Has the Messiah of the Old Testament Come?
Harold Kushner is “Rabbi” Laureate of Temple Israel in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. In a previous article, we addressed Mr. Kushner’s claim that: “Today, few people still look for a person, called the Messiah.” (See: Harold Kushner’s Messiah)
The well-known celebrity went on to suggest that in a by-gone era, when people were being oppressed by unjust rulers, the “Messiah” image arose as sort of a metaphor that depicted the hope of humanity for relief from such hardships.
In our very brief response to this baseless assertion, we observed that the Hebrew Scriptures do not support this fanciful view. It was conceived only in the early Christian era by Jews who sought to rebut the claim of Christians who argued that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic prophecy.
In response to our article, we received a letter from an Orthodox Jewish gentleman who assured us that true Hebrew believers reject the symbolic view of the “Messiah,” as advocated by Kushner. He insisted that “orthodox” Hebrews still anticipate a personal Messiah, and they long for his return. He discounted the more than 300 Old Testament predictions that find precise focus in Jesus Christ. See: Messianic Prophecies.
There are three important matters that may be noted in response to this sincere, though misguided, gentleman.
First, the Old Testament makes it quite certain that the promised Messiah was to be the “seed” of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 22:16-18; 26:4; 28:14), a “star” out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17), a “ruler” from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), a “shoot out of the stock of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1), and a “seed” out of the body of David (2 Samuel 7:12).
Now the historical reality of the matter is this. If the “Messiah” has not yet come, then all of the genealogical prophecies of the Old Testament are worthless, because the future “Messiah” will never be able to establish his lineage from Abraham, et al., and thus demonstrate that he is the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. Note this comment from the celebrated work of McClintock and Strong.
“The [Hebrew] Rabbis affirm that after the [Babylonian] Captivity the Jews were most careful in keeping their pedigrees (Babyl. Gemar. Gloss. fol. xiv, 2). Since, however, the period of their destruction as a nation by the Romans, all their tables of descent seem to be lost, and now they are utterly unable to trace the pedigree of any one who might lay claim to be their promised Messiah” (III.771).
In his closing days on earth, Jacob uttered a number of prophecies regarding the future fortunes of his sons. Concerning Judah, he said. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come” (Genesis 49:10).
For many years it has been acknowledged both by Jewish and Christian writers that this passage refers to the Messiah (regardless of the differences in views over details, e.g., the precise meaning of “Shiloh”). Watson noted that “the ancient Jews are in this matter agreed with the Christians, in acknowledging that the word stands for the Messiah, the King” (Watson, 946). The text clearly indicates that, in some sense, the Jews would retain their sovereignty until the arrival of the Messiah, after which, at some point, that rule would be surrendered.
The historical facts are these. The substantial sovereignty of the nation never ceased until Herod Archelaus was removed from his position. Herod the Great’s wicked son, Archelaus, “reigned” over the Hebrews until he was deposed in A.D. 6 (cf. Matthew 2:22). The Jews henceforth were governed by the Romans through a series of procurators, one of whom was Pontius Pilate. It thus is clear that by the time the Romans took direct control over the Jews, the Hebrew “ruling” power (“scepter”) was completely and permanently gone (for further study see: McClintock, IX.681). “Shiloh” (Messiah) had come! His appearance is not awaiting the future.
The Coming of Daniel’s Anointed
Near the end of that historical period known as the Babylonian Captivity, the prophet Daniel received a marvelous revelation that involved the unveiling of future events relative to the coming of the Messiah. The narrative is recorded in Daniel 9:24-27.
The prophecy may be studied from three viewpoints.
What would be accomplished
The prophecy describes certain things to be accomplished by the coming of the “anointed one” (“Messiah” means “anointed”). The Messiah would: finish transgression, make an end of sins, and effect reconciliation for iniquity. Further, he was to usher in a plan for everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, terminate animal sacrifices, and make firm a new covenant. These descriptives detail the redemptive mission of Jesus.
A specific chronology is set forth, under the symbolism of “seventy weeks”; literally, 490 years. The starting point was to be the “command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (457 B.C.; cf. Ezra 7:7ff), and the terminal point would be that time when the “anointed one” is “cut off,” i.e., put to death. The chronology regarding the Messiah’s redemptive work would terminate in A.D. 30.
Ancient Jerusalem would be rebuilt within the first “week” (49 years). The second division (434 years) would end with the commencement of Jesus’ ministry. In the “midst” of the final week (after a ministry of three and one-half years), the Messiah would be “cut off” (die).
Jewish rejection and consequences
Finally, the consequences of the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah are detailed. The Roman “prince” (Titus) would come and assault Jerusalem. The city would be “desolated” by this “abominable” force, and the Hebrew temple would be destroyed. Jesus referred to this prophecy in his Olivet discourse (see Matthew 24:15).
For a more detailed discussion of Daniel’s prophecy, see: Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks.
Clearly, then, the promised Jewish “Messiah” cannot be yet in the future. Any person claiming such identification would be centuries removed from the chronological focus of Daniel’s important prophecy.
The three points outlined above demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the true Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth. Any other who has made that claim (cf. Matthew 24:24), or who ever will make it, is an impostor. And any soul who anchors his hope in another “Messiah” has nothing but disappointment in store.
It is our fervent prayer that our Hebrew friends might give the issue of “Jesus, the Messiah” a careful examination.
- McClintock, John & James Strong. 1969 reprint. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
- Watson, Richard. 1881. Biblical & Theological Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Southern Methodist Publishing House.