More and more Jewish people are open to discussing Jesus, including several Jewish scholars. Amy Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt, wrote a book about Jesus entitled The Misunderstood Jew and also helped put together The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Many Jewish people now say that Jesus was a historical figure who was a good rabbi, an inspirational teacher or even a great prophet.
But they do not believe he is the Jewish Messiah.
Messiah means “anointed one.” Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It is the Greek word for “Messiah.” So Jesus Christ simply means Jesus the Messiah or, in Hebrew, Yeshua HaMashiach.
If you have come to believe that Jesus was just a great teacher or even a prophet but not the Messiah, consider the implications.
As a Jewish person who once knew next to nothing about Jesus, I don’t think most Jews intend to insult the Christian religion when they say that Jesus is not the Messiah. Most of us have been taught from childhood—either directly or by osmosis—that Jesus is not for the Jews. But let’s see where it leads us, logically.
The New Testament explicitly states that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah. At this time of year, many of us, even us Jews, will hear the Christmas story as related in the Gospel of Luke (remember Linus’s explanation in A Charlie Brown Christmas?):
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8–12)
The angel says that the baby who will be born in the manger in Bethlehem is the Messiah. Maybe you don’t believe in New Testament angels. But there are plenty of angels in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as those that spoke with Abraham and Daniel. So you will have to disavow them as well.
Jesus himself claimed to be the Messiah. When a woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming." he replied, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:25–26).
To say that Jesus is not the Messiah is to call Jesus a liar. It would be the same as someone telling you that Moses was a liar. In the Hebrew Scriptures, after God speaks with Moses at the burning bush, we read, “Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed” (Exodus 4:30-31). They didn’t call Aaron and Moses liars. They believed.
The New Testament says that Jesus rose from the dead. Not only that, but he also predicted his own resurrection, saying “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
You might say this sounds like a fairy tale. But someone might tell you that God parting the Red Sea sounds like a fairy tale. If that would offend you, consider that when you dis the veracity of the New Testament.
To deny what the New Testament says about Jesus is to deny the New Testament Scriptures as a whole. It would be the same as a Christian telling you that he or she does not believe in the Hebrew Scriptures. But for a true Christian that is impossible, because the Hebrew Scriptures are the foundation for all that is recorded in the New Testament.
Could these Christians and Messianic Jews be on to something? Could both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament be true, one complementing the other? Could the Hebrew Scriptures predict the coming of the Messiah, with the New Testament showing the fulfillment of those prophecies?
There’s only one way to find out. Open the New Testament this holiday season and learn what the birth of Yeshua (and his death and resurrection) are really all about. Maybe you will decide it is not for you. Or maybe you will share the excitement of the disciple Andrew when he came to his brother Nathanael and exclaimed, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45).