Jesus cannot be the Messiah because the Messiah was to be a reigning king, whereas Jesus was despised, rejected, and crucified.
The prophetic Scriptures indicate that first the Messiah would suffer and then he would reign. This is exactly what happened: Jesus-Yeshua—who is one of us and has identified himself totally with us—joined us in our suffering, rejection, and pain. We have suffered torture and death; he too was tortured and killed. We have been mocked, maligned, and misunderstood; to this day, he is the butt of ugly jokes and a common curse on people’s lips. (When people get angry, they don’t yell, “Moses!” or “Buddha!” or “Muhammad!” but “Jesus Christ!”) But whereas we have often suffered because we were guilty, he suffered because he was innocent—and he did it for us. Therefore, Jesus was and is the perfect Messiah for us, the ideal Savior for a despised and rejected people.
We have addressed this objection elsewhere (see vol. 1, 2.1 and vol. 2, 3.23), demonstrating that the Hebrew Bible pointed to a suffering-then-reigning Messiah, while many Jewish traditions also spoke of a suffering Messiah. Recently, some prominent biblical and Semitic scholars, Israel Knohl of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Michael Wise of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, have argued that even before the time of Jesus, there was a Jewish belief in a suffering Messiah, something which scholars have debated for many decades.331 In all probability, the proposals of Wise and Knohl will stir further scholarly debate and dialogue in the decades to come, and without a doubt, their proposals will be considered correct by some and unsupportable by others.
What is much more clear is the testimony of Scripture, including the following biblical testimony:
- According to Isaiah 52:13–15, a passage widely recognized as a Messianic prophecy in traditional Jewish circles (see above, 4.6–4.8), the servant of the Lord would suffer terrible humiliation before being highly exalted and raised up. The following chapter in its entirety (53:1–12) spells this out in detail.
- According to Zechariah 9:9–10, the king whose reign will extend over the entire earth will come meek and lowly, riding on a donkey. (According to Rashi and b. Sanhedrin 98a, this is King Messiah.)
- According to Zechariah 12:10, cited once as a Messianic prophecy in the Talmud, the Messiah will be pierced and killed. Zechariah 13:7 also prophesies that the shepherd—a highly significant figure—will be smitten, causing the sheep to be scattered (see above, 4.31).
- According to Psalm 118:22 (a psalm with strong Messianic implications), the stone rejected by the builders will become the capstone. This is in keeping with the biblical pattern in which the Lord himself was a stone of stumbling to his people. See Isaiah 8:12–15, where it is declared that the Lord “will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured” (Isa. 8:14–15). Note also Isaiah 28:16–19, where the Lord says, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed” (v. 16)—yet for the ungodly in Jerusalem, that stone would mean judgment (vv. 17–19). Thus, we see that just as God himself was both the rock of salvation and the rock of offense for his people, being rejected by the majority during biblical times, the same pattern holds true for the Messiah.
I pointed out when addressing the question of the Holocaust (vol. 1, 2.10), that Yeshua is the Messiah we need, our ideal representative. Would we rather have someone who was only a lofty king who exercised total authority, a royal figure who could not possibly relate to the sting of public rejection and ridicule, who had never tasted the humiliation of being stripped and beaten by taunting soldiers and had never been challenged, never misunderstood, never slandered, never repaid with evil for doing good? Is that the kind of Messiah we want? Or do we want a Messiah who suffers and then reigns, who dies and then lives again, who gives himself for us long before we give ourselves for him? The choice should be obvious.
In this light, the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews explains as follows:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.… For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:14, 16–18
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Messiah our King is also Messiah our High Priest—just as the Scriptures foretold. It could not be any other way.
And look at the worldwide reign of Jesus the King over the lives of countless tens of millions from every nation under the sun. They give him their total allegiance and loyalty. His reign is far, far greater and more influential than the reign of any Davidic king—including David himself—and this is only the beginning.
331 Michael O. Wise, The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1999); Israel Knohl, The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Berkley: Univ. of California Press, 2000); for a summary of research through the mid-1980s, see Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135), rev. ed., ed. Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1973–87), 2:547–49.