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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Mark Eastman :: The Search for the Messiah

Mark Eastman :: Chapter Four: The Lowly Carpenter—The Resumé of the Messiah

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Up to this point we have been able to gather a fairly clear composite picture of the ancient expectations regarding the birth, lineage, mission, character and destiny of the Messiah. Any individual that would claim such status must fulfill each and every one of these prophecies in order to merit any serious consideration of validity.

Among the many hundreds of Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh, we have found that early scholars believed the Messiah would be a supernatural being, one "whose goings forth were from the beginning, even from eternity." He would leave the timeless realm of eternity to be "born of a virgin" among "the line of David" in the city of Bethlehem. We have seen that "His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." he would be a "light to the Gentiles." He would "bring a new covenant to the Jews... heal the sick... proclaim liberty to the captives"..Yet, "he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass." Finally, he would reign "upon the throne of David" and... "the government will be upon his shoulder." Regarding the duration of his kingdom we read that... "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no support it with judgment and with righteousness from henceforth and forever."

Finally, we established that despite these accomplishments he would be despised, rejected and die for the sins of the people.

How can such a set of paradoxical destinies be accomplished in the life of a single individual? How could the Messiah be despised and rejected and yet rule on the throne of David in power and righteousness forever and ever? These questions surely troubled the ancient writers of the Midrashim as they troubled me. The solution, as we will see, is a startling plan of God foreordained before the foundations of the earth.

The Candidates

In the last 3500 years there have been a number of men who have claimed to be the Messiah. To this very day, on television talk shows, in books, magazines and even churches, there are people who continue to make this claim. Yet, there is only one candidate whose impact has spanned the reaches of the globe, the test of time and can claim billions of followers. That is, of course, the Messianic claim of Jesus of Nazareth.

Of course, modern rabbis, with their radically different view of Messianic prophecy, deny that any one in history has come forward who fits the required composite picture of the Messiah. However, our purpose so far has been to evaluate biblical prophecy and the views of the ancient rabbis (who clearly had a better understanding of the ancient Hebrew language) in order to get a composite picture of the Messiah and determine whether anyone in history has come forward with a claim that fulfilled the criteria they set forth.

When we look through history we find no shortage of men who desired to claim the title of Messiah.

During the procuratorship of Cuspium Fadus (44 C.E.), there was a man by the name of Thadeus who declared he was the Messiah, and according to Josephus:

"...many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them and took many of them alive. They also took Thadeus alive and cut off his head and carried it to Jerusalem."[1]

According to Twentieth Century Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver,[2] the Romans were extremely severe on Thadeus, because he:

"...entertained Messianic notions of himself or announced himself as the Messiah. The Messianic hope, of course, always implied the overthrow of the Roman power in Palestine."

Rabbi Silver goes on to describe the first century as one of numerous outbreaks of Messianic movements. However, virtually all of the first century Messianic movements ended in disaster. According to Josephus, during the first half of the first century:

"...there were such men as deceived and deluded the people under the pretense of divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like mad men, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty; but felix [the Roman procurator] thought the procedure was to be the beginnings of a revolt; so he sent some horsemen and footmen, both armed, who destroyed a great number of them."

In the second century C.E., there was the Jewish revolt against the Roman government, commonly called, the Bar Kochba Revolt, led by Simeon Bar Kosba, but popularly called Bar Kochba.

This revolt flared up in 132-135 C.E. Because the Roman emperor, Hadrian, decided to integrate the Jews into the empire and build a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus over the ruins of the previously destroyed Jewish temple. According to historic evidence, Simeon Bar Kosba led the revolution and was reputedly hailed as the Messiah and the greatest rabbi of all time by Rabbi Akiba. Simeon Bar Kosba was given the name Bar Kochba, which means 'son of the star,' a Messianic allusion, by the Jewish leaders of the day. The revolution ended in defeat and Bar Kochba was eventually killed in 135 C.E. The remaining remnant of the Jewish army was then crushed by men of the Roman tenth legion.

After the Bar Kochba disaster, the rabbis began to speculate that the coming of the Messiah would be far off in the future. Some even declared that he had already come but had been missed. The great Rabbi Hillel stated:

"Israel no longer need expect the Messiah, for he was already consumed in the days of Hezekiah." [3]

Rabbi silver states that:

"Following the frustration of the Messianic hope in the second century, the next Messianic date seems to have been generally, though not exclusively, placed about four hundred years after the destruction [of the Second Temple], somewhere in the fifth century. The rabbis no longer pointed to a date in the near future, but projected it into a relatively distant future."[4]

Rabbi Silver explains that the Messianic disasters of the first and second centuries C.E. forced the rabbis to push for an end to Messianic date setting and promoting favorite candidates. We will look at ancient rabbinical beliefs on the time of the coming the Messiah in a later chapter.

In modern times, there have been a number of claimants to the Messianic title. The world is all too familiar with the tragic ending of the branch Davidian cult, lead by self proclaimed Messiah, David Koresh. His Messianic claim ended in the same way so many other such movements have ended over the centuries. The leader is either killed or arrested and the followers disband.

The Lowly Carpenter

In the entire history of Messianic movements, there is only one man who has made a permanent mark on virtually the entire world with such a claim. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. What was different about the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth? Why did his Messianic following continue to grow and expand in the face of tremendous persecution throughout the world? Did he fulfill the biblical expectations of the first century Jews and therefore deserve the title "Messiah," or was he a deceiver, charlatan or a lunatic? Worse yet, is the story of Jesus of Nazareth simply a well-crafted hoax, designed by men with political and financial gain in mind? What are the reasons for this lasting effect on world history and the lives of billions of people? Why was he accepted as the Messiah by thousands of Jews within just a few weeks of his death? What set him apart?

In the next several chapters we will attempt to answer these questions by holding up the biblical and early rabbinical expectations for the Messiah and compare them with the birth, life, ministry and destiny of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Paradox

The impact that this one man has had on the world is unparalleled and unprecedented in history. How can we explain the tremendously divisive reaction that the world has had to this man Jesus?

On the one hand, Jesus has been worshipped by billions as God in human flesh, yet, on the other hand, despised and rejected by billions, including the majority of the Jewish leadership of the last two thousand years.

To gain clarity on this issue we need to look at the development of the Messianic expectations that the common man and the Jewish leadership had during the time of Jesus of Nazareth. So far, we have examined selected prophecies from the Hebrew scriptures, as well as their ancient interpretations, to get the composite Messianic picture that the rabbis held to during the time of Jesus. This view, which we could call the "biblical view," was not necessarily the "popular view" held by the people during that time period.

The Mood of First Century Israel

The nation of Israel, like no other nation in history, has suffered tremendous persecution and dislocation from their land numerous times during the past thirty-five hundred years. When Jesus of Nazareth entered the world scene the Jews had been back into the land for over five hundred years. Yet, they still remained under the dominant hand of a foreign power.

The Jewish people had been taken captive in 606 B.C.E. By the Babylonians, under King Nebuchadnezzar, and were allowed to return to the land seventy years later in 537 B.C.E.[5] When they returned to Israel, they rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.

The next five hundred years were tumultuous times for the Jews. They suffered under the Medo-Persian, Greek and finally the Roman empires. In 165 B.C.E., Antiochus Epiphanes slaughtered a pig in the "Holy of Holies" of the Second Temple and incited the tremendous Macabean revolt of that time.

From that time forward, Jewish zealots strengthened their resolve to end foreign domination. A growing movement developed to free Israel from the grips of the Romans, and in concert with this, an expectation arose that the Messiah would come and defeat the Romans militarily and return Israel to the glory it saw under the reign of king David. Their desire to be freed from the Roman yoke caused them to look for a leader who would fulfill the Davidic ruling and reigning Messianic prophecies. The other biblical view of a humble, suffering servant Messiah, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, was put on the back burner in the minds of the first century Jews. Because of their suffering, and despite the abundant Messianic clues in the scriptures, the majority of the people, including the leadership of the Jews, developed a non-biblical view of the Messiah. That is, a one sided ruling and reigning Messiah.

The frustration of the Jewish nation reached its peak with the removal of the Jewish right to impose capital punishment in the year 6-7 C.E.

At that time, Herod Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, was banished by the Roman government. In his place was appointed the first Roman procurator, Caponius, who was given authority over the nation of Israel.

The authority of the Sanhedrin was abruptly and severely restricted, including their right to adjudicate and carry out capital cases. Their national identity and last remaining remnant of sovereignty was crushed. The Sanhedrin, the ruling body in the early first century, was now largely ceremonial and was subject to the whims of the Roman empire.

It was with this backdrop of nationalism and despair that Jesus of Nazareth sprung onto the scene. As we shall see, Messianic expectations were extremely high during the first half of the first century C.E. However, the people were "set up" to receive a Messiah that was more a product of their popular expectations and hopes rather than the biblical Messiah portrayed by the many prophets who had come before him.

The Two "Veins" of Prophecy

In our examination of the Hebrew scriptures, we saw that there are two "veins" of biblical prophecy that present the mission and destiny of the Messiah.

On the one hand, we saw that the Messiah would be a supernatural being who would rule and reign in Israel upon the throne of David forever and ever. With the government upon his shoulders, he would bring about everlasting righteousness and peace. Yet, on the other hand, we have seen that there is another vein of prophecy that runs throughout the entire Tanakh, one which proclaims that the Messiah would be lowly, even to the point of entering Jerusalem on a donkey, that he would be despised and rejected by men, that he would be pierced or thrust through and that ultimately, he would "pour out his soul unto death" or be "cut off" for the sins of the people.

According to the ancient rabbis, through Messiah's death, salvation would come to the people and nation of Israel.[6] And, we have seen that this outpouring of God's grace would be extended even to the Gentile world.

Jewish scholars of ancient and modern times have had great difficulty in uniting these two "veins" of prophecy in the life of a single individual. Therefore, early in rabbinical Judaism, we saw that the Messiah was split into two distinct personalities: Messiah Ben Joseph, the suffering servant, and Messiah Ben David, the ruling and reigning Messiah.

However, as we will discover, recent manuscript discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that this belief in two Messiahs was not universally accepted in Judaism. There is evidence from the Tanakh, the Talmud and the writings of the Qumran community, that there would in fact be only one Messiah!

So, we must ask, does the life, ministry and destiny of the carpenter from Nazareth fulfill the two "veins" of prophecy found in biblical Messianic composite?

The Birth and Lineage of Jesus

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me one to be ruler of Israel, whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting."(Micah 5:2)
"And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Agustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child."(Luke 2:1)

For over 2500 years virtually every rabbi has believed that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. In the New Testament we find the story of Joseph and Mary going to the city of Bethlehem to register for taxation.

Mary was due to give birth to Jesus at any time. However, the Messiah needed to be born in the city of David, Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary were living quietly in Nazareth. "How will the Messiah be born in Bethlehem?", they must have thought to themselves. As the time drew near for the baby Jesus to be born, the solution was quite unexpected.

God is able to direct the decisions and the paths of kings and peasants in order to accomplish his will. So, Caesar Agustus made the decree that everyone should be taxed. Since Joseph and Mary were of the line of David, they were required to go to their family's town of origin, Bethlehem of Judea. No doubt Joseph and Mary marveled at the method God used to return them to Bethlehem and thus fulfill the prophecy.

Behold the virgin!
"Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel." (Isaiah 7:14, Septuagint Version)

In chapter three we saw evidence that the Messiah, Emmanuel (meaning "with us is God"), was to be born supernaturally of a virgin. The New Testament declares that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin named Mary.

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: after his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 1:18)

Today, modern Jewish scholars deny that the Messiah is to be born of a virgin. They, along with skeptics and atheists, laugh at the idea of someone being virgin born. And yet, according to the Bible, and at least some Jewish scholars, this is how the Messiah would come into the world.

To be fair, believing that the Messiah would be born of a virgin is no less difficult than believing Genesis 1:1:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

If you can believe that God made the universe, then a virgin birth is a snap. In fact, it may even be within the reach of modern genetic engineering!

By simply combining the chromosomes found in two human eggs into one, we would have, in theory, the necessary genetic information for a human female! No one, however, has figured out how to "engineer" a male using only a virgin's chromosomes. Clearly, for this, a miracle is required. And that is just what the prophet said would happen,"the Lord himself shall give you 'a sign,'" an unprecedented supernatural action.

Line of David

"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord, "That I will raise to David a Branch of Righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is his name by which he will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

We saw in our study of the lineage of the Messiah that he would come from the "house of David."[7] The New Testament documents record the genealogies for Jesus in the opening chapter of the book of Matthew and in the book of Luke, chapter 3. In both of these genealogies, the writers are extremely careful to demonstrate the Davidic line of Jesus because they knew that any candidate for the Messiah must be able to demonstrate such a heritage.

Modern rabbis continue to believe that the Messiah will be a son of David, from the tribe of Judah. However, this presents a rather severe difficulty for anyone claiming to be the Messiah. There have been no complete genealogies in existence since the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 C.E. Prior to that time, almost any Jewish person could confidently trace his genealogy all the way back to Abraham. However, today, no one on earth can prove with certainty that his lineage goes back to David or any of the tribes of Israel. Any Messianic candidate would have an impossible task establishing, with 100 percent certainty, that he is from the lineage required.

Scripture consistently teaches that God leaves nothing to chance. He does not work in approximations or in a haphazard manner. It is, therefore, highly significant that the genealogies were all lost or destroyed at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple.

Is the loss of the genealogies an indicator that the Messiah arrived prior to 70 C.E.? Could it be that the time for the coming of the Messiah has past? As we shall see, there were ancient rabbis who believed this was so.

The Message and Ministry of Jesus

At about the age of thirty, in the city of Nazareth, Jesus returned to the synagogue he attended as a youth and read this quote from Isaiah.

"The spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Isaiah 61:1)

Jesus closed the book and gave it back to the attendant. The eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then Jesus said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."[8]

Jesus was speaking to a crowd that had known him since he was a child in Nazareth. There was no doubt in the minds of the people what Jesus was claiming. It was well known that this was a prophecy of the Messiah, and Jesus was proclaiming that he was the fulfillment of this prophecy!

The people began to ask among themselves, "Is this not Joseph and Mary's son?" Then Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country." Because of this radical claim, the people of Nazareth became enraged and attempted to kill Jesus.

So began the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

The reaction of this crowd was in many ways characteristic of the reaction of crowds today when confronted with the claims of Jesus Christ. From the time he began his ministry, he was the most challenging and controversial figure ever to walk the face of the earth. As we examine the claims of Jesus we will discover why his claims caused great division among the people, as they continue to do, even to the present day.

The message of Jesus was in many ways unexpected and unwanted by the nation of Israel. Their desire for a powerful military leader, one who would lead them out of Roman bondage, superseded the obvious biblical prophecies of a meek and lowly suffering servant Messiah. Therefore, the majority of the Jewish leadership, and the people in general, were caught off guard by the message and ministry of this carpenter from Galilee. Therefore, the majority rejected him. However, history tells us that he was also embraced by thousands of Jews of his time.

As we will see, at almost every turn Jesus confounded his disciples and frustrated and offended the Jewish leadership with his conduct or his message.

The Traditions of Men

Throughout the New Testament records we find Jesus orchestrating his actions or message in a way that seemed to test or irritate the Pharisees. This is most evident in his disregard for "the traditions of men." The Pharisees had developed many traditions regarding the "correct" observance of the law given through Moses. The problem was that they often elevated their traditions to the level of the law of God. There were many times that Jesus pointed out that their traditions were in vain, and not equal in authority to the law of God. In fact, they were often in direct contradiction to the clear teaching of the Word of God.

Jesus and the I.R.S.

During the life of Jesus, he was known to eat with sinners and tax collectors.[9] This was pointed out by the Pharisees with righteous indignation.

"And so it was, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' But when Jesus heard that, he said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.'" (Matthew 9:10-13)

Jesus was not interested in pleasing men. He had a mission. If, in the accomplishment of that mission (bringing sinners to repentance and salvation), he offended the leadership, then so be it.

The Pharisees had a belief that eating with the tax collectors and sinners was an act that would defile one in the sight of God. However, Jesus points out to the Pharisees that he came specifically for sinners. He then quotes Hosea 6:6 which states: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." Jesus was pointing out that their traditions, which usually involved a self righteous display of deprivation or "good works," were not an acceptable way to God.

Jesus frequently stated that no one could obtain a righteous standing before God by following such traditions. This teaching was a cornerstone to his message and ministry. This teaching laid the foundation for his disciples to understand the ultimate message of the ministry of Jesus. Salvation, a right standing with God, could only be obtained by faith alone, not by even the most sincere practice of good religious works.

On another day the Pharisees "caught" the disciples of Jesus breaking one of their traditions and they challenged him, saying:

"'Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' But he [Jesus] answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?'...Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' Then he called the multitude and said to them, 'Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.' Then his disciples came and said to him, 'do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?'" (Matthew 15:2-3, 8-12)

The response of his disciples is hilarious: "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" No kidding. Very perceptive.

Jesus had just pointed out to the Pharisees that their entire system of relating to God, including their entire world view and their system of works, done in an effort to be acceptable in the sight of God, was worthless!

Not only that, he stated that their traditions and system of "good works" had led them far from God and had made them hypocrites!

"Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees-hypocrites"

Later in the ministry of Jesus, he took direct aim at the duplicity of the scribes and Pharisees. With both barrels loaded, he gave them a tongue lashing that must have spread throughout Jerusalem in no time:

"Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do...But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,...But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in...Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgenceywoe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like white washed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness."(Matthew 23:1-3, 5-6,13-14, 25,27)
"You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it." (John 8:44)

The words of the Sunday school Jesus, meek and mild with a lamb wrapped around his neck? Hardly!

Jesus struck right to the heart of these men, pointing out their evil motives, and declaring that they were like tombs. The outside was clean, yet, inside they were filthy and evil. No wonder they wanted Jesus dead!

In this discourse Jesus points out to the gathered crowds a number of hypocritical flaws of the Sanhedrin. Apparently Jesus wanted these impurities to be known by the common man.

Jesus told the people that they should do as their leaders told them, but don't follow their example. Jesus points out that they love the attention and admiration of the people, more than the admiration of God.

However, more harmful than any of these statements was Jesus' claim that the scribes and Pharisees were keeping people from the kingdom of God.

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in." (Matthew 23:13)

Although there may have been some in the audience who didn't understand this statement, the scribes and Pharisees knew exactly what he was charging.

When the people of Israel would go to the Temple of God to offer an animal sacrifice as an atonement for their sins, they would have to have their animal inspected by a Temple Priest. If even the slightest flaw was found on the animal, they would be directed to purchase one of the "Temple Certified" animals that were sold at up to three to four times the normal price. Guess who operated these booths? That's right, the priests under the authority of the Sadducees (a sect of first century Judaism).

When Jesus of Nazareth spoke these words, he was posing a severe threat to their pocket books, not to mention their standing in the community. As far as the Sadducees were concerned, this kind of discourse was a blatant "in your face" challenge to their authority to govern the people and it hardened their resolve to rid the nation of Jesus of Nazareth.

This guy was radical. He seemed to offend and upset the apple cart at every turn. Could a man of such manner be the Messiah?

Salvation by Faith, Not Works!

Perhaps the central theme of the message of Jesus of Nazareth was that a man's salvation was through his faith in God, and not by his ability to "be good." Jesus declared that a relationship with God must be a right internal response of the heart, not an external obedience to a list of directives. The tradition of strict legalism, manifested in the fanatical adherence to the laws of God as well as the "traditions of men" was insufficient to obtain a righteous standing before God. This teaching of Jesus was so contrary to the prevailing religious mind set that it caught virtually everyone off guard.

Early in the ministry of Jesus he met a Samaritan woman at a well. He proclaimed to her that the kingdom of God was spiritual and that those who worship God must do so in spirit and not by the performance of rituals or good works:

"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship him." (John 4:23)

The scribes and Pharisees were considered by the people to be the most righteous men in the land. Because of their outward conduct, their strict adherence to the law of God as well as their great wisdom and authority, the people grew to view them as some sort of spiritual ideal. However, Jesus proclaimed that all men are condemned by the law of God given to Moses on Mount Sinai. All men have sinned and cannot become righteous by their good works. Jesus simply echoed the words given seven hundred years earlier to Isaiah. Isaiah had declared that the works of a man condemned him and cannot make him righteous.

"But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6)

When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount he startled his disciples with the statement:

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)

This statement must have astonished the crowds that heard it. How could Jesus make such a claim? "Surely no one could be more righteous than the spiritual leaders of Israel," The people must have thought. Jesus was essentially claiming that an outward appearance of righteousness, as personified in the scribes and Pharisees, would not and could not save a man. Jesus further clarified this in stating that God is more interested in internal attitude than external performance.

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'you shall not commit adultery.' but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28)

The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was a righteousness based on good works. That is, they were trying to merit God's favor by being good enough to earn eternal life. Isaiah had declared that our self attained righteousness was like filthy rags in the sight of God. The Pharisees had placed a high priority on trying to achieve a righteous standing before God by an adherence to the law. This, however, was the very same self righteousness about which Isaiah was speaking. And Jesus recognized that no man, no matter how righteous he appeared on the outside, had ever or would ever follow the law of God one hundred percent.

In the verse above, Jesus expanded on this teaching of Isaiah and declared that sin could even be committed by the attitude of the heart. Therefore, an apparent outward adherence to the law could not justify a man in the sight of God. By making such a claim, Jesus was disrupting their whole tradition. This message was totally foreign to the minds that heard it. Even Jesus' disciples could hardly accept this message. The whole mind set of the culture was that a man could be made righteous before God by attempting to follow the law of God.

Was this a message they should have expected to come from the Messiah? The answer is YES!

In chapter four we read that God would bring "a new covenant" to the people of Israel. This new covenant was necessary because the people of God had broken the previous agreement that he had given to them through Moses. God stated that this new covenant would be "written in their hearts." That is, it would involve a love relationship, through faith, rather than the works relationship of the law. And according to ancient rabbis, this "new covenant" would be brought by the Messiah.[10]

This new relationship prophesied by Jeremiah was exactly what Jesus was proclaiming. A man cannot be justified (obtain a righteous standing before God) through a works relationship with God. Following a set of rules or doing good deeds just doesn't cut it. Isaiah had proclaimed this, and Jesus reaffirmed the same message.

So how can a man obtain a righteous standing before God?

A Pharisee Came by Night but Left in the Light

One evening one of the leaders of the Jews, a Pharisee, named Nicodemus came to Jesus and said:

"Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." (John 3:2)

Jesus responded in a most unexpected way:

"Jesus answered and said to him, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God...And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life...He who believes in him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.'"(John 3:3-5,14-16,18)

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, was the audience for an incredible claim of Jesus. Belief in Him would result in "everlasting life," but denying him would result in condemnation. What a radical statement! Nicodemus must have been stunned. As the ministry of Jesus developed, his claims continued to be very radical and very divisive. If Jesus was the Messiah, then a man's personal destiny depended on what one decided about him. As we shall see in the following chapters, this is only one of the many radical claims Jesus made concerning himself.

Jesus was proclaiming that a simple belief in him would give us a righteous standing before God.

We have seen in earlier chapters that, according to the Tanakh and the ancient rabbis, the Messiah speaks the very words of God himself. In Deuteronomy we saw a statement from God given to Moses:

"I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which he speaks in My name, I will require it of him." (Deuteronomy 18:18-19)

So, according to God himself, we had better heed the words of the Messiah. If Jesus is the Messiah, then it is critical that we take his teaching seriously.

More Unexpected Messages
"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you," (Matthew 5:44)

Jesus of Nazareth was a simple man with no place to call home. To his disciples, he proclaimed that the poor, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those persecuted for his name's sake would inherit the kingdom of God.[11]

When his disciples expected Jesus to condemn someone, he would love them. When they expected him to honor and respect someone, such as the Pharisees, he would often rebuke them. He taught that they should pray for those who had abused them. He said that they should love their enemies and forgive an offense seventy times seven times! He said they should pay taxes to Caesar, and if compelled to carry a Roman soldiers pack one mile, to go two. He simply did not meet the Messianic mold they had expected.

The disciples must have thought to themselves, "Where is the powerful military leader? When will Jesus blow away the Romans and set up his kingdom? Why is Jesus so harsh with the leaders, those righteous men of the Sanhedrin?"

I believe it was the tremendous gap between what they expected in the Messiah and what they saw in the message, ministry and destiny of this carpenter from Nazareth, that led the majority of the people (including the leadership) to reject him.

Was the Paradox Expected?

"Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather divisiony." Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 12:51)

Jesus was acutely aware that his life, claims and ministry created tremendous division in the nation of Israel as well as in the families of his followers. This tension is something that almost every follower of Jesus experiences on an almost daily basis. Families often become divided when one member converts to Christianity and tries to evangelize the others. For the Jewish believer in Jesus, conversion can even mean the loss of the entire family.

If Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the paradoxical reaction of the crowds toward him must be explained. It is very difficult for the modern Jewish person to believe that the Messiah could engender such wide ranging and almost irreconcilable reactions at the same time. How can this be? It is clear that if the Messianic claims of Jesus are to stand then this dichotomy must be evaluated in the light of biblical expectations. Was this paradoxical reaction toward the Messiah prophesied to occur in the Tanakh?

The answer is YES! The Messiah was vividly predicted to cause such a division.

As we saw in our examination of the suffering servant, the Messiah would be despised and rejected, and yet would be exalted by God and rule the people on David's throne. It is fascinating to note that just such a paradoxical reaction was anticipated by the prophet Isaiah.

"Behold, My Servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up and be very high." (Isaiah 52:13, J.P.S. Translation, 1917)
Yet, the prophet continues:
"He is despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And as one from whom men hide their face: He was despised, and we did esteem him not...Therefore, I will divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; Yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:3,12, J.P.S. Translation, 1917)

The paradoxical reactions to the Messiah are here clearly proclaimed, side by side, by the prophet Isaiah. The literal Hebrew rendering of this verse is that he is to be lifted up (exalted), magnified, and be exceedingly lofty (and be very high).

Now for the rabbi who might argue that there are two individuals spoken of here, I would point out that the subject of the text is spoken of in the singular personal pronoun only! There is no textual indication that there are multiple individuals spoken of here.

This Messianic prophecy predicted over seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus that the Messiah would inspire both exaltation and revulsion at the same time!

In Psalm 22, viewed by early rabbis as a Messianic passage, we see the same reaction to the subject of the this scripture.

"But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised of the people...The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live forever!... All the prosperous of the earth shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust shall bow before him, Even he who cannot keep himself alive... A posterity shall serve him. It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation...they will come and declare his righteousness to a people who will be born, That he has done this."(Psalm 22:6, 26, 29, 30, 31)

Again we see the themes of rejection and praise in the same section of scripture. Once more, only singular personal pronouns are used, meaning that both these characteristics must apply to the same person.

The Stone of Stumbling and Rock of Offense

The paradoxical reaction to the Messiah is again pointed out in a very provocative scripture found in Isaiah. Speaking of the Messiah, Isaiah states:

"He will be for a sanctuary, but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a gin (a trap) and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem." (Isaiah 8:14, J.P.S. Translation, 1917)[12]

This fascinating scripture predicted that when the Messiah came he would "stumble" and "offend" both houses of Israel.[13] And yet, he would be as a sanctuary to some of the people.

The word translated "stone of stumbling" implies that Israel would be perplexed and make a mis-step regarding the Messiah. Clearly, the nation and leadership were perplexed by the carpenter from Nazareth. And if he is the Messiah, then his rejection by the leadership of Israel was a mis-step, a stumbling of monumental proportions.

Chief Cornerstone Rejected

One of the most beautiful portions of scripture in the Bible is Psalm 118. The psalmist spends the first portion of the chapter praising God for his mercy, his refuge and his salvation. Then in the middle of the Psalm we find an unexpected declaration about "the stone which the builders rejected."

"I will give thanks unto Thee, for thou hast answered me, and art become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief corner-stone. This is the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes." (Psalm 118:21-23, J.P.S. Translation, 1917)

In the midst of praising the Lord, the psalmist declares that "the stone" that is rejected later becomes "the chief corner-stone." According to the Psalm, this contradictory reaction to the "stone" will eventually be viewed by the people as "marvelous in our eyes." Could it be that this is a veiled prophecy of the initial rejection and ultimate recognition of the Messiah?

According to Jesus this is exactly what the psalmist was declaring. He applied this prophecy to himself after a parable in which predicted his rejection by the leadership.[14]

As we will see, the rejection of the Messiah was part of a plan of God that will ultimately be viewed by the people as "marvelous in our eyes."

The Carpenter's Credentials

In the life and ministry of Jesus we have a paradoxical composite. The New Testament declares he was born of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem, from the line of David. Through his ministry he brought a new covenant to Israel. He has been worshipped by billions as the Messiah, yet because of his radical claims, has been a stumbling block to the nation of Israel. He was despised by the leadership and rejected, just as Isaiah had foretold.

Ultimately, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but (according to the New Testament documents) he rose from the dead on the third day. A hoax? A fairy tale? We will examine these questions later.

Keep an open mind as we push foreword through some astonishing ancient rabbinical beliefs, as well as powerful new evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls. This evidence will further reveal the true nature, mission and identity of the Messiah.


[1] Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20:5:1.

[2] A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel,Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, pg 5.

[3] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a.

[4] A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel,Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, pg 25.

[5] See The Babylonian Report by Chuck Missler and Hal Lindsey for a detailed discussion of the chronolgy of this period. Koinonia House, PO Box D, CDA, Idaho, 83816-3017.

[6] See the discussion on Isaiah 53, chapter two.

[7] Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 11:10; Jeremiah 23:5-6.

[8] Luke 4:21.

[9] Luke 5:30.

[10] See chapter three and the discussion on the mission of the Messiah.

[11] Matthew 5:1-12.

[12] This was specifically applied to the Messiah in the Babylonian Talmud, Shebhouth 35b.

[13] That is the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

[14] Luke 20:17.

Chapter Three: Birth, Lineage and Mission of Messiah ← Prior Section
Chapter Five: Messiah—The Son of God? Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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