Can Jesus Be Messiah if He Didn’t Bring Peace?

A quick look at a frequent objection.

by Jews for Jesus | July 15 2016

When considering the identity of the Messiah, many Jewish people immediately discredit the candidacy of Jesus. They ask, “If Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t he bring peace? What about all the prophecies he didn’t fulfill?”

The Jewish understanding and expectation of the Messiah comes from hundreds of messianic prophesies found in the Tanach. These prophecies have been generally sorted into two categories: some passages describe a man rejected and humble, suffering quietly (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 being the most prominent), while others describe a victorious king, justly ruling over a world transformed by the universal knowledge of God (i.e. Isaiah 11:1-9).

The road to reconciling these seemingly contradictory portraits has been rocky—many interpreters have disagreed.

Two Ways to See It

There are the two ways that we can think about the messianic prophecies in the Tanakh.

1. There are two different Messiahs.

Early rabbinic tradition interpreted these prophetic discrepancies as describing two separate messiahs, the “Son of Joseph” and the “Son of David.” “Messiah Son of Joseph” mirrors the story of Joseph, fulfilling the prophecies concerning suffering and even dying to bring redemption. The Talmud (b. Sukkah 52a) states this messiah would do many great deeds before being slain in a great war preceding the reign of “Messiah Son of David” (based on Daniel 9:25-26).

After “Messiah Son of David” triumphs, he will fulfill the prophecies about universal peace, the rebuilding of the Temple, the regathering of Israel, and the restoration of the whole world. The rabbis claim he will then raise “Messiah Son of Joseph” from the dead.

2. There is one Messiah.

The New Testament sees no conflict between the two seemingly contradictory portraits of the Messiah. Jesus came to the Jewish people and presented himself as the promised Messiah, while subverting expectations about the Messiah as a powerful military leader who would immediately overthrow all earthly oppressors. Because Jesus did not meet those expectations, he was not received as the Messiah.

The rejection, suffering, and death of the Messiah was for our redemption.

Jesus lamented over his people’s unwillingness to recognize their deliverer, finally declaring, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:39). Not only was Jesus rejected as Messiah, but the peace he offered was also refused, when some of the very people he came to redeem called for him to be put to death.

This, however, was according to God’s plan. Isaiah 53:10 says of the Messiah, “Yet, it was the will of the Lord to crush him.” The rejection, suffering, and death of Jesus the Messiah was for the purpose of redemption—he would die as atonement for the sins of the nation of Israel and ultimately the entire world.

The Servant and the King

In fact, the peace the Bible says the Messiah will bring is not possible without his suffering and death. That is why Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified (declared righteous) by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus the Messiah,” (Romans 5:1) and “For [Messiah] himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” (Ephesians 2:14).

Suffering is not where the story ends.

Because Jesus fulfilled the messianic mission of the suffering servant, all who receive him as the messianic king have peace with God and with each other. But that’s not where the story ends. The New Testament promises Jesus will come again, “not to deal with sin [as at his first coming] but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him [i.e. to complete the work of salvation—bringing redemption and peace to the whole world]” (Hebrews 9:28).

To some, this seems like a convenient excuse to explain away those prophecies Jesus seemingly failed to fulfill. But consider three things.

First, the Messiah’s arrival as described by the prophets (especially Daniel) fits well with the arrival of Jesus in the first century.

Second, if we say the Messiah has not yet come, does that solve the problem of peace? Israel’s hope for the Messianic age of peace is taking longer than expected whether you think the Messiah has come once already or not.

Third, this mysterious complexity and counterintuitive delay is very much in keeping with the way we see God work in the Torah and in the history of Israel. God’s people in the days before the Exodus were probably very confused about when the promises to Abraham would be fulfilled. But God knew His plans for Israel, and was very patient in bringing their salvation about at just the right time.

While We’re Waiting

Though we all long deeply for peace and wish that the peace of Israel and the peace of the whole world could arrive tomorrow if not sooner, the Messiah is not sitting idle in the meantime. Jesus is working through his people and working through the ongoing witness of the Scriptures to bring peace to people and communities all over the world.

Even now, people of almost every nation are calling on the name of Israel’s God and having their hearts turned to grow in love for Abraham’s family.