title, not a surname). Jews, on the other hand, do not believe Jesus is the Messiah and are still awaiting his future arrival.
This article explores the Christian belief as well as arguments provided for and against believing Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus the Messiah in the New Testament
In the New Testament, affirmations of Jesus as the Messiah are found almost exclusively in the four Gospel narratives and the Acts of the Apostles. The Pauline and other epistles, many of which predate the Gospels, do not attempt to show that Jesus is Messiah, yet they refer to him almost exclusively as "Christ."
In the Gospels, various people identify Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus himself reinforces this perception:
- After meeting Jesus, Andrew runs to tell Peter that he has found the Messiah (Jn 1:41)
- In a conversation with Jesus, a Samaritan woman says she knows the Messiah is coming. Jesus replies, "I who speak to you am he." (Jn 4:25-26)
- When Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is, Peter answers, "You are the Christ." (Mt 16:16; Mk 8:29; Lk 9:20)
- During the Triumphal Entry, the crowds shout, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" and the Gospel author explains that this fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. (Mt 21:4-9)
- When Jesus stands trial before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish high court), the high priest asks him if he is " the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" and Jesus replies, "I am." (Mk 14:61-62)
It is interesting to note that although Jesus appears to see himself as the Messiah in the Gospels, he does not go out of his way to identify himself as such, and those who do are commanded not to tell anyone about it (Mt 16:20; Mk 8:30, 9:9; Lk 8:56, 9:21). This is known as the "messianic secret," and its significance remains somewhat of a mystery to biblical scholars.
In Acts, one of the primary messages of the apostles is that Jesus is the Messiah:
- "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they [the apostles] never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." (Ac 5:52)
- "As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and one three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. 'This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,' he said." (Ac 15:2-3)
- Before King Herod Agrippa II, Paul insists, "I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." (Ac 26:22-23)
Reasons For Jesus as Messiah (Christian Perspective)
Following are the main reasons Christian give for believing Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, along with Jewish responses to those arguments.
1. Jesus is the Messiah because he was born of a virgin.
Matthew 1:22-23 (NIV):
All this [the virgin birth of Jesus] took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet [Isaiah 7:14]: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means “God with us”).
Jewish response: "Nowhere does the Bible predict that the Messiah will be born to a virgin. In fact, virgins never give birth anywhere in the Bible. This idea is to be found only in pagan mythology. To the Jewish mind, the very idea that G-d would plant a seed in a woman is unnecessary and unnatural."618 "The Hebrew term in Isaiah “almah” which means a “young woman” is mistranslated as “virgin.” Honest Christian scholars now acknowledge that this is “a pious fraud” and now (see the new Protestant “Revised Standard Version” of the Bible) translate the word correctly."618
2. Jesus is the Messiah because he was born in Bethlehem.
Matthew 2:4-6 (NIV):
When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.' [Micah 5:2]"
Jewish response: Jesus was likely born in Nazareth - the Bethlehem story has no historical foundation.
3. Jesus is the Messiah because he was from the line of David.
He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat... the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz... the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Christians believe that the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-38 fulfills predictions about the Messiah being from the line of David (Jeremiah 23:5, 33:17; Ezekiel 34:23-24; II Sam. 7:14; I Chr. 17:11-14, 22:9-10, 28:4-6).
Jewish response: A tribal line cannot be passed on through adoption, so Jesus cannot be "son of David" through Joseph. A tribal line also does not pass through the mother, and even if it did, Mary was not descended of David through Solomon.619
4. Jesus is the Messiah because he was a Suffering Servant.
Christians argue that the suffering of Jesus — in which he was disbelieved, rejected, beaten and crucified — fulfills prophecies in Isaiah 52-53 about a Suffering Servant. This belief is indicated in the New Testament (John 12:37-38; Acts 8:30-35).
Jewish response: Isaiah 52-53 is referring to the people of Israel, not to the Messiah.
5. Jesus is the Messiah because he is God.
Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate and that this fulfills a messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:6:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Jewish response: "Nowhere does our Bible say that the Messiah would be a god or G-d-like. The very idea that G-d would take on human form is repulsive to Jews because it contradicts our concept of G-d as being above and beyond the limitations of the human body and situation. Jews believe that G-d alone is to be worshiped, not a being who is His creation, be he angel, saint, or even the Messiah himself."618
Reasons Against Jesus as Messiah (Jewish Perspective)
- The true Messiah will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 33:18). Jesus lived while the Temple was still standing.
- The Messiah will reestablish Jewish religious law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15). Jesus did not do this.
- Jesus will do this at his Second Coming.
- The Messiah will save Israel. "In the case of Jesus, the very opposite took place. Not long after his death, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, Jerusalem was laid to waste, and the Jews went into exile to begin a 1900 year long night of persecution, — largely at the hands of the followers of this self-styled Messiah!"619
- The Messiah will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). Jesus did not do this.
- The Messiah will return all exiles to their homeland (Isaiah 11:11-12). Jesus did not do this.
Christians respond to all of these arguments that Jesus will fulfill these prophecies at his Second Coming.
Jews reply that this does not give Jesus any credibility for his "first" coming; the Bible never speaks about the Messiah returning after an initial appearance; and the "second coming" theory is a desperate attempt to explain away Jesus' failure. The Biblical passages which Christians are forced to regard as second coming don't speak of someone returning, they have a "first coming" perspective.619
- Morris, Henry; Clark, Martin. “How do we know that Jesus was the Messiah?.” ChristianAnswers.net.
- “What proof do you have that Jesus was the Messiah?.” JewsForJesus.org. 30 Jun. 2011.
- McGee, Matthew. “Evidence that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.” Wielding the Sword of the Spirit.
- “Is Jesus Both Messiah and God?.” McDowell, Josh, A Ready Defense: The Best of Josh McDowell (Thomas Nelson).
- Kaplan, Aryeh. “The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries.” Jews for Judaism.
- “The Jewish Messiah.” Jews for Judaism. .
- Messiah Revealed.
- Rich, Tracey R. Judaism 101.
- Singer, Rabbi Tovia, Let's Get Biblical!: Why doesn't Judaism Accept the Christian Messiah? Volume 1 .
- Federow, Rabbi Stuart, Judaism and Christianity:: A Contrast (iUniverse, 2012).