The Obscured Messiah in the Bible

tallit-prayer“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’”

Ezekiel 37:24-28 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

I think most Christians and Jews would agree that this passage of scripture is referring to the Messianic age when David, King Messiah, will rule as Israel’s “prince” forever. Jews believe this text also confirms that Messiah will build the Temple in Holy Jerusalem, while some Christians believe the Temple is only a spiritual manifestation rather than a physical structure.

In the past several weeks, I’ve been challenged by a Jewish friend of mine to see if I can (or can’t) find Jesus in the Old Testament (Tanakh). Like most Christians, it’s difficult for me not to see Jesus in the Torah and the Prophets, but I want to be honest and actually make as much of an unbiased examination as I can. Interestingly enough, it was in last Sunday’s Bible study at church where some serious questions about Christian hermeneutics came up for me. I listened to my teacher explain some of the Jewish texts in a way that didn’t make sense. On the other hand, he had to interpret the scriptures in this manner if he was to locate Jesus there.

‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.’ For thus says the Lord, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to prepare sacrifices continually.’”

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’”

Jeremiah 33:14-22 (NASB)

This passage from Jeremiah 33 says several important things:

  1. In the Messianic Kingdom, God will fulfill the good news he has announced to Israel and Judah, in other words, the Jewish people.
  2. Messiah, a descendent of David, will be raised up as a “righteous branch.”
  3. Peace will be established for Israel and there will be safety in Jerusalem.
  4. Messiah, a descendant of David, will sit on the throne of Israel forever and the Levitical priests will once again offer sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple.
  5. The descendants of David and the Levitical priests will be multiplied to a number that cannot be counted.

temple-prayersSome Christians believe there will be a Temple and that sacrifices will be offered, but they believe Jesus, the Messiah, will be offering those sacrifices as a memorial (as opposed to an actual, functioning, sacrificial system). And yet, we see it is the Levites who will be sacrificing, not Messiah as a King-Priest. It’s understandable that the Priests would have families, children, and grandchildren across the future years but is this saying that Messiah also marries and has children (descendants)? Interesting, but I suppose you could also say that’s metaphorical and “David’s descendants” are the Jewish people.

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall have the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. On that day the prince shall provide for himself and all the people of the land a bull for a sin offering.”

Ezekiel 45:21-22 (NASB)

Waitaminute? What? Who makes an offering for his sins and the sins of the people? The prince? Who’s the prince? It can’t be Jesus because Jesus never sins.

My Bible teacher says that the prince is David not Christ. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary treats this concept a little differently:

In the period here foretold, the worship and the ministers of God will be provided for; the princes will rule with justice, as holding their power under Christ; the people will live in peace, ease, and godliness. These things seem to be represented in language taken from the customs of the times in which the prophet wrote. Christ is our Passover that is sacrificed for us: we celebrate the memorial of that sacrifice, and feast upon it, triumphing in our deliverance out of the Egyptian slavery of sin, and our preservation from the destroying sword of Divine justice, in the Lord’s supper, which is our passover feast; as the whole Christian life is, and must be, the feast of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

My teacher didn’t see these verses the same way and used the following to establish that the prince must be literally David:

“Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken.

Ezekiel 34:23-24

“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’”

Ezekiel 37:24-28

messiah-prayerBut we are presented with a problem. The term “David” in Messianic prophesy, almost assuredly refers to Messiah, not literally David. Also, Ezekiel 37:24 refers to David as “king” and “one shepherd” which must certainly be Messiah. It also describes this figure as walking in God’s “ordinances and statues to observe them,” which can’t mean anything else other than Torah, which means for the Jewish Messiah and the Jewish people, the Torah of Sinai will still be in effect in the Messianic era and apply to all Israel.

If we believe that the “prince” is the Davidic Messiah, that is to say, Christ, then Christians have a serious problem. How can a future Jesus Christ as King of Israel offer sacrifices for sin? Christians have to assign the identity of the “prince” either to another individual such as David or to a set of generic princes (who do sin), then it would be more appropriate for them to offer such sacrifices. But given what I said above, the prince can be none other than Messiah, at least if my teacher’s “proof texts” are really proof.

Additionally, we have the matter of whether or not this is a “real” sin offering or simply a memorial, harkening back to days of old, and reminding us that Christ made the offering for sin once and for all with his body on the cross.

Going back to some more traditional interpretations, we find that Jeremiah 23:3-6 also describes a righteous branch rising up, but we find something interesting in Zechariah 6:11-13:

Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’

If “Branch” is a name for the Messiah, then we seem to see him sitting on the throne as both King and Priest. Since Messiah is of the house of David and the tribe of Judah, where does this leave the Levitical Priests? Or does the Priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7) trump the Levitical priests both in the Heavenly Court and on earth?

Ezekiel 43:2-7 was used by my teacher to describe the Divine Presence inhabiting the Temple in the future Messianic age but that creates an interesting situation for Christians. If the Divine Presence is God and Jesus is God and they’re both in the Temple how are we to understand this? How do they co-exist as two, separate physical entities within a single structure (the Temple)?

These are just the examples that came to mind and that I took notes on during my Sunday school class (no, I didn’t breathe a word to anyone about what I was thinking). But can we prove, just from the Old Testament scriptures, that Jesus is Messiah and God? I’m not sure we can without factoring in the New Testament record and lots and lots of Christian theology and doctrine.

No, I’m not going to throw my faith out the window, but try to look at all of this from a religious Jewish person’s point of view. In order to establish Jesus as Messiah King, we need to seriously morph the original meaning of the ancient scriptures that point to Messiah, the Temple, and the Priesthood. I don’t know that Occam’s Razor is the best hermeneutic tool to use, but if we accept that the most succinct and straightforward explanation in the bunch is probably the correct one, then Christians are obviously jumping through a few extra hoops to get Jesus to fit in all of the Messianic prophesies, at least Jesus as he’s understood in the modern Protestant church.

up_to_jerusalem

The Tanakh doesn’t speak of the sacrifices in the Messianic era as being memorials, but indicate they are the sacrifices that would have been familiar to any Israelite in the days of the Tabernacle or Solomon’s Temple. Also, the same ancient Israelites wouldn’t have had a problem with King Messiah offering sacrifices for his own sins, since they would have believed any descendant of David would be as human as David and would thus have sin. Even the greatest tzaddik who ever lived wouldn’t be completely sinless, but given that Jesus is sinless, how are we to reconcile these differences?

Obviously I’m playing, you should pardon the expression, “devil’s advocate” in this situation, but as I said before, I want to give this challenge an honest examination. I believe there are answers to all these questions, but I don’t think we can always rely on traditional Christian thought to provide those answers.

One of the messages presented by the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series, A Promise of What is to Come, is that the Bible and especially what we read about the coming Messianic age, the Kingdom of Heaven, seems to make a lot more sense when we look at the information from a more Jewish perspective. That’s the whole point of the television show.

I will probably get some pushback from my Christian readers, but one of the reasons I can’t simply walk away from Messianic Judaism is that nearly twenty centuries of Christian reinvention of the Jewish Messiah and Jewish history has obscured much of the original interpretation and meaning to the Biblical text, both in the Tanakh and the Apostolic Scriptures.

I will be honest and say that I have learned much from my Sunday school classes, but I’ve also been exposed to material that is hardly sustainable (if it’s sustainable at all) based on my reading of the Bible. I know we can’t always get the full meaning of what the Word is saying by relying on just the plain meaning, but how many knots do we have to tie in the string, and how many twists do we bend the pretzel in, before we divorce the Word of God from the “lips” of God?

The next part of this series is: Trouble Breaking into Church with Messianic Prophesy.

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15 thoughts on “The Obscured Messiah in the Bible”

  1. Let me “throw a monkey wrench” into this issue: If the Temple described in Ezequiel is the one that Yeshua will build when He comes back, then who will build the temple that jewish people are expecting to have and are ready to be built according to many videos being published in Internet?

  2. Jewish people, based on the Prophets, expect the Messiah to build the Temple, but Christians, based on the idea that the anti-Christ will rule from the Temple before Messiah returns, believes the Temple will be built sooner. I think the truth about the timing of the Temple is still up for grabs.

  3. I looked up the Hebrew for Ez. 45:22, and things are not so clear. The prince will provide on that day, away from, behind or on behalf of, through. This word, “b’ad,” is used twice in succession, in the first instance, “his,” is the object, “b’ado,” In the second use, ,”oo,” is the prefix, meaning, “and,” and the word is, “oo’b’ad. The rest says, “and all the people of the land, a bull, sin.” I know translators follow certain rules of interpretation, but I suspect there may be alternate methods. We know that one phrase may be separated from another phrase by hundreds or thousands of years, as eternity, where the Holy One dwells, is outside of time. We are still stuck in the Greek mindset of needing to figure everything out and put everything in a neat category. One day everything will be settled. As it is said, when Messiah comes, he will not only interpret the words of torah, he will interpret the spaces between the words.

  4. But scripture does not say the false messiah will rule from the temple; only that he will stand in the holy place and demand to be worshipped, and stop the offerings. We all know everything is moving into place for the temple, its priests and its korban, and I believe we will see it rebuilt in our day.

  5. But scripture does not say the false messiah will rule from the temple; only that he will stand in the holy place and demand to be worshipped, and stop the offerings. We all know everything is moving into place for the temple, its priests and its korban, and I believe we will see it rebuilt in our day.

    That could easily have been fulfilled by Antiochus IV so we don’t even need to look into the future for that one.

    I don’t read Hebrew, but the Stone Edition Tanakh translates Ezekiel 45:22 this way:

    On that day, the prince shall bring a bull sin-offering for himself and for the entire people of the land.

    So either the prince isn’t the Messiah or the Messiah will need to bring a sin-offering for himself and the people for a reason besides the fact that Messiah literally sinned.

    So somehow, we’ve gotten something very wrong between the way the Prophets describe the Messiah and how the Apostolic Scriptures describe Jesus.

  6. Thank you again for your thoughts! This certainly does bring up some questions.

    My pastor too this Sunday brought up some interpretations that twist the word. He was referencing Jer. 31:31, saying that “Israel” is the church. And then he gave an inaccurate explanation of covenant, implying that the Abraham covenant was no longer valid with the institution of the Mosaic covenant, etc., as if they were wills. Oy vey!

    Anyway, your blog is very encouraging because it reminds me I am not the only one in that position. Thank you! Shalom.

  7. I believe Antiochus is a type of the false messiah. But there was no covenant with many, or a broken covenant 3 1/2 years in. It doesn’t have to be an either or. We see as through a glass. Hebrew is such a sparse language, that meaning has to be determined by context. I am not a scholar, but to me, things are not clear. I understand that you can’t have a bible 10,000 pages long, which might be the case if every possible meaning was provided. Remember, Hebrew thinking can hold apparently contradictory thoughts in tension. If you don’t read Hebrew, you can look up the word for word translation on BibleHub (which is easiest for me) or another internet tool site.

  8. I am working through the book of Ezra right now and it presents a few interesting pictures and precedents relative to the Third Temple and the coming of Messiah. One of those is in 3:1-6ish which indicates that an altar can be set up and sacrifice re-instituted without the presence of a temple. This offers a balance to the Christian view of an altar on the wing of the temple without Messiah being present, while later he builds the temple. (Incidentally, notice the names and the timing of the Ezra events… HUGE remez here.)

    Thinking ‘out loud’ on the verses that say He will offer a sin offering… While He is the atoning sacrifice, He is also the One who will teach torah from Zion… so the instructions of the Father will not have changed. Therefore, in obedience, to Torah He offers the sacrifice that functions as a memorial offering, much in the same way we celebrate Pesach now… as a two-fold memorial.

    He can be sinless and still be a perfect example that obeys the sacrificial requirements of torah.

    Interested in your thoughts.

  9. Let me jump in here with another comparison between the desecration of the second Temple by Antiochus and the “abomination of desolation” represented by the anti-messiah halting the restored sacrifices that would only be re-started in some form of rebuilt Temple. When the second Temple was initially rebuilt, there was some lamentation over the fact that its beauty and grandeur were not up to the standard of Solomon’s Temple (i.e., the first one). However, after cleansing and rededicating the second Temple at Hanukah, following the Antiochus desecration, an Idumean convert named Herod initiated a building program that included improvements to this Temple. It is not at all impossible that the third Temple will undergo a similar program of improvement at the hands of the true Messiah after he has dealt with the anti-messiah. By the way, since Yohanan’s reference to halting the sacrifices was written some two centuries after the Antiochus event, it must refer to a future recapitulation of the event in similar fashion and not be merely a statement about something that had been done already.

  10. Oops! I just noted an ambiguous statement in my last post that falsely implies that Herod had something to do with Hanukah. It should have read: “However, some years after the Maccabees cleansed and rededicated the second Temple … Herod initiated a building program …”.

  11. Ah, some of the best comments come in while I’m asleep, or at least trying to sleep.

    The main idea of this blog was to compare how I experience the Hebrew texts with how Christianity, in this case represented by the Sunday school class I attend, understands those texts. It seems that in order to fit the Messianic prophesies found in the various prophets in the Tanakh with the modern, Protestant view of Jesus, some rather creative interpretations have to be employed that don’t seem to quite jibe with how both ancient and modern Jews read those Messianic passages.

    I’m trying to understand if it’s at all reasonable for Christianity to read into those text what they want to because the New Testament modifies their meaning/interpretation, or if Christian doctrine is just getting in the way of seeing the Messiah with “Jewish eyes,” so to speak.

    I realize I’m over generalizing, but I got this really uncomfortable feeling in my class last Sunday. I think the church, or at least some aspects of it, are being really dogmatic in forcing the Messianic prophesies to go in a particular direction.

  12. It seems to me that one of the biggest problems is that the interpretation of numerous prophecies by the apostles themselves was somewhat midrashic in nature; and they were looking backward from their experiences with Rav Yeshua and recognizing similarities between various passages and their experiences. Christianity, on the other hand, assumed that the entire purpose of such passages was to project forward in order to identify the Messiah predictively (i.e., as if the prophets were merely soothsayers). Hence Christian interpreters looked for anything that they might stretch to fit their presuppositions; and often they did so polemically in order to discredit Jews who either did not see Rav Yeshua in them or perhaps viewed them as having other applications. It’s also related to the problem of interpreting several angelic appearances or the appearance of Melchitzedek as visitations of a “pre-incarnate Jesus”. It is a matter of projecting later doctrines back onto early texts; it is fundamentally eisegetical and thus it is not a reflection of the actual textual meaning or even its midrashic implications. Hence your discomfort with such proof-texting seems quite justifiable; and at least some of the texts in question are being misinterpreted and misused.

  13. That’s also the tough part to communicate because some Christians have been using their form of interpretation so long, the tradition is now considered “fact.” Small wonder that many Christian missionaries can’t get through to Jewish listeners and why the Christian Jesus is unrecognizable to most Jewish observers.

  14. James, this is something I have been trying to get across, and it affects many issues. Who is wise? He who learns from all men. Pirkei Avot. I find the different sides do not even consider that the other side may have something worthwhile to say, or perhaps they are at least partially wrong and the other side is at least partially right. People seem so ensconced. I feel like I am an investigative reporter, in the midst of attorneys seeking to defend their client and attack the other guy’s client. They are not about gaining truth, but about proving and defending their case. If there isn’t an acceptance that the other side might have something to offer, there is no reason for the discussion.

  15. Investigative reporters are looking for facts. Philosophers and theologians are looking for truth. What’s in the Bible? Facts, truth, or both?

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