Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 25 October 2017; Revised 19 August 2021
Scripture: Scripture quotations may be taken from various versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Passages translated by the author are annotated with "BR." A list of allusions to and quotations of the Tanakh in the Besekh may be found here.
Sources: Publication data for works cited may be found at the end of the article. Various Jewish works may be cited.
● DSS: Citations marked as "DSS" are from the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish manuscripts of Scripture and sectarian documents found in the Qumran caves. Most of the Qumran MSS belong to the last three centuries BC and the first century AD. Online DSS Bible. Unless otherwise indicated quotations from the DSS are taken from A New Translation of The Dead Sea Scrolls (2005), abbreviated as TDSS.
● LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. Online. See Barry Setterfield, The Alexandrian Septuagint History.
● Josephus: Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
● MT: The Masoretic Text is the official Hebrew text of the Tanakh for Rabbinic Judaism. Work on developing a uniform Hebrew Bible began in the 2nd century under Rabbi Akiva, but completed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 9th century. Online.
● Talmud: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. The Jerusalem Talmud, identified with "TJ," may be found here. Click here for Talmud abbreviations.
● Targums: The Targums are early Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text with commentary that date from the first century. See an index of Targum texts here.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing information for Hebrew words is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (1991). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of all Scripture and message I use the terms ADONAI (=Heb. YHVH), Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
"And he said to them, 'These are My words which I spoke to you still being with you, that it is necessary for all things having been written about Me in the Torah of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms to be fulfilled. 45 Then he opened fully their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 And he said to them that, "Thus it has been written, the Messiah was to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed into all nations, having begun from Jerusalem.'" (Luke 24:44-47 BR)
This monograph gives an overview of all
that is written in the Scriptures concerning the Messiah, all of which point
to Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah.
Introduction: The Messiah
● The Title
● Messianic Kingdom
● Jewish Expectations of Messiah
II. Messianic Prophecy
● Approach to Prophecy
● Prophecies of the Messiah
● Types of Messianic Prophecy
● Elements of Messianic Prophecy
● Day of ADONAI
III. Messiah in Jewish Literature
● Messiah in Intertestament Works
● Josephus on Yeshua
● Messiah in the Talmud
In the Tanakh the word for Messiah is Heb. Mashiach ("Anointed One"). Mashiach appears in the Tanakh 39 times and is used for (1) the patriarchal fathers (1Chr 16:16-22; Ps 105:15); (2) the High Priest (Lev 4:5); (3) the kings of Israel (1Sam 12:3; 2Sam 22:51); and (4) the Messianic King, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer (Ps 2:2 and Dan 9:25-26) (BDB 603). This last usage defined the term among first century Jews. This usage of Mashiach pointed to the Messiah being a father (Isa 9:6), a priest (Ps 110:4), and a king (Ps 2:6).
When Jewish rabbis translated the Tanakh into Greek (LXX) they chose Christos (from chriō, to anoint) to translate Heb. Mashiach. Thus, it is no surprise that the apostles, believing Yeshua to be the Messiah, consistently use the Greek word Christos ("Christ") for Yeshua of Nazareth. Unfortunately, most Christians treat the title as either a last name or a reference to the Second Person of the Trinity as in the creeds and do not realize that the title was invented by Jews.
In Greek culture christos in its secular use had no religious connotation at all. Christos as an adjective described someone smeared with whitewash, cosmetics or paint, and was anything but an expression of honor. As a personal reference it even tended toward the disrespectful (DNTT 2:334). By using Christos the Jewish translators of the LXX infused new meaning into the Greek word. The significance of being known as "The Anointed One" is that Israelite kings were crowned and priests were ordained in a ceremony of anointing with olive oil, which invested them with the authority of their positions (Stern 1). The oil was poured on the head in sufficient quantity that it ran down the beard (Ex 29:7; Lev 8:12; 1Sam 10:1; Ps 23:5; 133:2).
Lexicons claim that Christos is used in the apostolic writings as a personal surname of Yeshua because the Gentiles must have understood Christos in this way (BAG 895) and because in some 96 verses the word order is Iēsou Christou (both words in the genitive case), "Yeshua Messiah" ("Christos," Thayer). These are weak arguments that ignore the fact that the bearer of the title was Jewish and the apostles who declared the title were also Jewish who would never conceive of demeaning the title by treating it as a surname.
No Jew would ever say "David King." The fact that the Greek New Testament has Iēsou Christou does not obviate the fact that the Jewish writers would not have intended Christou as anything other than the Messianic title, as the 64 occurrences of just tou Christou ("the Christ") attest. Wherever the construction Iēsou Christou occurs the two proper nouns should either be separated by a comma "Yeshua, Messiah" or given simply as "Yeshua the Messiah" or "Messiah Yeshua."
The concept of the Messiah is rooted in the Hebrew theology of the Kingdom of God. The hope that God would establish His reign as King over all the earth, with all idolatry banished, is expressed frequently in the Tanakh (e.g., Ex 15:18; Ps 22:28; 29:10; 93:1; 99:2; 103:19; 145:10-13; Isa 52:7; Dan 2:44; 4:3; 7:27; Micah 4:7; Obad 1:21; and Zech 14:9). Ancient Jewish prayer liturgy, such as Aleinu and Kaddish, include the phrase that "God may establish His Kingdom speedily" It was even laid down by the Sages that no benediction would be effective without reference to the Kingdom (Berachot 12a).
To Yeshua's disciples and Jews in the first century "kingdom of God" meant the rule of the Messiah in fulfillment of the promise made to David:
"When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." (2Sam 7:12-13 ESV)
The expectation of the Messianic kingdom was a significant element in the good news announced to Miriam (Luke 1:30-33) and which Zechariah declared to his fellow Jews (Luke 1:68-75). The expectation is reflected in the request of the Magi to see the King of the Jews (Matt 2:2). Nathanael declared upon meeting Yeshua, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49). The doctrine of the kingdom in the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles relates to the hope and fulfillment of promises made to Israel.
Jewish Expectations of Messiah
After the long periods of domination by the great empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and their successors the Seleucids, the Jews rose in revolt in 166 BC. First led by Mattathias of the priestly Hasmonean family and then by his son Judah the Maccabee, the Jews subsequently gained control of Jerusalem and purified the Temple (164 BC), events commemorated each year by the festival of Hanukkah.
Following further Hasmonean victories (147 BC), the Seleucids restored autonomy to Judea, as the Land of Israel was now called. With the collapse of the Seleucid kingdom in 129 BC, Jewish independence was again achieved. Under the Hasmonean dynasty the kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon's realm. Political consolidation under Jewish rule was attained and Jewish life flourished. The future hope announced by the Hebrew prophets seemed to be assured.
However the Hasmonean Kingdom lasted only about 80 years (142-63 BC), and gave way to Roman conquest in 63 BC. With the establishment of the Herodian dynasty in 37 BC, Jews began looking for a leader who would deliver them from the Romans and inaugurate Olam Habah ("the world to come") or Messianic Age. The Messiah would be a descendant of King David (Matt 2:4-6) and he would fulfill the promises made to the patriarchs and the prophets. The Messiah would come in a very public manner, destroy the enemies of Israel, restore Israel to sovereign rule in its land, and establish the Davidic monarchy over Israel and the nations (Luke 1:68-74).
The announcement of the angel Gabriel to Miriam (Luke 1:32) seemed to provide assurance of fulfillment and Paul reiterated the truth to Jews in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:32-34). What the Jews did not expect was that in order to have a victorious Messiah, they would first receive a suffering Messiah, one who would be an atoning sacrifice (John 1:29).
The apostolic narratives describe some of these expectations as expressed by various people. Scribes and Pharisees asserted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matt 2:5; John 7:42), be descendant of David (Matt 22:42; Mark 12:35; John 7:42) and reign as King of Israel (Mark 15:32). The common people expected the Messiah to perform miraculous signs (John 7:31) and remain forever (John 12:34). The priest Zechariah prophesied deliverance from their enemies (Luke 1:71). The priest Simeon declared that Yeshua, as the Messiah, would shine a light of revelation to the nations (Luke 2:32) and cause many to fall and rise in Israel (Luke 2:34).
Anna expected the Messiah to redeem Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). Yochanan the Immerser prophesied that the Messiah would immerse people with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt 3:11), separate the wheat from the chaff (Matt 3:12), be the lamb of God to take away sin (John 1:29) and give eternal life to those who believe in him (John 3:36). The Samaritan woman expected that the Messiah would explain Scripture (John 4:25). The apostles expected the Messiah to restore Israel’s sovereignty (Acts 1:6).
II. Messianic Prophecy
Approach to Prophecy
Christianity has traditionally considered "Christ" to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Santala 15). However, it is important to clarify what Christians mean by "fulfillment," which is evident from differing interpretations of Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill!" (TLV). Many Christian interpreters take the verb "fulfill" to mean that Yeshua accomplished the specific deeds prophesied in the Tanakh of the Messiah. Having accomplished that fulfillment, the Torah and Old Covenant are therefore abolished and with it all promises made to Israel. This assumption became the foundation of replacement theology.
Yet, if fulfillment means anything it means that fulfillment in Yeshua is an added assurance that everything God promised to Israel will yet come to pass (Rom 9:4-5; 1Cor 1:20). Thus, prophecy is not just limited to events, such as the birth of the Messiah. Every story, every teaching, every feast, every Temple ceremony, every commandment of the Torah, as well as the teachings of the Major and Minor Prophets and the diversity of the Psalms prophesy something about Messiah, his character, his mission and his reign. Prophecy is as much forth-telling as foretelling.
Prophecies of the Messiah
We could say that the entire Tanakh prepares the way for the Messiah as the genealogies of Yeshua illustrate. Matthew traces Yeshua's lineage to Abraham (Matt 1:1), whereas Luke goes back to Adam (Luke 3:23, 38). The genealogies testify that a Messianic line stretches from Adam to Yeshua, so the historical record of these persons and their faithfulness to God is relevant to understanding the person of the Messiah.
Besides the personalities that point to the Messiah, many passages portend the Messiah. Some of these passages employ motifs or types to depict the character or nature of the Messiah. Other passages offer specific predictions. Scholars differ as to the number of predictions. Walter Kaiser identifies 65 direct predictions of the Messiah in the Tanakh (Kaiser 240-242). In the Introduction to his Complete Jewish Bible, David Stern lists 55 prophecies in the Tanakh fulfilled by Yeshua (CJSB li-liv).
Risto Santala suggests there are considerably more prophecies that relate to the Messiah. He says that there are 72 Messianic interpretations in the Aramaic Targums associated with different passages in the Bible. However, he goes on to say that it is estimated that the Tanakh contains altogether some 456 prophecies concerning the Messiah. Of these 75 are to be found in the Pentateuch, 243 in the Prophets and 138 in the "Writings" and Psalms. Most of these references are isolated verses, in which the Rabbis in particular see the Messianic motif. In some cases there are whole chapters to be considered (Santala 148-149).
Types of Messianic Prophecy
In considering prophecies whose literal meaning points to a Messianic leader, there are several types (Leman 147):
1. Prophecies of a Messianic Age, focusing on the times and conditions more than the person.
2. Indirect Messianic prophecies, speaking of David's line or the Seed of Abraham, but not getting specific about the Messiah.
3. Prophecies of King Messiah, of God's anointed ruler who defeats evil and then reigns over the earth.
4. Prophecies of the Teacher of Righteousness who will explain Torah and do justice for the poor and needy.
5. Prophecies of the Suffering Messiah, of one who gives of himself for the redemption of Israel.
Elements of Messianic Prophecy
In the Jewish treatment of Messianic prophecy, including how such prophecy is handled in the apostolic writings, four basic elements may be discerned.
First, there are the societal conditions preceding the Messiah's arrival, dubbed "the footsteps of the Messiah," borrowed from Psalm 89:51. The Mishnah, which generally reflects rabbinic teaching in the first century, used this idiomatic expression to anticipate that the days preceding the coming of the Messiah would be a time of great suffering and persecution (Sotah 9:6). Yeshua in answering the question of his disciples concerning the sign of his coming and the end of the age, warned them of perilous times and tribulation (Matt 24:4-12).
Second, there are acts that positively identify the individual as the Messiah.
● He will come at a specific time (Dan 9:24-26; Matt 2:1, 16, 19; Luke 3:1, 23).
● He will be born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2; Matt 2:5; John 7:42).
● He will be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:18, 25; Luke 1:26-35).
● He will be a descendant of Judah (Gen 49:10; Matt 1:2-3) and of David (Matt 22:45; John 7:42).
● He will be a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15, 18; Acts 3:20-22).
● He will ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zech 9:9; Matt 21:1-11).
Third, there is the immediate result of Messiah's coming. Messianic predictions generally have eschatological overtones. There are references to the "last days" or "latter days" (Deut 4:20; Isa 2:2; Jer 23:20; 30:24; 48:47; 49:39; Ezek 38:16; Dan 2:28; 10:14; Hos 3:5; Mic 4:1). In the last days dispersed Jews will return to their homeland and Israel will come to life again.
Day of ADONAI
Especially significant for Messianic expectation are prophecies concerning the Day of ADONAI (Heb. Yom YHVH). This day, which is mentioned by the term 21 times in the Hebrew Prophets, is a climactic event that brings earth's history to a close. In Zechariah the day is also referred to as "That Day." The Day of ADONAI emphasizes both judgment of the wicked and the nations aligned against Israel. Jerusalem will be delivered from foreign powers. Finally, Israel will be established as a sovereign Kingdom. The Day of ADONAI could be dubbed the "Day of Messiah" (Rom 2:16; 1Cor 1:8; Php 1:6, 10, 16). Specific elements of the prophecy will be mentioned under the description of each prophetic book. See my article The Day of the Lord, which summarizes biblical prophecies related to this climactic event of earth's history.
III. Messiah in Jewish Literature
Messiah in Intertestament Literature
In the Jewish Apocrypha the figure of the Messiah occurs only a few times. In 1Maccabees there is a brief general reference to the promise given to David, that his throne would be reestablished (2:57). Jewish expectation is expressed specifically in 2Esdras 7:28-29; 12:32-34; and Sirach 10:25; 47:22. Other works of the Apocrypha contain no mention of the Davidic hope.
However, Jewish expectation of a victorious deliverer is expressed more strongly in various non-canonical works referred to as Pseudepigrapha: Apocalypse of Baruch, Chaps. 26−30; Enoch 48:11; 51:4; 92:133, 135; Psalms of Solomon 17:21-23; 18:5-7; and Testament of Moses, 10. The Messiah is also mentioned in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. The Testament of Levi (Ch. 8 and 18) shows a unique conception of the Messiah. He is not, as in the Testament of Judah (Ch. 24) and according to the popular belief, a descendant of David, but a priestly king of the tribe of Levi. His character and activity are altogether spiritual.
Josephus on Yeshua
Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100 A.D.), born Yosef ben Matityahu, was a first-century Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer. He was born in Jerusalem to a father of priestly descent. He initially fought against the Romans during the First Jewish–Roman War as head of Jewish forces in Galilee, until surrendering in 67 A.D. to Roman forces led by Vespasian after the six-week siege of Jotapata. Josephus informed Vespasian that the Jewish Messianic prophecies that initiated the First Roman-Jewish War made reference to him becoming Emperor of Rome. In response Vespasian decided to keep Josephus as a slave and interpreter. After Vespasian became Emperor in 69 A.D., he granted Josephus his freedom, at which time Josephus assumed the emperor's family name of Flavius. Flavius Josephus was granted Roman citizenship and became an advisor and friend of Titus, the son of Vespasian, serving as his translator when Titus led the siege of Jerusalem.
Josephus recorded Israelite and Jewish history, with special emphasis on the first century and the First Jewish–Roman War. Important literary works of Josephus are: Wars of the Jews (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94). Wars recounts the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation (66–70). Antiquities recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for an ostensibly Roman audience. These works provide valuable insight into first century Judaism and the apostolic era. Josephus also wrote Against Apion (c. 97), an Autobiography (c. 99) and Concerning Hades (date unknown), although the latter is considered by Christian scholars to be the work of Hippolytus of Rome. Of interest is that Photios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople (9th c.), in his famous book Bibliotheca, attributed authorship of Concerning Hades to Josephus. The works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston (1737), may be found online here.
Josephus is discounted or even vilified by some Christian and Jewish scholars (albeit for different reasons). He has been accused by Christian scholars of inaccurate details in his chronologies and repetition of biblical narratives. Jewish scholars are offended that Josephus seems too friendly toward Christianity. Here follows is his famous statement about Yeshua:
"Now there was about this time Yeshua, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Messiah. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." (Ant. XVIII, 3:3)
Messiah in the Talmud
The Talmud ("teaching, learning, lesson, or study,") is an early Jewish work containing both Mishnah and Gemara. The Mishnah contains legal rulings and sayings of the Jewish Sages, known as Tannaim (pl. of Tanna, teacher). The Mishnaic period lasted AD 10–220. The Mishnah generally reflects laws and traditions followed in the first century, although to what degree cannot be determined with certainty. The written Mishnah is believed to be the work of Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi between AD 180 and 220. The names of the Mishnaic Sages may be found here. The Mishnah was written primarily in Mishnaic Hebrew but with some Aramaic. The Gemara contains legal analysis, debate and commentary on the Mishnah by Jewish scholars, known a Amoraim (pl. of Amora, "interpreter"). The Gemara period occurred 220–500 A.D. For more background information see the article The Beginnings of the Talmud at JewishHistory.org.
Reflecting on the six days of creation in Genesis 1 the Talmudic Sages sensed an outline of history, that just as there were six days of creation so there would be a thousand years for each creation day, and then finally the seventh or Sabbath millennium.
"The world is to exist six thousand years, then for one thousand years it will be desolate. … In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era." (Sanhedrin 97a)
Based on expositions of Psalm 72:17 and Micah 5:2 the Talmud declared the pre-existence of the Messiah,
"Seven things were created before the world, viz., The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. ... The name of the Messiah, as it is written, 'His name [sc. of Messiah] shall endure for ever, and [has existed] before the sun!" (Nedarim 39b; also in Pesachim 54a)
Yet, after the rejection of Yeshua by the Judean rulers and the failure of the Jewish revolt against Rome (66−70 AD), Pharisee leaders posited separate Messiahs, because they stumbled over the paradoxical nature of Messianic prophecies. The Talmud notes the seeming contradiction between the statement "And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven" (Dan 7:13) whereas elsewhere it is written, "behold, your king comes to you lowly, and riding upon an donkey" (Zech 9:7). The Sages resolved the contradiction by saying that both can't come true, so the mode of coming will depend on the merit (spiritual condition) of the people (Sanhedrin 98a). Some passages imply the Messiah is human. Other passages imply he is divine. Some passages depict the Messiah as victorious. Other passages depict the Messiah as suffering.
● Mashiach ben David (Sanhedrin 97a) is the victorious Messiah. He is the son of David (Isa 9:6-7; 11:1-10) and the "Son of God," because the king served as God's regent on earth.
● Mashiach ben Yosef (Sukkah 52a), the one to be slain. The Talmudic passage views the Messianic title as a fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10, "And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son." While unstated calling the Messiah "son of Joseph" may be an homage to Joseph the son of Jacob who was sold into Egyptian bondage, suffered unjustly, but later gained deliverance for his family. See my web article Joseph: Savior in Egypt
● Mashiach ben Ananim (Aram. bar nafle), "son of the clouds" (Sanh. 96b) is the heavenly Messiah or Son of Man (Dan 7:13-14)
BAG: William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 1957.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online at BibleHub.com.
CJSB: David Stern, The Complete Jewish Study Bible. Hendrickson Publishers, 2016.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The Messiah in the Old Testament. Zondervan Pub. House, 1995.
Leman: Derek Leman, A New Look at the Old Testament. Mt. Olive Press, 2006.
Santala: Risto Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1980, 1992.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper Brothers, 1889.
Copyright © 2017-2021 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.