The Misinterpreted Significance of the Messiah
Exposing the Erroneous Anticipation and Hope in the Messiah
What event in Biblical history began the anticipation and/or the hope for the messiah? And what has caused this hope for the messiah in Biblical history to continue to be so prevalent even until this day?
Before answering these two questions it is essential to point out that there are immense differences in the concepts between the Christian hope in the messiah and the Jewish hope in the messiah.
One of the main differences between Christianity’s concept of the messiah and Judaism’s concept of the messiah comes from the idea that each has concerning redemption. Judaism has always maintained that redemption is an event, which occurs openly, publicly, in the realm of the real world and on the stage of history.
This Jewish concept has always been belittled by Christianity, which maintains that redemption takes place within the unseen world – the spiritual world – and thus, redemption is reflected in the soul. To Christianity, redemption is an event which occurs within the private world of each individual and does not correspond to anything outside of each individual.
Yet, Isaiah 65:25 clearly states, “The lamb and the wolf shall feed together.” How can this be something, which occurs in the little individual private world of our own souls? How is this something, which is unseen? This could only occur in the visible world, not in the unseen spiritual world.
Also, Isaiah 11:9 says, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.,” which again is something that could only occur in the visible world and not in a spiritual world.
Another important difference between Christianity’s hope in the messiah and Judaism’s hope in the messiah is best outlined by the comments of Donovan Joyce when he states, “Seldom has one faith more directly spat in the eye of another’s belief than did Christianity when it trumped Judaism’s expectation that the Messiah was coming, by proclaiming that he’d already been and gone! Not only did this ridicule the Jewish faith but it took the Messianic office in a vice of such distortion that few Christians today have the slightest idea what the thing meant in the days of Jesus.”
William Barclay rightly points out that, “Jewish ideas were completely strange to the Greeks. To take but one outstanding example, the Greeks had never heard of the Messiah. The very center of Jewish expectation, the coming of the Messiah, was an idea that was quite alien to the Greeks. The very category in which the Jewish Christians conceived and presented Jesus meant nothing to them. Here then was the problem – how was Christianity to be presented to the Greek world?”
Christianity teaches that through the messiah man will go to meet God, Israel and Jerusalem will be rebuilt as the fulfilled kingdom of God, yet for Judaism the kingdom of God does not “conquer and supersede a defective human civilization.” The kingdom of God, in Jewish teachings, hallows, purifies,and perfects human civilization. Judaism never taught that the Messiah would be either perfect or a mediator.
Mythology became attached to the concept of the messiah through gentiles. For to the Jews the messiah was an ordinary man, and even the prophets of Israel clearly state that the messiah would be a mere mortal man, nor did the Jews ever teach that the messiah would be divine!
This is a matter to which even modern Christian scholars seem to still not understand! For the Jews also used a great deal of “metaphoric” terminology in regards to the messiah. The concept of the messiah being divine did not come about by way of the Jews! It came from pagan mythologies from Persia and Greece.
As Justin Martyr, quoting Trypho, states, “In the Messiah we Jews all expect that Christ will be a man of merely human origin… If this man appears to be the Christ, he must be considered to be a man of solely human birth.” Thus, John Shelby Spong rightly asks, “How did Christian people who acknowledged a first-century Hebrew man to be their Lord come to express their faith in the religious categories of the Greek mind?”
To answer the question asked at the beginning of this article: “what event in Biblical history began the anticipation and/or the hope for the messiah,” one must first understand the several etymological variations of the Hebrew word[s] that mean, “anointed” – moshiah or mashiah, mashah, mishhah or moshhah. The Greek word, Christos, is simply a translation of the etymological variations of the Hebrew word[s], that mean “anointed.”
The first appearance in the Bible of any of these etymological variations of the Hebrew word[s] that mean, “anointed,” is found in Genesis 31:13, which refers to, of all things, a pillar erected by Jacob in Genesis 28:17-22 to which Jacob made a vow.
The next usage of any of the etymological variations of these Hebrew words is found being used in Exodus 25:6 in regards to the oil that would be used for an “anointing” of a messiah. The first verse of Scripture in which we find any individual being referred to as a messiah, or “anointed” one is found in Exodus 28:41, which refers to Aaron as the High Priest, of Israel, and to the sons of Aaron who were the heirs to the office of High Priest of Israel, and thus, a messiah of Israel in its origination was the High Priest Aaron and his genealogical descendants.
In regards to a messiah actually being the king of Israel, this matter did not come about for at least 375+ years after a messiah was originally just the High Priest of Israel. For up until this point in time in Biblical history, and in fact, even afterwards God Himself had been, and in fact, always will be Israel’s true King.
When Israel, in 1 Samuel 8:4-6, requested and even demanded to have a king placed over them like all of their neighbor nations had, this angered God that He had been rejected as Israel’s only true King, as stated in 1 Samuel 10:18-19. Yet in spite of God’s anger at this request/demand, God granted this request/demand by making Saul a messiah king in 1 Samuel 10:1. The Messiah appointed by God as Israel’s king was nothing more than God’s lieutenant, and at times in history this Messiah became a faithless lieutenant.
This messiah king requested/demanded for by Israel and God’s anger at being rejected as Israel’s true King brings about a play on Hebrew words in Scripture, which is an essential matter to understand in regards to the concept of the Messiah. For the Hebrew letters in the name Saul (שאול), are the exact same letters used in the Hebrew word sheol (שאול), which means, “the pit,” or “the grave,” or as Christianity usually translates it into the Greek, Latin, and English versions, “Hades,” or “Hell,” as noted for example in Genesis 37:35; Genesis 44:31; Job 30:23; Ecclesiastes 12:5.
Both of the Hebrew names/words, Saul and sheol, derive from the Hebrew root word shael, which means, “to inquire,” “to request,” or “to demand,” or in essence, the very thing that the people did by rejecting the true King God in favor of a Messiah king who was nothing but a mere mortal man. Thus, as Samuel states in 1 Samuel 12:17 in regards to any anticipation, and any hope in a messiah king, “I will call to the lord, and he shall send thunder and rain; that you may know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord. In the grave is a king for yourselves.”
Ezekiel 20:33 clearly states that God is the true King: “As I live, says the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and with a stretched-out arm, and with anger poured out, will I be King over you.” Furthermore, Jeremiah 17:5 warns us about having any hope for a messiah: “Thus says the Lord: Cursed be the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the Lord.”
Yet, we know that despite God’s anger at being rejected as Israel’s true King, God allowed a messiah king that the people desired to continue by next appointing David to be a Messiah king in 2 Samuel 5:1-3,and we also know from 1 Kings 1:34 that the line of the Messiah king was to then pass down through the genealogy of Solomon, and this despite the fact that Solomon transgressed against God’s covenant, as stated in 1 Kings 11:13; 1 Kings 11:36, and as stated in the prophecy in 2 Samuel 7:12-16.
Therefore, there were now two separate individuals in Israel known as messiah – a messiah High Priest, and a Messiah king – two messiahs, in essence! Yet, we also learn in 1 Kings 19:15-17 that prophets were also known as messiah, as were kings from other nations other than Israel, (see also Isaiah 45:1 regarding Cyrus)! Therefore, in Israel references to a messiah covered the High Priest, the King, and the prophet – three individuals all called messiah!
There would always be Messiahs – plural (as clearly stated, for example, in Psalm 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Jeremiah 17:19-20, which Christian Bible translators have consistently translated the Hebrew plural used in all such verses as these into the singular) – but no single Messiah. For any Messiah was always a plain ordinary man, subject to the same natural laws as everyone else including death, plus there were the three messiahs – messiah High Priest, messiah king, and messiah prophet.
These facts are reflected in all Jewish literature, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. As Aaron was “anointed” to be messiah High Priest, when he died his sons were “anointed” to become the messiah High Priest, and as David was “anointed” to be messiah king, when David died, Solomon was “anointed” to be the messiah king, and so on. It is the fidelity of these understandings that Judaism has always been able to survive in their hope for the messiah.
These facts create a problem for Christianity, and Christian Bible translators who consistently mistranslate the Hebrew word for messiah in regards to individuals who were not either a messiah prophet, or a messiah High Priest, or a Messiah king of Israel! For whereas Judaism has always understood and maintained the concept of the Messiah being two messiahs, (or three messiahs counting the messiah prophet), Christianity combined all three into one individual, Jesus – messiah prophet, (Matthew 21:11; Luke 7:16; John 4:19 for example), Messiah king, (Matthew 21:9; Mark 10:48 for example), and Messiah High Priest, (Hebrews 4:14 for example).
Yet, Midrash Tanhuma, (S. Buber, [Romm, Wilna, 1885], I, p. 140), says: “A commentary on Genesis identifies the Messiah king as Anani, the last scion of the family of David mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:24, by interpreting his name from Daniel 7:13, Anani = ‘clouds’ (‘anane): i.e., Cloud-Man. The same explanation is incorporated into the Targum of 1 Chronicles 3:24: ‘Anani is the Messiah King who is to be revealed’.” Therefore, Jesus’ statement, “coming in the clouds” (‘anane), Jesus was actually meaning “coming from ‘Anani,” even though the genealogies listed in Matthew and Luke, do not include this “last scion of David,” Anani.
Thus, Jesus himself knew, and taught the standard Jewish understanding in regards to the Messiah that there would always be messiahs – plural – meaning the Messiah would be a mortal man from the genealogy of David and/or Aaron. Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History 3:12 and 3:19:1-3; 20:7 even traces the Messiah claim of the entire family of Jesus as followed by the Jerusalem Church.
We will come back to the topic of the two messiahs, and/or the three messiahs shortly. Yet first, we must point out several matters that are related to these topics, and the first matter being that the messiah High Priest and the messiah king, both became obsolete during the Babylonian exile of the remnant of Israel. The second matter surrounds what is stated in Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 36:30-31 in regards to the messiah king Jehoiachin. For Jeremiah states that Jehoiachin and his descendants were cursed by God and would never be messiah kings again.
As Jeremiah says: “Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days; for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David.” Thus, after the Babylonian exile, Zerubbabel, the grandson of Jehoiachin, (1 Chronicles 3:18), did not became the Messiah king of Israel, only Joshua, son of Jehozadak became the messiah High Priest, (Ezra 2:1-2; Nehemiah 12:1).
Therefore, the era of Messiah Kings ended, and the era of messiah prophets ended with Haggai, (Ezra 5-6), Zechariah, (Ezra 5-6), and Malachi, (Nehemiah 13) leaving only the Messiah High Priest as it had original been intended by God since the time of the messiah Aaron. Yet, when the Temple was destroyed during the 66-73CE Jewish revolt, the era of Messiah High Priest also ended. Herein lies the events which answer the question as to what began the anticipation and the hope for the Messiah.
Now to answer the second question asked at the beginning, and that question being, “what has caused this hope for the messiah in Biblical history to continue to be so prevalent even until this day?” For Christians and Christianity this question seemingly is easy to answer, yet in reality it is actually a complex answer.
Christianity transformed the two messiahs into a first coming of the messiah Jesus, and a second coming of the messiah Jesus – two/three messiahs, Messiah High Priest, messiah prophet, and Messiah king all in the form of one messiah, the messiah Jesus, and this in spite of what was discussed above regarding the Bible stating that there would be messiahs, plural.
For Jews and Judaism, the answer to this question is far different. For although there was not one common uniform belief in regards to the messiah, all of the varying opinions though, did contain five common elements.
As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes concerning these five common elements, “… Jewish tradition affirms at least five things about the Messiah. He will: be a descendant of King David, gain sovereignty over the land of Israel, gather the Jews there from the four corners of the earth, restore them to full observance of Torah law, and, as a grand finale, bring peace to the whole world.”
Jewish hopes, expectations, and anticipations were at there peak after the death of Herod the Great. The Jews were hungry for a messiah High Priest and a messiah king – two “anointed ones” or “Messiahs.” This fact has multiply attested sources, and “multiple attestation” is an important factor in scholarly research, which cannot and should not just be ignored.
These sources are the historians Josephus, Jewish Wars 6.312; Antiquities 17.10.8 and Tacitus, Histories 5.13, who speak of how after the death of Herod the Great the Jews firmly believed it was the time in which a messiah High Priest and a messiah king – two “anointed ones” would arise.
These sources attest that the Jews of this time desired a “charismatic humble judge” as in Judges 6:12; 8:22, for a messiah High Priest.
These sources attest that the Jews desired the “warrior/military valiant man,” as in 1 Samuel 16:18, as a messiah king.
Some scholars have made errors in assessing the Jewish anticipations and hopes regarding the “anointed ones,” or Messiah [s], (plural), and there are other scholars who have tried to explain these various errors. For during this period of Jewish history there were many individuals to come along claiming to be the Messiah – Jesus being one of these claimants and the last was Bar Kokhba during the 132-136 Jewish revolt.
None of these claimants of being the messiah fulfilled all five of the matters discussed above that the Jewish people believed that a Messiah would fulfill! Josephus in Jewish Wars, 135, expresses contempt for all of these failed claimants to being the messiah, and as a result the Jewish anticipations and hopes for a messiah continue even until this day.
Yet, in 1948 Israel became a sovereign nation once again, and since then Jews from the four corners of the earth are returning to Israel – two elements fulfilled without the aid of a messiah! The prophets of Israel – Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Malachi, and Joel – say the “redeemer” is God, not a Messiah. The prophets – Amos, Ezekiel, Obadiah – refer to the messiah as a “collective,” (“deliverers,” messiah [s] in the plural)! The prophet Isaiah, the writings of Daniel, and parts of the Psalms refer to the messiah [s] as the entire nation of Israel.
Micah 4:1-2 clearly says, “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Nowhere does the prophet say anything about the Messiah bringing these matters into fruition! These things will be brought to fruition by God alone!
Micah 4:3-5 goes on to state that, “He (God) will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. 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.Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” Again, God alone brings this into fruition without the Messiah!
Isaiah 43:11 clearly states: “I, even I, am the Lord (YHVH); and beside me there is no deliverer.” There is no deliverer or savior other than YHVH – God Himself and not the Messiah! Psalm 22:29 states, “For the Kingdom is the Lord’s (YHVH): and He is ruler over the nations.” Likewise, Obadiah 21 says, “For anointed ones (moshiyim, plural) shall march up on Mount Zion to wreak judgment on Mount Esau; and the Kingdom shall be the Lord’s (YHVH).” The messiah here in Obadiah is plural – a “collective” as in the whole nation of Israel!
R. Hillel (not to be confused with Hillel the Elder) is recorded as saying in Sanhedrin 99a that, “there shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they have already enjoyed him in the days of Hezekiah.” Rashi interpreted and commented that he (Rashi) did not believe that R. Hillel was denying the Jewish hope[s] for the Messiah. Rashi felt that R. Hillel was indicating that it would be God Himself who would deliver Israel in the Time to Come (Rashi to Sanhedrin 99a). For over 2000 years too many have clung to the anticipation and hope for the messiah.
 See the comments in Oriental Mysticism and Biblical Eschatology, Thomas J. J. Altizer, p. 71; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew Vol. II, p. 400
 See the comments of Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, p. 94.
 See the comments though, of N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Versions, Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, p. 200.
 Yet, see the comments of Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea In Judaism, p. 1; G. F. Moore, Judaism In the First Centuries of the Christian Era, vol. II, p. 342; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot-Melakhim 12:1-4.
 The Jesus Scroll, Donovan Joyce, p. 51.
 At the Turning, Martin Buber, p. 20.
 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With the Jew Trypho, 49; and see also Dialogue With Trypho, 8.4.
 See Jeff A. Benner, “Biblical Word of the Month – Savior,” Ancient Hebrew Research Center Biblical Hebrew E-Magazine, Issue #020, October, 2005.
 Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, p. 89; Fritz Kunkel, Creation Continues, pp. 22, and 291; Ann Wroe, Pontius Pilate, p. 331.
 Judaism In the First Centuries of the Christian Era, G. F. Moore, vol. II, p. 372; Psalm 47:3 (47:2 in traditional translations); Psalm 47:7-8 (47:6-7 in traditional translations).
 Revolution in Judaea, Hyam Maccoby, pp. 75-82.
 See S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh, pp. 357, 390.
 See Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, pp. 156-159 and n. 13-15, pp. 189-190.
 Putting Away Childish Things, Uta Ranke-Heinemann, p. 72.
 See the comments of Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III in the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, vol. II, p. 8; Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, n. 79, p. 93; J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, 293-297; C. C. Torrey, The Four Gospels, p. 306.
 See Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Versions, p. 193.
 See the comments of John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman, p. 119; Upton Clary Ewing, The Prophet of the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 44; Dan Cohn-Sherbock, The Crucified Jew: Twenty Centuries of Christian Anti-Semitism, p. 226.
 See J. C. O’Neill, Who Did Jesus Think He Was, pp. 24-41; David J. Zucker and Moshe Reiss, “Downplaying the Davidic Dynasty,” Jewish Bible Quarterly Vol. 40, No.3, 2014, pp. 185-192; John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star, pp. 4, 12-13, n. 17, p. 15; J. H. Charlesworth, “From Messianology to Christology: Problems and Prospects,” in The Messiah, p. 5; John J. Collins, “The Heavenly Representative: The ‘Son of Man’ in the Similitudes of Enoch,” Ideal Figures in Ancient Judaism: Profiles and Paradigms, pp. 111-134; One God One Lord, Larry W. Hurtado, p. 66.; Jesus and Israel, Jules Isaac, pp. 134-138, and 394; James Drummond, The Jewish Messiah, p. 273.
 Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, p. 614.
 Rabbi Roy A. Rosenberg, The Concise Guide to Judaism: History, Practice, Faith, pp. 231-232; Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach, Appendix D, p. 308.
 See John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, pp. 11-112, 122-126; Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, David Flusser, pp. 423-425 and n. 124, p. 424.
 See Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, p. 110; A. R. C. Leaney, The Rule of Qumran and its Meaning, p. 95; Barrie Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian, p. 260; David A. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity, p. 123; W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, pp. 276-277; D. C. Thielmann, On Earth As It Is In Heaven, p. 583.
 Gerhard von Rad, The Message of the Prophets, p. 253; Messiah in Context, Jacob Neusner, pp. 25-29, 123, 187-191; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, pp. 127-160.
 John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman, p. 119; James Drummond, The Jewish Messiah, pp. 356-359; Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Zevi, pp. 9-10; S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh, p. 290; Allan H. Godbey, The Lost Tribes, p. 431; Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming, p. 46; Rabbi Roy A. Rosenberg, The Concise Guide to Judaism, p. 232; Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach, p. 77; C. F. Burney, Aramaic Origin, p. 75; John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star, pp. 11, and 74-135; Lloyd Gaston, No Stone on Another, pp. 164-167.
 Richard A. Horsley, John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, pp. 115-116; Joseph Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Judaism, pp. 10, 494; Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi, pp. 9-10; S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh, p. 290; Allen H. Godbey, The Lost Tribes, p. 431; Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming, p. 46; John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star, pp. 195-196, and 199; Jacob Neusner, Messiah in Context, p. 181; G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, Vol. II, pp. 343-345; W. D. Davies, Torah in the Messianic Age and/or the Age To Come, p. 48.
 See Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, pp. 225-236; the entire book Messiah in Context, Jacob Neusner.
 Allan R. Brockway, “Learning Christology Through Dialogue with Jews,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Summer 1988, [25:3].
 See the comments on this of Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries, p. 137; Grüber and Kersten, The Original Jesus, p. 6; G. A. Wells, Did Jesus Exist? p. 11.
 Joseph Klausner, The Messiah Idea in Israel, pp. 138, 154, 459, 469, and 522; Petuchowski and Brocke, The Lord’s Prayer and Jewish Liturgy, pp. 71-72.
 Israel Herbert Levinthal, Judaism: An Analysis and An Interpretation, p. 177; Joseph Sarachek, The Doctrine of the Messiah in Medieval Jewish Literature, p. 3; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Evolution of the Messianic Idea, p. 43.
 Rabbi Roy A. Rosenberg, The Concise Guide To Judaism: History Practice, Faith, p. 65; H. Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, p. 473; James Drummond, The Jewish Messiah, pp. 226-273.