Jesus Christ/Jesus as the Jewish Messiah

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Jesus as the Jewish Messiah

Summary: Is Jesus really the God of the Old Testament and the Jewish Messiah? What role does the Book of Mormon play in establishing Jesus as the Jewish Messiah? This page is meant to respond to those questions.


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Question: Is Jesus the promised Messiah of the Old Testament?

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Introduction to Question

The question of whether or not Jesus is the promised Jewish messiah is fundamental to the claims of Christianity, Judaism, and, by extension, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

All three groups accept the Hebrew Bible (comprising the books of Genesis through Malachi) as Holy Scripture and take note of the prophecies of a figure that would come as the Messiah. The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew word Meshiach which means “anointed one”.

BYU Professor Trevan Hatch summarizes the content of the prophecies and the expectations that Jews had of the Messiah prior to Jesus’ coming. Those include:

  • He would be a preexistent figure with some divine qualities.
  • All people would worship him
  • He would be a king
  • He would reestablish the Davidic dynasty
  • His kingdom would be everlasting
  • He would have authority over all nations.
  • He would lead Israel.
  • He would judge the wicked and overthrow Israel’s foreign enemies.
  • He would be associated with righteousness.
  • He would heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, and raise the dead.

On top of these biblical expectations, the Book of Mormon adds its own messianic expectations. Hatch writes that "The Book of Mormon posits the following regarding the Messiah: (1) he would be the future redeemer of humankind (1 Nephi 10:4–5; 2 Nephi 1:10; 2:6); (2) the Son of God was the Messiah (1 Nephi 10:17); (3) he would come in the fullness of time, also called the meridian of time (2 Nephi 2:26); (4) he would be slain and rise from the dead (1 Nephi 10:11; 2 Nephi 25:14)."[1]

Hatch writes that “[w]e must be careful not to assume that all Jews expected the messiah to be and do all these things. Some Jews may have expected some of these outcomes while rejecting others. This list is simply a conglomeration of what is apparent in pre-Christian Jewish texts regarding messianic expectations.”[2] Thus, while it might be enlightening and inspiring to see Jesus fulfill all of the expectations listed above, it might not be necessary in order to establish his messiahship.

Joshua M. Matson notes that "[w]hile scholars still struggle to reach a consensus concerning the extent to which messianism influenced the formation and beliefs of Jewish communities in the Second Temple period,[3] they widely recognize a body of ancient texts that appear to have served as the foundation for messianic expectations. This body includes texts in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 49:8–12; Numbers 24:15–19; 2 Samuel 7:12–17; Isaiah 11:1–9; Psalm 89:36–38; Amos 9:11–15; and Jeremiah 23:5–8; 33:15–18) and expansions on biblical traditions in nonbiblical texts (Psalms of Solomon 17–18; 4 Ezra 13; 2 Baruch 72–74; and texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls like 1QM V and 4Q175)."[4]

Some Jews expected there to be one figure that would satisfy all of these requirements with one and only one arrival or advent. Others thought that there would be two seperate figures that would satisfy these requirements. Still others thought that there would be one figure but that he or she would satisfy these requirements with two arrivals or comings. It is this last one that Christians have held onto as the basis of their belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

Many Jews today believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Many have converted to Chrisitianity or become affiliated with what is known as the Messianic Judaism movement. Conservative Jewish scholars have embraced Jesus as at least a plausible candidate for the Jewish Messiah. For example, Daniel Boyarin, the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, argues in his book The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (2012) that "[t]he coming of the Messiah...was fully imagined, in detail, in ancient Jewish texts."[5]

How well does Jesus hold up to these messianic requirements? What other issues must be dealt with when establishing Jesus as the Messiah? How does the Book of Mormon play into convincing Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ? This article attempts to answer these questions.

A Few Interpretive Considerations

We first need to consider some ground rules for the discussion since, with different ground rules, the conclusions we arrive at become drastically different. Exactly what the author means by that will be explained.

Double Fulfillment for Prophecy?

One of the major disagreements that Jews and Christians have over the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and especially as it pertains to the question of Jesus’ messiaship is whether or not a prophecy can have multiple fulfillments. Let’s take Isaiah 7:14 as our example.

Isaiah 7:14 is one of the most oft-cited and oft-debated passages of scripture as it regards Jesus. The text reads:

14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Jews and Christians debate two specific issues as it regards this passage:

  1. The first is whether or not the word “virgin” here is an accurate transaltion of the Hebrew almah. Jews who reject Jesus as Messiah claim that almah simply means young woman rather than virgin.
  2. The second is whether the prophecy can have two fulfillments because the prophecy could refer to King Hezekiah who was contemporary with Isaiah.

We’ll disregard the first issue in this article, though it has been more thoroughly explored elsewhere.[6]

The second issue is one that is crucial for settling the debate of Jesus' messiahship

One Figure, Two Advents

Open Timeframe for Prophecy Fulfillment

Jesus' Fulfillment of Jewish Messianic Expectations

He would be a preexistent figure with some divine qualities

Latter-day Saints recognize that Jesus "was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New."[7]

Jesus proclaimed himself as God of the Old Testament in a couple of places in the New Testament. Nowhere so directly as John 8:56–59. There, the Jews ask him direclty who he makes himself out to be: whether a prophet, God, or some other figure. Jesus tells them that "our father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." The Jews then pick up stones to stone him and Jesus is chased out of the temple.[8] The reason that Jesus was chased and about to be stoned was because he was declaring that he was the great "I AM" of the Old Testament: Jehovah (Exodus 3:14). Jesus tells the Nephites that "I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end."[9] This further confirms him as Jehovah.

All People Would Worship Him, He Would Be A King, He Would Reestablish the Davidic Dynasty, His Kingdom Would Be Everlasting, He Would Have Authority Over All Nations, He Would Lead Israel, He Would Overthrow Israel's Enemies

Most Christians, including Latter-day Saints, believe that the seeds of these requirements have already been sown with the Savior's first coming or advent to the earth but that they will be consummated at the Savior's Second Coming.

Jesus Christ came to earth in part to establish a kingdom on earth. Daniel 7 prophesies of a kingdom that would be set up and that this kingdom would roll forth like a stone cut from the mountain. Nothing would overcome the kingdom. This kingdom was the Savior's church (Matthew 16:17–19). Joseph Smith understood himself as an agent of continuting the growth of the kingdom of God on earth.[10]

The Savior, when on earth, ministered to the people of Israel-Palestine. He also ministered to the Nephites and has commissioned his disciples to take his Gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–16). The Kingdom is slowly growing until it can consume all kingdoms.

The Savior will eventually come and be crowned king over the earth (Revelation 19: 13, 16; Articles of Faith 1:10). He will overthrow Israel's enemies and restore the Davidic dynasty given he is the Son of David (Matthew 1:1). The Book of Mormon connects people to the "house of David" which will be the future Davidic kingdom under Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 17:2, 13; 19:7).

He Would Judge the Wicked

There may be two senses in which Jesus will judge the wicked. First, at his second coming, he will burn and destroy all those that he judges to be wicked (Malachi 4:1; Joel 2:31; Matthew 24:6–7; Joseph Smith–Matthew 1:28–31; Joseph Smith–History 1:36–41).

Second, the Savior will participate in the final judgement over mankind (John 5:22; Romans 14:10; 3 Nephi 27:16; Doctrine & Covenants 76:68) where all mankind will be judged according to the desires of their hearts and their works whether those desires and works were good or evil.

He Would Be Associated With Righteousness

Jesus is considered the spotless or sinless lamb that was sent to the slaughter for our sins. There are approximately 90 references in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price to Christ as the Lamb. There are many references to Jesus as the Lamb of God in the Bible.

He Would Heal the Sick, Restore Sight to the Blind, and Raise the Dead

There are numerous instances in Jesus' ministry of him healing the sick (Matthew 4:23; 9:35). He restored sight to the blind (Matthew 9:27–34; 12:22). Jesus raised the dead. He raised Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:49–56), Lazarus (John 11:1-44), and the widow of Nain's son (Luke 7:11–17).

Other Messianic Expectations

There were other expectations that certain Jews had of the Messiah. One of these was that Jesus would be a triumphant warrior over Jerusalem's enemies. Thus when Jesus came as a humble carpenter's son born in Nazareth, many Jews didn't believe his claims.

Isaiah 7 and Christ as Born of a Virgin

Isaiah 53 and Christ as the Suffering Servant

Book of Mormon Expectations

He Would Be the Future Redeemer of Humankind (1 Nephi 10:4–5; 2 Nephi 1:10; 2:6)

The Son of God Was the Messiah (1 Nephi 10:17)

He Would Come in the Fullness of Time, Also Called the Meridian of Time (2 Nephi 2:26)

He Would Be Slain and Rise from the Dead (1 Nephi 10:11; 2 Nephi 25:14)

Notes

  1. Trevan G. Hatch, "Messianism and Jewish Messiahs in the New Testament Period," in New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament, ed. Lincoln H. Blumell (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2019), 73.
  2. Trevan G. Hatch, A Stranger in Jerusalem: Seeing Jesus as Jew (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2019), 105.
  3. John J. Collins, “Jesus, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Qumran-Messianism, ed. James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), 102.
  4. Joshua M. Matson, "The Fourth Gospel and Expectations of the Jewish Messiah,'" in Thou Art the Christ: The Son of the Living God, The Person and Work of Jesus in the New Testament, ed. Eric D. Huntsman, Lincoln H. Blumell, and Tyler J. Griffin (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2018), 177.
  5. Daniel C. Peterson, "Messianic ideas in Judaism," Deseret News, June 14, 2022.
  6. Garrett Kell, “Is Jesus Really the Virgin–Born Child in Isaiah 7?” The Gospel Coalition, May 9, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jesus-virgin-child-isaiah/; See also some of the discussion in Donald W. Parry, “An Approach to Isaiah Studies,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 246–55.
  7. The Living Christ, paragraph 2.
  8. John 8:53–59
  9. 3 Nephi 15:5
  10. Daniel 2:44; Doctrine & Covenants 65:2; 138:44. For persuasive commentary on Daniel 2:44 as a reference to the latter-days and the coming forth of the Church, see Brian D. Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (Blanding, Utah: Four Corners Digital Design, 2016), 27–28. Quoted in full in Robert S. Boylan, "Brian Stubbs on Daniel 2:36--47 and the Restoration," Scriptural Mormonism, March 26, 2018, https://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com/2018/03/brian-stubbs-on-daniel-236-47-and.html. For important intepretive nuance given to Doctrine & Covenants 65:2, see Ben Spackman, "Rough Stone Rolling: Daniel 2, The Church, and Joseph Smith," Ben Spackman: Historian of Religion, Science, and Biblical Interpretation, November 5, 2022, https://benspackman.com/2022/11/gospel-doctrine-lesson-46-daniel-2/.