Is Messiah Divine?



Scholars Support Jewish Belief in a Divine Messiah

There is a popular assumption circulated by Jewish leaders and liberal scholars that Judaism has never believed in a divine Messiah. Some argue that Yeshua never claimed to be the Messiah and that his earliest followers never considered him to be G-d.

Context

Understanding the historical background and the role of messiah within Jewish thought, especially during the Second Temple period, is the key to combating this myth. The concept of messiah in Jewish thought was far more complex before the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) than after. Over time, the established Jewish leadership refrained from defining the messiah in exalted terms as this was seen as a cause of the Temple’s destruction and Israel’s dispersion.

The Second Temple Period

During the Second Temple period, however, Jews interpreted and interacted with their scriptures differently than today. The Jewish world maintained varying strains of Judaisms – including radical apocalypticism, messianism and monasticism.

Pluralism influenced the way each group identified with and interpreted their world. There was disagreement over everything – the calendar, lineage of the priesthood, sacrifices, canon, even the primary location of where the ritual observances should take place. This debate extended into concepts and roles of the Messiah.

According to Professor Kathryn Smith, of Azusa Pacific University, “It was extremely common (may I say extremely ‘Jewish’) during this time to write about an exalted agent of G-d with characteristics of the divine and still be a monotheist … Jews were comfortable with the notion of a single, exalted figure, who had all the characteristics of G-d and did all the things that G-d does, who was exalted above all others, present with G-d at creation, but … and this is the most important element … they in no sense thought this was betraying the classical confession, Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is one.”

Complex Unity

This idea of a complex unity in relation to G-d allowed for openness in interpretation and understanding. Larry W. Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh says “all evidence indicates, however, that those Jewish [believers] who made such a step remained convinced that they were truly serving the G-d of the Old Testament.”

Biblical Support

The idea that the Messiah would be more than a human figure goes back to the last centuries B.C.E. when Biblical passages were interpreted and attributed with messianic significance. We see commentaries, like the Aramaic Targums, that include sections from Daniel, Zechariah, Isaiah, and others. These authors absolutely believed in, and ascribed, an exalted status to the Messiah.

Scholars maintain that by the time of Yeshua, this concept was already firmly established. The Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most important archaeological discoveries in regard to Biblical research, reflect this development. Those texts describe a highly exalted figure who would even suffer on behalf of the people. They also contain numerous allusions and similarities to phrases and concepts in the New Testament.

Early Understandings

­Yeshua understood himself to be G-d and this was clear to his disciples as well. Paul wrote in the early years after Yeshua: “It is through his Son that we have redemption, that is, our sins have been forgiven. He is the visible image of the invisible G-d. He is supreme over all creation, because in connection with him were created all things – in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … He existed before all things, and he holds everything together (Col. 1:14-17).”

Conclusion

The earliest followers of Yeshua made their claims because there existed fertile soil in Jewish circles at the time for an elevated divine Messiah. Although this understanding within Judaism was often stifled following the destruction of the Second Temple, Yeshua’s followers knew that belief in a divine Messiah was indeed Jewish.



About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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4 Responses to Is Messiah Divine?

  1. Tsoani says:

    BRAVO!! Thank you for an insightful perspective on this important matter. It's interesting that JEWISH believers in Yeshua (real Messianic Jews) usually believe in the divinity of our Moshiach and the triune nature of Hashem, while non-Jews in the different "messianic" movements sometimes do not.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Would some tradional orthodox Jews idtentify with the divinity of Moshiach, as long as it had nothing to do with Jesus?

  3. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Anonymous-The answer is YES. There has been a growing messianic fervor within certain segments within the Orthodox world in recent years. I have previously blogged on this issue within Chabad. Check out these two previous posts:1) Thank You, Chabadhttp://yinonblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/thank-you-chabad.html2) Chabad Messianism Alive and Wellhttp://yinonblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/chabad-messianism-alive-and-well.html

  4. Vladislav Nagirner says:

    Dear rabbi Joshua,Can you quote some lines of these Jewish books about Messiah is God? Thank you.Shalom -Vladislav Nagirner, Ukraine

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