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

Mark Eastman :: Chapter Five: Messiah—The Son of God?

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"'I will declare the decree:' the LORD has said to Me, 'You are my son, Today I have begotten You.'" (Psalms 2:7)

One of the most contentious issues between modern day Jewish and Christian scholars is whether the Messiah would be the "Son of God." The Christian New Testament clearly indicates that Jesus believed he was the Son of God, and that the disciples believed this as well. However, most 20th century rabbis claim that the Messiah is simply a man.

In 1992 I had a discussion about the Messiah with a Jewish physician, a man who was a Torah scholar as well. He told me that virtually all modern rabbis believe the Messiah is going to be just a man. He will be great in wisdom and stature, but he will be just a man. He will not be the Son of God, nor will he be God in the flesh. He then went on to tell me that the belief that the Messiah is the Son of God was a Christian fabrication. He told me that there is no evidence from the Old Testament or the writings of the ancient rabbis that the Messiah would be the Son of God. Even today, when one asks a modern rabbi why they reject the Messiahship of Jesus, they will often say, "Because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God!"

This denial among virtually all of modern Judaism of the "Sonship" of the Messiah, is widely held. However, this has not always been so. There is abundant evidence in the writings of the ancient rabbis, as well as the Apocryphal books, that the Messiah would indeed be the Son of God.

In 1992, powerful new evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls was published that reveals the belief among first century mainstream Judaism that the Messiah was indeed the Son of God. Before we look at that evidence, let's look at the claims of Jesus, his disciples and the leaders of the Jewish nation who rejected him as their Messiah.

Jesus: Son of God or son of Beelzebub?[1]

When Jesus of Nazareth was arrested by the Sanhedrin, he was accused of blasphemy.[2] What was it that he said that made them accuse him of that? He claimed to be the Son of God.

While in heated debate with the religious leaders of his day, Jesus stated:

"Do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God?'" (John 10:36)

After Jesus had healed a blind man, that man was questioned by the leaders of the Jews as to who was responsible. The man said he did not know who had healed him. Later, when Jesus found him alone, we find this interesting discourse:

"Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said to him, 'Do you believe in the Son of God?' he answered and said, 'Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?' And Jesus said to him, 'You have both seen him and it is he who is talking with you.'" (John 9:35-36)

When Peter, a Jewish fisherman and one of Jesus' disciples, was asked by Jesus, "who do you say that I am?", Peter responded:

"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)

Another disciple, John, wrote of Jesus in his gospel:

"I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God." (John 1:49)

While under arrest Jesus admits to the Sanhedrin, that he was the Son of God. They immediately took him to Pontius Pilate where they accused him of claiming to be the Christ (Messiah in Greek) a king.

"Then they all said, "Are you then the Son of God?" And he said to them, 'You rightly say that I am.' And they said, 'What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from his own mouth.' Then the whole multitude of them arose and led him to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, 'We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ, a King.' So Pilate asked him, saying, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' And he answered him and said, 'It is as you say.'" (Luke 22:70 -23:3)

What is fascinating about this discourse is that the members of the Sanhedrin equated the claim of being "the Son of God" with claiming to be the Christ! - The Messiah!

In another passage we see that the Pharisees told Pontius Pilate that the reason they wanted him tried was because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (a title they associated with the Messiah).

"The Jews answered him, 'We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.'" (John 19:7)

The point is obvious. Jesus said he was the Son of God, the disciples claimed he was the Son of God and the Pharisees took him to Pilate to be tried for claiming to be the Son of God.

Now the skeptic might say that this doesn't prove that ancient rabbis believed that the Messiah would be the Son of God. But an examination of early rabbinic literature bolsters this conclusion.

Psalm 2 "You Are My Son"

In the book of Psalms, chapter two, we have a provocative scripture where God speaks of his anointed servant, and someone whom he calls "my Son!"

"Why do the nations rage and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, 'Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.' He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then he shall speak to them in his wrath, and distress them in his deep displeasure: 'Yet I have set My King on my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree the Lord has said to me, you are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.'"

In this prophecy we see a reference to the LORD, (YAHWEH - one of the names of God) and his anointed, (Hebrew for Messiah). The Lord states to this Anointed One, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you." To this Anointed One, the Lord God of Israel will give the nations for his inheritance! Who is this "anointed one?" The word , is the word Mashiyach or Messiah and is translated as "anointed."

Most modern rabbis, however, declare that this is not "the Messiah." They claim that this is an Anointed One, one of many, but not the Messiah of Israel.

However, when we examine the ancient rabbinical literature on this Psalm, we find that it is applied to the Messiah in numerous places in the Talmud,[3] and even in medieval Midrashic rabbinical sources.[4]

In chapter two we saw a fascinating quote in the Midrash which ties the sufferings of the servant in Isaiah 53 with the "anointed one" in Psalm 2:

"Rabbi in the name of Rabbi Acha says: 'The sufferings are divided into three parts: one for David and the fathers, one for our own generation, and one for the King Messiah, and this is what is written, "He was wounded for our transgressions," etc. "And when the hour comes," says the Holy One, blessed be he, to them: "I must create him[5] a new creation, as even it is said, 'This day have I begotten you.'"[6],[7]

So here we see that the Messiah would suffer for our transgressions and afterwards he would be created as a new creature! The writer of this remarkable passage recognized that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 (he was wounded for our transgressions) and the "Anointed One" in Psalm two (this day I have begotten you) were indeed the same individual!

In the Yakult Shemoni, there is a rather provocative commentary regarding the second verse in Psalm 2.

"'Against God, and his Messiah,' likening them[8] to a robber who stands defiantly behind the palace of the King and says, 'If I shall find the son of the King, I shall lay hold of him, and crucify him, and kill him with cruel death.' But the Holy Spirit mocks at him, 'He that sits in the heavens laughs, Jehovah has them in derision.'"[9]

The writer of this fascinating commentary declares that the Gentile nations will "crucify the son of the king." The king in Psalm two is God and the "Son of the King" in this context is a clear reference to the Messiah. This observation comes from a rabbi in the middle ages!

In the Babylonian Talmud there is another fascinating discussion about the second Psalm. The writer of this portion of the Talmud quotes multiple passages from Psalm 2 and goes on to apply them as specifically referring to the Messiah. In this section of the Talmud, the rabbis ask the question:

"But when the battle of Gog and Magog will come about they will be asked, 'For what purpose have you come?' And they will reply: 'Against God and his Messiah' as it is said, 'why are the nations in an uproar and why do the people mutter in vain,' as it is said, 'let us break their bands asunder, and the Holy One blessed be he will sit and laugh' as it is said: 'he that sitteth in heaven laughs....'"

In this remarkable quotation from the Talmud, we read the rabbis specifically quoting from Psalm 2 and applying it to the battle of Gog and Magog, an end time battle. The writer of this portion specifically applies this to God and his Messiah!,[10]

"Son of God" in the Book of Enoch

In the book of Enoch, one of the Apocryphal books,[11] dated 170-130 B.C.E., there is a lot of discussion about the Messiah. There are several terms given as specific designations of the Messiah. In chapter 62:5 we see the Messiah being referred to as "the women's Son." In chapter 48:2 we see the Messiah being referred to as "the Son of man, the elect and the just one." And the Messiah is expressly designated in the oldest portion of the book as "the Son of God" (chapter 105:2). So we can see that the reference to the Messiah being the Son of God was not an unknown concept around the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

"Son of God" in the Dead Sea Scrolls

The discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been a tremendous boost to our understanding of the beliefs and culture of the Jewish people during the first century C.E.

In the fall of 1991 the remaining unpublished portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls were released to libraries around the world. A number of new fragments have come forth which have provided remarkable new insights regarding the Messianic beliefs of the Qumran Jews during that period.

The people of the Qumran community, the apparent writers of the scrolls, have been described as "religious end time zealots" by some scholars, and as mainstream Jews by others. One thing is certain, they wrote extensively about the Messiah. Therefore, if the Messiah was believed to be the Son of God by ancient Jews, then it should not be a surprising to find that belief expressed in the writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, that is exactly what we find.

The "Son of God" Fragment 4Q246

A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls, called the "Son of God" fragment 4Q246,[12] we see an astonishing reference to a supernatural Messiah who is called the Son of God:

"He shall be called the Son of the God; they will call him the Son of the Most High...He will judge the earth in righteousness...and every nation will bow down to him...with (God's) help he will make war, and...[God] will give all the peoples into his power."[13]

The passage is filled with undeniable Messianic images. The writer of this text believed that the Messiah would "judge the earth in righteousness" and that the nations "will bow down to him." The text speaks not of multiple Messiah figures but of a single individual. This Messiah figure is triumphant and exalted and specifically referred to as the "Son of God...Son of the Most High!" His strength, accomplishments and character clearly reveal that he is not an ordinary man, but he was believed by these people to be a supernatural being.

To find a Messianic figure being called "the Son of God," the "Son of the Most High," by the Jewish believers in Qumran, is astonishing and conclusive! To them, the Messiah would be the Son of God!

In another recently published Dead Sea Scroll text, fragment 4Q521, we find another reference to a single Messiah figure who also possesses supernatural "god-like" traits. It describes the resurrection of the dead occurring as a result of the Messiah's work. It contains language which parallels the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke.

The 4Q521 text reads as follows:

"The heavens and the earth will obey his Messiah, the sea and all that is in them. He will not turn aside from the commandment of the Holy Ones. Take strength in his mighty work all ye who seek the Lord. Will ye not find the Lord in this, all ye who wait for him with hope in your hearts? Surely the Lord will seek out the pious, and will call the righteous by name. His spirit will hover over the poor; by his might will he restore the faithful. He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal kingdom. He will release the captives, make the blind see, raise up the down trodden. Forever I will cleave to him against the powerful and I will trust in his loving kindness and in his goodness forever. His holy Messiah will not be slow in coming. And as for the wonders that are not the work of the Lord, when he, that is the Messiah, comes then he will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and to the poor announce glad tidings. He will lead the holy ones, he will shepherd them. He will do all of it."

In this fascinating text we see a remarkable similarity to the beliefs of Orthodox Christianity regarding the Messiah. The Jews at Qumran believed that the Messiah would be the Son of God, that he would be a supernatural being, that he would raise the dead, heal the sick and announce glad tidings to the poor. Clearly no ordinary man could do such work. These two scroll fragments are believed by scholars to be as old as 100 B.C.E.!

Most modern rabbis and Jewish Bible scholars claim that the belief that the Messiah would be a supernatural Son of God is a Christian doctrine and not a rabbinical one. Clearly, however, the evidence from the Talmud and the Dead Sea Scrolls now nullifies that allegation. The Christian Messianic beliefs regarding the "Sonship" and supernatural character of the Messiah are doctrines that were espoused by the Jews at Qumran as well as the Hebrew sages. The evidence speaks for itself. According to the views of ancient Judaism, the Messiah is the Son of God!

Notes

[1] Beelzebub is an ancient name for Satan.

[2] Blasphemy in this case was claiming to be God or claiming equality with him.

[3] Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sukkah 52a.

[4] Midrash on Psalm 2, Psalm 92:11, 1 1 Samuel 16:1, Genesis 44.

[5] The Messiah.

[6] Midrash Tellihim on Psalm 2 and Midrash Samuel chapter 19.

[7] For a detailed discussion of Psalm 2 see The Life and Times of Jesus the Midrash, Alfred Edersheim, Appendix IX, pg. 716-717.

[8] The gentile nations.

[9] Yalult Shemoni, (vol. 2 par. 620, pg. 90a) See Edersheim, Vol. 2, pg. 716.

[10] Babylonian Talmud Abodah Zarah 3b.

[11] Apocryphal books are books written usually by unknown Jewish authorities between thecompletion of the Tanakh and the writing of the New Testament. These books are nto accepted as part of the canon of scripture by most Jewish or Christian sources.

[12] This means it was found in cave of the Qumran community (Q) and is catalogued as fragment 246.

[13] Biblical Archeology Review; November/December 1992, Michael Wise and James Tabor.

Chapter Four: The Lowly Carpenter—The Resumé of the Messiah ← Prior Section
Chapter Six: The Time of Messiah's Coming Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

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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