How can we be convinced that Jesus is the Messiah? The author, Risto Santala, studies the theme in the light of the Bible and Rabbinical writings. The following topics are studied:
1) Was there really a certain time when the Messiah had to come?
2) Is it really correct to believe in a suffering Messiah?
3) The signs of the Messiah.
Jewish sources mentioned are Talmud, Sidur, Midrash, LXX, Aramaic Targums and Zohar. Rabbis mentioned are: Ibn Ezra, Jochanan Ben Zakkai, Abrabanel, Moshe Alsheich, Eliah De Vidas, Kimchi, Joseph Rabinowitz, Samuel Ben Yizhak and Rashi. These Bible talks were given in Moscow to Messianic Jews, Autumn 1992.
© Risto Santala 1992
Bible talks given in Moscow to Messianic Jews, Autumn 1992
Permission is hereby given to all persons to copy and pass to others this text provided that it is not used for monetary gain.
To begin with I should like to bring warm greetings from the believers in Israel.
I have had the privilege of working in Israel since 1954: first in the Scandinavian Sailors' Church in Haifa and then in our Hebrew boarding school "Shalhevet Yah" in Jerusalem.
There has been a tremendous change in the Christian witness within the last thirty years. In the fifties we didn't have a single Hebrew-speaking congregation there but now there are 33 different active groups of believers throughout the country. One of the originators of this development was, perhaps, Mr. Victor Smadja, a faithful and courageous believer. He began to gather youngsters for regular Bible conferences and summer camps by Lake Gennesaret. In that way, after 1960, the small group of 8 young Hebrew and Arab believers grew in a few years to 120 or more. The small printing shop that we began secretly in the basement of our school became an independent concern and grew under the auspices of brother Victor to be a significant publisher. It has printed about 130 different Christian books in Hebrew and some 30 others in Arabic. Amongst these is the New Testament in modern Hebrew and a new song book containing about 400 psalms. Even my Hebrew books "The Messiah in the Old Testament in the light of Rabbinical Writings" and "The Messiah in the New Testament in the light of Rabbinical Writings", have come out through this Yanetz-publisher.
I recently received a phone call from Jerusalem informing me that the publisher had received more than 7,000 letters concerning the first of my Hebrew books, and about 2,400 asking about the second. But what is more important, in these letters they ask for their own copy of the New Testament. Thirty years ago we could not even have dreamed of getting this kind of interest in Israel for the Christian faith. We hope and pray that this "Messianic" movement will continue to grow and prosper in the Holy Land.
As we share these Bible studies with each other, we do hope that the same points of view that are indispensable for believers living in Israel would also give others a new insight into the gospel message and help strengthen their personal conviction. For without a personal conviction we do not have a faith that will stand the times of trial.
In dealing with the so-called Jewish question there is constant danger of provoking ambivalent feelings of love or hatred. If we discuss Jewish history and the Church, or the politics of the Near East, or Christian mission and dialogue with the Jews, it automatically raises the question who is right. However, the main challenge for both Jews and Christians is in the words of Jesus: "What about you? Whom do you say I am?"
The Jewish world has three main streams: the Orthodox, the Reformed and the secular one. According to a certain rabbi, the Orthodox group addresses God as "Lord of the Universe", the Reformed Jew approaches Him as "God our Father" and the secular man with the words "to whom it may concern!" For many, God is only an idle vacuous word.
Even the Christian world suffers from a lack of conviction. Professor David Flusser, lecturer in New Testament at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, once stated concerning the difference between the apostles and a modern Christian: "Our definition of the faith is: 'I do not know but I believe' but the apostles said, 'I know in whom I believe' ". All of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, ought to do what the dog in the old advertisement for "His Master's Voice" did - sit in front of a big horn listening to the voice of his "Master". Do we prefer to listen to human teachings or are we ready to obey the voice of our Lord?
In their preaching the first apostles concentrated on the very heart of the gospel - the person of Jesus. When the apostle Paul met Jesus on the way to Damascus "he immediately proclaimed Jesus saying, 'He is the Son of God' " (Acts 9:20). He was not talking philosophy or theology, but the person of Jesus. While still in prison in Rome he tried "to convince" his listeners "about Jesus" and he "preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 28:23 and 30). Also before King Agrippa he told that he always testified "to small and great alike" and "said nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead". This meant for him a kind of 'holy concentration' on the essence of the message.
But how can we be convinced that Jesus is the promised Messiah and how can we convince our Jewish brother that He is also "The King of the Jews"? In our sophisticated world there is a certain tendency to deny the use of the Old Testament to support Christian doctrines. In the autumn of 1981 the well-known professor John Pawlikowski from Chicago came to Jerusalem and stated to a Jewish audience that it is already time to abandon the so-called "theology of fulfilment", which is based on the assumption that the Scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus. According to another theologian, this kind of "messianic bridge" between the Old and New Testaments is "artificial in its nature" and must be rejected.
In the light of these arguments, it is good to remember Jesus' own example on the road to Emmaus, when He began "with Moses and all the Prophets and explained what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself". And He said, "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms". This was also the reason why the first disciples had to teach the Gentiles the Old Testament first in order to be able to convince them that Jesus was really the promised Messiah. And all the old Jewish writings from the time of Jesus to our day are based on the principle that every single statement must be confirmed with the word of the Old Testament. There is also a declaration in the Talmud, the rabbinical collection of the Law from 200-500 A.D., that "all the prophets without exception refer to the days of the Messiah" (Berachot 34,b). This is the common foundation on which our dialogue with our Jewish brothers is based.
In the same week that I was preparing this paper, I received a long-distance call from Jerusalem after 12 o' clock midnight. An Orthodox Jew had read my Hebrew books on the Messiah and wanted guidance on the same lines. Another Jewish brother, who had also taken part in a Bible contest in Israel, came to my home that week and discussed the very same subject for more than five hours. For a Jew it is important to know what the earliest and less censored ancient writings taught about the Messiah. There was an important consultation in Bossey, near Geneva, in August 1982. There Christian and Jewish scholars discussed the significance of Judaism for the Church today. And it was officially stated in the report that "all of us have been impoverished by an understanding of the Bible that minimises our Jewish roots". "In the encounter with Judaism and the Jewish people the church gains a fuller sense of its own biblical roots". Here is our challenge today.
In fact there are three practical questions which we always face when we discuss Jesus as the Messiah: Was there really a certain time when the Messiah had to come? Is it correct to believe in a suffering Messiah? And does the biblical expectation of the Messiah fit the life of Jesus?
There are some Jewish sources that assume that the Messiah has already come. According to the Talmud, human history consists of three main periods: "Two thousand years are without form and void, two thousand years is the time of the Law and two thousand years are the days of the Messiah, but because of our many iniquities they became as they became" (Sanh. 97,a).
The Messiah had to come after the period of the Law but something negative occurred. The Talmud states also that "the last days already passed" (Sanh. 98,b); this means that the Messianic days have already passed away. Every morning a Jewish believer reads in his prayer-book, the Sidur, that he has been commanded to offer the daily sacrifices but "now because of our iniquities the Temple has been destroyed and the daily offerings have been abolished". Something drastic happened in between.
The New Testament also speaks in terms of soteriological periods. "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). Or "a hardening has come upon part of Israel until the full number (or the fullness) of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:25). And "when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law" (Gal. 4:4). And Christ "died at the right time for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). There was a certain timing for the first coming of Christ.
I remember well how Rachmiel Friedland, the late Secretary of the Hebrew Christian Alliance in Israel and a close friend of ours, became a devoted Christian. He was saved from the Warsaw ghetto by a miracle. When in hiding among some Christian families he knew how to answer almost every biblical argument put forward in favour of Christian faith. There were only two Bible prophecies which for him remained without a solution: the blessing of Jacob in Genesis 49 and the 9th chapter of Daniel. According to these prophecies the Messiah had to come at an appointed time.
exhibits, like a jewel, the various facets of the messianic idea. All the old Jewish sources relate it to the coming of the Messiah. According to verse 8, the brothers of Judah are going to praise him. And the Midrash, an old synagogue "sermon", asks: "Why do the brethren praise you? Because all Israel will be called by your name 'Jews', and furthermore, even the Messiah will come from you".
In the 10th verse we read: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs (until SHILOH comes) and the obedience of the nations is his. He will bind his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, etc." Here again the Midrash has a strange remark: "Israel does not need the teaching of King Messiah, for it is written: 'to him shall the Gentiles rally', not Israel" (Israel 11:10).
In using the illustration of the donkey and the vine the rabbis explain that the Messiah will not come on a war-horse, a steed, because he is the King of Peace. And if someone sees a donkey in a dream, he is expecting messianic salvation, because it is written in Zechariah 9:9 that he is humble and riding on an ass. And "whoever sees a choice vine (soreka) in a dream, he will expect the Messiah". This is in fact the reason for the statement of Jesus that he is the "true vine". The Messiah will also wash his people in the blood of grapes - an old Ugaritic idiom! Then the sages describe the eyes of the Messiah, how beautiful they are. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), uses of these eyes the expression "kharopoioi", "making joyful". In the book of Revelation we read three times that the eyes of Jesus were "like a flame of fire".
The main hint of the first coming of the Messiah is linked to the word "until". It means that he will come when the genealogical scrolls are still in the Temple and one can find out whether the Messiah-candidate is from Judah or not. These scrolls (megilloth yuhasin) still existed there in the time of Jesus. When Psalm 118:22 speaks of the "stone which the builders have rejected", some rabbis explain that it relates to the Messiah, who is born in Bethlehem and will be restored as the corner-stone after many sufferings at the end of time. This Psalm is called "shir hamatronitha", "the royal song", and Israel is to sing it to the Messiah-King, but it is written: "from the house of the Lord we bless you" (verse 26). The Temple still existed!
When King Archelaus, the son of King Herod, was expelled from Judah in the year 6 A.D., it was a great disaster for the Jews because they then lost their self-government and judicial power. Rabbi Rachmon describes the situation as follows: "When the members of the Sanhedrin noticed that they had been deprived of their right over life and death, a general consternation took over them and they covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming: 'Woe unto us, for the sceptre has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not yet come' ". According to Mark 1:15 "the TIME was fulfilled and the kingdom of God was at hand". The Messiah came in due time!
gives both the timing and the task of the Messiah. In the 9th chapter we read about the decree issued by Artaxerxes Longimanus (probably in 457 B.C.) granting permission to the Jews to return to Palestine and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. SEVENTY WEEKS were granted from this date "UNTO the Messiah the prince" or "UNTIL the Anointed One" and then "the Anointed One will be cut off... and the people of the ruler (the Romans, according to Josephus) will come and destroy the city and the sanctuary". To our friend Rahmiel Friedland it meant that the Messiah must have come before the destruction of the Temple that happened in the year 70 A.D. ---he must have already come!
And what was the main task of the Messiah? According to Daniel 9:24, he came "to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring everlasting righteousness". The Hebrew text twice uses in this connection the expression "lachtom", "to seal". When our sins have been "sealed" with the atoning blood of Jesus, we must not "poke" and "finger" our own past or that of others.
The New Testament deals with historical facts. Something drastic happened the same year that Jesus died. Even the main Jewish source, the Talmud, speaks about the discontinuation of the sacrificial system before the destruction of the Temple. Something mysterious happened 40 years prior to its destruction. There are three different discussions about it (in Sanh., Abodah Zarah and De Yomah). According to them, the sacrifices lost their power, the Presence of God left the Temple and the gates of the Holy of Holies opened by themselves. The friend of Nicodemus, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who was rescued from beleaguered Jerusalem in a coffin by his disciples, handed down this tradition in Mas. Yomah: "FORTY YEARS PRIOR to the destruction of the Temple... the western candle did not burn and the gates of the Temple opened by themselves; and thus Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai rebuked them saying: 'Temple, Temple, why do you grieve so? I KNOW that you are about to be destroyed.' "
All this occurred 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, in the year 30 A.D., which is considered the year of Jesus' death. We also have this story in three of the Gospels, how the veil of the Temple was rent in two from top to bottom when Jesus died. Three times the Epistle to Hebrews interprets these occurrences: we now have a new hope that enters through the veil to the Holy One. The Messiah entered by His own blood into the Holy of Holies to atone for our sins. And thus he opened up for us "a new and living way" through the curtain to our God, so that we can draw near to Him "in full assurance of faith".
It is most interesting to know that even the Jewish historian Josephus described a similar sign from the same period. Once the heavy gates of brass facing east from the Temple opened by themselves although they had been locked by iron bolts. The Temple guard hastened to notify the commander about the matter and he succeeded in locking them only with great difficulty.
The Messiah had to come at a certain time. He had to die for our sins and to "seal" them with His atonement. After his coming, Jerusalem and its Temple had to be destroyed. The Jewish prayer book, the Sidur, states that "on account of our iniquities the Temple has been destroyed and the daily offerings abolished" -- all this is very logical. But how do we grasp all this personally? We are convinced about this only by the work of the Holy Spirit, if we are ready to hear our "Master's voice". Then it works!
I remember how one night I came with some tourists from the airport at Lod to Jerusalem. I began a discussion with the Jewish driver saying that those people behind us were Christians, and they believed that the Messiah has already come. Then I noted the fact that we were now living in the Jewish year 5730 or so. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah had to come near the year 4000, but that time has already passed. And because the driver had an Orthodox Jewish background, I quoted some Jewish sources which state that HE HAS ALREADY COME. I quoted by heart from a well-known supplementary prayer for the Day of Atonement, which, according to a Jewish scholar, was perhaps composed in the 6th century A.D.: "The Messiah our righteousness has turned away from us. We are horrified, and there is none to save us. Our iniquities and the yoke of our sins are a burden. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he carries our sins upon his shoulders, there is forgiveness for our iniquities, with his stripes we are healed. It is time to create a new creature for eternity. Bring him back from the circle of the nations, raise him from Seir (a cryptogram for Rome) so that we could hear him A SECOND TIME on the Mount of Lebanon (the Temple) through Yinnon (a cryptogram for the Messiah)...redeem us for a second time and let us hear of his grace a second time etc." This hit the driver, and all of a sudden he gave a jump behind the steering-wheel and almost drove us into a ditch. And he exclaimed: "Then the rabbis were hiding the truth from us !!!" After this I had to introduce myself as a Christian too. But the driver still remained my friend.
"Fulfilment theology" is not "artificial" in its nature. It is the only way to convince us as to whether Jesus is the true Messiah or not. And He really came in due time to "seal" the new covenant with us.
Next part: II/III