Here is a subject that will surprise Jews, Christians and Moslems alike.
MOST CHRISTIANS assume that Jesus of Nazareth is God's promised Messiah. Most Jewish people assume that he is not. Few people today give the subject much thought. They simply accept what they have been taught from youth. I was brought up in Judaism. Since childhood I was told that Jesus of the New Testament is not from God. I was taught that God inspired the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament but what the Jewish people know as the Law, the Prophets and the Writings) and that no other scriptures are inspired. I accepted without question my teachings. Then the challenge came. I read the Plain Truth magazine and found in it valuable principles for living my day-to-day life. Yet The Plain Truth often made reference to the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. I glossed over these statements at first. The more I read, however, the more I realized that I could no longer ignore the question of the New Testament. This was a difficult challenge. I would be delving into questions foreign to my way of thinking. I faced up to the challenge — and found the answers to my questions. I write here some of those findings that may surprise even readers of The Plain Truth.
What I Was Taught
The Hebrew Scriptures speak of a time when God will directly intervene in the affairs of man and establish his world-ruling kingdom on the earth. It will be a time of — peace among nations, prosperity and great joy. I found Christians disagreed among themselves about this doctrine. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures make it plain that God revealed this to Nebuchadnezzar, king of the ancient empire of Babylon. Through an awe-inspiring dream and its subsequent interpretation by the prophet Daniel, God showed the king that the empire of Babylon was to be followed by three others: the Medo-Persians, the Grecian and the Roman empires. The Roman empire was to last through various transformations and resurrections until.... "And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; nor shall the kingdom be left to another people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, but it shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:44, Jewish Publication Society translation throughout, except where otherwise noted). God's kingdom would put an end to man's government. It would bring God's government and last forever. Isaiah spoke of this time. "And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain [kingdom] of the Lord's house shall be established as the top of the mountains [kingdoms], and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it" (Isa. 2:2). It will be a time of regathering of scattered Israel (Isa. 27:13). God's rule will be established throughout the earth! But, I asked myself, what did the New Testament, that was written in Greek, not Hebrew, have to do with these prophecies? I continued with my study of Daniel. He wrote: "I beheld till thrones [governments] were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit: his raiment was as white snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and the wheels thereof burning fire" (Dan. 7:9). This is no other than God Almighty on his glorious throne! Now we come to some eye-opening verses. "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the Ancient of days, and he was brought near before Him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed " (verses 13-14). Who is this "son of man"? It is evident that God crowns him as king of the entire earth so that he may establish God's kingdom and rule forever. Is he a human being? If so, what human would be given such a high and mighty honor? Let's see what one can find out from the book of Isaiah about this coming ruler. "For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-abi-ad-sar-shalom [and the footnote in our translation explains: "That is, Wonderful in counsel is God the Mighty, the everlasting Father, the Ruler of peace"] ; that the government may be increased, and of peace there be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it through justice and through righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts doth perform this" (Isa. 9:5-6). Some of our Jewish commentators are of the opinion that Isaiah was talking about a man living in his day. They think this passage may refer to Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz king of Judah. But notice! This son would establish the throne of David forever. Hezekiah never did this. He died as a mortal man. I noticed the titles of this individual. They are too great to apply to any ordinary man. The Jewish Encyclopedia recognizes this is a reference to a greater King, the Messiah.
A Twig of Jesse
Isaiah continues: "And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse [King David's father], and a twig shall grow forth out of his roots. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.... But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the land; and he shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked" (Isa. 11:1-2, 4). This child is to be a descendant of Jesse, King David's father. In his time there will be peace and knowledge of God worldwide (verses 6-9). All nations will seek this "root of Jesse" (verse 10). Israel will be delivered a second time from captivity (verse 11). This can only be that "son of man" mentioned in Daniel. There is only one time of worldwide peace mentioned in the Scriptures. Once it starts, it will last forever! This world ruler is even greater than King David of Israel. Daniel mentions that the righteous will be resurrected to glory from their graves (Dan. 12:2-3). These saints will also rule the earth under the great King (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27). I found most Christian commentators did not understand these verses. The Hebrew Scriptures also explain that King David, one of the resurrected saints, will be ruler over all the tribes of Israel in the new government of peace (Ezek. 34:23-24, 37:24-25; Jer. 30:9). But David recognized that this future world ruler was over him in authority. In Psalm 110, he calls this ruler "my lord." "The Lord saith unto my lord: 'Sit thou at My right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool'" (verse 1). It is clear from the above passages that David is talking about the great King to come. We already saw in Daniel 7 that this King comes near God's throne in heaven. Yet, this King is prophesied to be born in David's lineage: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous shoot, and he shall reign as king and prosper, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. "In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness" (Jer. 23:5-6). A similar scripture is found in Jeremiah 33:15-16.
On David's — Throne
One thing is obvious. David, God's prophet, knew of this coming great King. God promised King David that his throne would last forever (II Sam. 7:12-13, 16). Many in the nation knew that David's lineage would eventually produce the great King that was to rule forever. Jacob, grandson of Abraham, many years earlier, prophesied of the great King springing from David's tribe of Judah and taking the rulership (Gen. 49:10). Other prophecies also spoke of him. This great King came to be called the "Messiah" — meaning God's anointed. Anciently, all kings of Israel were anointed with oil upon entering their position of rulership. The great King to come is no exception. This King — the Messiah — has been the hope of Israel through the centuries. When the Scriptures speak of a great King, they almost always refer to this King. Psalm 72, for instance, speaks of a great King that would rule all other kings and nations (verse 11) and rule forever (verse 17). Many Jewish references recognize that the Scriptures speak of a Messiah to come. Some modern commentators, however, do not admit this. Read for example this reference in the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia article entitled "Messiah": "The hope for a future king who will redeem Israel and establish the Kingdom of God upon earth is not expressly found either in the Biblical or in the Apocryphal writings." Our ancient traditions state otherwise. During times of hardship, Jews intently seized on the Messianic hope of the Scriptures for ultimate deliverance from oppression and suffering. At times, false messiahs appeared and claimed that God sent them. They led away thousands who were waiting for a ray of hope. Through the years, however, the Messiah never came when the leaders of the people expected him. Many began to give up the hope. Today, the phrase "When the Messiah comes" has become a byword among secular Jewish people.
This great King was to be born of David's lineage. Does the Bible give an indication where? It certainly does! The prophet Micah gives the answer. In chapter 4, Micah describes the time of worldwide peace to come (verses 1-5). The verses that follow describe the crisis just before this time. Then, in chapter 5, Micah gives a startling prophecy! "But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days" (Mic. 5:1). Who is this ruler? It can't be King David! King David had lived and died years before this prophecy. This is referring to the great King. "And he shall stand, and shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide, for then shall he be great unto the ends of the earth" (verse 3). This is talking about the Messiah! Compare Psalm 72:8 and Zechariah 9:9-10. King David, who was also born in Bethlehem, was a type of the Messiah to come as many scriptures show. But Bethlehem, as we just read in Micah, is the birthplace of the great King. Many Jewish people in earlier centuries knew of this fact. Some Jewish sources also say so today. Then I noticed another amazing series of scriptures.
The Servant of the Lord
We come now to a surprising revelation of the Hebrew Scriptures that most Christians haven't focused on. The book of Isaiah talks several times about "the servant of the Lord." Most have failed to see whom this title is referring to. Julius Greenstone, in his book The Messiah Idea in Jewish History, says: "There is much divergence of opinion among modern commentators as to whom the prophet [Isaiah] meant by the designation 'the servant of the Lord.'" God calls the people of Israel collectively his "servant" (Isa. 41:8-9). That is clear. Yet later God talks about a servant in totally different terms. Are we to assume that this also refers to Israel? Notice: "Behold My servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth; I have put My spirit upon him, he shall make the right to go forth to the nations" (Isa. 42:1). And again: "He shall not fail nor be crushed, till he have set the right in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his teaching" (verse 4). Are these verses talking about Israel or the Messiah? In verse 5, God talks to this servant. God then promises to set him for a "covenant of the people, for a light of the nations" (verse 6). Another reference to this servant is in chapter 49. Israel, God's servant, symbolically speaks first. Israel did not accomplish her task of being a light to the gentiles (verse 4). The other servant speaks beginning in verse 5: "And now saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, and that Israel be gathered unto Him — for I am honourable in the eyes of the Lord, and my God is become my strength — yea, He saith: 'It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the offspring of Israel; I will also give thee for a light of the nations, that My salvation may be unto the end of the earth'" (verses 5-6). This servant cannot be Israel. He is one who restores Israel. This is the same servant mentioned in Isaiah 42. He is to be God's salvation to the ends of the earth! This is a reference to the great King who will rule the earth — the Messiah!
The Suffering Servant
But now, notice the verse that follows in chapter 49. This great King to whom God Almighty will give the rulership of the earth, he is one "who is despised of men... who is abhorred of nations... a servant of rulers" (verse-7). He is here called a "servant of rulers." What a title for the King of all the earth! But immediately, in this same verse, God says: "kings shall see and arise, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves...." Clearly, two events are mentioned here! One is when the servant, the Messiah, is abhorred, and the second when he is honored. God says of this servant that he will help and preserve him and "give [him] for a covenant of the people" (verse 8). This is the same servant mentioned in Isaiah 42:6. His rulership will be the time of peace, great prosperity and deliverance (verses 8-12). But why is he first rejected? Isaiah quotes the servant as speaking again in chapter 50: "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I should know how to sustain with words him that is weary.... The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward" (verses 4-5). This servant cannot be Israel, because God calls the people "rebellious" (Isa. 65:2; Ezek. 2:3-8). "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Isa. 50:6). Why would God's servant the Messiah allow this? For what reason is he beaten? First, notice verse 10. "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant?" How can we hear the voice of God's servant? Is there a source that we can go to to find out his words? Isaiah continues describing the servant with verse 13 of chapter 52: "Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. According as many were appalled at thee — so marred was his visage unlike that of a man, and his form unlike that of the sons of men — so shall he startle many nations, kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they perceive" (verses 13-15). He would be tragically disfigured. But how can this be? And most of all — why? The idea that the Messiah was to suffer before being glorified used to be recognized in Judaism. Several passages in the older Jewish writings including the Talmud speak of the Messiah suffering. With this background, I came to study Isaiah 53 again. This chapter had been the brunt of much debate through the centuries. Beliefs and interpretations on the personage in this chapter have been varied: the nation Israel, one of the prophets, Zerubbabel, Moses, Cyrus or even an unknown individual! The Christian world believes, in general, that this "unknown individual" is Jesus of Nazareth. The most common interpretation among the Jewish people is that this a reference to Israel. In my study I looked further into the Hebrew Scriptures to find which possible explanation is meant. We have seen so far that Isaiah speaks of two servants. He describes the Messiah right up to chapter 53. Now suddenly, some would have readers believe that Isaiah is talking about someone else in this chapter. Isaiah 53 is simply a continuation of Isaiah 52:13-15! Read the entire chapter to get the full meaning. For now, we will examine these points: Isaiah says: "Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried" (verse 4). "For he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due" (verse 8). "My people" in the Hebrew Scriptures refers to Israel. The "servant" therefore cannot refer to Israel. This servant actually bears the pains and sins of others. He is killed even though he is righteous (verse 9). This cannot be Israel. We will come back to this issue, but now we will see another revelation of Scripture.
The Angel of the Lord
The Scripture in several places speaks of the "angel of the Lord." The word angel in Hebrew simply means messenger. It does not always mean an angelic being. It can sometimes refer to a man. In several passages of Scripture, however, we find that the "angel of the Lord" is called " the Lord"! This truth we find in Judges 6:11-24. Speaking to Gideon is the angel of the Lord (verse 11). After, the angel of the Lord hears Gideon, we read: "And the Lord turned towards him, and said..." (verse 14). At the end of the meeting "Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said: 'Alas, o Lord God! forasmuch as I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face'" (verse 22). Here the name of the angel or messenger of the Lord is also called the Lord (verse 14) and God (verse 22). In Judges 13 we can find a similar account. The angel of the Lord appears (verse 20). The people recognized him to be God (Elohim in Hebrew — verse 22). In Genesis 16, the angel of the Lord finds Hagar, Sarah's handmaid, in the wilderness. We find it is actually God speaking, for Hagar recognizes him as God (verse 13). But now, if the angel (messenger) of the Lord is also called Lord and God, who is sending him? Is he sending himself? In Genesis 18, three men appear to Abraham (verse 2). Two of them are angels (Gen. 19:1). The other one is the Lord (Gen. 18:1). God appeared as a man elsewhere in the Scriptures. Jacob wrestled with a man all night. He recognized him to be God, because he said: "For I have seen God face to face" (Gen. 32:31). Hosea 12:3-5 reveals that this being called God is a messenger or angel of God. (Angel means messenger in Hebrew.) That is this person's function.
Is He the Messiah?
Now we can return to our questions. Who is the incredible individual that is to rule all earth? Why is he to die for others? He cannot be a mere man. His titles are too great to describe one human being. Yet, he is born as a son in the lineage of David. He is so great that his life pays for the sins of the nations. He is greater than David. He will take David's throne. God anciently was King over Israel (I Sam. 8:7). It was only when Israel asked for a human king that God allowed a human king to sit on his throne. Yet, it was "the throne of the Lord" (I Chron. 29:23). God said that David's throne — actually the Lord's throne — would last forever. Yet the Messiah will claim the throne that belongs to the Lord! How can the Messiah claim that throne and all the wonderful titles unless he is God? Zechariah helps to explain it further. Look at Zechariah 2:8-9. In the days of the Messiah when Israel is to be restored, it is the Lord who will be in her midst! This means that one of the names of the Messiah is Lord. How can this be? There is only one explanation possible! The word for God in the Hebrew is Elohim. It is a plural word sometimes used with a singular or plural verb or pronoun. Hence the word can mean more than one person. In Genesis 1:26 God says: "Let us make man in our image"! This can only mean that the great King, the Messiah — like the Creator of all — is also God! No wonder, then, that he can pay for the sins of the nations! His life is worth more than all lives combined. He was a joint participant in the creation. Is it surprising that he is called such wonderful titles as God "the Mighty"? Or that he is referred to as "The Lord is our righteousness" in Jeremiah 23:6? I came to realize that the Hebrew Scriptures described a Messiah in eye-opening ways. I could not ignore these plain facts. This search made me aware that I needed to prove everything. It is with that thought in mind that I read the New Testament. I knew what the Hebrew Scriptures said, and I knew that they could not be contradicted. I began to see the "arm of the Lord... revealed" (Isa. 53:1).