The Messiah in the Jewish Traditions Pt. 1
Here we begin a series of articles where we will be looking to specific OT passages concerning God’s promise to raise up a King for his people, a King who would reign forever. We will then proceed to examine such statements in light of the explanation proffered by both the NT documents and the writings of specific Jewish groups before, during and after the time when our risen and immortal Lord Jesus Christ walked this earth. We will cull through the OT Scriptures to look at how often God repeats his promise to raise up an eternal King, and further analyze what some of the inspired writers wrote concerning the nature and works which this specific Ruler will carry out.
The purpose behind this series is to show how the NT exegesis and application of God’s promises which he made through the Hebrew prophets concerning this particular Anointed King is quite faithful to the various strands of Judaism and that the inspired writers of Christian Greek Scriptures were not distorting the OT or coming up with novel interpretations which were completely unheard of.
In this first part of the series we will present some of the OT references concerning the coming of this expected Ruler so as to see how there is a deliberate and divinely designed pattern which clearly runs throughout all of these particular verses, indicating that these various passages are actually different parts of the same puzzle. Once all of these diverse references are placed together then the complete and full picture will emerge more clearly by the grace of the Lord Jesus.
The OT Texts
The Wisdom Literature
The Psalms refer to a King whom God will raise up to reign in Zion, a Ruler whom Yahweh begets as his Son. The Psalms also exhort the nations to submit to Yahweh and his Anointed One or Messiah, and to show Yahweh’s begotten Son reverence or homage since Yahweh has sworn to give all the nations as an inheritance to his Messianic King:
"Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’ … ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten/fathered you (bani ata ani hayyom yelidtika). Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’ Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him." Psalm 2:1-3, 6-12
In another Psalm Yahweh promises the King who reigns from Zion that he would sit enthroned next to Yahweh’s right hand until the time that all of the King’s enemies are vanquished under his feet. What makes this particular Psalm rather interesting is that it is the King who will destroy his enemies in the day of his wrath, crushing any ruler who refuses to submit to his authority:
"The LORD says to my Lord (Adoni): ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies. Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ The Lord (Adonai) is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore he will lift up his head." Psalm 110:1-7
The book of Proverbs is another collection of Wisdom literature which refers to God having a very unique and special Son, One who is equal with God in essence and ability:
"Nor have I learned wisdom, Yet the knowledge of Holy Ones (qadoshim) I know. Who went up to heaven, and cometh down? Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? Who hath bound waters in a garment? Who established all ends of the earth? What [is] His name? and what His SON'S name? Surely thou knowest!" Proverbs 30:3-4 Young’s Literal Translation
Here the inspired author uses the plural qadoshim, "Holy Ones," as opposed to the singular qadosh, "Holy One." It is apparent that within the context the plural for "Holy One" is not being used to denote that God is holy in the absolute and fullest sense, which he certainly is, but in reference to the fact that the inspired writer has two distinct entities in view, namely God and his Son, both of whom he considers to be absolutely holy. Moreover, by asking who has control over the physical realm and what are the specific names of God and his Son the author clearly believed in the incomprehensibility and essential equality of both of them.
In the Hebrew Bible name signifies the essence, nature, characteristics and/or authority of a person, thereby indicating that that the writer knew that no person is capable of fully understanding the ways and the nature of these two Holy Ones. This, therefore, presupposes an essential equality between God and his Son, since not only is the Son capable of doing the very works which define and distinguish God from his creation, he also has a name or essence that is unfathomable.
To put it simply, the author was aware that God has a Son who is equal to him and whose essence is incomprehensible.
The Prophet Isaiah
The prophet Isaiah also refers to a Son who sits on the throne of David to rule over it forever as the Mighty God:
"But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zeb'ulun and the land of Naph'tali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined… For to us a Child is born (yalad yullad), to us A SON is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he 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. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7
The inspired prophet further mentions that this Divine King is a stump, or descendent of Jesse, the father of king David, whom Yahweh will anoint with the Holy Spirit to judge in righteousness and justice, ushering in universal peace and slaying the wicked with the breath of his lips:
"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 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. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious." Isaiah 11:1-10
This root and stump of Jesse is elsewhere identified as the Servant of Yahweh who will be highly exalted after dying as a sacrifice in order to make atonement for sinners, thereby justifying them, and bringing God’s redemption to the ends of earth so that even the Gentiles may be saved:
"See, my Servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness— so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:1-12
The Servant will also make a covenant with all the peoples:
"‘Here is my Servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.’ This is what God the LORD says— he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." Isaiah 42:1-7
"‘Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, ‘You are my Servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.’ But I said, ‘I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD's hand, and my reward is with my God.’ And now the LORD says— he who formed me in the womb to be his Servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength- he says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my Servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’ This is what the LORD says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: ‘Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’ This is what the LORD says: ‘In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, "Come out," and to those in darkness, "Be free!" They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:1-10
The Book of Daniel
The prophet Daniel saw in a vision a fully Divine Being appearing as a man coming on/with the clouds of heaven to rule over an eternal kingdom and who receives worship from all the peoples:
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14
The language that Daniel applies to the reign of this specific Son of Man is identical to how the Psalms and the prophet Isaiah describe the rule of the Davidic King, e.g. an eternal Ruler whose kingdom never ends but endures forever.
In fact, God’s Anointed King is further said to receive worship or homage, which is similar to the Son of Man:
"Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son (or son of the king) with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long… May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed." Psalm 72:1-15, 17
By piecing all of these texts together it seems certain and beyond dispute that these passages are all referring to one and the same entity, namely, a descendant of David who is a fully Divine Being that becomes a man in order to assume the role of a servant. And during this time when he becomes Yahweh’s Servant, the King functions in the role of a priest who offers his own life as a sacrifice to God in order to bring salvation to the entire world. Moreover, this Davidic King is God’s Son in a special and unique sense and is the Heir who receives all the nations as his rightful possession. Finally, all the nations are expected to worship this Divine Ruler as he reigns over all creation forever.
Now some of the passages, particularly Psalms 2 and 72, may have initially referred to David or to Solomon, but seeing that the nations never came under their complete control and that their deaths prevented them from ruling forever, it became evident that these specific rulers could not have been the ultimate fulfillment of these promises.
In fact, there are places in the Holy Bible where the inspired writers beseech God to fulfill his promises to David:
"Once you spoke in a vision, to your faithful people you said: ‘I have bestowed strength on a warrior; I have exalted a young man from among the people. I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him. My hand will sustain him; surely my arm will strengthen him. No enemy will subject him to tribute; no wicked man will oppress him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down his adversaries. My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his horn will be exalted. I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers. He will call out to me, "You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior." I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure. If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—and I will not lie to David– that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.’ Selah But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one. You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust. You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins. All who pass by have plundered him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors. You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice. You have turned back the edge of his sword and have not supported him in battle. You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground. You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with a mantle of shame. Selah How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?" Psalm 89:19-46; cf. 132:10-18
The above Psalm demonstrates how the prophecies concerning David’s dynasty were never fully realized. The promises therefore awaited the coming of another to fulfill them since the people knew that God is completely faithful and would never break his oath to David. Yet He who was to come would have to live forever in order to bring about God’s promise that David’s kingdom would endure forever, One whose relationship to God would be very special and unique, completely unlike the other kings.
The Messianic Ruler’s Depiction as God
What makes this all the more amazing is that this Anointed King is not only identified as a fully Divine Being, i.e. the Mighty God who reigns on David’s throne and the Son of Man who is worshiped as he rules forever, he further performs the very acts which the Hebrew Bible says Yahweh will carry out.
For instance, it is Yahweh who saves and justifies all mankind:
"Declare what is to be, present it — let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to him, and all who were angry at him will be put to shame. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory." Isaiah 45:21-25
It is Yahweh who judges in righteousness and justice:
"Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns.’ The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity… they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth." Psalm 96:10, 13
"let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity." Psalm 98:9
It is Yahweh whose breath destroys the wicked, who strikes with his rod and crushes the heads of his enemies:
"As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they are destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish." Job 4:8-9
"Without inquiry he shatters the mighty and sets up others in their place." Job 34:24
"Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins." Psalm 68:21
"Behold, the name of the LORD comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire; his breath is like an overflowing stream that reaches up to the neck; to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction, and to place on the jaws of the peoples a bridle that leads astray… The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the LORD, when he strikes with his rod. And every stroke of the appointed staff that the LORD lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them." Isaiah 30:27-28, 31-32
"He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things, including the tribe of his inheritance— the LORD Almighty is his name. ‘You are my war club, my weapon for battle— with you I shatter nations, with you I destroy kingdoms, with you I shatter horse and rider, with you I shatter chariot and driver, with you I shatter man and woman, with you I shatter old man and youth, with you I shatter young man and maiden, with you I shatter shepherd and flock, with you I shatter farmer and oxen, with you I shatter governors and officials." Jeremiah 51:19-23
It is Yahweh who is highly exalted:
"For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods." Psalm 97:9
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple." Isaiah 6:1
"The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day," Isaiah 2:11-17
"For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15
It is Yahweh who rules forever and who is worshiped by all nations:
"Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God." Psalm 86:8-10
"Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him." Daniel 7:27
"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit… Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet, and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. The LORD of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour and tread down the slingers; and they shall drink their blood like wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar. On that day the LORD their God will save them for they are the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land." Zechariah 9:9-11, 14-16
"Behold, a day of the LORD is coming, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in the midst of you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day HIS FEET shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up, for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzzi'ah king of Judah. Then the LORD your God will come, and all the holy ones with him… And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one… Then every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them." Zechariah 14:1-5, 9, 16-17
And it is Yahweh who inherits the nations as his rightful possession:
"Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance." Psalm 82:8
The preceding factors strongly indicate that the Messianic King is somehow both identical with and personally distinct from God, which explains how he is able to execute the very functions and perform the very deeds that Yahweh does.
To summarize what we have discovered thus far, we saw that:
- The Psalms refer to a King whom Yahweh begets as a Son (albeit in a purely spiritual manner, not through a carnal, sexual act), One who reigns in Zion and whom all the kings are expected to reverence and submit to.
- The Psalms also mention a Ruler whom God appoints to sit enthroned next to his right hand until all his enemies are vanquished and that this particular King serves as a priest forever. Since a chief priestly function is to atone for the sins of the community this suggests that God’s appointed King will make atonement for transgressions.
- Isaiah speaks of a descendant from the house of David who rules on David’s throne forever, and whom the prophet says is the Mighty God. This Divine King will bring forth justice to the nations and destroy the wicked, ushering in peace throughout all creation.
- The prophet further identifies this same Divine King as Yahweh’s Servant whom Yahweh exalts and lifts on high, language which denotes that the Servant will rule from God’s heavenly throne room.
- This Royal Servant is anointed with the Holy Spirit to carry out the functions which Yahweh assigns to him. Some of these functions include making a covenant with all nations, bringing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth, and forfeiting his life as a vicarious sacrifice which results in the justification of the people of God. The Servant’s act of offering himself as an atonement indicates that this particular Davidic King also functions as a priest.
- The prophet Daniel sees a vision of a fully Divine Being in human form that reigns forever and is worshiped by all the nations.
- The particular functions that this specific Ruler performs are deeds that the OT says Yahweh will personally carry out, thereby further linking the Anointed King with Deity.
In the next article within the series we will examine the NT documents to see how the inspired writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures believed that all of these specific OT texts apply to the Lord Jesus Christ.