What rules should we now live by?
Here were the facts. As we have already read, the prophecy from 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 all of the other messianic prophecies. 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 (more of that later), he went to great pains to explain to his followers which Scriptures he had come to fulfill. These were the Scriptures speaking 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.
Most religious Jews these days follow a creed called the Ani Maamin, written by the Rambam (Maiminodes), translated as "I believe". These are the thirteen Principles of Faith and the twelfth one states:
Ani Maamin B'emunah Sh'leimah B'viyat Hamashiach. V'af al pi sheyitmahmehah im kol zeh achake lo b'chol yom sheyavo.
I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, with all that, I await his arrival with every day.
Make no mistake. The Messiah is still serious business among religious Jews today. I visited a website, Moshiach Online, presented as the Jewish view on the Messiah, with a comprehensive treatment of every aspect of this subject. They quote the following Scriptures as key to the understanding of Messiah:
"The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." (Isaiah 11:2-6)
"He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4)
The above two prophecies speak of a righteous and powerful judge, the whole Earth under his command. He will abolish war and rid the World of the wicked. Clearly this person has not arrived yet and no less a "Talmudic scholar" as Woody Allen has indicated his skepticism in his learned commentary - "And the lamb and the wolf shall lie down together, but the lamb won't get any sleep".
"Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 43:5-6)
The Messiah, in their view, will return the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. As most Jews still live in exile (Diaspora), this has not yet happened.
"I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.'" (Ezekiel 37:26-28)
The Messiah, in their view, will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Again, this has not happened.
What else were they waiting for? More next week ...
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Jesus Man of Many Names)