If Jesus was a just a rabbi, his religious knowledge would be limited to a single ethnic group of human beings throughout human history.  But according to the Gospel narratives, Jesus was that, and more. Jesus was called “Rabbi”[Teacher] by some Jewish leaders (Gospel of John 3:1-2), by the followers of John the Baptist (John 3:26), and by the crowds taught by Jesus (John 1:37).

Many Jews do think Jesus was a Jewish prophet.  He is referred to as a prophet both by himself and by others referring to him (Gospel of Matthew 13:53-58; 14:5; 21:10-11; 21:46; Gospel of Mark 6:4 & 15; Gospel of Luke 24:19).

If Jesus was a messiah, then he is set apart from all Messenger-Prophets even more. The Gospel of John records two instances of the Hebrew title “Messiah” being used by those first meeting Jesus, in speculation about his role (Gospel of John 1:41, 4:25). Jesus as Messiah will be discussed in detail below.

But there is another claim made about Jesus’ identity and role. For Christians, Jesus is said to be the pure reflection of the invisible God, a partner to God in Being and in God’s creative acts and powers:

Christ [Jesus] is the [visible] likeness of the invisible God. He is first-born over all creation, [superior to all created things].  For in /through him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities. God created the whole universe through him and for him. He [Christ] is before all things, and in union with him all things hold together.  (Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 1:15-17)

The Christian Church features the man Jesus as a divine being, the “Son of God,” with divine co-powers attributed to him. At the same time Christians are forced to accept as valid the other categories mentioned above (attested in their own Gospel narratives, cited above), but only as secondary identities, which are applicable only to Jesus’ human nature.

Without having a divine nature (referring to the “Christ” component), the human Jesus could not become, as the Church teaches, a universal [divine] sacrifice able to pay [to God] the death penalty for the sins of the world.

For Christians, a single event in the life of Jesus is the indispensable heart of the Christian religious belief system. Without that event —death by Crucifixion, and being miraculously alive afterwards— Christians would have no message to proclaim, as explained by Paul, the most prolific writer of Christian Scripture:

…if Christ [Jesus] has not been raised [from the death resulting from crucifixion by the Romans], then we [Paul] have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe.  More than that, we are shown to be lying about God… And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins. (Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 15:12-17)

For Christians, the man called Son of God is a unique being, belonging to the ultimate category possible for any human being in the history of the world. Son of God, as they define this term, brings with it a breach of the First of the Ten Commandments:  “Worship no God but Me.”  Most Christians intentionally worship Jesus, alongside God, and pray to him.

For Jews and Muslims, the meaning that is wrapped up in the historically established concept Son of God is a clear violation of monotheism: “Worship no God but Me.” Jews and Muslims thus unreservedly reject the concept Son of God.

Now to the remaining term, “Messiah.”

Jews say “The Messiah” will be a son (descendant) of King David, who by the way had, and still has, a very large number of descendants.  “Son of David” is another title applied to Jesus by individuals and crowds seeking his healing hand (Gospel of Matthew 9:27, 15:22, 20:30, 21:9 & 15; Mark 10:47-48, 11:10; Luke 18:38-39) and by those waiting for the Messianic Age (“the kingdom of our father David”) which is to be brought in by the Messiah-descendant (“son”) of David (Mark 11:9-10, John 7:-41-42).

“Messiah” comes from a Hebrew word meaning one divinely chosen and marked by official anointing with oil. “The Messiah” will be an individual who will bring about the Messianic Age of universal peace and brotherhood.  What is the Messianic Age that the expected Messiah-son of David is to bring?

In many religious traditions, redemption is mostly defined in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation. However, the Prophets of Israel conceived redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Jewish people. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age.

The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, we would ourselves bring about the Messianic Age. But, if we will not do it voluntarily, redemption will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps.

The Messiah refers to an agent of God who helps bring about this transformation. The Jewish tradition teaches that this agent of God (and there may be three or more such agents) will be a human being, a descendant of King David, with great leadership qualities similar to Prophets Moses or Mohammed.

The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer of human society.  (“The Mahdi-Messiah Solution To The Question Of Jerusalem ” (OpEd by Rabbi Maller), Eurasia Review, May 10, 2022)

Jews believe that Jesus, a young rabbi/teacher, was falsely accused (by the Romans ruling the Land of Israel) of professing that he was ‘The King of the Jews’ (Gospel of Mark 15:2 & 18, Matthew 27:11, Luke 23:3, and John 18:33, 19:21); they saw Jesus as challenging the authority of the local occupying Roman government. At about the same time Jesus was  proclaimed by some of his followers to be ‘the Son of God’—thereby challenging the supremacy of the imperial ‘divine’ Caesar‘!

Christians say the Messiah (‘Christ’: the Greek language term substituted for the Hebrew word Messiah) is the single Divine Son of God. So who is right about who Prophet Jesus was?

Jews and Muslims say that all the descendants of David must be human beings; because all the descendants of Adam and Eve are human beings. To claim that a human being can ever be or become God is a denial and a desecration of monotheism.

As the Qur’an states:

O People of the (Gospels) Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah anything but the truth. Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, was (only) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him.  So believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”; desist!  It will be better for you —for Allah is one Allah.  Glory be to Him above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (Qur’an 4:171, Yusif Ali)

But while this verse in the Qur’an demands that people desist from talking about “Trinity” (i.e., God as “three persons”), it also refers to Jesus as “Messiah Jesus.”

Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah-son of David (Dawud); because the Messianic Age of international peace is to be his mandate, and clearly this Age has not yet come about.

Nevertheless, this leaves open the possibility that Jesus could have been the Messiah-son of Aaron (Harun), or, Messiah-son of Joseph (Yusuf). The latter, according to rabbinic teachings, will be killed by the anti-Messianic forces (the Romans or their modern equivalent) before the coming of the Messiah-Son of David—to be followed by the final judgment and resurrection.

The belief in a plurality of messiahs, one a moral political leader from the house of David (a Davidson) and the other, a religious reformer from the house of Aaron (an Aronson) —in addition to a special “end of days” prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah (as referred to in the Gospel of Matthew 16:14)— is found in inter-testament literature, but does not appear so transparently in the Scriptures of Jews (or Christians).

A Dead Sea Scroll text states that the Qumran community of Jewish sectaries must live according to the original discipline [Torah laws plus the regulations of the Qumran order] “until there shall come a prophet (Elijah) and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel (Manual of Discipline 9:11).

In addition to the “Messiahs of Aaron and Israel” there is a rabbinic belief in a further messianic figure from the northern tribes of the Children of Israel, a son of Joseph, who would be killed by Roman enemies. Interestingly, Joseph is the name of the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

…To be continued in Part 2

Rabbi Allen S Maller

Allen S. Maller was the rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California for 39 years, from 1967 to 2006. Rabbi Maller edited the Tikun series of High Holy Days prayerbooks, used at Temple Akiba and at seven other congregations in California, Nevada and Arizona. Read Full Bio

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