Jewish/Christian interpretation of Messiah

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nwink

Puritan Board Sophomore
I have two broad questions regarding talking about Jesus with Jews, specifically in terms of the fulfillment of OT prophecy. Jewish scholars work to strongly make their case that Christians (ie, the Gospels) misinterpret, mistranslate, pull-out-of-context all the verses in the Old Testament that Christians say are prophecies about the Messiah (Jesus). For example, Jewish scholars will show how Matthew 2 says that Jesus fulfilled prophecy in Hosea 11:1 ("Out of Egypt I will call my son")...but they will say the original context of Hosea is saying that God loved the nation of Israel, and so He brought "His son" Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land. I know Christians see these types of verses as a "figurative" fulfillment of prophecy and see all of the OT pointing to Jesus (the "not one of bones be broken" of Passover, seed of woman, pierced his hands and feet, he shall be called a Nazarene, etc, etc, etc). Christians would say there are some "direct" fulfillments of prophecy, such as where the Bible says the Messiah will be a descendant of David. But my main question is: where in the OT does it clearly teach that we are to expect much of the OT to be figurative prophecies about the Messiah? We may charge the Jews with being overly literal, but on what Old Testament basis?

A second and related question. On what Old Testament basis do we claim, when making a case for Jesus as the fulfillment of OT prophecies about the Messiah, that there would have to be a second coming when the Messiah would bring universal peace to the world, etc? Jewish scholars claim that all the clearly Messianic passages have a "first coming perspective." (At this point, maybe some Christians would say "Well, certain passages say the Messiah would suffer...therefore, there must be two comings." But I think Jews would say that conclusion is not self-evident.) Is there any indication from the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament that the prophecies would not be fulfilled in the Messiah's first coming, but in a second coming?

From my experience with Orthodox Jews, they (obviously) have a much different conception of the Messiah. They would say their understanding is that the Messiah actually has a far less prominent role and focus in Scripture than it does for Christians, since Jews say the only Messianic prophecies they see are the "direct"/explicit prophecies in the prophets. They say the focus of the prophets is not as much on this person of the Messiah, but moreso on what the world will look like when he is here. They say the Messiah is a future descendant of David who will be a wise and righteous king ruling over the Jewish people living safely in the Promised Land during a time when there is universal peace in the world.

Thank you for your thoughts!
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The apostles (and Jesus himself) are representatives of a whole stream of tradition of OT interpretation. They did not come out of nowhere to start "reinventing" biblical (OT) interpretation.

We would say that a man like David, being a recipient of revelation, probably had some inkling that he was living a life that in certain important respects was typological. As time went by, it became clearer and clearer that the experience of the whole people, and of particular historic persons, was an ages-long presage to the fulfillment of the Messianic hope. Jesus caps all that off by presenting himself as that fulfillment.

Moses, who is writing in the era of the Exodus, refers to events of the people's family and covenant history (Genesis) by way of introduction. It is very interesting to read the lives of the patriarchs, and to note the many typological correlations to the Israelite experience of the Exodus. This is all more than a millennium-and-a-half before both the patriarchal experiences and the experiences of the nation (and that of other individuals) all find their final fulfillment in the Messiah.

As one example, Jacob's flight from Laban (Gen.31) contains many elements that the Exodus generation--the first to read Moses' inspired version of that record--would have read in light of their recent flight from Egypt. Laban is the prototypical Pharaoh. When the heap-of-witness is built, and Jacob moves ahead unhindered, the finality toward what is behind is as complete at the return of the waters of the Red Sea. Unlike Jacob, and Isaac before him, there will be no more visits to Haran for wives for his sons. In fact, to head back in that direction (as a people) is later viewed as an element of curse. Jacob's original departure from the Promised Land is functionally an exile. Israel the nation is later threatened with being sent back to Egypt, or as a parallel, being sent back beyond the River (Euphrates), whence Abraham was called out.

In other words, if the FIRST biblical writer, Moses, is writing in such a way that the patriarchal experience supplies types for the Exodus generation to fulfill, then TYPOLOGY is built into the very fabric of the OT from the first page. The chief Israelite figures of OT redemptive history--especially those we'd identify as mediators (prophets, priests, and kings)--according to this interpretive strand of Judaism are all anticipatory of Messiah. Either he will succeed where they fail, or else he will accomplish superlatively what their best efforts only accomplish marginally (Messiah's deeds must be greater than the greatest deeds of his types).

Eventually, the whole experience of the people considered as one person (yea, as a "son" called out of Egypt) must be a grand preparation for the "Israel-of-One" who embodies this theme. The writing prophets are masters of the intertextuality of their own Scriptures. They are the ones applying past revelation in typological fashion to their present circumstances.

Here is J.Owen, text Heb.1:5, which is reference to Ps.2.
Thus Rabbi Solomon Jarchi, in his comment on this psalm, in the Venetian edition of the great Masoretical Bibles, affirms that “whatever is sung in this psalm our masters interpreted of Messiah the king; but,” saith he, “according unto the sound of the words, and for the confutation of the heretics” (that is, Christians), “it is convenient that we expound it of David.” So wickedly corrupt and partial are they now in their interpretations of the Scripture. But these words are left out in the Basle edition of the same notes and comments; by the fraud, it may be, of the Jews employed in that work, so to hide the dishonesty of one of their great masters. But the confession of the judgment of their fathers or predecessors in this matter is therein also extant. And Aben Ezra, though he would apply it unto David, yet speaks doubtfully whether it may not better be ascribed unto the Messiah.

Gill writes similarly,
this is said to Christ, and of him, in Ps.2:7 and that agreeably to the sense of the Jewish church at this time, or the apostle would never have produced it to the Hebrews in such a manner; and not only the whole psalm in general, but this verse in particular, is owned by Jewish writers (t), both ancient and modern, to belong to the Messiah.

(t) Zohar in Numb. fol. 82. 2. Maimon. in Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 11. 1. & Abarbinel, Mashmia Jeshua, fol. 37. 4. & 38. 1.
Gill supplies some citations there.

The point of these quotations is to expose the fact that there is a whole history of Jewish-interpretation that does see Messianic hope as the essence of OT revelation. And late into the Christian era, there was still considerable "coming to terms" with their own great-divide in the Jewish history of (OT) interpretation.

These are not simply modern disputes, but very ancient ones.

As for the division of 1st & 2nd advents, in one sense the revelation of those events that "disentangle" the OT expectations is the Gospel accounts, which culminate in the departure of Jesus "who will come again, just as you have seen him go," Act.1:11. And so the blessed hope is begun.

And in another sense, the reality is that the inaugurated eschaton WAS realized in the Resurrection of Christ, so the "tangle" of expectations is fully realized in one relatively short 3.5 year span. The Messiah comes, he is hailed, he is despised and rejected, he is killed, he rises, he is exalted and proclaimed victor, and he rules and reigns over an eternal kingdom since then, until right this moment, and forevermore. Amen. We just haven't seen the rest of the shaking of everything that will be, until only that which cannot be shaken remains, Heb.12:26-28.

As for what some say about whether Messiah is a central or a peripheral character in God's plan for the world (and Jews in particular)--just because those modern Jews are the inheritors of one or more non-Christian strands of OT interpretive tradition, doesn't make them more accurate in understanding OT Judaism than the stream Jesus best represents, and his successors. That's a proposal that needs to be judged on its comparative merits.

I'm struck by how narrow and man-centered the view you described is. No doubt, I'm biased. But despite that, the redemptive-history model of OT interpretation, capped by the NT, makes a coherent and compelling case for itself.
 

whirlingmerc

Puritan Board Sophomore
In the Hudson Valley in New York, there is even a Jewish Rabbi scholar who wrote a book insisting that the future Messiah will be God in some sense.
see 'the Popes favorite Rabbi" http://mqup.typepad.com/mcgill_queens_university_/2007/05/time_magazine_t.html see also http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1455280?uid=3739776&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103988211561

Personally, I think I would stick with an argument like: God says twenty five times or so that the false teachers have done wrong and I myself, I alone will be the shepherd of my people... then says David will shepherd my people. God sets up the reader to wonder who this coming son of David will be and how God will sheperd his people 'himself' though him alone
 
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