Dr. Brown Notes for Debate with Yisroel Blumenthal: The Real Jewish Messiah
In this video, we are asking the question: Who is the real Jewish Messiah? According to our Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanakh, called the Old Testament by Christians, how can we identify him? What will his role be, and when should we expect him? As we go through the Scriptures, I’ll do my best to demonstrate that, according to the Tanakh, there are two aspects to the Messiah’s work, one priestly and one royal, because of which there are two phases to his mission. First, he comes to make atonement for our sin before the Second Temple is destroyed. At the end of the age he will return to establish his kingdom on the earth.
Let us go, then, on an inductive journey through the Tanakh, doing our best to let the Scriptures speak for themselves. Beginning in Genesis 12, we see that God called Abraham to bless him and his offspring, the people of Israel. But God’s vision was always bigger than Israel alone: Through Abraham’s seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
God then chose Isaac, then Jacob, then Judah, saying in Gen 49:10 that Judah would have governing authority and that the obedience of the peoples would be his. And so, once again, we see that the whole world will be blessed and impacted by the seed of Abraham, more specifically, by the seed of Judah.
As we continue through the Scriptures, we see that, from the descendants of Judah, God chose David, ultimately speaking of a future son of David – a greater David – who would establish God’s kingdom on the earth. As described in Isa 11:9, “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.” And note again in the very next verse how the Messiah’s reign will affect the whole world: “He shall stand as a banner for the peoples and the nations will seek him” (Isa 11:10). We see this in other Messianic prophecies, such as Isa 2:3, where the peoples of the earth will go to Jerusalem during the Messianic kingdom and learn from the God of Israel.
There are other prophecies concerning this son of David, sometimes called David (as in Ezek 37:24), sometimes called the Branch (as in Jer 23:5-6), sometimes described in other terms (as in Isa 11:1). The Scriptures state that he will regather the Jewish exiles (e.g., Isa 11:12), build the Temple of the Lord (e.g., Zech 6:13), establish God’s kingdom on the earth (e.g., Isa 11:9), and usher in an era of peace and the universal knowledge of the Lord (e.g., Isa 2:1-4). This is what traditional Jews expect when they pray for the coming of the Messiah, and this is what many followers of Yeshua expect when we pray for his return. So, I affirm these passages and share this holy expectation.
But this is not the full and complete description of the Messiah, son of David, according to the Tanakh. As I stated at the outset, the Messiah will also function as a priest, making atonement for our sins and becoming a light to the nations of the earth before returning to complete his mission. (I should note here that priests were called by God to make His ways known to Israel; the Messiah as priest makes God’s ways known to the nations too.)
Why do I say that the Messiah will also function as a priest? Once again, David is the prototype, and while king, he sometimes did what only priests were supposed to do, offering sacrifices in 2 Sam 24, wearing the linen ephod in 2 Sam 6, and eating the consecrated bread in 1 Sam 21. It even says in 2 Sam 8:18 that David’s sons were priests. Then, in Psalm 110, speaking either of David, the prototype of the Messiah, or of the Messiah himself, God says, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” This is quite significant, since Melchizedek was himself a priestly king.
Then, in Zech 6, the high priest Joshua is said to represent the Branch, which, as we noted, is a Messianic title, and he, the high priest, is crowned and sits on a throne. “Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’” (Zech. 6:11-13, NIV)
Other translations state that, “there will also be a priest on his throne,” but either way, the Messiah, called the Branch, is represented by the high priest Joshua, wearing a crown – rather than Zerubbabel, the governor, who was a descendant of David, wearing a crown. On one reading of the Hebrew, the future Messianic king will also be a royal priest; on the other reading, the future Messianic king is represented by a royal priest and will, in the future, rule along with this royal priest. Either way, you cannot separate the Messiah from priestly ministry. He is a priestly King!
And so, the principle is simple, and it will become clearer as we continue on our journey through the Scriptures: First the Messiah will fulfill his duties as a priestly King, dying to make atonement for our sins and bringing salvation to the nations; at the end of the age he will return and complete his mission. But he alone can complete the mission, since he alone started the mission, just as the only team that can play in the second half of a game is the team that played the first half, and the only president who can serve a second term is the one who served a first term.
Now, you might say, “Even if the Messiah is a priestly king, where does the Tanakh say that he will die for our sins?”
Let’s go back to the book of Isaiah, looking in particular at chs. Isa 40-55, a section which focuses on Israel’s deliverance from Babylonian exile, which for many of the prophets served as a backdrop of the coming redemption.
According to Isa 42, a theme reiterated in Isa 49, someone designated the servant of the Lord, will be a light to the nations. Who is this servant of the Lord? In Isa 41-53, the noun ‘ebed, servant, occurs 20 times. Sometimes the servant is Israel, as stated explicitly in Isa 41:8-9. At other times the servant is an individual sent on a mission to Israel, as in Isa 49:5-6. In Isa 50, the servant, who is clearly an individual, suffers brutal treatment. In Isa 52:13-53:12, the servant will be highly exalted but will first suffer terrible punishment and disfigurement, appearing to suffer for his own sins while in reality, he was suffering for the sins of others, thereby bringing them redemption. Who is this servant?
If we examine the evidence carefully, we will see that the references to the servant as a people actually end with Isa 48:20, while the references to the servant as an individual come into clearest focus beginning with Isaiah chapter 49 and continuing through the end of chapter 53. Accordingly, in chs. 40-48, when the greater focus is on the servant as a nation, the term “Israel” occurs 34x and “Jacob” 19x, whereas in chs. 49-53, where the greater focus is on the servant as an individual, “Israel” occurs 6x (5 in ch. 49) and “Jacob” 3x (all in ch. 49). So, by the time Isaiah 52:13 is reached, the spotlight is on a person, not a people, although the person is certainly connected to his people. (For the record, “servant” in the singular does not occur again in Isaiah after 53:11; in the plural, see 54:17; 56:6; 63:17; 65:9, 13 [3x], 14-15; 66:14.)
And note what is written in Isa 42:6-7, speaking to this servant of the Lord: “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.” The servant is a covenant for the people of Israel (meaning, he restores their covenant relationship); he is not the people of Israel (see also Isa 49:8).
Note also that while the servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53 is a righteous, guiltless sufferer, Israel in Isa 40-53 is often anything but righteous. So, in 42:24-25, it is stated that servant Israel was exiled because of sin, incurring God’s wrath; in 43:8, servant Israel is blind and deaf (see also 42:18-19); in 43:22-28, Israel fails to call on the Lord; in 47:6, God is angry with Israel; in 48:1-6, Israel is guilty again, with the exile and return foretold (see also 48:8b-11, 17-19); and in 50:1, God’s indictment is forthright: “for your iniquities you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away” (Isa. 50:1; being “sold” and “sent away” is synonymous with being exiled).
This is in harmony with prophetic voices like Amos (e.g., 4:4-12) and Hosea (e.g., 5:7-15), along with the explicit testimony of 2 Kin 17 (see esp. vv. 7-23), all of which state emphatically that the exile of the ten northern tribes of Israel by the Assyrians was because of Israel’s persistent, unrepentant rebellion and sin, while prophets like Jeremiah (e.g., 32:28-36) and Ezekiel (e.g, 5:5-17), along with the explicit testimony of 2 Chr 36 (see esp. vv. 15-16), state emphatically that the exile of the southern tribes of Judah by the Babylonians was because of Judah’s persistent, unrepentant rebellion and sin. This is confirmed by the retrospective testimony of Lamentations (1:5, 8, 14, 18, 20, 22; 2:14; 3:40-42; 4:12-13; 5:7, 16), along with Ezra (9:6-7), Nehemiah (9:26-36), Daniel (9:4-13), and Zechariah (1:1-6). This is also in harmony with Lev 26 and Deut 28 in the Torah, both of which state emphatically that if Israel as a nation is righteous, it will be established, secure, and blessed, but if Israel as a nation is unrighteous, it will be exiled, uprooted, and cursed.
It is absolutely clear, then, that Israel as a nation cannot be the servant of the Lord described in these key chapters in Isaiah, in particular chapter 53.
According to Isa 49, the servant of the Lord is an individual within Israel (he is actually called Israel, since he represents them). He is tasked with regathering the tribes of Israel, but he apparently fails in his mission, expressing his disappointment: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the LORD's hand, and my reward is with my God” (Isa. 49:4).
God responds to him: “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 nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). Who does this describe?
And in Isa 50:6, the servant, clearly an individual, says, “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” Yet God would vindicate him.
Then, Isa 52:13-53:12, referring again to this same servant, states that he will be extremely exalted (cf. Isa 52:13 with Isa 6:1, speaking of the exalted state of the Lord), but first he will suffer terrible disfigurement. Yet he will sprinkle (or, perhaps, startle) many nations (52:15)! Once again, the servant of the Lord will touch the nations of the earth, but not before he suffers terribly for the sins of others, bearing their iniquity.
As Isa 53 testifies, this servant of the Lord will be rejected by his own people, who thought he was dying for his own sins when, in reality, he was dying for their sins: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-- every one-- to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa. 53:5-6) Who does this describe?
And the text continues to tell us that he will die (be “cut off the from the land of living,”), yet he will live on, vindicated by God. As the chapter concludes, “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.”
The servant of the Lord will die for the sins of his people, and by his wounds they are healed. This is the priestly work of the Messiah, bearing sin and even becoming a guilt offering on our behalf according to Isa 53:10, the righteous one taking our place and carrying our punishment. (Note that the death of the high priest in Num 35 freed the accidental manslayer from exile in the city of refuge, taking the place of the blood that had been shed. This is part of priestly intercession.)
Here in Isa 53, the intercession of the righteous servant brings healing to the nation, and, to repeat once more, this servant cannot be Israel, which was not righteous (as this servant was) but was being punished for its own sins in exile, as emphasized in the many verses I cited previously. But this servant is righteous: “he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (53:9); “my righteous servant will justify many” (53:11).
And rather than Israel in exile bringing healing to the nations (which is what some traditional Jewish interpreters claim), God said through the prophets that He would destroy the nations that mistreated His people in exile. See, e.g., Jer 50:17-18: “‘Israel is a scattered flock that lions have chased away. The first to devour them was the king of Assyria; the last to crush their bones was Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.’ Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will punish the king of Babylon and his land as I punished the king of Assyria.’”
So, when Israel suffered because of the sinful treatment of the nations that exiled them, this brought judgment on those nations, not healing for them. This would apply even more to the righteous remnant of Israel suffering in exile. God would judge the nations that mistreated them.
And Isa 52:14-15 cannot refer to Israel, as traditional Judaism claims, alleging that Israel will be raised up at the end of the age to the astonishment of the nations, with the nations supposedly being shocked when they realize that Israel was suffering for the sins of those nations rather than for their own sins. To the contrary, the Lord tells us in Ezek 39:23-24, “And the nations shall know that the House of Israel were exiled only for their iniquity, because they trespassed against Me, so that I hid My face from them and delivered them into the hands of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword.” (NJPSV)
Who then does Isa 53 describe, this one who will be highly exalted after suffering terrible disfigurement, who will be rejected by his own people who didn’t realize he was dying for them, this one who will die but then go on living, ultimately touching the whole world? It is Yeshua, our Messiah and King. As the psalmist proclaimed in Ps 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone”!
This is reminiscent of the mistreatment experienced by the righteous sufferer in Psalm 22, apparently forsaken by God into the hands of his enemies, only to be delivered from the jaws of death. And his deliverance from death is so great that it brings praise to God to the ends of the earth, to be recounted by future generations. Only the Messiah fulfills the words of this psalm.
That’s why Zechariah spoke of the day when there would be great mourning and intercession in Judah and Jerusalem – this will take place at the end of this age (see Zech 12) – as the people will look to the Lord because of the one they pierced. Our Jewish people will recognize that the one they thought was the cause of their problems was actually the solution to their problems, and this will lead to national cleansing. As promised in Zech 13:1, where it is written, “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” And with that, the Messianic reign will be established on the earth, as written in Zech 14:9: “The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.”
First, Israel’s repentance for rejecting the Messiah when he came and until this day; then, Israel’s cleansing when he returns to establish his kingdom on the earth.
There is only one Messiah, but there are two parts to his mission, hence two comings, but the first had to precede the destruction of the Second Temple as we learn from Haggai 2 (where God promised to fill the Second Temple with greater glory than the First Temple, yet the Second Temple did not have the Shekhinah or the divine fire or even the ark of the covenant); Malachi 3 (where the Lord Himself promised to visit the Second Temple and purge the priests and Levites); and Daniel 9 (where the measure of transgression and sin had to be filled up, atonement made for iniquity, and everlasting righteousness ushered in).
Yeshua fulfilled these prophecies, bringing the glory of God to the Temple with his own presence and sending the Spirit to his followers there, and as the Lord, visiting the Temple and purging and purifying the Jewish leadership. And the measure of transgression was filled up when the Messiah was crucified, at which time he made atonement for iniquity and ushered in eternal righteousness. And so Haggai, Malachi, and Daniel testify that the Messiah had to come before the Second Temple was destroyed.
This is why we also have two pictures of the Messiah’s coming, one meek and lowly, riding on a donkey (Zech 9:9), the other high and exalted, riding on the clouds (Dan 7:13-14). But these are not either-or pictures, they are both-and pictures. First he comes riding on a donkey, to be rejected by our people, to die for our sins, only to become a light to the nations of the earth; then he will return riding on the clouds, bringing judgment on the wicked, regathering his scattered people, and establishing God’s kingdom on the earth.
I accept the full testimony of the Scriptures concerning the Messiah – not just one part of the description – which is why I can say without question that Yeshua is our prophesied Messiah based on the testimony of the Tanakh. That’s why, in his earthly ministry, he repeatedly pointed back to what was written in the Tanakh. He and He alone is the real Jewish Messiah.