by Dr. Michael Brown
Judaism doesn’t believe in a divine Messiah.
Judaism does believe in an exalted Messiah, higher than Abraham, higher than Moses, and higher than David (see, for example, the Midrash to Is. 53:12). And, according to Psalm 110:1, the Lord would say to Messiah (David’s Lord), “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Also, based on Jeremiah 23:6, some early rabbis offered the opinion that one of Messiah’s names would be Yahweh. And Judaism does teach the preexistence of the Messiah, as one created before the worlds began.
More importantly, the Hebrew Scriptures clearly teach the divine nature of the Messiah. According to Isaiah 9:6 (9:5 in some versions), the King whose government and rule would have no end would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Although some Jewish interpreters tried to refer this passage to Hezekiah, king of Judah from about 715-B.C.E., he clearly was not the one described by Isaiah. His kingdom most definitely did come to an end, and, as a mere man, he could hardly be called el gibbor, “Mighty God.” In fact, “Mighty God” is used as a title of the Lord Himself in Isaiah 10:21! Modern Jewish translations of Isaiah 9:6 (9:5) that seek to soften the clear statement of Messiah’s deity must ignore the most obvious meaning of the original Hebrew text.
Judaism doesn’t believe in a suffering Messiah.
Although this statement is commonly made, there is almost no truth to it. The Talmud records the teaching of more than one rabbi to the effect that Messiah son of Joseph (Hebrew—mashiach ben Yoseph) would suffer and die in the great war that would precede the reign of Messiah son of David (Hebrew—mashiach ben David). In fact, Zechariah 12:10, which says, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced,” quoted with reference to the death of Yeshua in the New Covenant, is applied to Messiah ben Joseph in the Rabbinic writings! It is also noteworthy that Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the clearest prophecy of a suffering Savior found in the Jewish Scriptures, is applied by the Targum to the Messiah, and Jewish exegesis up until approximately 550 C.E. interpreted this section almost exclusively with reference to the Messiah. Since then, the idea of a suffering Messiah has been present in many forms of Judaism, and descriptions of the Messiah’s sufferings are especially rich in medieval mystical Jewish literature.
Judaism doesn’t believe that the Messiah will come twice.
As noted above, the Talmud mentions two Messiahs, one who will suffer and die, and one who will rule and reign. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures know only one Messiah, descended from David. Therefore, rather than creating a second Messiah descended from a different tribe, the New Covenant writers correctly saw that there would be only one Messiah who would come twice. His first coming would be to fulfill the prophecies of a righteous sufferer who would pay for the sins of the world. His second coming would be to establish His reign of peace on the earth.
Also, statements such as “Judaism doesn’t believe…” are often totally misleading, seeing that from one Jewish group to another there may be totally different beliefs on such important subjects as the Messiah, life after death, oral law, and even God Himself! Thus, one can find within Judaism the opinion that Messiah was created before the world began, and He has been waiting in every generation to be revealed; or, Messiah has already been on earth in every generation, waiting to be revealed; or, Messiah will come when the world is totally righteous; or, Messiah will come when the world is totally wicked; or, Messiah is more than a mere man; or, Messiah is only a mere man; or, Messiah is a concept; or, Messiah is a myth. Therefore, to say that “Judaism doesn’t believe in a suffering Messiah, or in a Messiah who comes twice,” is to give the false impression that Judaism has one set of beliefs regarding the person and work of the Messiah, and that these beliefs absolutely exclude the notion of a suffering Messiah or of a Messiah who would come twice.
The Messiah is David’s son. If Yeshua were really born of a virgin, then Joseph was not His father and He is really not a descendant of David. Therefore, Yeshua cannot be the Messiah.
According to Yeshua’s own words, the Messiah was at one and the same time David’s son and David’s Lord (see Matt. 22:41-46), and the New Covenant is careful to show how the natural son of David could also be the spiritual Son of God. Thus, Matthew’s genealogy provides the royal and legal descent of Yeshua carried through His adoptive father Joseph, while Luke’s genealogy provides His natural and physical descent through Miriam His mother. In this way, the virgin-born Son of God, greater than David, has become the royal Messiah, descended from David. Therefore, rather than the virgin birth presenting a problem for the Messiahship of Yeshua, it actually provides a proof.
Yeshua cannot be the Messiah, because He is a descendant of King Jehoiachin. God cursed both this king and his offspring, saying that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of David.
This argument can be answered in two very simple ways. First, it must be noted that Yeshua is not a natural, physical descendant of Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah or Coniah), but only a legal descendant. Thus, only Matthew traces Yeshua’s lineage through this king, while Luke’s genealogy follows a different line. (Note carefully: the Shealtiel and Zerubbabel of Matthew 1:12 are probably not the same as the Shealtiel and Zerubbabel of Luke 3:27. This can be seen by noting that the name of Shealtiel’s father in Matthew 1:12 is none other than Jeconiah, while in Luke 3:27, Shealtiel’s father is Neri. Thus, Luke’s genealogy of Yeshua does not include Jeconiah.) Therefore, even if all of Jehoiachin’s physical descendants were cursed, Yeshua would not have actually been under that curse.
More important, however, is that the Hebrew Scriptures plainly show that God did not curse all of Jehoiachin’s descendants, but only his immediate offspring. In other words, God was not declaring that, for all time, none of Jehoiachin’s descendants would ever sit on David’s throne,
but rather that his sons who were then alive would not rule. According to Jeremiah 22:24, God said: “Even if you, Jehoiachin…were a signet ring on my right hand, I would pull you off.” And then in verse 30 He commanded: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.”
Apparently, there were Jews living in Babylonian exile who hoped that their people would soon break the yoke of the Babylonians, allowing either Coniah (i.e., Jehoiachin) or one of his sons to reassume the rule in Jerusalem. Jeremiah categorically stated that this could not be, for seventy years of captivity were determined for the Jewish nation, and neither Jehoiachin nor his sons would rule again. But, two generations later, Zerubbabel, Jehoiachin’s grandson, became governor of Judah, and the Messianic promises were renewed through him. Thus, the prophecy that God would shake Heaven and earth and overthrow the Gentile kingdoms was spoken to Zerubbabel (Hag. 2:21-22), and in the very next verse the Lord declared: “‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel, and I will make you like my signet ring [that’s right, a signet ring! Coniah, even if he were a signet ring on God’s hand, was rejected. Zerubbabel would actually be a signet ring to the Lord], for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” In addition to all this, Zerubbabel became so famous in later Jewish literature that he is even mentioned in a Hanukkah prayer (“Well nigh had I perished, when Babylon’s end drew near; through Zerubbabel I was saved after seventy years”)!
It is impossible that Zerubbabel, Coniah’s grandson, was under the curse, since he did in fact prosper (the curse said, “none of his [i.e., Coniah’s] offspring will prosper”); and, as a son of David, he did govern the Jewish people. It
is altogether fitting, then, that Matthew traces the royal line of Yeshua through Jeconiah (i.e., Jehoiachin), since the promises to David were renewed and confirmed in Zerubbabel, his grandson.