As we approach the annual remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in just a few days, let’s look at one of the most obvious questions from what we’ve been learning about Christianity’s Core Belief.
Why don’t Jews believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of Israel? Jesus was Jewish and lived in Israel in the early part of the 1st century AD when the Jerusalem Temple was still standing. His early followers were Jewish. Most of the writers of the New Testament were Jewish.
Most Jews and Christians agree that after a long time of trouble, God will establish Israel as the foremost nation in the world and will bring about universal peace. That’s where the Messiah comes into the picture. Some Jews believe the Messiah will be a man from the lineage of King David, with impeccable spiritual credentials, who will lead Israel to defeat the great armies of the world and bring in a time of universal peace. Some Jews believe the people of Israel will rise up with the help of God and bring in a time of lasting peace through the principles of messiah. Christians believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel and will come back to earth a second time to defeat the armies of the world and establish great peace in Israel. So, who’s right?
First, let’s look for common ground. Christians and Jews have much to agree upon because both view the Hebrew Bible as the Word of God. Jews would agree with Christians that many passages in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament to Christians) refer to God’s Messiah. They include Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-10; 42:1-4; 59:20; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Hosea 3; Zechariah 14; and Ezekiel 37:24-27.
David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.Ezekiel 37:24-27
The Messiah of Israel will be “David My servant.” How can that be since King David died almost 3,000 years ago? Will God raise David from the dead and place him on his throne in Jerusalem again? No, Jews and Christians believe the future king will be from the lineage of David. Notice what happens when the Messiah is king over all the people.
- they will all have one shepherd
- they will walk in God’s judgments
- they will observe God’s statutes, and do them
- they will dwell in the land that God gave to Jacob His servant, where their “fathers” lives
- they will live there with their children and their children’s children, forever
- the Messiah will be their “prince” forever
- God will make an everlasting covenant of peace with Israel
- God will establish Israel and multiply the people
- God will set His sanctuary in their midst forever
- God’s tabernacle will also be with them
- God will be their God and Israel will be His people
- The nations will know that the Lord set Israel apart when His sanctuary is in their midst forevermore
Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah God promised to Israel, but that the leaders of Israel rejected Him when He presented Himself to them in Jerusalem. Christians point to all of the Messianic verses in the Hebrew Bible and say that Jesus fulfilled or will fulfill all of the promises God made to Israel. So, why don’t Jews believe that?
Jews have had about 2,000 years to respond to Christian claims that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, so the list is pretty long. Here are six of the reasons I’ve heard most often from Jewish friends through the years.
- Jesus was not a descendant of King David and King Solomon, so He couldn’t be the Messiah.
- Jesus did not rule Israel from David’s throne while He was on earth, so He couldn’t be the Messiah.
- The Temple in Jerusalem was standing when Jesus was on earth, so there was no need to rebuild it. The Romans destroyed the Temple within a generation after Jesus was crucified and has never been rebuilt, so Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah.
- There has been no universal time of peace since Jesus was on earth, so He couldn’t be the Messiah.
- The nations of the earth have not come together to know God and worship Him, so Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah.
- All of the Jewish exiles have not returned to their homeland, so Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah.
Christians respond to these and other reasons from Jews that Jesus could not be the Messiah by explaining that while many of the people of Israel and Samaria responded to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the religious leaders of Judaism (e.g. Pharisees, Saducees, Sanhedrin) rejected Jesus and convinced the Roman governor to crucify Him. Christians say that God raised Jesus from the grave and received Him back into Heaven, where He waits for the Day He will return to Israel to establish the Messianic Kingdom. Christians also point to the Gospel accounts (Matthew 1 and Luke 3) to show that Jesus was a descendant of David and Solomon.
Jews respond to Christians that the Hebrew Bible does not mention anything about the Messiah coming to earth twice, so they won’t accept this answer about a “Second Coming.” While some Jews through history have viewed Jesus in a positive light, most believe Jesus was a false messiah. One of the reasons Jews claim is that Jesus contradicted the Torah while He was on earth and taught people that the commandments of Moses were no longer to be obeyed.
Christians respond that Jesus made it abundantly clear during His earthly ministry that He supported every part of the Law and Prophets.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:17-20
Jews respond to this by supporting the words of the Pharisees and Sadducees quoted in the Gospels about how Jesus disobeyed the Law by healing on the Sabbath (e.g. John 9:13-16 – “Therefore some of the Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’). It is a common tactic when rebutting evidence to use an opponent’s own evidence against them. However, Jews who quote John 9:16 as evidence against Jesus should be careful to quote the entire verse – “Therefore some of the Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’ And there was a division among them.”
It’s important to note that some religious leaders in Israel took Jesus seriously and were opposed to opposing Him. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, visited Jesus by night to question Him (John 3). Nicodemus later spoke in defense of Jesus (though in a weak manner) and was called down by his fellow rulers (John 7). By the time the religious rulers convinced the Roman governor to kill Jesus, Nicodemus had become a true believer in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial along with another ruler of the Jews (John 19). After Jesus’ resurrection and return to Heaven, one of the leading members of the ruling council of Israel (Sanhedrin) recommended that the council not oppose Jesus’ disciples in case they might be found to fight against God.
Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.Acts 5:34-39
One of the biggest objections Jews have to Jesus Christ being Israel’s promised Messiah is the fact He has not fulfilled the Hebrew prophecies about defeating Israel’s enemies and establishing the Davidic rule of the world from a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. However, the Apostle Peter spoke to that objection almost 2,000 years ago.
But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.Acts 3:18-26
Jesus did fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies about Messiah’s suffering and would have fulfilled all of the other prophecies “if” Israel had repented and been converted. God would have forgiven their sins and sent Jesus Christ from Heaven back to Israel to establish the long-promised Messianic Kingdom. As we know, Israel rejected the offer and killed many of Christ’s followers in a futile attempt to destroy those “who were of the Way.” (Acts 9:2)
It’s important to note that all of the people who believed Jesus was Israel’s Messiah during the time Jesus was on earth and immediately following His return to Heaven were Jews. Thousands of Jews believed and endured brutal persecution after Pentecost. The first blood of martyrs for the Kingdom of God was Jewish blood. So, why haven’t more Jews embraced Jesus as their Messiah during all the centuries since God made His offer to Israel through the Apostles?
A Jewish Christian’s Response
The answer to the question is best answered by a Pharisaic Jew of the 1st century AD who helped spill the first Jewish blood.
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.Romans 9:30-33
Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul, continued in his letter to Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome that Israel needs the Gospel.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.Romans 10:1-4
Jews do not embrace their Messiah today in large numbers because Israel has rejected Jesus since the 1st century AD. It broke Paul’s heart as a Jew who had met the Messiah personally and was able to speak to the truth of Jesus from the perspective of his deep knowledge of Judaism and personal experience with Jesus Christ.
We learn from Paul that Israel’s rejection is not total.
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’? But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.’ And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.Romans 10:1-10
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!Romans 11:11-12
Paul taught that Israel’s future is tied to that of the Gentiles. He called it “the fullness of the Gentiles.”
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.’ Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.Romans 11:25-32
Remember the baby Messiah? Jews believe their Messiah will begin life as a baby. They believe he will grow up to fight for Israel and lead Israel to a bright future of great peace and prosperity. Christians believe the Messiah already came to Israel to fight for them and lead them to a bright future of great peace and prosperity. Jesus began the battle for Israel by defeating Satan and sin on the Cross. Jesus will end the battle when He returns and destroys Israel’s enemies (Revelation 19:11-21). What a wonderful blessing we all have from God.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?’ ‘Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?’ For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.Romans 11:33-36
One last Messianic note for Jews and Gentiles alike comes from the prophet Isaiah. He wrote this during one of Israel’s truly dark times. What we read is a word of hope and encouragement for Israel, for Christians, and for the world.
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.Isaiah 9:6-7
We invite you to watch two videos. The first is interviews with Jews living in Israel about what they think about Jesus. The second is a Jew who vehemently opposed Jesus as Messiah until he learned more about Jesus of Nazareth.
Rejoice! Jesus is Risen!!
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”