Monday, August 31, 2009

What the Rabbis have Said about Messiah

Below is a letter I wrote to an orthodox Jewish woman who had cited only those Messianic verses that pertained to the Messiah’s triumphant establishment of His glorious eternal kingdom:

All of these verses are very true about the Messiah, but there is one additional consideration that affects our understanding of who this Messiah is. Many Rabbis, along with Christians, have recognized that Scripture contains two distinct portraits of the Messiah: one in which He will suffer and die for the sins of the people; the second in which He will establish the everlasting kingdom. The verses that you selected point to His final return.

Let me acquaint you with verses which support the first portrait along with what the Rabbis say about it:

Isaiah 53:1-5 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (You really should also read until the end of the chapter to derive the full force of this prophecy!)

Here’s what Maimonides wrote:

“Yet he carried our sicknesses, being himself sick and distressed for the transgressions which should have caused sickness and distress in us, and bearing the pains which we ought to have experienced. But we, when we saw him weakened and prostrate, thought we were healed [53:5] – because the stripes by which he was vexed and distressed will heal us: God will pardon us for his righteousness and we shall be healed from our own transgressions and from the iniquities of our fathers.”

This is also reflected in the day of atonement musaf (additional) prayer:

“Our righteous anointed is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression [53:5]. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound, at the time that the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature.”

Here are some additional rabbinic references:


“The children of the world are members one of another. When the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, he smites one just man amongst them, and for his sake heals all the rest. Whence do we learn this? From the saying, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ (53:5).” (52)


“While Israel were in their own land they freed themselves from such sicknesses and other punishments by means of offerings, but now the Messiah frees them from them, as it is written, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions…’” (Isa. 53:5)


“As long as Israel dwelt in the Holy Land , the rituals and the sacrifices they performed removed all those diseases from the world; now the Messiah removes them from the children of the world.”


“The Messiah, in order to atone for them both [for Adam and David] will ‘make his soul a trespass offering,’ (Isaiah 53:10).”


“The meaning of the words Bruised for our iniquities’ [Isaiah 53:5] is that since the Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of his being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities, must endure and suffer them for them himself.” (All the above quotations are taken from What the Rabbonim Say About Moshiach, Douglas Pyle)

There are many other verses that also point to Messiah’s death for His people: Zechariah 12:10; Daniel 9:24-27; Psalms 22; 69. At least the first two, many Rabbis also regard as Messianic.

Please let me know if you have any questions or challenges.

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