The Christian Era (abbreviated "CE"), which Jews call the Common Era (also "CE"), began with the birth of a man whose Hebrew name was Yeshua. Although this name is not at all difficult for English speakers to pronounce, the King James translators of the Bible chose to take his name from the Greek New Testament, in which book he was called "Iasous". This name, for reasons which are not entirely clear, became "Jesus" in England.
The name "Jesus" is too far removed from "Yeshua" to be considered a proper translation, but it is also too overwhelmingly popular to possibly avoid using. This account of his life therefore accedes to peer pressure and employs the English pseudonym, Jesus.
As we shall see, Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth, was unequivocally the Jewish Messiah, provided that we define the word "Messiah" precisely as the Bible does. In the Greek language the word "Messiah" is rendered "Christus" (the "Ch-" being a guttural sound), a word with disturbingly pagan connotations, but one which, again, is overwhelmingly popular, so much as to defy all efforts to avoid its use.
The following is largely excerpted from the book "Whoever You Thought You Were ... You're A Jew!", which was never published in English. At the time it was written, I thought it expedient to conform to common usage, and therefore Yeshua the Messiah is referred to as "Jesus Christ" throughout.
Jesus Christ stands at the heart of history -- everyone's history.
His denial, which was in fulfillment of scripture, has come to lie at the heart of modern-day Jewish tradition; a negative tradition which has come to rival even observance of the Jewish Law itself in importance. Consequently, even though it has been in a negative sense, it can truly be said that from one point of view, Jesus has been the focus of Judaism for 2000 years.
In stark contrast to this, Jesus' affirmation, as not only man but as God, has been the very centerpiece of Christian worship.
And his affirmation, as man but not as God, has been the very heart of Islam, since Muslims believe that it was Christ who sent Muhammad to them.
The Christ of this Web Site
There are so many views of Christ that it may perhaps be said that "every man has his own Christ". I know I have mine. Mine is a Jewish Christ. The same is the man who said
"Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled". (Matthew 5:18)
That is why themovements of the Jews in Diaspora were chronicled elsewhere in this Web Site; to show you that they went literally everywhere, and gave rise to all modern forms of religious worship. If I can persuade you that Christ is, first and foremost, a Jew -- not only a Jew but an Orthodox Jew -- then I will have succeeded in making you see that he is a Christ for all places, for all people, and for all times.
The Christ of Biblical Prophecy
My understanding of Christ began, as did the world's understanding of him, with the word of God as recorded in the Bible. The first critical prophecy; one whose significance is agreed upon by both Christian and Muslims, is the 53rd Chapter of the Book of Isaiah -- the biography of Jesus Christ.
Jews, of course, emphatically deny this. But, if one lays down a copy of the King James traditional Christian Bible alongside a copy of any Hebrew-English translation, one is struck by the similarity of the two. Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, and word-for-word, the Christian and Jewish versions of the Bible are almost in complete agreement. Except, that is, when one encounters one of those occasional passages which are, from the Christian standpoint, Christological in nature.
Here, all of a sudden, the Jewish and Christian translations diverge. They don't merely diverge, in fact, but they careen wildly in opposite directions. To one who understands the basis of these disagreements, this wild careening in opposite directions can be highly amusing. Historically, however, the results of these disagreements have often been highly tragic.
Consider, for example, Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus while he was dying on the cross. It opens "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" -- no matter whose version you read. But when you get to verse 16 (17 in the Hebrew version), the Christian "they pierced my hands and feet" -- a seemingly unmistakable reference to the crucifixion, becomes the Hebrew "they watched my hands and feet as though I were a lion". Most assuredly, it's a long way from the "cross" to the "lion"!
If one studies such passages in Hebrew, one finds that ambiguities of the Hebrew language lie at the root of Jewish-Christian disagreements. In the majority of such cases, the problem is that ancient written Hebrew had no vowels -- only consonants. The pronunciation of words, and, or course, the meanings of those words, were generally made perfectly clear by the context of the sentence. But when, as in Psalm 22, the context does not make the correct translation perfectly clear, there is usually no possibility of resolving the problem. Thus, we are left with irreconcilable schools of thought, based solely on opinion.
It's almost as if God, seeking an earnest repentance of sin, and a complete acceptance of Himself on His own merits, will not give us the luxury of incontrovertible scriptural evidence, but rather has intentionally left the matter unsettled, so that in the end it will become a question of faith.
None of this, however, has anything to do with Chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah. Although Hebrew-to-English translators have labored mightily to obscure its meaning, it has been almost impossible to do so. Instead, Jews simply ignore it. It's never read by Jews -- never.
The Jewish denial of Isaiah 53 has been quite deliberate. The authors of this Jewish national policy knew what they were doing, and what they did, they did for good reasons. Jesus himself said
"And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." (Matthew 12:32)
The Christians proclaimed that Jesus was God. Although it is well-established that many Jews believed that Jesus was Messiah, there was much doubt about the doctrine of his divinity. Surely, the rabbis decided, it was safer to deny him, which would be forgiven, than to risk denying God Himself, which would result in eternal damnation.
We shall, presently, examine the issues of Messiahship and divinity. Right now, however, we must turn to the words of Isaiah directly. There is no hope of brevity in an examination of this prophecy. So, without further ado, let us review the whole thing:
1. Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
2. For he shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Clearly, these passages describe a messenger of God who will fulfill the following criteria:
This prophecy, of his coming, will not be believed.
He will not be recognized when he comes.
He will not be accepted, but despised.
He will be killed by God, even though the sins he will die for are ours.
"...and with his stripes we are healed" ... Therefore, acceptance of the fact that he died for our sins will bring healing to many who are sick.
"All we like sheep have gone astray"; therefore his message is for all, not just for some.
He will not raise a finger of protest when he is murdered.
He will be imprisoned, but will be taken abruptly out and condemned to death without a fair trial.
He will be executed and buried. His burial will be not in a potter's field, but in a place reserved for the upper classes.
He will not, at any time, have either injured anyone, killed anyone, or told any lies.
This will all be done according to God's plan, with Whom the responsibility ultimately rests.
The acceptance of his death as a sacrifice (an "offering" for sin) will bring fruition to God's plan.
He will know, before his death, that his ministry has succeeded, and that it was not in error.
He will be forever remembered because he fulfilled God's plan of his own free will.
He will be joined with a group of exalted great ones. Whether these are people or angels cannot be determined from the verse.
It will be immediately evident to anyone who is familiar with the life of Jesus of Nazareth that Chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah is a biography of that life.
For the first thousand years of the so-called "Christian Era", there were considerable numbers of Jewish followers of Jesus. But these virtually disappeared from the face of the earth after the Crusades.
Modern Jewish scholars argue that the chapter refers not to the Messiah, but to the entire nation of Israel. In other words (they now say) it is Israel which will be despised and rejected. Therefore, they say, this passage is not Messianic at all. Furthermore, since the nation of Israel was always despised and rejected, the commentary is totally superfluous now, as it was when it was written. That is why it is never read in synagogues. It simply doesn't say anything worth repeating!
It is self-evident, however, that such a view represents a significant departure from a previous interpretation. Let us assume the worst -- that Jesus was a total fraud, who willingly died on the cross just for the thrill of having a moment of fame. Ask yourself this: Would a man give his life for a cause that no one knew about?
That is, if no one in Israel regarded Chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah as being Messianic, would Jesus have unhesitatingly given his life, hoping desperately that after his death, everyone would re-read Chapter 53 and conclude that it was about him? I think not!
Obviously, the point of view that Isaiah 53 is about the "entire nation of Israel" is a new view, and has replaced an older point of view which was, at some point in history, rejected as being "Christological".
Modern Jewish commentaries on Isaiah 53 endeavor mightily to persuade the reader that Israel, being the only nation to follow the "true religion", is and always has been less sinful than all other nations (i.e., nations which follow Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.). Therefore, say the Jewish commentators, when Israel suffers at the hands of the other nations (as she always has, most recently at the hands of the Germans), it cannot be for Israel's own sins, but must be for the sins of her tormentors, who are morally even worse than Israel herself.
This is sheer nonsense!!! What prophet ever held Israel to be without sin? Consider the following:
Isaiah 1:1 "The vision of Isaiah ... which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem ... (1:4): 'Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters; they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward'".
Jeremiah 1:14 "Then the Lord said unto me ... (1:16) I will utter my judgments against them(i.e., Israel) touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands."
Ezekiel 3:17 "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel ... give them warning from me... (19) Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turns not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity..."
Daniel 9:5 "We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thine judgments".
The "Minor Prophets", from Hosea to Malachi, agree. Look back at Isaiah 53:9 (..."because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth..."). Now ask yourself: is this really about the entire nation of Israel? No violence? No deceit? Here's what the "Minor Prophets" said:
Hosea 4:1-2: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel; for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery they break out, and blood toucheth blood."
Malachi 1:1 "The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel ... (1:6-7) 'A son honoreth his father, and a servant his master; if, then I be a father, where is mine honor? And if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible'."
Based on these passages, it hardly seems likely that the author of Isaiah 53 was referring to the entire nation of Israel.
Having taken the trouble to quote all the above Prophets, however, I must now reveal to you that there actually is a way to see Chapter 53 as being about the nation of Israel, and not about a single man. This way involves the concept of a remnant: a pure, unspoiled, untainted subset of world Jewry -- an exalted minority whose people have never fallen into the sinful ways of the Jewish common masses.
The sections of the Bible dealing with the End Times are replete with references to this remnant. Most of these references are quite explicit, stating, in straightforward language, that the End will be a time of severe trouble, but that a remnant of Israel will be raised up. One of the most important such prophecies, although somewhat dense in its complexity, is found in Isaiah, Chapter 6. This is the famous vision of Isaiah, in which he was brought up to the presence of the Lord, and charged with a rather singular task (which we shall describe shortly).
Before being charged with this special task, Isaiah saw and heard Seraphim (flaming angels), who chanted in unison "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory". This is one of the most familiar lines in the entire Hebrew liturgy. Orthodox Jews recite this line a minimum of twice a day, virtually every day of their lives. It is therefore somewhat surprising that the rest of this brief chapter is read only once each year. Even then (if my experience is any guide), it is not likely to be discussed at any great length. The words of the Prophet Isaiah:
I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
And He said, "Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not."
"Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed."
Then said I, "Lord, how long?" And He answered, "Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land."
"But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: ...as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof." (Isaiah 6:8-13)
What's this?! The holy Prophet is to shut their eyes and ears; to prevent these people from attaining understanding? That's surely the face-value meaning of the text. Why would God want to do that?
And what about that last paragraph? It's a bit dense, but if you study it closely, you'll see that what it's saying is that God will preserve only a small remnant of the people, perhaps literally 10% ("a tenth"), perhaps less. As an oak tree casts its leaves every fall, leaving only the life-force within the trunk, so will Israel be continually debrided; continually cut off, leaving only a remnant behind.
The English translation found in the popular Hertz version of the Hebrew Pentateuch and Haftorahs renders the same verse as follows:
And if there be yet a tenth in it, it shall again be eaten up; as ...an oak, whose [trunk]* remaineth, when they cast their leaves, so the holy seed shall be the [trunk] thereof. (Isaiah 6:13)
*Hertz actually says "stock". I presume that the validity of the substitution of the word "trunk" is self-evident.
Surely, it sounds, at first glance, as if God intends to punish the larger part of Jewry, sparing only an exalted remnant for an extraordinary destiny. God doesn't even want the others to be healed. And what is it that the eyes and ears of the Jews are to be closed to?
I would not pretend to have authoritative knowledge about the "one true meaning" of Isaiah 6. I merely wish to show you the plainest interpretation, and to document the existence in the Bible of mention of an exalted remnant of Israel. Now we may return to our consideration of Isaiah 53.
Without a doubt, if Isaiah 53 is about the nation of Israel, it must be about this exalted remnant, since all others are heavily burdened by sin. Does not Isaiah say, of the suffering servant, that "for the transgression of my people was he stricken ... because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:9-10)? It is inconceivable that this refers to the large mass of commoners, since they were roundly condemned as sinners by all the Prophets.
This point of view, that Isaiah 53 is about the exalted remnant of Israel, was championed by the Karaites, an ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism which arose about the same time as the Talmud, and went to war against it. It will probably not surprise you to find out that the Karaites regarded themselves as the exalted remnant. We shall have more to say about the Karaites presently.
I find much merit in the Karaite point of view about Isaiah 53. But since I consider Jesus Christ to be the single most significant visible manifestation of the exalted remnant who has so far appeared, I find no contradiction between the Karaite and Christian points of view!
On the other hand, to say that Chapter 53 is about the entire nation of Israel, without any qualifiers, is utterly without logical or scriptural basis.
Was prophecy really fulfilled, or did it just look that way?
In the modern age, where 100% of rabbis say that Chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah is not a Messianic prophecy, but rather a triviality of some sort, the fact of suppression of older opinion is evident. Whether this was a minority or majority opinion in 32 AD is impossible to determine now, but the fact that a pre-existing opinion has been suppressed seems virtually certain.
But even if it is conceded that some ancient rabbis accepted Isaiah 53 as being an explicit Messianic prophecy, Jewish critics of Christianity are quick to argue that Jesus and his disciples merely contrived to make it look like his life was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Indeed, for the non-believer, it would not be difficult to find evidence to bolster this point of view (see, for example, Matthew 21:1-7, where Jesus and his disciples go out of their way to obtain a donkey upon which he shall ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, explicitly for the purpose of fulfilling scripture).
Unfortunately, such arguments against Christ have no validity whatsoever. They suggest that a person who has fulfilled a Biblical prophecy must be ignorant that he has done so. But the various prophecies concerning the coming of a Messiah were known to most well-educated Jews, and to insist that a Messiah had to be illiterate is obviously absurd. Besides, the same critics who reject Jesus because he was not illiterate also reject the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, because he was illiterate! Oughtn't we be consistent?
Additionally, the existing historical writings from the period between Isaiah and Christ suggest that numerous false messiahs came and went -- not to mention the latter-day false messiahs who have disturbed the peace of the "modern" era. If, in the midst of fraud so large in magnitude, but so lacking in substance, one and one only has come and still not gone after 2000 years, then such a thing ought not to be casually dismissed. Jesus is that "one and one only"; there simply has been no other.
Equally compelling is the evidence of the fact that as a result of Jesus' ministry, a billion Christians and another billion Muslims were brought from idolatry to God. "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time", said Abraham Lincoln. The Word of God was brought to the world, and now, 2000 years later, it is still alive and growing, not shrinking! If this is an error, then I suppose the whole world could be held to be one gigantic error.
In the whole history of our civilization, I know of nothing which documents that any Jew has ever accepted Christ without ultimately winding up being pulled into the mazes of either Christian or Islamic dogma. I, for one, intend to do so. If you wish to join me, be forewarned that you may, in doing so, render yourself utterly unacceptable to either Jews, Christians, or Muslims. You may find yourself standing alone.
If you're still interested, let us now begin to work our way through the perilous minefields of Christological lore and see whether or not we can find the Jewish Christ, whom I spoke of in the beginning of this chapter.
The story of Christ begins with the Messianic prophecies. We have already quoted one which explicitly refers to the life of Jesus (Isaiah, Chapter 53). Certain others will be dealt with later.
To see Christianity as an historical phenomenon, we must continue to consider the history of Israel itself. We have gotten as far as the 6th century BC, the time of the Babylonian Captivity. This came to an end in 523 BC, when the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews to return home.
After the nation, and the Temple in Jerusalem, had been rebuilt, there were about 3 centuries of relative peace in Israel. Although there is precious little written history of this most important period, it is evident in retrospect that exciting new ideas were developing; ideas which were to come to be the backbone of Christianity and Islam, and to be rejected (or at least ultimately ignored) by Jews. These were ideas about resurrection after death, judgment by God, and eternal life for those judged worthy.
The first books we know of which incorporated the new ideas were the Books of the Maccabees. It is evident from passages like 2 Maccabees 12:42-45 that the new concepts, of resurrection and judgment, were already fully formed at that time. In this passage, the author describes a money offering made on behalf of men who had fallen in battle, and who had been found afterwards to have been wearing amulets sacred to the "idols of Jamnia, objects forbidden to Jews by the law". With the disposition of these fallen men in the next world in mind,
...The noble Judas[Maccabee] exhorted the people to keep themselves free from wrongdoing, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen.
He levied a contribution from each man, and sent to Jerusalem the total of two thousand silver drachmas to provide a sin-offering; a fit and proper act in which he took due account of the resurrection.
Had he not been expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and senseless to pray for the dead; but since he had in view the splendid reward reserved for those who die a godly death, his purpose was holy and devout. That was why he offered the atoning sacrifice, to free the dead from their sin. (II Maccabees 12:42-45)
The Maccabeean author's obvious acceptance of "Christian" ideas undoubtedly accounts for the fact that Jews have celebrated Hanukkah with fervent enthusiasm for over two millennia, but have steadfastly refused to extend official recognition to the Books of Maccabees, even in spite of the fact that they are the most important historical sources for this immensely significant period.
Returning to history, we may note that the beginning of the end of relative peace in Israel occurred when Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East (334-332 BC). Although he was a conqueror, the available information suggests that he was not at all hated, and that, on the contrary, he had a sincere respect for Judaism. For another century, the Jewish nation continued to prosper in peace as a territory of the fragmented Greek Empire. But in 176 BC the bubble of happiness burst, with the rise of that most evil of Kings, Antiochus Epiphanes.
Antiochus decided to force the whole world to be Greek, and he set out with a vengeance to stamp out every religion and culture which differed from his own. Although many Jews went along with "Hellenization" willingly, others resisted, some even unto death.
As the Second Book of Maccabees vividly documents, the tortures which Antiochus submitted the Jewish people to were so horrible that they remain shocking to this day. If you can find a copy of the Bible which contains Maccabees, read 2 Maccabees, Chapters 6 and 7. The atrocities described in these chapters will turn your stomach, even if you thought yourself to be totally inured by years of sick, sadistic cinema from Hollywood. Consider, for example, the case of a woman whom tradition has named "Hannah", who watched Antiochus' henchmen murder each of her seven sons, while she was forced to look on. Their crime? They refused to eat pork.
Each, in turn, was subjected to the following tortures: They were first scourged with whips, then their tongues were cut out. Next they were scalped (hey, I thought the American Indians invented that!) and castrated ("mutilated" is how the original Greek is usually translated). Finally, they were thrown, still alive, into huge frying pans and slowly burned to death.
None of the seven sons ate pork! They all died, and their mother followed. When I read about these tortures devised by Antiochus, I felt, in my heart, that I was reading about depravity which has never been exceeded (although perhaps matched). This struck me as the ultimate depth of evil -- a singleminded and wholehearted devotion; not to God, or to science, or to art ... but to torture, and to murder, and to every other conceivable crime against God and man -- utterly without any redeeming quality.
The fear engendered by these atrocities reaches out across the ocean of time. It is apparent that this evil spirit is not dead, but remains very much alive in the world today. If, by any standard under the sun, these "punishments" for the "crime" of not eating pork can be held to be valid simply because they were issued by a ruling "authority" figure, then what merit do any of us have, that we should be spared such torment?
But let's get back to history. Antiochus was the most powerful military tyrant of his day, and he "got away" with all his crimes against individuals. But when he put a statue of Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem, he made a serious error.
The Maccabean Revolt
The response to the defilement of the Temple was not long in coming. In the town of Modin, 23 miles northwest of Jerusalem, the local priest, Mattathias, rebelled. A Greek soldier showed up in town, under orders to force the people to sacrifice to the Greek gods. Mattathias refused. When one of the townspeople rose up to comply with the order, Mattathias became incensed. He drew his sword and slew the traitor. Then he cut down the Greek soldier also, and tore down the pagan alter.
In reviewing the story of Mattathias and his sons (who came to be called "the Maccabees"), one is immediately impressed with the similarity of the position of Mattathias, the patriarch of this extraordinary family, to that of Elijah of the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the civil war. Just as Elijah was the last Jew in the Northern Kingdom to speak and act for God, so was Mattathias perhaps the last Jew with the courage to stand up to Greece. He was the savior of Israel. One may speculate as one wishes to speculate: There is no evidence whatsoever that if Mattathias, in 168 B.C., had not struck down that Greek soldier, thus triggering civil war against the pagan Greek Empire, there would be a single Jew, Christian, or Muslim in the world today.
The Maccabees, with a small army of untrained, ill-equipped men, defeated a much larger force of professional mercenaries who were sent to quell this rebellion. In response the Greeks sent an army of 47,000 soldiers, but the Maccabees, with only 3000 men, each one filled with fiery determination to serve God, beat a contingency of 6000 of them. The rest fled! The following year the Greeks sent 65,000 soldiers, but Maccabee, with 10,000 men, again put them to shame.
The Greeks were thoroughly humbled and humiliated. So they put together an army of 120,000 men and 32 war elephants. The Jews fought valiantly, but found themselves besieged in Jerusalem. Then word came of an attempt by Antiochus' second-in-command, Philip, to usurp the throne in their capital city, Antioch. So the Greeks made a hasty peace treaty with the Jews and promptly returned home! As faith in God had turned back the Assyrians from the gates of Jerusalem centuries earlier, so once again did faith turn back the Greeks.
But it was evident that the Jews could not win by force of arms. No matter how many glorious military victories they obtained, it had become clear that the Greeks would always send a bigger army. What were they to do?
They made a treaty with Rome.
Israel as a Roman Province
No sooner did Israel sign a treaty with Rome, then the Greeks were promptly expelled. The Maccabbees had won -- or had they?
What Greece could not do with unrestrained physical brutality and the shameless shedding of innocent blood, Rome finally succeeded in doing with the Devil's favorite tool -- money. Rome never attempted to physically exterminate religion. She simply laughed at it. Then she bought it. Once it was hers, she corrupted it.
When the Jews, in the first century A.D., came to the full realization that they had been bought and corrupted, they rebelled. But at that point in time they had become hopelessly divided, and in any event, they could not possibly have stood up to Rome. In 70 A.D., the Temple and the nation were decimated.
Those who wished to remain Jewish had to flee for their lives. Unlike the exile decreed by Babylon, this one was destined to last for 2000 years. The ancient nation of Israel was over, and the Jewish people were scattered abroad, across the face of the earth.
The divisions in Israel which eventually led to its final destruction began immediately after the Maccabeean victories. In the first place, the High Priesthood fell into the hands of the Maccabees, which caused tremendous resentment from certain quarters. A split arose, which eventually became formalized in the appearance of two political parties. One of these political parties was known as the Sadducees. In principle, its members were firmly adherent to the teachings of the written Torah, and they generally refused to accept "oral law" or tradition as having any validity. In practice, however, it is ironic that the Sadducees were the upper class; wealthy, arrogant, and, as such, inclined to compromise with Rome.
In other words, they refused to compromise the ideals of Judaism with Jews, but they did so with Romans. They thus came to be despised by the masses!
The other political party was the Pharisees. While revering the Torah, the Pharisees also accepted the necessity of adhering to certain "oral laws" and other non-Torah-based Jewish traditions in order to accommodate to the ever-changing realities of life in the world. Ironically, this party, in spite of its acceptance of the need for change, was the party of hatred of Rome. Apparently, Rome was not the sort of "change" the Pharisees were looking for!
The Pharisees were therefore also the party of "the people", because most of the common folks shared with them a profound hatred of Rome.
In addition to this political split, there was another split which was purely spiritual. This was the split with regard to the question of resurrection. The wealthy and worldly Sadducees rejected all notions of resurrection of the body after death, since the Bible did not say anything about it. But another idea, not fully embodied in any particular Jewish scripture, had arisen, and had found much support among certain of the Pharisees. This idea, stated explicitly in the Books of the Maccabees, was that man, after death, is resurrected by God, and judged according to his deeds in life.
Along with the idea of resurrection and judgment was the perception, which was a correct perception, that the war against the Greeks, which had now become transformed into a war against Rome, could no longer be won by military force. Every time the Jews defeated a Greek army, the Greeks simply sent a larger force. Now the enemy had been multiplied overwhelmingly in that the Jews had sold themselves willingly into the hands of Rome, and Rome was the world. Would the little nation of Israel now go to war against the whole world?
For the first time in its history, Israel began to realize that a new sort of Savior was needed; one who fought not with iron weapons, but with the most powerful weapon of all: pure faith. This Savior was sent. Like many messengers who came before him, he was rejected. But unlike the others, each of whom was eventually "rehabilitated", Jesus' mission and purpose were never understood by the bulk of the Jewish establishment, and he remains rejected to this day.
Life of Jesus
We now turn to an examination of the life of Jesus Christ. We will address all the important questions, because we must. This means questions about his birth, his ministry, his Messiahship, and his death and resurrection. These are difficult questions; questions I would much prefer to avoid. But one thing about Jesus which does not change is that he cannot be gotten around, and he cannot be avoided. Just as it would have been easy for Jesus to flee from the Garden of Gethsemane the evening before his death, it would be easy for us to simply not address these questions, and to get on with our lives. But this is not to be.
Here is what is known about his birth. His mother, Mary, conceived him before her marriage to his father, Joseph. She denied having "known" any man, and Joseph believed her. This story became known to Jesus, and he believed what his parents told him. His disciples believed Jesus, and the whole Christian and Muslim world believes his disciples.
I too believe Mary. Why? Because I know that the Christian religion shows unmistakable evidence of the Hand of God, which I say in spite of my many disagreements with what it has evolved into at the hand of man. It is simply out of the question to suppose that a Holy institution began with a lie.
Furthermore, the virgin birth was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel". Now, Jewish scholars have maintained, for 2000 years, that the Hebrew word "almah", translated as "virgin" by Christians, simply means a young woman of sufficient age to get married, without reference to her prior social experience. They say that the word for "virgin" is a different word: "bethulah".
Unfortunately for this point of view, it is not borne out by a consideration of the way in which the two words are actually used in the Hebrew Bible. Consider the story of Isaac and Rebekah: When Abraham dispatched his servant to his ancestral homeland to find a wife for his son Isaac, the servant promptly found Rebekah, who was described as a "bethulah" when she first appeared (Genesis 24:16). This was explicitly defined as a virgin: "neither had any man known her". The servant explained the purpose of his mission to Rebekah, who promptly invited him to her home. There, only a few short verses later, the servant recapitulated his entire story. This time, however, Rebekah was described as an "almah" (Genesis 24:43). It is evident from this, and from other key passages in the Torah, that in ancient Israel an "almah" was fully expected to be a "virgin". If, in fact, a bride was discovered to have not been a virgin at the time of her marriage, the penalty was death (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).
It is therefore unreasonable to propose that the Isaiah prophecy was not what Christians have claimed it to be. Isaiah was an inspired prophet, therefore it follows that Jesus must have been born of a virgin birth.
How does God bring about a virgin birth? There are very many opinions about this, and it is not for me to say.
Miracles Associated With Jesus' Birth
At least three extraordinary things happened during the first days of Jesus' life. He was visited by "wise men" from the east. These men, undoubtedly Zoroastrian astrologers, were of sufficient stature that Herod, the King of Judea, demanded an audience with them. They were seeking the Messiah, and they were lead (by a star, according to the New Testament) right to the manger in which the baby Jesus lay.
You don't like "lead by a star"? I'll offer you another way to look at it. Daniel, one of the most towering of all the great Prophets of Jewish history, resided in Babylon around 600 BC, during the great Jewish Captivity. Toward the end of Daniel's life, Babylon had become the capital of the new Persian Empire. Were there any other towering preachers of monotheism living in Persia at around 600 BC? How about Zoroaster? It's quite a coincidence that Daniel and Zoroaster both lived and worked in the same place at the same time, is it not?
We know quite a bit about Daniel -- he was an exceedingly powerful and influential man in Babylon. We know essentially nothing about Zoroaster. Could they have been the same person? I imagine that the historians have ruled this out, but nevertheless, I'll say this: The fact that they both lived and taught in the same empire, at about the same time, makes it virtually certain that in Persia, the homeland of Zoroastrianism, the teachings of Daniel were known -- most likely, well-known.
And what did Daniel teach? Among many other things, he taught that the Messiah would come approximately 500 years after the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (see below for a more in-depth discussion of this prophecy). Clearly, the Zoroastrians must have been very familiar with this prophecy -- it was, after all, pronounced from the heart of their own homeland! Therefore, when the "three wise men" came seeking the Christ, they may very well have been following a star, but they also knew, in advance, the timing of the event (i.e., the early years of what we now call the "Christian" era), and its location (i.e., Bethlehem)(see Micah 5:2).
It wasn't only Zoroastrian astrologers who were drawn to Jesus. Shepherds in the nearby fields were drawn by some mysterious force (angels of the Lord, according to the New Testament) to that same manger, in which lay the newborn Savior.
Then, on the eighth day of Jesus' life, he was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. While there, the family was accosted by Simeon, an elderly man who had been told in a vision that he would see the Messiah before he died. When he laid eyes on Jesus, he immediately identified him as the Chosen One.
It is not at all difficult to imagine the amazement of the family at these things.
Life and Ministry of Jesus
Jesus was born a Jew, he lived as a Jew and he died a Jew. It is therefore impossible for any man to be a real Christian unless he is, first and foremost, a Jew.
This statement is contrary to Church teachings, but the world will not change until it is believed and accepted.
That Jesus said that the Kingdom would be taken away from the Priests (Matthew 21:42-46) does not change this fact. He was referring to a corrupted priesthood, not to the religion of Abraham. He loved the Jewish people, and devoted his life to their salvation. Many in turn loved him and followed him wherever he went, to hear his words and to be healed.
Any doubt that his message was meant for the Jewish people is dispelled by his comment to a Canaanite woman who beseeched him, that he would heal her sick daughter:
"I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 15:24)
Notwithstanding this comment, Jesus, setting the tone for future Christian evangelists, extended himself willingly and wholeheartedly to her and to all other gentiles, as long as they believed in God, the Heavenly Father. That he did so, however, did not change the nature and purpose of his ministry. Recall his saying from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled". (Matthew 5:18)
This saying should have dispelled any doubts in people's minds about the purpose of Jesus' ministry. He sought to be a living example of the Jewish law, and urged all others to seek to do likewise. (That is why I say that the Karaite interpretation of Isaiah 53, namely that it refers to an exalted remnant of Israel, is not incompatible with the Christian interpretation. Jesus was the living, visible manifestation of that exalted remnant).
Although Jesus was, most assuredly, a great teacher, he was not sent because of that. He was sent to bear witness of He who sent him; his Father in Heaven; who is our Father also. The notion, widely held among Christians, that Jesus preached a radical new faith, distinct from Judaism, is, to put it plainly and succinctly, wrong.
For example, the "Golden Rule", as we have already seen, was first preached not by Jesus, or by Jews at all, but by Confucius 500 years earlier(click for more about Confucius).
The notion that "love thy neighbor" should be regarded as the second greatest Commandment was, as we have already seen, almost a direct paraphrase of Hillel, and represented the current teaching among prominent Pharisees of that day.
Even the admonition against divorce (Matthew 5:31-32), an apparent contradiction of the Law of Moses, was a common pharisaic teaching of the day, and cannot be considered to be a unique teaching of Jesus.
For all these reasons, it is wrong to consider Jesus a radical or revolutionary. A great teacher he surely was, but only of the Jewish law as it was known to the faithful of Israel at that time.
It is for all these reasons, and more, that we must recognize that Jesus was a Jew. He was born a Jew, he lived as a Jew, and he died as a Jew.
Again, the saying...
"Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled"
... sets the agenda for all those who wish to bear witness of Christ. This witness is to live by the Jewish law -- the Law of Moses -- to the limits of one's physical ability to do so. I recognize that this is no small matter, and no easy thing to do. But we will discuss this Law later, for if we do so now, we shall never finish the story of Christ.
Death of Jesus
Jesus went to Jerusalem to die. He was appalled at the thought of it, as evidenced by his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane:
"My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death...O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt [Matthew 26:38-39]".
The 53rd Chapter of the Book of Isaiah stated that God's Messenger had to die. In accordance with this, Jesus, when he arrived in Jerusalem, spoke the plain and untempered truth. He said and did things which were guaranteed to arouse the hatred and fear of the High Priests, knowing full well that they would seize him and cause him to be sentenced to death for doing so.
When he was taken, bound and dragged before the chief Priests and elders, an unruly proceeding by any standard, he surely said nothing which should have warranted a death sentence. According to the synoptic Gospel writers, he was asked, point blank, whether or not he was the Messiah. This is what each of the three writers gives as Jesus' answer to this question:
"Thou has said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
"If I tell you, ye will not believe; and if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go. Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the power of God."
"I am: and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
Thus, of these three principle Gospel writers, only one (Mark) reports Jesus to have explicitly claimed to be the Messiah. Matthew (one of the original Twelve Disciples, who knew Jesus personally) and Luke have him making vague, cryptic remarks. In the Gospel of John, neither the Messiah question, nor Jesus' answer, are even reported.
What does it matter anyway? Declaring oneself Messiah is not a capital offense in the Law of Moses!
The Law prescribes death for 1st degree murder, and for teaching the worship of gods other than the God of Abraham. Jesus did not do that. It is also said, in the Law, that a false prophet shall die (whether by the Hand of God or of man is not specified). But all of Jesus' prophecies came true.
Even if one wished to regard a claim of Messiahship as a serious offense, one would still be obligated to obtain credible evidence from a minimum of 2 or 3 witnesses in order to lawfully obtain the basis for a sentence of death. What actually transpired at this "trial"? The only existing document which reports on the proceedings thereof is the New Testament, whose authors report that the witnesses who were called did not agree in their allegations.
Furthermore, this council of elders should have felt obligated to at least consider the possibility that the claim was true, lest they send an innocent man to the grave! Now consider this: If, as I am certain was the case, there existed at least a substantial minority of rabbis who regarded Isaiah Chapter 53 as being a Messianic prophecy, then how could this council of elders have proven that a man was not Messiah by killing him? Does Chapter 53 not state explicitly that the Messiah would be murdered, without a fair trial? If the Messiah must be murdered, then how on earth can you prove that a man is not Messiah by murdering him?!
It seems clear that the standards of Jewish law were violated in this "trial". One must bear in mind that the Jews were not lawless people; on the contrary, they gave the world the Mishnah and the Talmud, which formed the bedrock of western law. So why was Jesus murdered?
With respect to the Sanhedrin itself, the average Christian of today undoubtedly thinks of it as a body of corrupt Shylocks, empowered to perform all manner of barbarous acts according to the arbitrary and capricious nature of its judges. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In fact, the Sanhedrin was an ultra-academic, finely-tuned legal machine. The judges were highly disciplined men, operating under a strict system of rules and regulations. The mock proceeding against Jesus represented a complete breakdown of that system. Although the reasons for that breakdown can be debated endlessly, there is, in the end, only one explanation: it was the will of God, and the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, who stated that the messenger would be imprisoned, but would be taken abruptly out and condemned to death without a fair trial.
Jesus was nailed to a cross and hung up to die. Three days later, he was seen alive by his disciples. All eleven surviving disciples eventually saw him, and many other people as well, and there can be no doubt about the fact that he was alive.
This has raised the question of whether he was actually killed on the cross. It is extraordinary that at each and every point in Jesus' life, questions are raised which cannot be answered from hard fact, but which ultimately become matters of faith. I consider this, in and of itself, to be powerful evidence that Jesus was sent by God, since God has stated explicitly that He never shows His Face (Exodus 33:20). This means, in part, that He never gives us "scientific" or "hard" or "incontrovertible" evidence of His existence, for if He did so, then we would have no further need for faith. Since we were put here to learn to have faith, it follows that if there ever came a time when faith was no longer needed, our existence would then no longer have any meaning.
The questions about Jesus' death arise because of its rapidity. Crucifixion is a hideously slow, painful death, resulting above all from suffocation. Well-developed muscular men could survive several days on the cross. In the average case, it was usually all over within 24 hours. In Jesus' case it was over in 6 hours.
Just before his death, a sponge was extended to him on the end of a long reed. All four Gospel writers actually agree on this. According to John, "they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth" (John 19:29).
Next, the Romans decided to break the legs of Jesus and the two thieves with whom he was being crucified. The reason was that it was the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, and it was unlawful to continue a crucifixion into the Sabbath day. The breaking of the legs had two purposes: In the first place, it caused great blood loss, and secondly, it made it impossible to support the weight of the body on the legs, hastening the process of suffocation.
The Romans broke the legs of the two thieves, but when they got to Jesus, he was already dead. They pierced his side with a spear, and "forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 19:34). A rich man (see Isaiah 53:9), Joseph of Arimathaea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus, approached the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, and pleaded for the body. Pilate was incredulous when informed that Jesus was already dead. He therefore did not take Joseph's word for it, but checked first with the centurion (Mark 15:44-45). But the centurion confirmed the death, and then only, Pilate permitted the body to be taken.
Joseph placed the body of Jesus in his own tomb. It was not seen again until the resurrection. These are the known facts regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus.
For 2000 years skeptics and apostates have promoted the theory that Jesus did not die on the cross, but was taken down alive. The explanation usually given for his survival is that the sponge containing vinegar also contained some sort of drug which induced a death-like state. From the purely technical point of view, this theory might seem plausible since such drugs apparently do exist, although they can hardly be said to be well-known to medical science. Whether they were known at all in ancient Israel is quite impossible to say.
According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a), the women of Jerusalem often raised money to provide condemned prisoners with a "goblet of wine containing a grain of frankincense", which was supposed to induce a merciful state of grogginess or unconsciousness. Was this the method whereby a "death-like state" was induced? Not likely. It is absurd to suppose that an entire "goblet of wine with a grain of frankincense" was lifted up to Jesus on a sponge, which, besides, he refused to drink from.
It is worth noting that the emergence of Jesus from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea was a miracle by any standard. Even if we deny faith, and insist that he was technically "not dead" (whatever that might mean) when he was taken down from the cross, the enormity of the coincidences involved staggers the imagination. It has never been suggested, by any source I know of, that Jesus had knowledge of a plan to rescue him, and it is inconceivable that his disciples did either. Who could have done such a thing? Where did they get the alleged drug? How did they obtain the cooperation of the centurion? For such things to have happened spontaneously would be, in themselves, a miracle.
It is necessary for every man to believe in the resurrection of the dead. For if the resurrection of the dead is not possible, then there is no God. As for Jesus, the question of whether that sponge had a drug in it is totally irrelevant. The prophecy of Isaiah stated that Jesus would be "brought as a lamb to the slaughter", and that he would "make his grave...with the rich in his death". So the scriptures say he was dead, and the available evidence supports it. There is no available evidence to the contrary; only conjecture.
It is evident that the LORD has bidden us to believe that he was dead. To willfully chose to believe otherwise is to deny resurrection -- and that means our own resurrection. Therefore...lest we dwell in worlds of torment for all eternity...he was dead. Three days later, as he himself prophesied, he rose up from the grave and preached to his disciples.
Is Jesus Messiah?
In considering the definition of the word "Messiah", it is desirable to turn to the ancient Hebrew text of the Bible. The Jews have maintained this text in its original form with extreme devotion. In modern day Torahs, for example, the Five Books of Moses are written out exactly as they appeared 2,000 years ago. Torahs are, by Jewish Law, written out by hand. If a letter in the ancient texts was written a little larger than its neighboring letters, then it is copied large in modern Torahs. This is true even if no one knows, anymore, what the significance of the larger letter was.
Similarly, if a letter was a little smaller than its neighbors, it appears smaller in modern copies of the Torahs as well.
Even stray dots and dashes, whose meanings may be entirely unknown, are copied, as if they were laden with significance.
Even if a word is suspected of having been misspelled, it is copied anyway, just in case the word may have been spelled that way for a reason.
Thus, although translations of the Hebrew Bible into English and other languages may take substantial liberties at places which are held to be "Christological", and although we may therefore be as suspicious of the translation as we feel it appropriate to be, we may nevertheless rely on the original Hebrew text, which has been preserved through the centuries with a fanatical degree of loving care.
The first occurrence of the word "Messiah" in the Hebrew Bible is in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 6, verse 15 (verse 22 in the King James version). Here, the word of God comes to Moses, instructing him in certain particulars of ritual sacrifice. Now, the first High Priest of Israel was Aaron, Moses' brother. In this particular verse, reference is made to the "anointed priest" who, upon being selected from Aaron's blood descendants, shall minister to the sacrifice in his stead, after Aaron's death.
The Hebrew words for "anointed priest" are "moshiach cohen". The -ch in "moshiach" is a guttural, which the British couldn't pronounce, so they changed it to "Messiah". The word means "anointed".
"Cohen", a common Jewish name nowadays, means "priest".
What did it mean to be "anointed"?. In ancient times, this generally meant having oil poured on your head. This may seem like a silly thing to do nowadays, but you must bear in mind that every drop of oil recovered from the olive, back then, had to be laboriously beaten out by hand. There were no machines! Thus, pouring a cupful of oil on someone's head, especially if it was laced with exceedingly rare and precious fragrances from the Orient, was an act of sheer extravagance, reserved for the coronation of Kings.
Therefore, we may see that the word "Moshiach", or "Messiah", means one crowned as a King, or otherwise selected for service of an extremely lofty nature.
The Greek word for "anointed" is "Christ".
Various renditions and conjugations of the word "Moshiach" appear throughout the Hebrew Old Testament. In general, they refer to the anointing of a person or thing so that it becomes suitable to be placed in a Sanctuary of God. In six places in the Books of Samuel, Saul is referred to as the "Messiah", i.e., "anointed" of God, which merely means that he was selected, by God, to be King of Israel. No scholar has ever dreamed of suggesting that Saul was a "Savior", sent to "save the world". The very idea is preposterous.
King David was also referred to twice in the same way (i.e., as the "anointed" of God). In spite of the immeasurable esteem in which the hereditary line of David is held (by all monotheists), no one yet has suggested that David himself was the Messiah.
In the entire Hebrew Bible there is exactly and precisely one single place where the word Moshiach is used in a non-trivial way. That one exception is found in the Book of Daniel, wherein is contained a most singular prophecy, which we must now consider. Some background history is necessary first, however.
Daniel, whom we have made honorable mention of elsewhere, was one of the distinguished citizens of Jerusalem who were taken into captivity in Babylon following the invasion of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. While in captivity in Babylon, Daniel came to realize the full extent of the depths to which the Jewish nation had fallen. Furthermore, he came to see the relationship of that fall to sin, and to appreciate the fact that the entire thing had been prophesied in the Bible.
The nation had been forewarned. The warnings had not been heeded.
Daniel was aware that the great Prophet Jeremiah had predicted seventy years of captivity in Babylon, even before the invasion of Judah had begun. Recognizing the greatness of Jeremiah, Daniel, from his standpoint as a captive, embarked on a program of fasting and prayer, pleading with the Lordthat he might be shown the full meaning of Jeremiah's "seventy years" (Daniel 9:2 ff.).
Now in retrospect the meaning seems clear enough to us. The Babylonian Captivity lasted from approximately 590 BC to approximately 520 BC, a period of about 70 years. But recall that Daniel was writing from within that seventy year period. He had no way of knowing with certainty when his captivity would end, or indeed if it would ever come to an end.
Wishing fervently for the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah, Daniel wanted to hear, from the mouth of God Himself, whether Jeremiah's prophecy meant exactly what it seemed to say, or whether perhaps it had another meaning, or even additional meanings.
After much prayer and fasting, Daniel was visited by the angel Gabriel, who revealed to him a prophecy of towering importance to the subsequent history of the world. Gabriel told Daniel that the Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and thatseventy weeks of years , i.e. 70 x 7, or 490 years, would then pass, after which something extraordinary would happen "to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy" (Daniel 9:24).
The subsequent verse (Daniel 9:25) reveals that the mediator of these extraordinary events would be a man, whom Daniel refers to as "the Messiah, the Prince". This is the one and only place in the entire Hebrew Bible where the word Moshiach (Messiah) appears in reference to a personal Savior of the world. This, therefore, must be taken as the legitimate definition of the word "Messiah", when the word is used in reference to a personal Savior. What other definition can there be?
Because of the peculiar language of Daniel 9:25, the exact timing of the coming of the Messiah is somewhat ambiguous. Now, entire books have been written on this subject, and therefore I shall not even attempt to review the multitude of oft-conflicting interpretations. Suffice it to say that some authors have gone as far as drawing up calculations "proving" that all the key events of Jesus' ministry can be predicted, to the day, by the prophecies of Daniel, and others have used the very same verses to predict the precise timing of the Second Coming of Christ. These speculations can be complex in the extreme.
The governing aspect of this prophecy, however, is the "shell" of "seventy weeks", or 490 years. Whatever the timing of the various events is held to be, they all must lie within this shell!. For this reason, the entire nation of Israel was gripped with "Messianic fever" at the time of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, which, if not precisely 490 years after the rebuilding of the Temple, was certainly not very far from it.
Gabriel also revealed to Daniel that in the midst of the Messiah's ministry, he would be "cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary" (Daniel 9:26).
To restate these prophecies concisely, employing round numbers, they said that the Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and that approximately 500 years later the Messiah would come, establish righteousness, and then be murdered; and that subsequently the city of Jerusalem and the Temple would again be destroyed.
We have the benefit of the hindsight of history, which, as they say, is "20-20" in its accuracy. The rebuilding of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, which spanned a number of years, may be placed approximately at 500 BC. Therefore, according to Daniel, the Messiah would come approximately at the year which we now call zero BC. This would be followed shortly by the invasion of, and destruction of Jerusalem, and of the Second Temple.
If you've never thought about it before, you should now understand why there was a tense atmosphere of expectation in Jerusalem just prior to the coming of Jesus. Based on the time-frame given in the Book of Daniel, the appearance of the long-awaited Messiah was widely held to be imminent. But who came? The only Messiah who came was Jesus. There was no other.
Shortly thereafter, in accordance with prophecy, Jesus was murdered, and Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the "prince to come", i.e. Rome.
Those of us who are non-Christians are therefore left in a most awkward position. Either Jesus was the Messiah of Daniel, or else Daniel was wrong.
If Daniel was wrong, then the Bible is discredited, which means that the Old Testament and, by implication, the New Testament and the Qur'an, are all wrong. This means that all religion would be wrong. This would make the gold-worshipping world bankers very, very happy.
But the Bible is not wrong, and since the only Messiah who came 500 years after the end of the Babylonian Captivity was Jesus, it follows as a purely logical conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah whose coming was prophesied in the Book of Daniel.
But wait a minute. Jesus, and everyone else in Jerusalem at that time, knew about the prophecy of Daniel. Couldn't Jesus and his disciples have merely contrived to make themselves look like they were fulfilling prophecy?
We have raised this question earlier in this chapter, and I shall not repeat the answer, but instead refer the interested reader to that earlier discussion.
And the answer is that Jesus was the Messiah of Daniel.
But this does not complete our inquiry. We must now ask an additional question. Are there other Messiahs, or was Jesus the only one?
The Messiah of the End Times
The only place in the Old Testament where the word "Messiah" is used in the sense in which it is understood today, i.e. the Savior of the whole world, is in the Book of Daniel. And yet the Judeo-Christian-Muslim conception of "Messiah" is broader than that.
From the broadest point of view, the Messiah, as prophesied by the four "major" Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial and Daniel), and the twelve "minor" Prophets, is he who will come at the end of this godless era. His appearance will usher in an age of peace and prosperity such as the world has never known. He must be of the line of David, and his destiny is to restore the house of David to Kingship in the world, with Jerusalem at the center of the world's religious worship.
It seems desirable to focus on those Messianic prophecies whose meanings are not hotly disputed by Jews, Christians, and/or Muslims. One good example is the 11th Chapter of the Book of Isaiah, because its meaning is generally agreed upon by all. If you have never read this passage, read it now, because it will surely come true, and it contains all the basic prophecies for the Messianic Age:
1. And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
2. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
3. And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
4. But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
5. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
6. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
9. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
10. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
11. And it shall come to pass in that day, [that] the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
12. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
"Stem (or root) of Jesse" means a descendant of King David (Jesse was David's father). Thus it has been said, for 2500 years, that the great Messiah-to-come will be of the house of David. Please note that the word "Messiah" does not appear in these, or any other End-Times verses. The Bible gives no title for the savior who is to come at the End Times, and the common use of the word "Messiah" to describe him (or her?) is presumptous. All this notwithstanding, the deliverer of Isaiah Chapter 11 is the Messiah whom the faithful of the modern-day world are anxiously awaiting.
He will be a just ruler, whose reign will bring about such a profound state of peace that even the wild animals will become tame. Furthermore, in that day the "earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord", a very different state than prevails in the apostate, money-loving world of today. And, finally, the lost tribes of Israel, both north ("Israel") and south ("Judah") will be brought back from the ends of the earth to which they have been scattered.
Since these prophecies have not been fulfilled, it can be said with certainty that this Messiah has not come. Christians are not troubled by this, as the words of Christ seem to them to state unequivocally that he will return. Jews, however, have elected to reject Jesus as Messiah until all prophecies have been fulfilled. They can hardly be faulted for having done this.
Christ promised that he would come again, and I believe that he will. Whether he is recognizable at that time as "Jesus of Nazareth" is another question altogether. Most people did not recognize him the first time! When he returns, will he identify himself as the second coming of Christ (to the delight of Christians), or as the first coming of Moshiach (to the delight of Jews)? Or will he be perceived as something entirely different than what anyone expects? I, for one, rather expect the latter. But the answer remains to be seen.
Another important Messianic Era prophecy is Micah 4:1-5, which describes the state of religious practice in the end times:
"...in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, ... and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,...all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord, our God, forever and ever." (Micah 4:1-5).
The Bible is never wrong. Unless I thoroughly misunderstand these verses, they teach us that even in the End, people will all practice different religions, each walking "in the name of his god". This notwithstanding, all people shall recognize the God of the Bible as being supreme, or perhaps as being the supreme manifestation of their own god. Aside from this basic underlying agreement, however, it seems that there will never be a "one-world religion".
What do Jews really believe?
For over a thousand years, orthodox Jews have been taught that there will be two Messiahs, neither of whom has yet appeared on earth. And Jesus is NOT either one of them!
In the Jewish Talmud, these Messiahs have names. The foremost of them is entitled "Moshiach ben David", which means "the Messiah, the son of David". This title, in and of itself, teaches that a Savior will arise from the House of David, or from the hereditary line of David. The characteristics of Moshiach ben David are the characteristics of the Savior described in Isaiah, Chapter 11 (and many other places in the various Books of the Hebrew Prophets). There is nothing problematical about this definition. It is straightforward, being drawn directly from the Bible. We note again that the Hebrew Bible never gives this Savior the title "Messiah", or, for that matter, any other title. He is never named!
The second of the Talmudic Messiahs bears the Hebrew title "Moshiach ben Yosef". This means "the Messiah, the son of Joseph". This title, in and of itself, would appear to teach of a Savior who will arise from the House of Joseph, or from the hereditary line of Joseph. Orthodox Jewish students are taught that this Messiah is quite inferior in glory, having the non-enviable role of dying a violent death in the process of preparing the world for the greater Messiah, Moshiach ben David.
But there is a PROBLEM with this Messiah ben Joseph. There is nothing straightforward about him. He is not drawn directly from Biblical prophecy, but rather from exceedingly convoluted interpretations of scriptural verses which seem, on the surface of things, to be entirely non-Messianic. Consider, for example, Genesis 30:23, where Rachel, after years of being barren, finally conceives a son for her husband, Jacob. That son was Joseph. Here's how Genesis 30:23 reports this event:
And [Rachael] conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach.
Where's the Messianic reference?
Jacob Immanuel Schochet, a respected Moshiach scholar of the orthodox Lubavich sect of Judaism, has reviewed the substantial Jewish literature on Messiah. The above passage is one of several which he presents as being Messianic in nature. According to extra-Biblical literature quoted by Schochet, "the Messianic aspect is derived from Isaiah 4:1".
Now Isaiah 4:1 is part of a passage which is generally regarded as being a prophecy of the state of affairs which will prevail during the period of terrible troubles which will herald the start of the End Times, or Messianic Era. This is the period of trouble corresponding to the Christian "Tribulation". Among other things which are predicted to happen is the following:
And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach. (Isaiah 4:1)
In other words, the Tribulation of the End Times will be so hard that any "eligible bachelor", who can provide any degree of protection and/or sustenance whatsoever, will be hotly pursued by an army of women! Each of these women will gladly forego the traditional gifts, honors and privileges which normally accompany marriage. And all this will be done "to take away [their] reproach". Thus, according to this strange analogy, Racheal's mere utterance of the words "God hath taken away my reproach" are supposed to "prove" that she was thinking of the Tribulation when she said that! And since she was thinking of the Tribulation, we are to believe that she must have been thinking that a descendant of her new son, Joseph, was going to be a Messiah of that Tribulation period!
There's nothing necessarily wrong with the logic. But there are tens of thousands of verses in the Old Testament. To deduce a relationship between these two seems somehow arbitrary and capricious. Why was this done?
Before answering this question, we must make mention of one Biblical passage which actually does place the house of Joseph in a Messianic setting. Commenting on the ultimate victory of the God-fearing over the God-hating in the End Times, the Prophet Obadiah said:
...Upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.
And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, AND THE HOUSE OF JOSEPH SHALL BE A FLAME, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the Lord hath spoken it". (Obadiah 1:17-18)
Here the entire House of Joseph is depicted as sweeping away Evil, which, by the time of Obadiah, had come to be synonymous with "Esau", the spiritually wayward brother of Jacob in the Book of Genesis. However, the term "House of Esau" had, at that time, become a common Biblical metaphor for all heathen nations, and therefore, to be fair, the "House of Joseph" must be construed as a metaphor for all Israel. Even if one takes the narrow 20th century rabbinical point of view, which holds this passage to be a prophecy of a special role for the descendants of Joseph in the Tribulation preceding the final Messianic Era, that, by itself, cannot be considered as proof that the Prophet Obadiah was expecting an individual, personal "Messiah" from the house of Joseph.
Aside from a few passages like the above, there is nothing in the Bible which explicitly, or even implicitly predicts the emergence of a Messiah from the house of Joseph. So what's all this business about a "Moshiach ben Joseph"?
It is interesting to note that this same "Moshiach ben Joseph" tradition holds that the Biblical passage Zechariah 12:10, a Christian favorite ("and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son"), is a lamentation for none other than this same Moshiach ben Joseph, after he is cut down in the course of carrying out his exalted role in God's great Tribulation. Could this be a clue as to this Moshiach's true identity?
I shall now present the solution to this mystery. It's so obvious that it would be almost comical, if not for all the people who have been murdered through the ages because of it. Think about the title: "Moshiach ben Joseph", and keep in mind what the rabbis themselves say the title implies (although their wording might differ a bit):
Moshiach ben Joseph:
"The Messiah, the son of Joseph, who will die a violent death in preparation for the final Messiah(i.e., of David) of the End Times".
Do you know of any historical figures who fit this description?
Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah prophesied by Daniel. He was the son of Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth. He died a violent death, on the cross, in preparation for the final reconciliation of the End Times. Need we look any further for the origin of the "Moshiach ben Joseph" concept?
I submit that the following truth is self-evident: that the rabbis who compiled the Talmud, being in the possession of powerful evidence that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9, but being utterly without authoritative guidance with respect to the unanswered, and unanswerable question concerning the identity of, and the timing of the Messiah-to-come of the End Times, devised the current terminology of "Messiah ben Joseph" and "Messiah ben David". The original meaning of "Messiah ben Joseph" was the Messiah Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth. The original (and still current) meaning of "Messiah ben David" was the final Messiah, the Messiah-to-come, explicitly prophesied in Isaiah 11 and in the books of all the other great Hebrew Prophets -- i.e., he who would reign over Israel in the End Times.
As the Middle Ages progressed, the rabbis were evidently forced to suppress the original meaning of "Messiah ben Joseph". No history book records this, but once again, the explanation is self-evident. It is a readily verifiable fact (still observable in the world today -- see below) that Jews who are taught Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9 by Christians, without the strict supervision of a dedicated and knowledgeable Jewish rabbi, will, in most instances, be drawn into the Christian religion. The Christians will then teach them that Moshiach ben Joseph and Moshiach ben David are the same person. But...do we really know this?
Not necessarily. Currently, Jews emphatically deny it. Christians emphatically proclaim it. Muslims give the final deliverer a different name, "Mahdi", admitting that they really don't know the relationship between the two Messiahs.
What did Jesus himself say? He said:
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?
They say unto him, the son of David.
He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, "God said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool"?
Are we any more knowledgeable today? We still can't anwser this question.
The Jews opined that the Christian missionaries, in teaching that the question could be, and in fact had been answered (i.e., that Jesus himself, in his same body, calling himself by the same Greek name, was literally returning) were lying, and so they invented a lie of their own! They created the myth of "Moshiach ben Joseph"; a supposedly Biblically-based mysterious Messianic figure yet to come! As for Jesus, his followers were painstakingly rooted out of the Talmudic academies, which took centuries to accomplish.
But the memory of Jesus survived in Karaite Judaism, which rejected the authority of the Talmud itself, and of the academies from which it emanated. Although the founder of Karaism, Anan ben David, did not explicitly teach that Jesus was Messiah, he did accept Jesus as a holy man, and he held his enemies, the Pharisees, strictly accountable for Jesus' death.
A full consideration of the history of Karaism, fascinating though it is, is beyond the scope of this Web Page. Suffice it to say that the Karaite sect, founded by Anan in 760 AD, fought a pitched battle with the Pharisees for control of world Judaism; a battle which lasted for 700 years. There were many points at which it was unclear which group would prevail. In the end the Pharisees, because they were united behind the Talmud, triumphed over the Karaites, who were always split into competing factions with differing opinions. In fact, about the only thing the Karaites agreed upon was that the Talmud was not inspired by God, but by men. That common belief kept them going for seven centuries! But in the end, they were almost totally vanquished. Today, there are only a small handful of Karaite communities left in the world, with a total population of only a few tens of thousands.
With the downfall of Karaism, all mention of Jesus in Jewish circles ceased.
Was Jesus God?
Like every other question about Jesus, this one has no simple answer. There are many powerful arguments against it. Jesus had to be baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist. Why would God have need to baptize Himself? Christians, of course, are equipped with arguments to answer this awkward question, but non-Christians are not persuaded by these arguments.
After his baptism Jesus went into the desert for 40 days, to be "tempted by Satan". God created Satan! How could God be "tempted" by one of His own creations? Again, Christians have arguments here, but they are not accepted outside the Christian religion.
God is perfect. Was Jesus perfect? Not in his own eyes. He made numerous comments which bear witness of this. In Matthew (19:16-17), someone addressed Jesus as "Good Master", to which he replied...
"Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God".
Again, in Matthew 11:11, Jesus says...
"...Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
Now, concerning Jesus' paternity, there is controversy. But concerning his mother, Mary, there is no controversy. Jesus was, without a doubt, "among them that were born of women". Was he not telling us, therefore, that he was less than the "least in the kingdom of heaven"?
Notwithstanding all the above, the matter cannot be said to be resolved. For there remain, for us to consider, a number of most thought-provoking Messianic prophecies, typified by that of Zechariah, Chapter 2, verses 10-11:
10. Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord.
11. And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee.
Evangelical Christians are in complete agreement that the Messiah (i.e., Jesus) is the subject of these verses. Among Jews, there is a division of opinion. Some state that these verses refer to the rebuilding of Solomon's Temple, which was underway during the days of Zechariah. "I will dwell in the midst of thee", according to this interpretation, means that through the symbol of the rebuilt Temple, God will, figuratively speaking, "dwell" amongst the people of Israel.
But other orthodox Jewish commentators concede this passage to be an explicit reference to the Messiah of the End Times. There is therefore a substantial body of opinion among both Jews and Christians that the "I" of verse 10, who will "dwell in the midst of [Israel]", refers to the Messiah.
Who, therefore, is this "I"?
In verse 11, God says again "I will dwell in the midst of thee", but then, the grammar abruptly changes, and the text says "and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee"(!).
No biblical scholar I know of has ever alleged that the "I" of verse 11 was Zechariah talking about himself. But if "I" in the previous verse is God, announcing His own coming, and if, when He comes, He does so in the form of an earthly messenger who is also "I", then it follows that the messenger is God!
All the English translations of the Bible which I have seen, both Jewish and Christian versions, are in virtually complete agreement with respect to the English word-for-word translation of these two verses. There are no "lion vs. cross" controversies here. Therefore, if this passage is indeed Messianic, it can be said that when the Messiah comes, the distinction between him and He who sent him becomes blurred. If so, then the Messiah is indeed God-on-earth to such an extent that it becomes erroneous to emphatically deny that Messiah is God.
There are other passages in the Books of the Prophets where the distinction between God and His Messenger is blurred. Let's consider one more, from the 48th chapter of the Book of Isaiah. Here God, in the midst of a stern reminder to Israel of the fact that He alone is the creator of all, says
Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.
Once again we have God speaking, then suddenly the sense changes and the same voice becomes the voice of God's messenger, saying that God sent him. It would appear that the messenger, as well as God's Spirit, are one and the same as He who sent them.
The Rabbis have considerable difficulty with this passage, and the others like it. They call this an "intermingling of words", and try hard to avoid the most obvious interpretation, which is that he whom was sent by God was God.
These passages have been cited by Christians through the centuries, as evidence that Jesus was God-on-earth.
The Muslims see it differently, however. Muhammad defined Christ as a prophet, not God. He stated emphatically that all the prophets were equal.
The fanaticism with which Muslims have denied the divinity of Christ is such that they carved the following inscription in stone, in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem:
"O you People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion, and of God speak only the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and His word which He conveyed into Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him. Believe therefore in God and His apostles, and say not Three. It will be better for you. God is only one God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son."
I believe that Muhammad was a prophet of God, and that the Qur'an is an inspired document. How can I reconcile this with the suggestion, embodied in the Biblical scripture just quoted, that the Messiah is not entirely distinct from He who sent him?
I have found that the Hindu religion provides a good framework for understanding in this regard.
Understanding the "Nature of Christ" through the Bhagavad Gita
One of the greatnesses of Hinduism is that it reconciles the irreconcilable. For example, the age-old "controversy" between East and West, as to whether the ultimate reality is Enlightenment, or God, is laid to rest their by the proposition that Enlightenment consists of being restored to the presence of God. India, lying as it does between East and West, absorbed both descriptions of the Ultimate Reality without difficulty. In stark contrast, here in the West, 2500 years later, Christians are still calling Enlightenment a "fraud", and in the East, they get "revenge" by denying the existence of God.
The Hindu religion again provides reconciliation between the apparently irreconcilable Christs of the New Testament and the Qur'an. But only for those who are interested in reconciliation in the first place. Those who are determined to have war will have it, regardless of the dictates of logic.
The Bhagavad Gita is the premier scripture of India. In this book, God first appears as Krishna the charioteer. The chariot he drives is the chariot of Arjuna, who is the human hero of this story. There is no particular moment of revelation of the true identity of Krishna to Arjuna. In other words, at the time that Krishna begins preaching to Arjuna, it is clear that Arjuna already knows that he is in the presence of God, and that God, for His own good reasons, has elected to appear to him as a man.
If Arjuna, at that point in the book, had informed one of his colleagues that he had "seen and talked to God", could he possibly have been called a liar?
Of course not. But the matter hardly ends there. Midway through his sermon, Krishna decides to reveal Himself to Arjuna in his true form, as God Almighty. He transfigures Himself into a form so awesome that it requires the full superlative powers of human language to even give an impression of His overwhelming majesty. This form is so terrifying that Arjuna quickly begs God to resume his human appearance. It is highly significant, and readers should take note, that the very vision that all religious men and women have craved through the ages, namely the vision of God Almighty Himself, is so terrifying that when finally apprehended, we promptly beg God to hide us from his Glory. This sobering fact is confirmed in the Book of Exodus, where God responds to Moses' request to be permitted to see Him with the words "thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see Me, and live" (Ex 33:20).
I have no opinion as to whether the particular historical events described in the Bhagavad Gita ought to be regarded as legend or history. But concerning the authenticity of the author's description of the vision of God Almighty, I have a very definite opinion. For me, there is no question but that the author had the experience he described. I simply do not believe that such words could ever have flowed from the pen of a liar.
Arjuna's vision was both awesome and terrifying:
[God]...revealed...his supreme form, with countless mouths and eyes, displaying multitudes of marvels, wearing numbers of divine ornaments, and raising divine weapons beyond count. And this form wore celestial garlands and robes, it was anointed with the perfumes of the gods - it was God himself, infinite and universal containing all miracles.
If in the sky the light of a thousand suns were to rise at once, it would be the likeness of the light of that great-spirited One. In that body of the God of gods [Arjuna] saw the entire universe centered, in its infinite differentiations. [Arjuna] was stunned, and he shivered. He folded his hands, bowed his head and said:
"I see all gods in your body, O God,
And all creatures in all their varieties...
Your own infinitude stretching away,
Many arms, eyes, bellies, and mouths do I see,
No end do I see, no beginning, no middle,
In you, universal in power and form...
Immeasurably burning like sun or the fire.
You are the imperishable, highest of truths to be known,
The highest foundation of all this world.
Unchanging, the eternal keeper of right,
The Person Eternal I hold you to be.
At the sight of (you)...the worlds are in panic and so am I!"
(Bhagavad Gita, 11:9-23)
Arjuna was overcome with fear, and he begged God to return to His previous man-like form of Krishna the charioteer. If this is not the very same God who said to Moses "Thou canst not see My face ...and live", then who else can it be?
Now, a very interesting and important question arises. Having seen God's full Glory, what would Arjuna think if one of his colleagues, seeing Krishna the charioteer drive by, said "I have seen God"? Would Arjuna agree, or disagree?
Let us consider this question carefully, and not answer too hastily. A lot may depend upon this answer.
Prior to Krishna's transformation into God Almighty, it would have been entirely accurate for Arjuna to have said "I have seen and talked with God". He was aware from the beginning, after all, that Krishna the charioteer was God. But after witnessing Krishna's transformation into God Almighty, he surely would have felt differently. Clearly, there was more to God than was evident in seeing Krishna the charioteer.
Would Arjuna then call another man a liar, if the other man saw Krishna the charioteer and said "I have seen God"? Wouldn't that be unreasonable and unfair? Krishna was God, appearing as a man.
But Arjuna knew that the sight of Krishna was less than the sight of God Almighty. Therefore, if the other man, seeing Krishna, said "I have seen God", he would be telling the truth. If Arjuna said "you haven't really seen God", he would be telling the truth also.
What does this have to do with Christ?
What Did the Apostles of Christ See?
When one reads the Gospels -- especially the synoptic Gospels, but even the Gospel of John -- one is hardly impressed with the feeling that the disciples of Jesus understood themselves to be in the presence of God Himself. Even in the transfiguration of Jesus, it is not made explicitly clear whom it was whose presence they felt themselves to be in.
When Jesus asked his disciples "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" (Matthew 16:13), he received a potpourri of answers! Only one of them, Peter, said "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God". But even so, what does "Son of the living God" mean? The closest Jesus came to providing an answer was in John 10:31, where "the Jews" tried to stone him because, in their words
"...thou, being a man, makest thyself God"
Jesus' answer was:
Is it not written in your law, "I said, Ye are gods"?
All commentators understand this to be an explicit reference to Psalm 82:6-7, which says:
YE ARE GODS; and all of you are children of the most High.
But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
This response of Jesus does not justify anyone in claiming that Jesus made himself equal with God. If it does not rule it out either, so be it, but the matter remains unsettled. We really do not know what Jesus wanted us to think that he was, other than to believe that he was the promised Messiah of God, foretold by Daniel and Isaiah.
In the vision of Stephen, the Christian Church's first martyr (Acts 7:55), we see the first instance of Jesus being beheld in a strictly supernatural setting. Paul's famous vision follows shortly (Acts 9:3-6). Aside from Paul's two dreams about Christ, this was the last encounter with Christ reported by anyone in the New Testament until John's Revelation.
In all three instances, i.e., Stephen, Paul, and the Revelation of John, the supernatural vision of Christ was as a distinct being, at the Right Hand of God. It is far from clear that any one of these three men perceived Jesus to be God Himself.
We may therefore feel safe in proposing that the viewpoint which says that Jesus was God-on-earth was a logical deduction, based on passages such as the two quoted above (Zechariah 2:10-11, Isaiah 48:16). There is no passage in the Gospels or Epistles in which any Christian prophet or saint says "I have seen the Christ, and He is God".
The resolution of the "war" between Islam and Christianity about the so-called "nature of Christ" can be comprehended through the understanding of the Bhagavad Gita as a parable (or as literal history, if one is able to see it that way).
To most observers, Krishna was Arjuna's charioteer -- i.e., an ordinary man. Why should they think otherwise? Unless they talked to him, and got to "know" him, they would be basing their assessment upon ordinary observations of the five senses. Likewise, many have considered Christ to be a man.
Among those who knew Krishna would be some who understood him to be a Holy Man; one possessing great wisdom. Likewise, many have considered Christ to be a Holy Man; a man of great wisdom.
Others might have understood Krishna to be a heavenly messenger. Some might even know him to be "God" in some sense of the word. Likewise, many have considered Christ to be a heavenly messenger, even the Son of God.
Only Arjuna was blessed by being shown Krishna in His true, awesome form, which we may be justified in comparing to our ultimate Western God, God the Father (the Jewish "Eloheim", the Supreme Being embodying a "plurality of majesty"). Therefore, if our East-West parallel holds, we may ask the question "to whom, in the Western world, has God the Father revealed Himself in his Full Glory, showing Himself to be one and the same as Christ?"
The answer to this question is, for the most part, "to no one". At least, no one in the New Testament.
In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself to both Abraham and Jacob as a man (Genesis, Chapters 18 and 32 respectively), but the man was not explicitly identified as Christ. Nor are we instructed, by the Book of Genesis, that either patriarch ever beheld the Full Glory of God the Father.
In other words, there is no exact parallel to Arjuna in the Western world. If Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth, appeared to Abraham and Jacob in the Old Testament, then Jesus is God. But we don't know if the man who appeared to the patriarchs was identical with Jesus of Nazareth. If God has the attribute of plurality in His majesty, then He, by definition, has the ability and authority to appear as more than one person, when he chooses to appear in human form.
Therefore, it is my logical conclusion that the revelation to Muhammad must stand until God Himself resolves the matter. On these pages, I do not rule out the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth was God-on-earth, because I have not ruled it out in my own mind. I am simply trying to point out that there is no hard evidence in the Bible to refute the teachings of the Qur'an about the nature of Jesus. Nor can I find any hard evidence in the Bible to conclusively uphold the teachings of the medieval Christian Councils concerning the Holy Trinity.
If the matter cannot be conclusively resolved, then we ought not commit murder over it. Please, please, don't refrain from murdering just because I said so. It's not the soul of the victim, but the soul of the murderer which is placed in jeopardy when he practices his "art", saying all the while "God made me do it".
Can Anyone Ever Really "Know" the "Nature" of Christ?
I often wonder whether God, in His infinite wisdom, has preserved the Hindu religion for all these years, in spite of its obvious strong ties to ancient idolatry, because it provides a complete religion to India, and also an important parable to Westerners who insist that Christ have only a single nature, when in fact Christ may have many natures, each one apparent to some people, but not others.
It is worth noting, at this juncture, that the Eastern argument over whether Buddha was merely a man who attained Enlightenment and taught others (as enshrined in Theravada Buddhism), or rather an earthly manifestation of Enlightenment itself -- i.e., a Supreme Being analogous to our God (as embodied in Mahayana Buddhism) -- is the same argument we have just entertained. This is the "nature of Buddha" argument; one entirely parallel to, and every bit as insoluble as, the parallel dispute about the "nature of Christ".
Can God have a son? Yes, God can surely have a son, if He so chooses. Whether or not Jesus should be literally regarded as such is not for us to say.
We do not, and cannot, "know" God. Do you deny this? If you "know" God, why have you kept your knowledge secret from all the churches of the world?
On the other hand, those of us who desire to be humble before God have realized that we do not "know" God. Therefore, it follows that to the extent that the Messiah is God-on-earth, that is the extent to which we cannot "know" the Messiah either. That is why it is hopeless to attempt to "understand" the "nature" of Christ, or the "nature" of Messiah.
Let us instead contemplate our own natures, and try to figure out how we came to be separated from the presence of God, and how we might reverse the error of Original Sin.
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Confucianism - the "Golden Rule"
The religion of Confucius was Taoism. Confucianism itself is not really a religion, but a system of ethics. It is a system so highly developed that it is certain that it has never been fully implemented in any nation. That is too bad! For if we all followed Confucius, this world would be a place of justice, happiness, and productivity.
Confucius dwelled, above all, on the relationships between people. He was the first person known to have expounded the "Golden Rule".
The Golden Rule, as we are all taught it in childhood, is to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you". It is one of those few precepts whose truth is intuitively grasped by all people in all places. It's as if we all know instinctively that this Rule works.
And yet applying the Rule to everyday life is far from simple. If you have never tried, you ought to right now. What you will find is that putting yourself in the place of another person, to understand what that other person's hopes and dreams are, is much more difficult than you thought. You have to work at it. For people who are selfish and egocentric (i.e., most of us), the task is a mighty one indeed.
And yet throughout history, rare individuals have somehow come to comprehend the incredible fact that the application of this deceptively simple Rule could, almost by itself, bring about a perfect world. Here in the West, it is commonly supposed that the Golden Rule was first enunciated by Christ. But that is not true. Christ's teachings, as we shall see subsequently, were basically the teachings of the Orthodox Jewish rabbis of his day.
Modern day Jewish commentators, desiring to attribute the Golden Rule to Old Testament Judaism, express the opinion that the Rule is a corollary of the admonition to
"...love thy neighbor as thyself."
This admonition is prominently featured in the New Testament (Matthew 5:43, 19:19, 22:39), but It appeared first in the Torah (Leviticus 19:18).
Hillel, the towering Jewish scholar of the immediate pre-Christian era, and other less-known Jewish scholars in the centuries before him, pronounced negative versions of the Golden Rule. One of the best-known stories of Hillel tells of a heathen scoffer who asked Hillel to condense for him the whole Law into a single sentence (literally "while standing on one foot"), to which Hillel replied
"Whatever is hateful to thee, do it not unto thy fellow: this is the whole Torah(!); the rest is commentary..."
... (the exclamation point is mine). Since Hillel is regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest interpreters of the Torah who ever lived, this puts the Golden Rule squarely at the center of Jewish tradition. But it is never explicitly stated in the Torah! In this particular instance, and in each other instance in which Jewish scholars quoted versions of the Golden Rule, they cited Leviticus 19:18 ("love thy neighbor") as their source.
But the truth of the matter is that the Golden Rule was first stated neither by a Jew nor a Christian, nor, in fact, by anyone west of the Himalayan Mountains. It was first explicitly stated by none other than Confucius, and has been preserved in his most-widely-read of books, the Analects. In this book, the Rule appears no less than three times (Analects 5:11, 12:2, 15:23). Clearly, this doctrine permeates the Confucian philosophy, and forms one of its pillars.
Analects 15:23, to a Westerner, reads like a paraphrase of Hillel. We must remind ourselves that Confucius lived 500 years earlier. In this passage, one of Confucius' disciples asks:
"Is there any single saying that one can act upon all day and every day?", to which Confucius replied: "Perhaps the saying about consideration: 'Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you'".
Whereas Jewish commentators (and later, Christian commentators) mentioned the Golden Rule, and then went on to expound other matters at greater length, Confucius chose to dwell upon it, giving rise to a conception of a perfect world of productive, joyous and harmonious relationships between people at every level of life. In a Confucian world, people would know their place. Children would respect parents, and the common people their leaders. No one would be worried about "advancement", because advancement based on seniority would come naturally with time, and advancement based on merit would go properly to those most deserving. People would not resent those "above" themselves, because the function of leaders would not be to "lord over" those below, but rather to serve. The words of Jesus come to mind:
"And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:27).
Confucius recognized the difficulties involved in applying the Golden Rule, and that he himself had not lived up to the ideals he taught. In the Confucian classic, the Doctrine of the Mean, he is quoted as having said:
"There are four things in the moral life of man, not one of which I have been able to carry out in my life. To serve my father as I would expect my son to serve me: that I have not been able to do. To serve my sovereign as I would expect a minister under me to serve me: that I have not been able to do. To act towards my elder brother as I would expect my younger brother to act towards me: that I have not been able to do. To be the first to behave towards friends as I would expect them to behave towards me: that I have not been able to do."
Like other great moral teachers of this world, Confucius was not well-received during his life. But immediately after his death, his teachings rose up to become the backbone of Chinese civilization, which they remain to this day (whether acknowledged by the current government or not). Attempts to stamp him out have failed. The great emperor Ch'in (c. 221 BC), who unified China by force, built the Great Wall and named the whole country after himself, sought to eliminate Confucianism, which he perceived to be contrary to his militaristic aims. He had hundreds of Confucian scholars buried alive. But as soon as Ch'in died, the spirit of Confucius returned, even stronger than before.
In modern times, the Communist government of China has again condemned Confucianism, declaring falsely that adherence to the principles of Confucius was the cause of all the ills of society, when in fact the truth was the opposite: it was lack of adherence to the principles of Confucius which resulted in all the famines and other social ills which plagued China in the early 20th century. Like Emperor Ch'in before them, the Communists attempted to stamp out Confucianism, but in vain. He has been suppressed, but hardly forgotten.
Besides, even if they did succeed in completely suppressing Confucius, his spirit lives on in this Web Site and in others like it, as well as in the hearts and minds of everyone who has tasted of his wisdom.
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Days for years
The Biblical language device where years are referred to as "days", and seven-year periods as "weeks", is well-established and widely accepted by both Jewish and Christian scholars. Thus, although the interpretation of "seventy weeks" as meaning 490 years may seem far-fetched at first glance, it is virtually certain that that is precisely what it means. See Ezekiel 4:6 for an explicit use of the literary device of days for years.
See Mashiach by J.I. Schochet, published by S.I.E., New York & Toronto, 1992, pp. 93-101. New York address: 788 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213, tel 718-778-5436.