Is the Messiah Divine?
Gus was a nice guy. But he was also a pest.
As a telecommunications engineer I could not have asked for a better co-worker. Gus was proficient and always in a good mood. As a Jew, however, I would have preferred that he talk about almost anything else while working by my side. He was always telling me that Yeshua (Jesus) was the real Messiah!
For months we carried on a friendly debate. At lunch we would analyze current Israeli politics. While writing specifications, we would tangle with some ancient prophecies. Then, before going home, he liked to pose an intellectual challenge for me to ponder, usually about the Messiah, often as difficult to comprehend as electricity is to see.
I’ll have to admit that Gus did his homework and made his points. I was soon able to see that Yeshua was someone I needed to consider seriously as a great man, a brilliant teacher and maybe even a prophet. Gus actually had me reading the New Testament. But there remained a grinding question that is a major roadblock for every Jew:
How can the Messiah be both human and divine?
That cut against the grain of all the teaching I had ever received in Hebrew school and synagogue. It was utterly beyond my natural understanding. But, to my consternation, that fact didn’t cause Gus to waver one bit. Like an electric circuit, he kept all of his arguments flowing. And he knew just when to shut off the flow of new ideas and let me reflect and respond.
One day I quizzed Gus, hoping to discover a flaw in his biblical specifications. My friend read from the New Testament where Yeshua says, I and the Father are one.”1 He quoted Yeshua telling a crowd, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.…I tell you the truth…before Abraham was born, I am!”2 He noted that Yeshua called himself divine, yet lived in a body of flesh and blood.
Yeshua’s words could not have been clearer, but there still seemed to be a missing loop in the logic. As an engineer I could make an attempt to explain how electricity flows. But just as there is a mysterious element to electricity, it seemed to me that there was an even more unexplainable, even mystical dimension to the Messiah’s twin natures. Frankly, to my Jewish mind it seemed impossible.
Gus paused, then slowly spoke words I have never forgotten: “If you truly want to know who the real Messiah is, then you must read the New Testament record. Take note of what Yeshua did for the people of Israel of his day and what he said to them. I will not say anything more because I don’t want to argue this point. I believe that Yeshua himself will speak to your heart.”
The Human Side of Yeshua
Usually I could put aside Gus’ challenges until I wanted to face them. This one could not wait. Leafing through the New Testament I found that the Messiah not only called himself divine, but he more often referred to himself as the “Son of Man.” He was clearly claiming to be human.
The label “Son of Man” could have been an attempt to identify with Ezekiel the prophet, I thought. Perhaps Yeshua wanted to empathize with our needs, our hurts and our victories, I reasoned.
However, I knew the answer wasn’t that pragmatic. It was more elusive, like defining electricity. So I decided to research what Jewish religious leaders of that day had said about who the Messiah really is.
I started with the exile of Jewish people to Babylon, which was a judgment for trafficking with idols. After that, our leaders wanted to protect the people from ever again demeaning the holiness of God by the sin of idolatry—a good idea, I concurred. To achieve this they developed a systematic de-anthropomorphization of God (removing any human way of describing God); they emphasized God’s total otherness.
Yet I seemed to remember the prophets speaking of God in warm human terms. I checked and, sure enough, I found phrases such as “His eyes are upon us,” “His hand helps us,” “His feet lead us,” “His finger points to His revelation.”
What had happened to these attributes that clearly connected God with man? Maybe this de-anthropomorphization wasn’t such a good idea after all. Even basic words defining God were altered:
- Memra, or the word, refers to any part of God’s being. Mouth, for example, is changed to memra.3
- Presence refers to the “face” of God;4 “to see the King” is to see the glory of the shekinah.5 Instead of “the LORD of hosts who dwells on Mount Zion,” the reference is to his shekinah dwelling on Mount Zion.6
- “The LORD who sees” becomes “it was seen before Him.”
- “The kingdom of God” is replaced with “the kingdom of heaven.”
- Instead of referring to God directly, the word “power” is employed.
By the first century, this de-anthropomorphisizing vocabulary created a sense of division between God and man. While Jewish people certainly considered God as a person, the emphasis on his holiness was shifted to mean God was far away, wholly other. Using this line of thinking, if a boundary line is drawn, God appears above the line while humankind appears below it. This boundary establishes a great gulf whereby a human cannot become God and God cannot become human. No wonder it was so difficult for so many Jews of that day, and today, to accept the Messiah as both human and divine!
This could explain why, when Yeshua began his public speaking, he was very careful about the way he referred to himself. He did not initially claim to be both human and divine, most likely because people would have considered that an affront against the fixed line between man and God. A person could have been stoned for such an infraction. That could be why Matthew, Mark and Luke, writing in the New Testament, identify Yeshua as the “Son of Man” while never attempting to hide his true identity. Yeshua was initially careful with his words. But this proves nothing except that he was an intelligent, sensitive man.
Yeshua As a Great Teacher
I know that if I were alive then, I would have wanted to hear Yeshua speak, because it was well known that he attracted large crowds. What was it that drew so many people?
The evangelist Mark observed: “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”7
The common style of the religious leaders of that day was first to compare what previous or contemporary rabbis had taught, then answer with a distillation of what the best minds had to say about the subject. Yeshua spoke on his own authority. He would preface his teaching with the words, “You have heard it said,…but I say to you.…” Other leaders would not dare include their own thoughts, perceptions and insights.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua declared, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”8
By this point, I could understand why Yeshua would want to be seen as human. And I knew he was either arrogant or a great teacher. I had opted for the latter. But this alone still proved nothing more than the fact that he was a brilliant man, perhaps a genius. Maybe he was a messenger from God. But to call him divine seemed to be reaching too far. I still couldn’t see electricity or how anyone could cross the barrier between humanity and divinity.
There certainly was something different about this Yeshua. But did he actually meet the needs of the people? I asked, rerouting the question my friend Gus had launched. Or did he simply teach in a profound manner and perform acts that gained the attention of the curious? He certainly knew how to be in touch with and alleviate the pain we so often experience.
I read where he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. …I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”9
I was beginning to like this man Yeshua. He seemed to genuinely care for my people. But caring and offering kind words don’t prove that you are divine.
That is when my heart began to pound. It was as if someone had flipped the switch to connect one of the circuits I had designed. Before me as plain as a blueprint, I could see that Yeshua was more than a mere man.
The Deeds of Yeshua
Yeshua not only provided rest for the weary, but he met the physical and spiritual needs of the people as well. He not only comforted with human empathy, but he touched those around him in a super-human way that made him at least a prophet:
He healed people.10 A surgeon can operate to mend parts of the body, but Yeshua completely healed the leper; the servant of the Roman centurion; the mother-in-law of Peter; and many other people who were suffering from various illnesses. He healed as Isaiah the prophet declared the Messiah would heal: “…he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.”11
He had command over nature.12 Once, when Yeshua and the disciples were crossing the Yam Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) on route to Tiberias, a violent windstorm came up. The disciples were bailing water at a furious rate, and the prospect of completing the journey was dismal. Yeshua was awakened by his disciples who pleaded that he do something because they feared they would die in the storm. Yeshua listeneed, then rebuked them for their lack of faith. He stood up, faced the winds and waves, and spoke to them. Everything instantly became calm!
While I could reason as to how Yeshua could be a healer, his control over the winds and waves places him into a different category, at least a super-man if not deity. The disciples themselves were amazed, and asked themselves, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!?”
He had control over the unseen world.13 When the disciples arrived at the east side of the lake, they encountered two violent, demon-possessed men. The demons who controlled the men had no difficulty in recognizing Yeshua. They addressed him as the Son of God. When he cast the demons out of the two men, restoring the men to their right minds, Yeshua demonstrated his mastery of the unseen world.
Yeshua forgave sin.14 Yeshua and his disciples came to Tiberias. There he addressed a great crowd of people, so large that it was nearly impossible for anyone to get close to him. Four men came to the site, carrying a paralytic man on a mat. Because they could not get through the crowd, they climbed onto the roof, removed some tiles and lowered the paralytic man down through the hole into the house.
When Yeshua saw the sick man, instead of first saying the words that would heal him, he pronounced: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”15 Some of the religious leaders present were shocked by Yeshua’s audacity. Sensing the thoughts of these leaders, Yeshua challenged them by comparing the authority to heal with the authority to forgive sins.
Yeshua then instructed the paralytic man to stand up, pick up his mat and go home.16 The man did just that!
Yeshua had control over life.17 When the daughter of a synagogue leader became seriously ill, the leader summoned Yeshua. Yeshua and his disciples went to visit the girl, but when they arrived they were told she had already died. Yeshua, however, told the mourners who had gathered, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.”18 The people laughed at him, but he did not reply. Instead, he took aside the father and mother, along with his disciples Peter, James and John. They went into the inner room where the dead body of the girl was lying. He took hold of the girl’s hand and instructed her to get up. She arose; she was alive!
I have to admit that I was more than uneasy when I read this account. I protested! Only God has control over life and death. When the tenth and last plague struck the Egyptians, God prepared his people, telling them to put the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their homes as a sign to the Angel of Death to spare that household’s firstborn child. The Egyptians, who had no such warning, suffered the loss of their eldest sons. By raising the young girl to life, Yeshua exhibited the same power over life and death.
If Yeshua truly had control over disease, the wind and waves, demons and life itself, then he had to have a divine nature. A super-man might be able to do a few of these things, but not all of them. And surely, a super-man could not forgive sin.
I could see how Yeshua could have been a compassionate human. And I could now accept his divinity. But like trying to explain why you can talk on a telephone line half way around the world, I still could not complete the circuit that would make Yeshua both divine and human.
The Divine Connection
At Gat Shemen (Gethsemane), a very human Yeshua was apprehended by temple guards and Roman troops. He was brought before the Sanhedrin where, eventually, the high priest challenged his identity. “Tell us if you are the Christ,” he prodded. “[Tell us if you are] the Son of God.”19 Yeshua had no real difficulty in affirming the first inquiry. Even a minority of the rabbis accepted his messiahship.
The test came with the second question: Are you really the Son of God? This, I thought, will reveal the true motivation behind his acts. For his answer, Yeshua paraphrased Daniel 7:13, applying it to himself: “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”20
What was Yeshua saying? Was he out of his mind? He had declared the unthinkable. Yeshua, as the Son of Man, had crossed the barrier between God and man. He had completed the circuit. He said he would sit at the right hand of the Mighty One, or God!
Who Is Yeshua?
The high priest tore his own clothes, indicating he did not believe the claim. In my Jewish mind, I could almost do the same. Then, as I sat in my study contemplating what Yeshua had done for my people and what he had said, I too made the connection. It was not a supernatural revelation. Only later would I learn that people at several churches had been praying for me. No, I just sat there examining who Yeshua was and what he had done.
Matthew’s account of the life of Yeshua so clearly portrayed how the people of Israel tested much of what Yeshua said and did. They looked at his words and his deeds. Many decided that the only way Yeshua could have said what he said and performed the miracles he performed was through a special manifestation of God.
Who is the real Messiah? He was more than a great man, more than a brilliant teacher and more than a prophet. He is the One who could heal people, forgive them of their sins and have control over life itself. Because of his twin natures, he is the only one who has the power to change humans.
Paul once declared, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”21 Yeshua is the One who offers us life: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”22 He also declared he is the One who can give us peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”23
Furthermore, it is only through Yeshua that we can enter into God’s presence: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”24 Still a Mystery!
I could not walk away from the challenge to examine the claims of Yeshua. How could I say he was or was not the Messiah unless I looked at the record? What was the final switch that caused me to accept Yeshua as both human and divine? Just as I still struggle to explain the flow of electricity, so I would struggle to answer. To my finite mind, how anyone can be human and divine is still a mystery. But it is no longer a roadblock. For Yeshua has proven to be both.
I leave with you the same challenge my co-worker Gus left with me many years ago. If you really want to know who Yeshua is, don’t just accept someone else’s conclusion. Read the New Testament. See what Yeshua did for the Jewish people. Examine the mystery of his human nature and his divine nature. See if Yeshua will speak directly to you as he did to me. That is the real mystery.
Footnotes 1The Holy Bible, New International Version, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1978. John 10:30.
2Ibid., John 8:56,58.
3J.F. Stenning, The Targum of Isaiah, London, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949. Isaiah 1:20.
4New International Version, Numbers 6:25,26.
5Stenning, Isaiah 6:5.
6Stenning, Isaiah 8:18.
7New International Version, Mark 1:22.
8Ibid., Matthew 5:27,28. 9Ibid., Matthew 11:28,29. 10Ibid., Matthew 8:1-17. 11Ibid., Isaiah 53:4. 12Ibid., Matthew 8:23-27. 13Ibid., Matthew 8:28-34. 14Ibid., Matthew 9:1-8. 15Ibid., Matthew 9:2. 16Ibid., Matthew 9:6. 17Ibid., Matthew 9:18-19, 23-36. 18Ibid., Matthew 9:24. 19Ibid., Matthew 26:63. 20Ibid., Matthew 26:24. 21Ibid., 2 Corinthians 5:17. 22Ibid., John 10:10. 23Ibid., John 14:27. 24Ibid., John 14:6.