Exploring Messianic Divinity

Lion of JudahThus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?Isaiah 66:1

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.Exodus 40:34-35

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:14

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.1 Timothy 3:16

Have you ever wondered who Jesus is? I know. You think you have the answer, but maybe you don’t. If you’re a Christian, you’re probably really sure who he is. The Son of God. The “Son” part of the Trinity. The Word made flesh (whatever that might mean). If you’re Jewish and you don’t “believe”, then at best, you think he was a little known, itinerant teacher who said a few good things and came to a bad end (most Jews I’ve met don’t believe Jesus was trying to start a new religion that hated Jews and they blame Paul for that part of it).

Christians believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Jews don’t. One of the big reasons Jews don’t believe Jesus could be the Messiah is that no where in modern Jewish thought is it required that the Messiah must be God. In fact, a man claiming to be God is a heretic. People who worship a man as if he were God are pagan idol worshipers. It’s a really big problem and one of the major reasons (which many Christians don’t get) that Jews don’t even consider “converting to Christianity” (and there are lots of other reasons besides this one).

What gets me is that Jews have been radically monotheistic back to the days of Abraham and Christians don’t seem to understand the depth of this feeling. The very idea that there could be more than one God is just insane from a Jewish perspective. Christians, of course, say they are not polytheistic but in fact worship God as “three-in-one”. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to a Jew who would just see the argument as a cheap way to get around worshiping three gods. Christians don’t have a problem believing that God can exist in His heaven (God the Father) and still exist as a human being on earth (God the Son).

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get some small handle on the nature of the Messiah, and to somehow reconcile the Jewish and Christian viewpoints on who the Messiah must be. It isn’t easy. Christians have long since (as far as I can tell) given up on any attempt to solve the mystery, and just accept that the God-nature of the human Jesus and his co-existence with the Father are simply beyond human understanding.

And yet people have tried to understand it. People have written about it. We can find those writings today. I’ll try to pull some of that stuff together into one (hopefully) short series so we can wrestle around with it, starting with this blog.

I should say that I’ve posted a number of blogs on my old “Searching” blogspot on the topic of the nature of the Messiah. The reason I’m revisiting the material is that all of that stuff is scattered across half a dozen blog posts or more and I’d like to pull it together. For the record, the main source of information, which includes a ton of comment responses, is at a blog I wrote called The Deity Problem. There are 89 comments (as of this writing) posted in response to my original blog and we still didn’t resolve anything. I think there is a resolution somewhere or perhaps just a theory that offers one. Here’s part of it.

Warning! My theory is based on ideas proposed in Kabbalah, so some people are going to be automatically put off by what I’m going to say. If that’s really going to bother you, stop reading now and find a blogspot that’s more politically correct. Also, my source is a site called hebrew4christians.com. I’m not crazy about using this site as a source, not because there are inaccuracies involved necessarily, but I’d prefer to use a non-Messianic site or at least a non-Gentile oriented site as a source for strictly Jewish and Kabbalistic information. But this is what came up when I started looking. OK, here we go.

How did God create the universe according to Kabbalah? Yes, this is relevant to how I understand the nature and character of the Messiah. Be patient. Keep reading.

In the beginning there was only God… and nothing else. God, or Ein Sof, was an all-encompassing Divine Presence/Light called Or Ein Sof (the Light of Infinity). Since nothing but God existed before creation, when God decided to create yesh (i.e., “something”) from its Ein (i.e., “nothing”), God needed to “make a space” or to “provide room” for that which was not God (i.e., otherness). God therefore “emptied himself” by contracting his infinite light to create a conceptual space for the creation of the universe. In a great cosmic flash, God then “condensed” into a point of infinite density and infinite energy called tzimtzum (“contraction”) and “exploded out” in all directions (i.e., the cosmic “Big Bang”). In a sense, this self-imposed “contraction”of the Infinite Light is a picture of God “sacrificing” Himself for the sake of creation.

You can use the link I previously provided to get all of the content, but the key for me is that God had the ability to contract or “humble” Himself, so He could cease to be “infinite” and allow room for the universe (I know all this is highly symbolic and I’m not saying this is really how God made the universe, but bear with me…the method I’m using to try and understand the Messiah has significant mystic elements…I don’t think you can understand the Messiah otherwise).

The next part has to do with how an infinite God (Isaiah 66:1) could occupy a finite container in our universe (Exodus 40:34-35)

Kabbalah suggests different aspects or natures to God. The concept of an infinite, unknowable God, as previously mentioned, is often referred to as Ein Sof in Kabbalah. I suppose if I were to translate that into a Christian concept, I would call it “God the Father”. However, Ein Sof cannot occupy a tent in a desert or a Temple in Jerusalem. Ein Sof is infinite, unknowable, cosmic, unfathomable in an absolute sense. So just what was it that took up residence in the Tabernacle at the end of the Book of Exodus?

ShekhinahJews believe that the Shekhinah or the “Divine Presence” occupied the Tabernacle and later, the Temple. This is an aspect of God that is able to manifest itself in our universe and something that we can experience, sometimes in an extremely powerful way (think about the burnt off top of Mt Sinai when God spoke to the Children of Israel). The root word in Hebrew for “Shekhinah” literally means “to settle”, “to inhabit”, or “to dwell”. It’s an aspect of God that is able to “condense” or “sacrifice” or “humble” itself to make itself physically finite in our finite universe so that we can have a direct interaction with the Divine.

Now remember about the root word in Hebrew for Shekhinah, and that the root literally means “to dwell”.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14 (ESV)

OK, God’s Divine Presence was able to occupy a three-dimensional object in our universe: the Tabernacle. No one would ever suggest that the Divine Presence actually became a tent; it just inhabited the tent temporarily and when it was done living there, it left. Now, using all that as our foundation, let me suggest (and it’s just a suggestion, not a conclusion) that the “Presence” were able to manifest as a human being without God literally transforming himself into a person!

“Chassidic philosophy has added significantly to our understanding of the resurrection generally, and of Moshiach specifically. Moshiach’s case is somewhat different, since his soul comes from the Divine Essence (atzmus in Hebrew). At this level, life and death are equal. In fact this Essence transcends all limitations, for a soul of this Essence, the miraculous and the natural are equal and coexist. It follows that the life of Moshiach is completely above the laws of nature, which our Sages confirm.”

-from “The Greatest Challenge”
Chabad of Central New Jersey

This is actually really amazing to read from a Chabad source because it seems to support both my contention that the Messiah has a Divine nature as a human without literally being God and support many of Christ’s statements about himself such as “The Father and I are One” (John 10:30) and “I can do nothing but what I see the Father doing” (John 5:19).

There’s too much to talk about to contain in a single blog post, so I will continue the “Divinity” series, writing four articles over the course of time. Some of you may become upset that I’m challenging the long-accepted tenets of the church regarding the “Deity of Jesus” and I hope you understand that I mean no offense or disrespect, either to you or to God. I think it’s important to ask questions. I think the episode of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:22-32) can be a picture for us and permission to wrestle with God in our faith. I pray that you read my “Divinity” blogs in that light and respond accordingly. I pray for God’s understanding and guidance in this endeavor.

(To Elie Wiesel:)

Abraham, father of us all, questioned G‑d’s justice. So did Moses. So did Rabbi Akiva. So did many enlightened souls. You are not the first.

Of all those who questioned, there were two approaches: Those who meant it, and those who did not.

Those who wanted understanding gained understanding—a sense of nothingness encountering a reality far beyond our puny minds.

Those who asked but did not want to understand gained nothing.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Questioning the Divine”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Look for Part 2 in this series on Sunday: The Living Word of God.

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24 thoughts on “Exploring Messianic Divinity”

  1. I have, for a long time, not understood how scripture reveals the Nicene idea of the Trinity. For one, the concept of the Trinity never explicitly appears in scripture. Nor does the concept, or the words, of God-man. I can’t count how many times I have heard the scripture quoted “Jesus did not consider it grasping to be considered equal with God” followed by “Because he was God,” which the scripture plainly doesn’t say. I could go on for a long time with this scripture and that, as could many people, but I will go ahead and give a synopsis of where I land on this, at least for now. I still feel I have an incomplete understanding and am more than happy to change my mind if I find some compelling reason to do so. In other words, I am not going to die on this hill.

    I believe that Jesus was deity, pre-existed eternally, either created all things, or was at the center of all things created. He came to earth stripped of his deity entirely, but had a special relationship with God/Holy Spirit, was born of a virgin, remained sinless, and as a perfect sacrifice provides substitutionary atonement for our sins. Upon ascension he is a man, seated at the right hand of God until he gives his authority back to God (whatever that means) and then becomes (?).

    So anyway, there are huge holes in some of that, but it’s the closest thing I can patch together with my understanding of scripture. The thing is, I don’t have to understand this in order to believe in Jesus as my Lord and savior, and for me Jesus and God are interchangeable concepts. I think that if the relationship between Jesus and the Father was easily explainable that either he or Paul would have done so. Since they didn’t I have a feeling that the real truth is held in dimensions (or outside of dimensionality altogether) that we cannot perceive or understand. I’m ok with that. God created logic along with this universe and he lives outside of it. For now I will seek the best understanding I can.

  2. Depending on who you talk to, in Judaism, the Messiah’s role is not to be co-equal to God but to exist as a unique person with a Divine origin (however that works) to come and repair our broken world. How God could be God and God could be man at the same time (or even at different times) has always bothered me and I could never wrap my head around it. I see in certain parts of the Jewish mystic tradition, a sort of “explanation” of how the Messiah could be a man, have a direct and unique connection to the Divine, but not literally be God.

    I know someone will bring up Revelation 22:1 which states in part, “the throne of God and of the Lamb”, but is it talking about God and the Lamb as a single being sitting on the throne, or God and the Lamb as two separate entities on the throne (however that would work)? Colossians 3:1 speaks of “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” so could the Lamb be sitting at God’s “right hand” on the throne? This would make them two beings and not necessarily co-equal. Jewish mysticism speaks of the Messiah being raised very high with great glory above all humans and above the angels, but it doesn’t speak of him being raised above God or up equal to God. This would give the Messiah great honor and people would bow to him as they would to a King, but that wouldn’t mean they would substitute Jesus in place of worshiping God.

    It’s a compelling set of images and not always very easy to talk about. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Justin. I hope you’ll follow the conversation and continue to participate.

  3. “It follows that the life of Moshiach is completely above the laws of nature, which our Sages confirm.” Hmmm. The term “our Sages” is misleading, even though the author may not have meant to mislead. The term would usually include Hazal, who never conceived of such a thing. Perhaps he means “Chabad sages” or “Chassidic sages”?

    However helpful it may be for the line of thought you are developing, the Chabad quote gives on the one hand and takes away on the other. As you know, Christian kabbalists have been working on this for centuries. IMO, the project founders when the full range of the Bible and the writings of Hazal are taken into account. They seem to agree on some points but they flatly contradict on others. For example, as Justin wrote, “He came to earth stripped of his deity” or, as I would put it, the prerogatives of deity. Yeshua’s abjection in Philippians 2 and being made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21) required him to be utterly and agonizingly subject to the laws of nature. The spark of his life went out completely on the tree.

    Meanwhile, Orthodox thinkers such as Michael Wyschogrod and Alon Goshen-Gottstein argue that there is no illogic to God becoming flesh – they just don’t believe it happened.

    That said, omein to wrestling with God. IMO, it’s part and parcel of cleaving to him.

  4. Thank you, Carl. I’m sure there’s a lot of material I’ve missed and my blogs aren’t as complete as they could be. You’re insights are always welcome. I hope I can just shake a few things up and get people to start thinking, talking, and asking questions.

  5. “(most Jews I’ve met don’t believe Jesus was trying to start a new religion that hated Jews and they blame Paul for that part of it).”
    I thought this way too for awhile. Paul’s epistles bothered me a bit. Confusing and seemed like he contradicted himself at times.

    As far as the trinity, that IS a tough one. But if God could create the universe and everything in it, why not be able to manifest a part of Himself as human. I’d like to think He did, it makes me think that in part of Himself becoming human, Hashem truly does understand us and what we go through each day here on earth; and shows us that the way he tells us how we should be as God’s children can be done. Something we as believers struggle with, but strive to do everyday.

  6. Hi Liz,

    The very end of today’s morning meditation addresses one way of looking at a “Divine” Jesus. I agree though that it is more comforting to have a God who can empathize with what it is to be human.

  7. James,
    thank you for the encouragement.
    you are a thinker for sure.
    here is a question.
    King Herod accepted worship as god and was smitten by an angel and died of being eaten by worms. the account was detailed by the Bible and also Josephus.
    how do you reconcile that with this
    christ acccepted worship from thomas who said my lord my god.

  8. Hi, Christ Centered Teaching.

    I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s important to explore the questions. While the Bible is the inspired Word of God, how we choose to interpret it is, to some degree, a matter of tradition…and I’m prone to question tradition.

    As you probably can tell from reading my blog posts, I tend to look at the Christian faith through a Jews lens, just to see how the view differs. Maybe there are a few things we can all learn if we don’t depend on what the church believes it “knows” for certain.

    While I do believe there is a Divine element in the nature of Christ, I don’t know that it’s a simple as saying “Jesus is God” and letting it go at that. For instance, I recently revisited the “Deity issue” on one of my blog posts:

    An emissary is one with his sender. This concept is similar to that of an angel acting as a Divine emissary, when he is actually called by G-d’s name. If this is so with an angel it is certainly true of the soul; in fact with the soul the quality of this oneness is of a higher order, as explained elsewhere.

    From “Today’s Day”
    for Iyar 8 23rd day of the omer
    Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
    Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

    This is a direct reference to the following:

    “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. –Exodus 23:20-21 (ESV)

    Here’s the rest of my commentary:

    It may amaze you that God told Moses that a mere angel could forgive sins, but then, if the Name of God is upon the angel, then the angelic being wears God’s Divinity like a shroud, acting for Him in all things, as if it were God Himself.

    But we all know an angel is not literally God.

    Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30 [ESV]) and depending on how you interpret his words, you may believe he was saying that he, Jesus, is literally and physically the same as God. This is a common belief and most people in the church, though they don’t understand it, do not doubt it for a second.

    But just as an angel can carry the Name of God with him such that he can forgive sins and thus literally be called by God’s Name, how much more can the Son of God, the Creator’s personal and most trusted emissary, be also called by God’s Name, forgive sins in God’s Name, not be greater than the One who sent him, and still sit at the right hand of the Father.

    I don’t understand it either, but it’s something to ponder as we live out the will of the one who sent us.

    How does God’s Name enter into an angel or the Messiah in such a way that the angel or the Messiah becomes a messenger indistinguishable from God but without actually *being* God? I don’t know. But it’s something to ponder.

  9. James,
    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.”
    ” Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”Isaiah 7:14
    This verse is repeated and explained in Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    ” The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him, “Immanuel”,( which means, “God with us”). Matthew 1:23

    These cannot be explained any other way, the child was the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.

    I know you are aware we are called to child like faith,
    That is because God can do anything,
    He created all the laws of the universe, yet He only lived under those laws when He came to rescue us.
    Because He loved us.
    The rest of the time He lives above the laws of the universe, where time does not even exist, for He created time.

    I also maintain a domain as a hub for my wordpress blog.
    http://www.godcamedown.com
    Here is how I see the trinity, (I use the flower known as the Trillium to illustrate.) Followed by this brief explanation.

    People often struggle with the idea of the trinity. How can God be a man and a Spirit and God all at the same time?
    The answer is easier when we remember He is God. Nothing is too hard for God. He fills all of the universe at the same time, knows all of our thoughts continually, sees perfectly in total darkness. Still His power is no less.
    When God had a son he did not create another God. God inhabited flesh and bones. Why? Because He is Holy and Just. A man would have to atone for the sins of mankind. But no man was the perfect offering required for sacrifice. God loved us so much that He personally came to endure the hardships of life and still be able to love His enemies. He allowed them to kill Him on a Roman cross. He bore our punishment and endured our shame because He loved us. Then three days later He overcame the grave to prove He can do the same thing for all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior.

    Reason is not how we come to know God, but by faith. Romans 1:17 “The just shall walk by faith.”
    Let me leave you with this final word, it help transform my life from being unable to rest on what the Bible says by reason and illustrates the necessity of faith.”
    It speaks of those who perished outside the promised land for lack of faith.
    For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” Hebrews 4:2

    God bless you on your journey Brother, May you find rest and peace as well.
    C.C.T.

  10. What I mean is, and you touched on in another post, is the we can’t grasp all the infinite concepts of God with the finite reasoning of man.

    I’ll go along with that, of course. However, it also means we can’t always be so sure of how well we conceptualize God based on human-generated theology. Theology is the interface by which we try and understand the Bible and God, but it’s sort of like any other model we create for such a purpose. It is a representation based on our best understanding but not the thing we’re trying to understand itself (in this case, God). Consider it the difference between a map and the territory it is mapping. Some maps are very accurate and some are not, but even the most accurate maps can leave out or distort details.

  11. True!
    In fact, you may find my latest post interesting.
    Its on my home page.
    I have personally asked R. C. Sproul questions in a group setting, yet in my blog about revival I call him into question for not stating Christ as the answer to the fragmentation of the modern church in America. He speaks of Christ’s High Priestley Prayer in John 17, yet overlooks the personal Savior in answering this issue.
    We have left our first love.
    I admire Tim Keller even more than Sproul, and Keller is doing a series about renewal in America on The Gospel Coalition Web site. The first two books he has reviewed, who’s authors almost never mention Christ, speak only to the obvious problems, and do not mention a personal relationship with the risen Lord as the answer to giving life to a dead or dieing Church.
    I even go all the way back to the founding of western theology and the early church fathers.
    In establishment of the theological basics they left out the contextual supremacy of the love of God.

  12. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
    If Christ is no longer supreme in my heart and daily living, then I have lost the Way, neglected the Truth, and turned away from Life.
    A very simple theology in the context of God’s love, for he indwells the true believer and love grows and shows.

  13. If Christ is no longer supreme in my heart and daily living, then I have lost the Way, neglected the Truth, and turned away from Life.

    I think a lot of Christians say that Christ is supreme in their hearts, but where does that take them? In other words, once you’re saved, is that the end of the journey or the beginning? If the latter, then what? I don’t think a lot of believers know the answer to that one.

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