QUESTION: What proof do you have that Jesus was the Messiah?
ANSWER: For one who has already made up his or her mind that Jesus is not the Messiah, no amount of evidence will be convincing, but for those who are honest in asking, the evidence speaks for itself.
The idea of a Messiah is found throughout the Hebrew Bible. There we find the Messiah’s ID.” Imagine looking up a friend by first locating his country. That would not be enough information. You would need the city, street, and specific house number on that street. It would also help to know the phone number and the time when he would be at home. Similarly, the Bible gives Messiah’s “ID,” describing his ethnic background, place of birth, time frame of arrival and other identifying characteristics. These “credentials” enable us to identify the Messiah and to recognize imposters.
One might wonder, “Why, if these ‘credentials’ are so clear, did not most Jewish people believe in Jesus, and why were they so taken in by false messiahs like Bar Kochba in 132-135 A.D. and 17th century Shabbetai Zevi?”
The answer is that by the time of Jesus, the messianic hope had become greatly politicized in the minds of the Jewish people. They were seeking deliverance from the tyranny of Rome. Although the Scripture spoke both of the sufferings and of the victories of the Messiah, the victorious aspect had become uppermost in the minds of the common people because of the Roman domination. This “lopsided” view of the Messiah has continued. Thus, the hope of a political rather than a spiritual Messiah contributes both to the acceptance of people like Bar Kochba, and the rejection of Jesus in his role as suffering Messiah.
Of course, not all Jewish people rejected the claims of Jesus. All of his first followers were Jewish. In fact, the rabbis from that time period and afterwards were well aware of the many messianic prophecies that Christians claimed were fulfilled in Jesus. Although the Talmudic rabbis concurred that Isaiah 53 was a prediction of the Messiah, by medieval times the pressure from those who applied this prophecy to Jesus was so great that Rashi, the greatest medieval biblical scholar, reinterpreted the chapter as referring to the nation of Israel. This interpretation is maintained today by many Jewish scholars, though it dates back only to the Middle Ages.
What then are some of the credentials of the Messiah? Only a few can be listed below. There are many others. All of these passages were recognized by the early rabbis as referring to the Messiah:
- Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem: Micah 5:2
- Messiah would be from the tribe of Judah: Genesis 49:10
- Messiah would present himself riding on an ass: Zechariah 9:9
- Messiah would be tortured to death: Psalm 22
- Messiah would arrive before the destruction of the Second Temple: Daniel 9:24-27
- Messiahs life would match a particular description, including suffering, silence at his arrest and trial, death and burial in a rich man’s tomb, and resurrection: Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
In detail as to lineage, birthplace, time and lifestyle, Jesus matched the messianic expectations of the Hebrew Scriptures. The record of this fulfillment is found in the pages of the New Testament. But several other factors combine to further substantiate the messiahship of Jesus.
First, he claimed to be the Messiah (John 4:25-26). While this does not prove anything one way or the other, it does lay the groundwork for the rest of the evidence.
Also, Jesus’ life is in sharp contrast to that of the false messiahs, and it is a positive demonstration of what we would expect the Messiah to do. Thus, Jesus worked many miracles of healing, bringing wholeness into people’s lives, forgiving sin and restoring relationships. In contrast with the false messiah Shabbetai Zevi, for example, Jesus carried out the Law of Moses as a devout Jew. And in contrast with Bar Kochba, although Jesus died, he was resurrected.
The Resurrection is perhaps the most convincing vindication of Jesus’ claims. An assortment of explanations has been offered throughout history to explain away the Resurrection as either non-historical or non-supernatural. But these explanations have not been successful.
Did the Roman authorities steal the body of Jesus from the tomb? Then why did they not produce it when the word started to spread about Jesus’ rising from the dead? Or maybe the disciples stole it. But could such a fabrication account for their change in attitude? Three days earlier they had been disillusioned, defeated idealists who had hoped that Jesus would bring in a new world order. Could a lie, which they knew to be a lie, now account for their hope, for their boldness in the face of persecution and for the high ethical standards they set?
Or perhaps Jesus never died. He just fainted on the cross and revived in the tomb, an idea popularized in The Passover Plot by Hugh Schonfield. Unfortunately, the author overlooked the fact that the Romans pierced Jesus’ side, which most certainly would have killed him. Also, there was a contingent of Roman soldiers guarding the tomb, as well as a huge stone that blocked its entrance. There was no way that a resuscitated Jesus could have escaped and then convinced hundreds of skeptical eyewitnesses that he had conquered death forever. Or was it all a mass hallucination? It would have been quite a hallucination to have been seen by vastly different kinds of people at different times of day in many different places. It might be possible to fool one person, but 500 people at one time? And unlike the pattern of hallucinations, these appearances of the resurrected Jesus stopped 40 days later as suddenly as they had started.
The only satisfactory explanation is that the Resurrection actually occurred, just as the record says. And if that is the case, it is a solid reason for accepting the messiahship of Jesus.
Finally, Jesus transforms lives. Because he provides atonement for sin and reconciliation with God, Jesus brings peace, joy and purpose into people’s lives. Apart from faith in him, there is no basis for true peace or direction, for as the psalmist says, “Man is estranged from the womb.” That this estrangement is healed by the reconciling ministry of Jesus is the common experience of those who believe in him.
So, between the objective evidence of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and the subjective verification in our own lives, we think there is ample evidence that Jesus was who he claimed to be—the Messiah of Israel.