How Jewish is your Jesus?
Why only one Messiah actually fitted the bill.
According to Josephus, the prominent Jewish historian just after the time of Jesus, a number of “Messiahs” appeared in the land.
"Another body of wicked men also sprung up, cleaner in their hands, but more wicked in their intentions, who destroyed the peace of the city no less than did these murderers. For they were deceivers and deluders of the people, and, under pretence of divine illumination, were for innovations and changes, and prevailed on the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them in the wilderness, pretending that God would there show them signs of liberty"
One such deluder was Theudas, said to be even more popular than Jesus in his day, arriving on the scene about ten years after the crucifixion. He managed to gather together around four hundred followers, who he led to the River Jordan, which was fine if they were just there for a good wash, or even a mass baptism. But, no. Theudas saw himself as a second Moses and attempted to command the waters to part. They didn’t and the only thing that did part was his head from his body after the Romans captured him and beheaded him and many of his followers3.
Another, an Egyptian, is said to have gathered around 30,000 followers. He brought them to the Mount of Olives, opposite Jerusalem, promising that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, and that he and his followers would enter and possess the city. But the Roman procurator saw them off. The “Messiah” escaped but the rest were done to death.
Here were the facts. The prophecy in Daniel 9:25 spoke of an “anointed one”, a messiah, who had to come in the first part of the 1st Century and to be killed around 30-40AD. Someone had to come then, otherwise Daniel was a false prophet. But the wise men from the East followed an angel (disguised as a star), the shepherds in the field were alerted by a great company of angels and Joseph the step-dad was spoken to by another angel in a dream. The angels knew what was going on, because God had sent them on a mission. The Daniel prophecy had kicked in, as did many others. A messiah had arrived. His name was Jesus. He was crucified in Jerusalem and, as a visual aid to the unbelieving priests, not only did the curtain in the Temple tear in half, but Talmud tradition tells us that the scarlet cord later that year was not divinely bleached! Then, around forty years later, the Temple was no more, all Temple records destroyed by the Romans and a key qualification for messiahship, proof of descendancy from King David, rendered unproveable. For a people so familiar with the bureaucratic process, any future contender for the role of “messiah” could never legally prove his genealogical credentials. So, unless the rules had somehow changed, the messiah was either never going to make an appearance … or had already come! By the time that the Talmud had been compiled in the 4th century, this thought was already starting to nag some of them. In one place it says "All the predestined dates for the Redemption have passed, and the matter now depends only on repentance and good deeds." It seems that the deadline had passed, so where was the Messiah?
Now the Jewish religious authorities had another problem. Although it was undeniable that Jesus did not fulfill all of the prophecies in the Old Testament, he went to great pains to explain to his followers which scriptures he had come to fulfill. These were the Scriptures of the Suffering Servant, the one born to serve and to die. So how could these Scriptures be explained away by the Jewish authorities? These prophecies were totally inconsistent with their expectations, so how did they fit into the scheme of things? Before we consider this problem, it is worthwhile to examine exactly what Messiah they were looking for and are still looking for. In fact, it is worth looking now at what the Jewish religious scholars are looking for in their messiah and why they are adamant that Jesus failed the test.
We will look at this next week …