Your letter was quite thoughtful and I would like to respond as best as I can, for these are the questions that I asked when I was first thinking about becoming a follower of Yeshua.
The truth of Christianity – that Jesus is the promised Messiah – which is what Christianity is all about, is based upon His fulfilling the prophecies of the Messiah detailed in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, I would say that if Jesus is not the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures – He not only does not qualify as the Messiah for Jewish people, but He could not possibly the Messiah for the Gentiles either.
There are many reasons why I believed in Jesus as a 19-year-old Jewish guy. My two best friends – both Jewish – accepted Jesus and I saw the way their lives were transformed. Through their influence, I began reading the New Testament and was stunned to find out how Jewish it was. It became clear that Jesus was Jewish, as were His disciples.
But ultimately, the questions I had to ask myself are the very questions you’re asking. Because, assuming the Hebrew Scriptures are the Word of God and they describe the Messiah to come, it would only make sense that the only way Jesus could possibly be proven to be the Messiah of Israel is for these prophecies to point to Him.
Perhaps we could divide the prophecies of the Messiah, contained in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New, into two broad categories. The first category would be the Person of the Messiah. The second set of prophecies might focus more on the Work of Messiah.
The Hebrew Scriptures describe the person of the Messiah, His birth, His tribe, His family background, the city in which He would be born, the time of His birth and His Deity, which understandably is not really accepted in Jewish circles.
The second set of prophecies involve his work as the Messiah. This would include prophecies of His miracles, His death and resurrection for our sin, His future role as King of Israel and much more.
First let’s look at His Person.
It is important to read Genesis chapter 12, verses 1-3 to begin to understand why the Jewish people were chosen and what we were chosen for. You can compare this with Deuteronomy chapter 7, Exodus chapter 19, verses 4-5 and a number of other of passages where you will see that God chose the Jewish people to be servants or a light to the Gentiles. It’s always been God’s intention to bring blessing to the world through the Jewish people. This is why we were chosen.
Therefore, it’s obvious that the Messiah would have to be a descendent of Abraham in order to be the conduit of blessings to the world.
In addition, the Messiah would have to be a descendent of Isaac and Jacob. So all of the prophecies regarding the creation and calling of the Jewish people are fulfilled in the Messiah, as He is the ultimate instrument God will use to bring the blessings of redemption to the world.
We also learn from Genesis 49:10 that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. Second Samuel chapter 7 is where we discover that the Messiah would come from the house of David. And Micah chapter 5, verse 2 tells us that He will be born in Bethlehem. You will also notice that the Jewish leader to be born in Bethlehem will have divine origins. Study the text and I think you’ll see this to be the case.
Now on to His Work.
What was the Messiah supposed to do and for whom? Many theologians speak about three anointed offices within Israel; the Prophet, the Priest and the King. If Jesus is to be the Anointed One (the translation of Messiah), He would have to combine all three offices in one person.
Jesus must be the ultimate prophet, priest and king of Israel. The term Messiah means to “pour out” and it is a reference to the anointing oil being poured over the heads of those who hold any of these three leadership offices in the Jewish community. The New Testament indicates that He does fulfill all three anointed offices.
In Deuteronomy chapter 18, verse 15 and following we see a prediction by Moses that a greater prophet than he would come to Israel and that the children of Israel must obey him.
Jesus of course spoke prophetically in many passages, such as Matthew chapter 24 and other places. He is the ultimate prophet of Israel.
Jesus is also the priest. It was the job of the priests to intercede between sinful man and a holy God. He did this by offering prayers and sacrifices at the Temple. If you take a passage like Isaiah chapter 53 and study it carefully you’ll see something that is not part of our common Jewish understanding of the role of the Messiah.
In Judaism today, we focus on much of what Christians refer to as the second coming. We’re looking forward to King Messiah, but we forget that there’s a Priest Messiah as well. Isaiah chapter 53 makes this clear as we see that the Messiah, although He’s not explicitly named as the Messiah, would die on behalf of the sins of the Jewish people.
If you go back to Isaiah chapter 52, verse 12 and following, which is really where this passage begins, you get a better sense that this individual who dies is not simply an average person. He is, in fact, the “servant of the Lord,” which is sometimes used synonymously with the Messiah, especially in this section of Isaiah. As you probably know, Jewish tradition claims that Isaiah chapter 53 relates to the nation of Israel as a whole. But the personal pronouns and, in particular verse eight, does not allow for this. Look it over and study for yourself and see what conclusions you come to.