Could Second Temple Judaism Have Anticipated Yeshua as the Messiah?

Could Second Temple Judaism Have Anticipated Yeshua as the Messiah?


I’m J.K. McKee, editor of Messianic
Apologetics. If you are new to the channel, be sure to subscribe for future
teachings and updates. There are many claims made against the Messiahship of
Yeshua by Jewish anti-missionaries. Many of these are based in {post-}Second Temple
deliberations over the claims of Yeshua of Nazareth. But based on theological and
philosophical views present within the Second Temple period, was it at all
possible for Second Temple Jews to anticipate a figure like Yeshua arriving
on the scene? Today, the main expectations of Orthodox Jews regarding the arrival
of the Messiah are that the Messiah will (1) one rebuild the Jerusalem Temple,
(2) regather the exiles of Israel to the Promised Land,
and (3) reign in peace over the Earth. In viewing the recorded actions of
Yeshua of Nazareth in the Apostolic Scriptures, religious Jews have decided
that He could not be the Messiah. Is it so impossible for Yeshua of Nazareth
to be the Messiah? Luke 24:26-27 actually invites the skeptic to consider
the relationship of Yeshua to the Tanach Scriptures: “‘Was it not necessary for
Messiah to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’ Then beginning
with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them the things written
about Himself in all the Scriptures” (TLV). What are some of the factors that we need to
consider, not only involving Israel’s restoration, but whether or not Second
Temple Judaism could have actually anticipated the arrival of a figure like
Yeshua as Messiah. A frequent dismissal of Yeshua as the Messiah concerns the
Divinity of Yeshua–as Yeshua did indeed claim “I and the Father are one” (John
10:30) and “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM” (John 8:58, PME).
What eventually condemned Yeshua to death is how He told the Sanhedrin, “You
have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, from now on you
will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER [Psalm 110:1],
and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN [Daniel 7:13]” (Matthew 26:64, PME). Yeshua made a
direct appeal to the Daniel 7:13-14 theophany of the figure of the Son of
Man brought before the Ancient of Days– the Son of Man being a Divine figure
afforded supreme authority and universal worship: “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” (NIV). While Yeshua’s Divinity is principally
based on his relationship to God proper, with Yeshua integrated into the Divine
Identity of the LORD or YHWH often by Tanach intertextuality–
Philippians 2:5-11 and Isaiah 45:23 being a significant example–the Messiah
as co-regent of God proper, is witnessed in various strata of Second Temple
Jewish literature (1 Enoch 48:8-10; 49:2-3; 52:4). The broad
world of Second Temple Judaism included speculations about the Messiah, which at
the very least approached Him as an eminently powerful supernatural being.
Many religious Jews today dismiss the Messiahship of Yeshua on the basis that
God would never accept a human sacrifice as a form of atonement. It should go
without saying that the death of Yeshua is not modeled after the sort of human
sacrifice witnessed by Ancient Israel’s Canaanite neighbors, where children would
be burned before Molech. The narrative of John 11:50 specifies that Yeshua’s death
concerns “that one man die for the people” (TLV), by necessity requiring us to
recognize that there has certainly been discussion in Second Temple Judaism, and
immediately thereafter, involving the death of a human
person somehow providing atonement or restitution for a situation seen in
Israel. In the Tanach itself, it is seen that the burial of Saul and Jonathan,
enacted some favorable response from God: “And they buried the bones of Saul and of
his son Jonathan in Zela, in the territory of Benjamin, in the tomb of his
father Kish. And when all that the king had commanded was done, God responded to
the plea of the land thereafter” (2 Samuel 21:14, NJPS). The dramatic scene of the
Maccabean martyrs of the Second Century B.C.E., certainly does demonstrate how the
death of faithful Jews was believed to provide some degree of purification for
the sins of apostasy being committed by others: “Be merciful to your people, and
let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my
life in exchange for theirs” (4 Maccabees 6:28-29, RSV). “And through the blood of
those devout ones and their death as an expiation, divine Providence preserved
Israel that previously had been afflicted” (4 Maccabees 17:22, RSV). The
Maccabees themselves viewed their death for Judaism and the Torah along the
lines of the Patriarch Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) willfully offering
himself to die: “[A]nd another reminded them, ‘Remember whence you came, and the father
by whose hand Isaac would have submitted to being slain for the sake of religion'”
(4 Maccabees 13:12, RSV). “For his sake also our father Abraham was zealous
to sacrifice his son Isaac, the ancestor of our nation; and when Isaac saw his
father’s hand wielding a sword and descending upon him, he did not cower” (4
Maccabees 16:20, RSV). It is safe to recognize that the death of Yeshua of
Nazareth was viewed by His First Century Jewish followers, at least partially
along the lines of ancient Jewish martyrs dying for a righteous cause (you
can consider here Romans 5:7-8). In the Mishnah and Talmud, compiled after
the destruction of the Second Temple, discussions about death of human beings,
providing some sort of atonement or restitution for Israel, is surely
witnessed. The Mishnah includes the thought that the death of Achan for his
sin provided a sufficient personal atonement for him to be permitted a
place in the world to come: “For so we find concerning Achan, to whom Joshua said
My son, I pray you, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and confess to him, [and
tell me now what you have done: hide it not from me.] And Achan
answered Joshua and said, Truly have I sinned against the Lord, the God of
Israel, and thus and thus I have done (Josh. 7:19). And how do we know that his
confession achieved atonement for him. For it is said, And Joshua said, Why have
you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day (Josh. 7:25)–This day the
Lord will trouble you, but you will not be troubled in the world to come”
(m.Sanhedrin 6:2). Both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds speak
of how the death of figures in Ancient Israel, such as Miriam or Aaron, could
provide for a degree of atonement for the community: “Said R. Ammi, ‘How come
the story of the death of Miriam is situated adjacent to the passage that
deals with the burning of the red cow? It is to teach you that just as the ashes
of the red cow affect atonement, so the death of the
righteous affects atonement.’ Said R. Eleazer, ‘How come the story of the death
of Aaron is situated adjacent to the passage on the priestly garments [Num.
20:26, 28]? It is to teach you that just as the priest’s garments serve
to effect atonement, so the death of the righteous effects atonement'” (b.Moed Qatan
28a). “Said R. Hiyya bar Ba, ‘The sons of Aaron
died on the first day of Nisan. And why is there death called to mind in
connection with the Day of Atonement? It is to indicate to you that just as the
Day of Atonement effects expiation for Israel, so the death of the righteous
effects atonement for Israel.’ Said R. Ba ba Bina, ‘Why did the Scripture
place the story of the death of Miriam side by side with the story of the
burning of the red cow? It is to teach you that just as the dirt of the red cow
[mixed with water] effects atonement for Israel, so the death of the righteous
effects atonement for Israel'” (y.Yoma 2:1). The death of Yeshua of Nazareth is
nowhere in the Apostolic Writings modeled after any sort of pagan human
sacrifice, but instead would be better understood from the framework of
righteous and godly persons in Israel, having died to affect some sort of
atonement for the people. It is witnessed that there are discussions in Jewish
literature how the death of various human beings, provided for some degree of
spiritual restitution. A lesser option, frequently witnessed among religious
Jews dismissing the Messiahship of Yeshua, is the thought that the Tanach is
silent on the idea of a suffering Messiah. Perhaps
Yeshua of Nazareth was not executed per the dimensions of pagan human sacrifice,
but Yeshua is concluded to have been a failure of a Messiah having died at the
hands of Rome rather than being a triumphant Messiah
against Rome. So, did Judaism at all anticipate the Messiah to suffer and/or
die? From the Tanach Scriptures, those who believe that a suffering Messiah was to
be anticipated, would appeal to how the shedding of blood is required for
atonement of sin (Leviticus 11:17; 16:15-17), connecting it to how the Servant
will be crushed by the Lord (Isaiah 51:10-11) Unlike how the death or martyrdom
of other figures in Israel’s history would provide a degree of atonement or
restitution for the community, the death of Yeshua is believed to be the single
sacrifice that provides atonement for all human transgression (Hebrews 2:16-18; 9:11-15, 22, 28; 10:1-4, 10-14). While it is common to
hear religious Jews today conclude that the Messiah will be a victorious figure
defeating Israel’s enemies, ancient Jewish discussions of the Messiah do
include the death of the Messiah as some component of his arrival. 4 Ezra 7:28-29 in the Apocrypha reflects the view that the Messiah will reign for four hundred
years, and then die: “For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who
are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after
these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath” (4 Ezra 7:28-29, RSV). More compelling to be certain, and working from the framework of the
Messiah Son of Joseph being a servant, is the opinion that this Messiah would be a
victorious warrior who would be killed. This Talmudic discussion invokes
Zechariah 12:10 (quoted in John 19:37) no less: “[With regard to ‘And the land shall
mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives
apart’ (Zec. 12:12),] What was the reason for the morning [to which the
reference is made in Zachariah’s statement]? R. Dosa and rabbis differed on this
matter. One said, ‘It is on account of the Messiah, the son of Joseph, who was killed.’
And the other said, ‘It is on account of the evil inclination, which was killed.’ Now in the view of him who said, ‘It is on account of the Messiah, the son of Joseph,
who was killed,’ we can make sense of the following verse of Scripture: And they
shall look on me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn
for him as one mourns for his only son’ (Zec. 12:10)” (b.Sukkah 52a). Orthodox Judaism today understandably
anticipates the Messiah to come and rebuild the Jerusalem Temple, but how
much of this is an actual feature of the Prophets? The Prophets explicitly
anticipate the Messianic Age to be preceded by and/or involve: the regathering
of the exiles (correction: Isaiah 11:10-11), an abolition of war (Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-9), the nations of Planet Earth coming to Zion and participating in Israel’s
restoration (Isaiah 19:16-25; 42:1-7; 49:5-7), and the restoration
of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 33:10-11). Each of these themes, to various degrees are
witnessed in the writings of Yeshua’s Apostles. Yeshua of Nazareth actually
arrived on the scene during the standing and operation of the Second Temple, and
the Prophets of Israel actually spoke during the standing of either the First
or Second Temples. It has to be recognized how Ezekiel chs. 44-46
speaks of a future prince coming to the Temple, which is often viewed with
Messianic overtones. Zechariah 6:12-13 does speak of the Branch building the
Temple, and occupying both a priestly and kingly role. Yet nothing is specifically
communicated about how the Temple is reconstructed, whether it is
reconstructed before or subsequent to the Messiah’s arrival. As is typical in
prophecy, much is left open. Some interpreters
direct the Messianic significance of the Temple, in more of a spiritual direction
as representative of a cleansed, corporate people of God. Malachi 1:11,
among other passages, might be offered to represent a Temple-style of adoration
for Israel’s God inaugurated by the activity of the Messiah: “For from where
the sun rises to where it sets, My name is honored among the nations, and
everywhere incense and pure oblation are offered to My name; for My name is
honored among the nations–said the LORD of Hosts” (NJPS). That the Temple features in
association with the activity of the Messiah is clear, but whether the Messiah
must rebuild the Temple is open to discussion. Much more serious than the
factors involving the Temple, is the expectation that the arrival of the
Messiah would inaugurate an era of worldwide peace and tranquility. Aryeh
Kaplan is forthright in his conclusion, “The first task of the Messiah is
to redeem Israel from exile and servitude. In doing so he will also
redeem the entire world from evil. Oppression, suffering, war and all forms
of godlessness will be abolished. Mankind will thus be perfected, and man’s sins
against G-d, as well as his transgression against fellow man, will be eliminated.
All forms of warfare and strife between nations will
also vanish in the Messianic age.” Much of what he has just communicated is
represented in the traditional Amidah prayer: “We therefore hope in thee, O Lord our
God, that we may speedily behold the glory of thy might, when thou wilt remove
the abominations from the earth, and heathendom will be utterly destroyed,
when the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty, and all the
children of flesh will call upon thy Name, when thou wilt turn unto thyself
all the evil-doers upon earth. Let all the inhabitants of the world perceive
and know that unto thee every knee must bow, every tongue must swear allegiance.
Before thee, O Lord our God, let them bow and worship; and unto thy glorious Name
let them give honour; let them all accept the yoke of thy kingdom, and do thou
reign over them speedily, and for ever and ever. For the kingdom is thine, and to all
eternity thou wilt reign in glory; as it is
written in thy Torah, THE LORD SHALL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER [Exodus 15:18]. And
it is said, AND THE LORD SHALL BE KING OVER ALL THE EARTH: IN THAT DAY SHALL THE LORD BE ONE, AND HIS NAME ONE [Zechariah 14:9].” The most avid Believers in Yeshua of
Nazareth, as the anticipated Messiah, have to objectively recognize that His
arrival in the First Century did not bring a cessation of war and conflict on
Planet Earth. Is the lack of peace on Earth today decisive evidence against
Yeshua of Nazareth being the Messiah? A huge stress of the Apostolic Writings,
employing the Tanach’s Messianic expectations and various thoughts in
Second Temple Judaism, is that the Messiah functions in a dual role of
suffering, as well as establishing His Kingdom. Isaiah 49:7, for example, depicts
a despised servant, who will yet be universally recognized as supreme: “Thus
said HASHEM, the Redeemer of Israel and their Holy One, to the despised soul, to
the one loathed by nations, to the servant of rulers: Kings will see [you] and
arise; officers will prostrate themselves, because HASHEM, Who is faithful, and the
Holy One of Israel, Who has chosen you” (ATS). That the initiation of the Messianic Age
of total peace and tranquility may be a transitionary process, is something which
has to be considered. A mainstay of Second Temple Jewish thought is that “the
Most High has made not one world but two” (4 Ezra 7:50, RSV), the two ages. Concurrent
with this, Paul communicated in Galatians 1:4 that the work of Yeshua was “to
rescue us from this present evil age” (TLV). Within Apostolic thought, the
resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (Romans 1:4) was believed to introduce the
powers and realities of the future age to come, into the present evil age. While
Planet Earth itself may find itself in the present evil age of war and
injustice, Yeshua’s supernatural work enables His followers to be regarded as
people of the future age to come, individually participating in its
realities of peace and righteousness now, with it to be fully culminated in the
future–most notably the general resurrection of the dead (Daniel 12:1-2). Yeshua’s followers today are to experience the shalom and tranquility
that is to one day be universally manifested. Yeshua’s followers, for
example, experience in their individual selves (Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17) the New Covenant realities that corporate Israel will fully experience
in the future (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Jewish anti-missionaries, who
oppose the Messiahship of Yeshua of Nazareth, will commonly conclude that the
early Christians invented the idea of a “Second Coming,”
where Messianic expectations not accomplished by Yeshua in the First
Century C.E. are pawned off on some future event–mainly the goals of total
cessation of war and world peace. As Norman
Asher puts it, “Missionaries respond with their ‘second coming’
theory, which asserts that Jesus will accomplish everything when he comes ‘next
time,'” and it is often concluded among Jewish examiners today that the idea of
the Second Coming is absent from the Tanach. Yet, much of this involves one’s
presuppositions, and ultimately comes down to interpretation. The Evangelical
Dictionary of Theology entry for the Second Coming notes a few factors: “The
second coming is a topic of progressive revelation. While there are allusions in
the OT to the second coming, they are not clear and explicit, and
consequently the Jewish rabbis found the Messianic references apparently
contradictory. On the one hand, they seem to depict the coming of the Messiah as
triumphant and powerful. On the other hand, this Messiah appeared as the
suffering servant (Isa. 53, etc.). What were actually two comings had been
collapsed into one…” Protestant theologians will often just conclude
that the Second Coming was not something fully revealed in the Tanach, and could
only be known via the principle of progressive progressive revelation, “In
many and various ways long ago God spoke to our ancestors by the prophets” (Hebrews
1:1, PME). What is not convenient for Jewish anti-missionaries to ignore, is how the
concept of the Second Coming of Yeshua of Nazareth–to defeat His enemies,
restore Israel’s Kingdom, and oversee a Messianic Age of cessation of war and
peace on Earth–was indeed birthed out of Second Temple Jewish apocalypticism. The
figure of the Messiah was to be a major catalyst of change, for both Israel and
the nations. But was this change supposed to be primarily political, or was this
change supposed to be instead spiritual and eschatological? Was this change
supposed to mainly concern the restoration of Israel’s autonomy, or
instead inaugurate the restoration of the Edenic world lost at the beginning
of human history? The Dictionary of New Testament Background indicates how
Second Temple Judaism included ideas of what it labels as both restorative and
utopian Messianism: “During the Second Temple period there
were at least two main types of Jewish messianism, restorative and utopian
messianism. Restorative messianism anticipated the
restoration of the Davidic monarchy and centered on an expectation of the
improvement and perfection of the present world through natural
development (Pss. Sol. 17) and modeled on an idealized historical
period; the memory of the past is projected into the future. Utopian
messianism anticipated future era which would surpass
everything previously known. Jewish messianism tended to focus, not on the
restoration of a dynasty, but on a single messianic king sent by God to restore
the fortunes of Israel. However, as a theocratic symbol, the Messiah is
dispensable, since a Messiah is not invariably
part of all Jewish eschatological expectation. No such figure, for example,
plays a role in the eschatological scenarios of Joel, Isaiah 24-27, Daniel,
Sirach, Jubilees, the Testament of Moses, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees,
Wisdom, 1 Enoch 1-36 (the Book of the Watchers, 90-104 (the Epistle
of Enoch), 2 Enoch.” With ideas of the Messiah being a political ruler, or being
the initiator of some idealized world lost millennia ago, it is hardly a
surprise to see the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth and the theology of His
early followers, find a median place within such opinions and speculation. And
within a spectrum of thought from the Messiah being one who would principally
restore Israel’s autonomy, to being the initiator of an Edenic idealism, a theology
of return by a Second Coming would have emerged via the Jewish view of the two
ages. The entry on “Apocalypticism” in the Dictionary of New Testament Background
further concludes, “There is little consistency in Jewish
apocalyptic regarding the arrival of the kingdom of God.
It was conceptualized by some as the arrival of an eternal kingdom, but by
others as a temporary messianic kingdom which would be succeeded by an eternal
kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24). The conception of a temporary messianic
kingdom which would function as a transition between the present evil age
and the age to come, between monarchy and theocracy, solved the problem of how the
transition from the Messiah to the reign of God (where such a conception is
present) might be conceived. In Jewish apocalyptic thought generally, the
kingdom of God is more centrally important than the figure of a Messiah. A
messianic interregnum, therefore, functions as an anticipation of the
perfect and eternal theocratic state which will exist when primordial
conditions are reinstated forever. This interim kingdom was expected to be
transitional since it is depicted as combining some of the characteristics of
this age with those of the age to come. In Christian apocalypticism this
anticipation of a temporary messianic kingdom is clearly reflected in
Revelation 20:4-6, and according to some scholars is also
reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:22-28. The expectation of a future temporary
messianic kingdom is found in only three early Jewish apocalypses, the
Apocalypse of Weeks, or 1 Enoch 91:12-17, 93:1-10 (written c. A.D. 90), and 2 Baruch 29:3-30:1; 40:1-4; 72:2-74:3 (written c. A.D. 110).” Planet Earth is presently not experiencing the time when “Nation shall
not take up sword against nation; they shall never again no war” (Micah 4:3, NJPS). This is something that restorative
Messianism would have expected. The essential spiritual reality represented
by this word, however, is something which followers of Yeshua believe is
accessible today, in the hearts of His own–not too unlike utopian Messianism.
Yet, being people of the future age to come in the present evil age, such a
reality that is present in the lives of Yeshua’s followers, will be a global
reality at some point in the future. The idea of a Second Coming is something
that can be said to be a product of Second Temple Jewish apocalypticism. While there are many, many details to be
explored within the context of passages from the Tanach, it is fair enough to say
that Yeshua being regarded as the Messiah by many First Century Jews, was
something that took place in conjunction with a number of the extant theological
opinions and discussions. If you all found this content enjoyable
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