An Open Letter To A Doubter
Recently I spoke with a man who had professed to be a Jewish believer in Yeshua but now was faltering in his faith. It was partly due to his being influenced by anti-missionary literature he had received. He gave me the pamphlet and asked me to answer the points it raised. I am opening my answer to publication because it might be of interest as an example of the objections anti-missionaries raise and how they can be answered.
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you about the pamphlet, but I couldn’t answer it off the top of my head because the objections were not those one often hears from Orthodox Jews. The writer has his own peculiar form of Judaism and his own peculiar objections to the gospel, and it took me longer to figure out what his objections were than how to answer them. I will attempt to explain his objections (in bold type) and answer them in order.
1. Jesus descended from Jehoiakim, one who had no descendants on the throne of David.
This objection quotes half of Jeremiah 36:30, but I’ll quote the whole verse:
Therefore, thus saith the LORD of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David; and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost.
An even stronger verse he might have quoted concerning that same king is Jeremiah 22:30:
Thus saith the LORD, Write this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days; for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.
The argument seems to be that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because Joseph, Jesus’ legal father, is a descendant of Jehoiakim and Jehoiakim’s descendants are cursed.
This prophecy from Jeremiah was fulfilled when the Babylonian armies conquered Judah. Jehoiakim did have a son, Jehoiachin, who sat on the throne for a few months before Jerusalem was totally destroyed. From that time until the time of Jesus there was no descendant of Jehoiakim—nor of King David, for that matter—sitting upon a throne in Israel. Israel was always a vassal to world empires until the Maccabean revolt in 165 B.C.E. At that time the Hasmonean dynasty began, during which the High Priestly family held the kingship. Then shortly before the time of Christ, an Edomite named King Herod the Great possessed the monarchy over Israel under the authority of the Roman Empire. It is therefore true that Joseph was not a prince, but only distantly related to the royal family: Jesus was not related to the nobility of Herod the Idumean.
My understanding of this passage is, first of all, that the curse against Jehoiakim was sufficiently fulfilled in the fact that his dynasty came to an end in 586 B.C.E.
Second, Jehoiakim’s sons in later generations did not continue in his wicked ways, but repented. God did not curse the children for the actions of their forefathers, but even called Zerubbabel, a descendant of Jehoiakim, his "anointed one." (Read Zechariah chapter 4 and 1 Chronicles 3:15-19.)
Third, the curse notwithstanding, the Jewish law concerning right of succession to the throne of Judah does not permit the establishment of a rival dynasty so long as descendants of the legitimately ordained king survive. That is, according to Jewish law no one except a legitimate heir to Jehoiakim could have the right to the Davidic throne (see Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Book of Kings; I believe it’s chapter 5). So how is it possible for Jehoiakim to have a legitimate heir to his throne who does not inherit the curse upon his descendants?
This is what happened when Yeshua was born to Miriam (Mary) while she was yet a virgin and married to Joseph. Joseph was a legal heir to the throne, but his physical descendant would also be heir to the curse upon Jehoiakim’s seed. Because Yeshua was born in wedlock to Joseph and Miriam, Yeshua is (legally) Joseph’s son. But physically he is descended from the house of David by another branch of that family’s tree, through Mary.
2. Jesus fits the description of a false messiah.
I’m afraid this objection lost me completely. It quotes Daniel 9:25-26 which says:
Know, therefore, and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem unto the Messiah, the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks [that is, weeks of years, a total of 483 years]; …And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off but not for himself; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary…
I have understood this passage to speak of the true Messiah, who Scripture plainly says will be cut off from the land of the living "for the transgression of my people" (Isaiah 53:8). The "people of the prince that shall come" refers to the Roman armies who in fact did destroy the Temple. How the writer takes titles like "Mashiach ha-Nagid," ("Messiah the Prince") or "Mashiach" ("Messiah") and convinces himself they refer to a false Messiah is beyond me. I suppose once he accepts the assumption that the Messiah would not die for our sins, he then is obligated to read that assumption into the passages that contradict his position.
3. Jesus practiced deceit.
The writer claims that since Jesus in Matthew 5:17 said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Torah, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill", Jesus made himself a liar by doing things an Orthodox Jew would not do. But Orthodox Jews do not merely believe in the Torah as written. They believe they have an "oral Torah" which was also given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Its contents are not to be found in the Bible but in the oral traditions of Orthodox rabbis, and in the Talmud. I do not accept that belief, nor do I think that there is any self-contradiction involved for Jesus, who also did not believe in the oral law, to fail to conform to it. Yeshua did conform to the letter and the spirit of the true Torah in every way.
The rabbis of Jesus’ day had added many ritual washings before a meal as part of what Jews had to do in order for their meal to be kosher. Jesus rebuked them for missing the point. He said that whatever you eat is eventually purged from your body, but what comes from inside of you—your wicked thoughts and impulses—these are truly a part of you and truly defile you. A person who ate unclean food suffered a ritual defilement and was unclean until nightfall. But our sinful nature cannot be cleansed with a ceremony. We must accept the atonement God requires, and repent. I agree with Jesus’ emphasis completely and I think the writer of the pamphlet could learn a lot from it.
4. Jesus violated the Sabbath.
My answer to this question is the same as to the previous one. Jesus never violated the Sabbath as defined by the Bible. On several occasions he violated the Sabbath as defined by the rabbis. This was indeed a source of tension between them. If you ever read the Talmud (tractates Shabbat and Eruvin) you will become acquainted with the roots of rabbinic Sabbath law, and you will, I think, come to understand why Jesus felt that this particular area of Jewish law had become distorted.
Inject yourself into Jesus’ situation in John 5. For 38 years a man had been lying on his sleeping bag by the pool of Bethesda, hoping for a healing from God. On the Sabbath, Yeshua healed him. Now if the anti-missionary writer is right, the proper thing Yeshua should have done would have been to say, "OK, you’ve been healed, but don’t go anywhere. Don’t carry your sleeping bag home. You’d better just keep lying there until after Shabbos." The healed man could not very well have left his mat and gone home without it. It was his only bed. For Jesus to heal a person, but not allow him to enjoy the victory of walking home because it was Sabbath, would have been to practice just the kind of rabbinic perversion of the Law he was fighting.
In conclusion, with each of these objections all I’ve really done is opened the Bible and read in context the passages of Scripture to which the text refers. There is so little substance to these arguments that I have had quite a bit of trouble even understanding how anyone could follow them. If you open the Bible and read the entire chapters where only half a verse is quoted, I think you’ll see that the context usually will affirm faith in Yeshua, despite the way the verses are used.
You have a choice to make. You can look to the anti-missionaries’ brand of Orthodox Judaism for a set of rituals to keep, which may give you a sense of pride without really challenging you on a moral and spiritual level. Such rituals may help you feel "more Jewish" but cannot bring you closer to the Lord who demands holiness, not mere ceremony. Or you can look to Yeshua. He will forgive your sins and help you to change—really change. The fact that he really does change us when we make a commitment to him is one reason many people want to avoid him. If you choose not to avoid him, he will give you peace with God, a living relationship with him here and now, and in the world to come, eternal life.
I hope you will make what I believe to be the harder decision—but also the better decision—to follow the Messiah. But I do feel that pursuing God with your whole heart (even in a way I would not recommend) is better than sitting on the sidelines. The purpose of our lives is to know and love him. You must employ your conscience, your study of the Scriptures, your prayers, and your judgment in your decision, and no one else can make it for you. May God bless you and keep you close to himself.