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Letters to Ya'acov

Letter 8: From Mike

1st September 1987


Dear Ya’acov,

Thank you for your letter of 25th June. I must apologise for not acknowledging it before now. The pressures time-wise over the past couple of mouths have been enormous and I have sat down on at least four occasions to reply but other things have intruded. I hope therefore that you will understand and forgive me for the delay. I would hasten to add that there has scarcely a day passed without me thinking about the issues you raise and therefore I will endeavour to answer you points as you raised them.

While it is correct that there are no overt references in the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible], to the two advents of Messiah, you would hardly expect there to be. There would be no point in explicit references to a second advent when Messiah had not appeared a first time. It should be remembered also that the Tanakh’s teaching about the Messiah is progressive, beginning in Genesis 3:15 with the promise of the "seed of the woman", then the "seed of Abraham" (Genesis 12:1-3), then as the "prophet like Moses" (Deuteronomy 18) and as the "Suffering Servant" (Isaiah 53). In this way the whole messianic programme is revealed. Unfortunately, some Christians have so divorced the two advents as to give the impression that there are some aspects of the messianic programme that have no relevance to us today. I believe that the second coming of Jesus will be simply the consummation of his work, not the commencement of a hitherto unfulfilled part of his work e.g.: the bringing in of the reign of peace.

As I have indicated before, the reign of peace does not appear instantaneously. Isaiah says "of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end"(9:7,8) which is as plain a statement as any that Messiah’s reign of peace does not come to full expression overnight. It is continually increasing. In the New Testament, the peace of Messiah is viewed primarily as an inward peace with God that manifests itself outwardly in the lives of those who trust in Jesus. It is undeniable that wherever true biblical Christianity has spread peace has prevailed. Under the kind of Judaism that maintains a strict obligation to take an eye for an eye and scorns the concept of turning the other cheek there can never be peace. Jesus said that peacemakers are blessed, which implies that peace comes over a period of time through those who actively seek to create conditions of peace.

While the Second Advent may not be explicitly taught in the Tanakh I believe it is there implicitly in its teaching about the ultimate triumph and consummation of Messiah’s kingdom which, as I pointed out above, is progressive in its increase. The way you phrased your objection was "Where in the Old Testament does it say that Messiah will come, be executed and return a second time?" Just because it does not use those actual words does not mean that the teaching is not there. As I have pointed out before, the Tanakh presents a hermeneutical problem that has vexed Jewish interpreters through the centuries. There is the teaching of a triumphant conquering Messiah (e.g. Psalm 2; Isaiah 11:3-5; Zechariah 12) and a Messiah who suffers at the hands of his own people (Is 53; Daniel 9:26). You know how Christians resolve that apparent contradiction, but what is your solution? No doubt you would reject the two-Messiah theory (Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David) but I would like to know the answer you propose.

The Gospels are transparently honest in indicating that Jesus’ disciples as well as the Pharisees had preconceived notions about the mission of Messiah arising from their selective use of the Scriptures, which made it difficult for them to understand the mission of Jesus. Jesus was constantly at pains to point out to them that he had cone into the world to suffer and that his disciples should not be surprised when that came to pass. As the Messiah he should be able to teach us the true understanding of the Law and prophets. I am sure you would admit that your understanding of the Scriptures is less than perfect and that Messiah will teach us all things. Therefore, it should not surprise us that the teaching of Jesus goes against all our preconceptions.

Because revelation is progressive, it seems to me common sense that if the Messiah is to return, the explicit teaching about that event would be appropriate only after his first advent. That is precisely why the clearest teaching on the subject appears in the New Testament in the words of Jesus and the apostles. The question is, of course, can we trust the words of Jesus?

According to Moses, the Messiah is to be a prophet. In three separate accounts recorded in the Gospels (Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the preceding signs of the imminence of that event in graphic detail. So unambiguous was that prediction that when the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem that, the disciples of Jesus, in obedience to his instructions, left the city and were the only ones to escape the ensuing holocaust, whereas the other Jews flocked into the city.

Moreover he predicted the prevailing conditions in the world through the coming centuries until he returned. Those conditions include among other things the appearances of false messiahs. He was certainly right about them. Think of Bar Kochba, Shabbetai, Zvi and all the other false messiahs that have appeared throughout history.

On this basis I am prepared to believe that Jesus is the prophet like Moses, the Messiah. According to his word, through believing, I have peace in my heart, his reign of peace.

You object to the idea of Jesus being the sole mediator between God and man on the grounds that he was not a high priest. You have touched on a very important point because the Messiah is to be of the tribe of Judah, a non-priestly tribe, and yet be a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110). The New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews contains a detailed exposition of the Tanakh’s teaching concerning the priesthood of the Messiah showing the superiority of his priesthood over the Aaronic. I would recommend that you look at the passage (Hebrews 7—10) but, very briefly, the writer argues that Messiah’s priesthood is superior for the following reasons:

  1. Abraham, the father of Levi, paid tithes to Melchizedek, therefore Melchizedek is superior to Aaron who was in Abraham’s loins and therefore, in a manner of speaking, paid tithes to Melchizedek.
  2. Melchizedek blessed Abraham; another demonstration of his superiority for the greater always blesses the lesser.
  3. If the Levitical priesthood was adequate, why did God promise another priest after the order of Melchizedek?
  4. If the priesthood changed there must also be a change of the Law seeing that Aaron’s descendants operated within a particular legal framework.
  5. The superiority of Messiah’s priesthood is demonstrated in the fact that while Levitical priests died, Jesus lives in the power of an endless life.
  6. Messiah’s priesthood was established by a divine oath ("The Lord hath sworn and will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" Psalm 110). Aaron’s was not.
  7. The priesthood of Messiah is established under a New Covenant.
  8. Whereas the inadequacy of the Levitical sacrificial system was apparent in the need to continually offer sacrifices, the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice is that it was a once and for all atonement for sin.
  9. Messiah’s priesthood is established on a better covenant with better promises.

On Isaiah 7:14, I hope you will not mind me being frank, but I am at a loss to understand how you can still blithely deny that ha almah means "the virgin". The weight of evidence favours the translation "virgin".

  1. Almah appears seven times in the Tanakh. In Genesis 24v43 Rachel is described as an almah, She was undoubtedly a virgin. On the other occasions, excluding Isaiah 7:14, the signification appears to be a "virgin", whereas the Hebrew bethulah (which you claim means "virgin") is on at least one occasion used to denote a woman in a consummated marriage relationship (Deuteronomy 22:19). Almah is never used in that way.
  2. The almah giving birth is to be a miraculous sign. Oth, or ‘sign’, is used consistently in the book of Isaiah to denote something stupendous and out of the ordinary (e.g.: the shadow on the sundial returning ten degrees in 380 was an oth, sign). Would you reason that because shadows on sundials go backwards nowhere else in the Tanakh that this cannot have happened? Yet you deny the oth of the virgin giving birth to a child for that precise reason. A young woman giving birth is no oth. It happens all the time. This almah conceiving a child is to be a miraculous event of great significance to the house of David.
  3. The translation parthenos in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh, also indicates how almah was understood in pre-New Testament days. Parthenos indisputably means ‘virgin’. This word is used to describe Rachel in Genesis 24:43 and the almah of Isaiah 7v14.
  4. Many of the rabbis also insist that ‘almah’ means ‘virgin’.

I am surprised that you should ask why Christians "changed" Jesus’ name. Does it not seem obvious that if Christians had wanted to do any changing of names to gain credibility for the messiahship of Jesus, they would have changed his name from Jesus to Immanuel? Messiah has so many names in the Tanakh that if he was to be literally acknowledged by them all the result would be ridiculous. I thought you would be aware that, biblically, names indicate something of the nature of the one to whom they belong. For that reason Abraham, Jacob and others had their names changed to indicate a change of nature or position. Abram, the "exalted father", becomes Abraham; the "father of multitude".

Messiah has many names; e.g.: ha Tsemach, "the Branch" (Zechariah 3:8); Pele, "Wonderful"; Ya’ats, "Counsellor"; El gibbor, "mighty God" (Isaiah 9:6) etc. It should be obvious that these names, including lmmanuel speak of his nature, what he is and who he is, and do not have to be strictly literal designations. What is interesting is that Matthew, while recognising that Jesus is the prophesied Immanuel, relates that it was the angel Gabriel who instructed Miriam to call her son Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25).

As for the reasons why Jesus was executed I would refer you to the Gospels themselves. If you actually read the New Testament, most of the questions you have put to me would be answered. You stated that you do not know much about the ‘so-called New Testament’. It is both unfair and unwise, then, to criticise a book that you have not read. I read through the Tanakh at least once each year so I am not arguing from a position of ignorance. The main reason why Jesus was executed was to fulfil the ancient prophecies and to redeem his people from sin.

The fact that governmental restraints prevent Jewish people from following the Mosaic sacrificial system is irrelevant. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin. If you really take the Torah [Law] seriously you have to recognise that mitzvot [good deeds] and repentance have no atoning value. Innocent blood has to be shed and the only blood of atonement sufficient to accomplish that which the sacrificial system of the Torah imperfectly foreshadowed is the blood of Jesus the Messiah.

I did explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity sufficiently enough in my first letter, I believe, to refrain from going over once again an explanation of who Jesus' Father was.

I have written a much longer letter than I intended, but you did ask a lot of questions. I look forward to your response.

With best wishes,

Mike


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