A pastoral letter by by Rick Booye
So, you ran across an article on the internet in which a Jewish fellow outlined what he believed were reasons that Jesus of Nazareth can’t be Messiah. Interesting. Let me share why literally billions of people over the last 2000 years have believed that Jesus is the Messiah.However, before I do that, I’d like to clarify something.
When Jewish folk (and others as well) deny that Jesus is Lord and Messiah, they seem to expect Christians to “prove” Christ’s identity from the perspective of their own skepticism. In other words, they say, “You must prove Jesus is Christ without any reference to the Christian eye-witness documentation about him, which we don’t accept. You must prove Christ’s identity beyond a shadow of doubt (How many truth claims can be thus proven?) to a determined skeptic, using nothing but the Old Testament and assuming all the skeptical presuppositions.” This is illicitly stacking the deck against the Christian claim, completely discounting the positive evidence laid out by the Jewish disciples of Christ in the first century and in the generations that followed. It’s like the Holocaust Denial groups today that simply refuse to accept the eye-witness testimony to the atrocities of the Third Reich during WWII. They say, “Prove the holocaust happened, but we won’t accept any of the actual research, documentation, testimony, or witness of anybody who was there or believes the people who were there.” It’s a profoundly dishonest way to argue. What the rejection of Jesus as Messiah amounts to in these sorts of articles is basically a statement like, “Jesus of Nazareth can’t be Messiah because he doesn’t meet my/our interpretation of the criteria for Messiah.” This is not a profoundly persuasive refutation of the life and work of Jesus. “He’s not what we expected.” Well…obviously. He didn’t meet the Jews’ expectations at the time they crucified him either. But he did do a lot of other things that indicate that he is who he claimed to be. And don’t forget that all the converts to Jesus Christ in the first generation were Jews, some (like Saul of Tarsus) highly educated and profoundly skeptical prior to their conversion.
With that being said, let me lay out what I believe are three good reasons that a Jewish skeptic should take a second look at Jesus the Messiah. In order of importance, as related in the main Christian documentation, the reasons for trusting Jesus as Messiah are as follows:
1. He came back from the dead. This fact was the cornerstone of Christian witness concerning Jesus’ identity as Messiah and remains so today (Acts 17:31; Rom.1:1-4; 1 Cor.15:1-8). If it is true (and it is) this achievement by itself serves as the primary proof of Christ’s person. We agree with the Jewish perspective, based on the Bible, that God alone has control of life and death. If then a man accepts the testimony of his closest friends that he is truly Messiah, then comes back from the dead, one should be inclined to listen to him (See Matt.16:13-17:13). The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has very firm eye-witness testimony and solid textual support. This amounts to a small avalanche of historical evidence that has been thoroughly sifted, tested, attacked, and denied, yet still stands. Many books have been written about the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, none of which have been refuted, though they have been summarily denied by skeptics. But remember that simply denying something is not the same as disproving it. I would recommend renowned New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright’s recent and exhaustive work, The Resurrection of the Son of God. But also older books like Josh McDowell’s, Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Frank Morrison’s classic, Who Moved the Stone will provide compelling argumentation in favor of accepting the crystal clear testimony of Jesus’ closest friends and associates that he did indeed come back from the dead and did explain how the Old Testament is about his death, burial and resurrection (see Luke 24:25-27; 44-47)
2. He has replaced the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple is no more. In biblical Judaism the temple, along with the priesthood and the sacrificial system, forms the only way to approach YHWH in covenant. The reason for the temple and its program is that there had to be a sacrifice for sins (Lev.17:11). And Israel always had that temple, from the initial construction of the tabernacle under Moses, to Solomon’s Temple, to the Second Temple built by Zerubbabel and remodeled by Herod the Great. The only time Israel was without its temple was during the Babylonian Captivity, a seventy-year period in the 6th century BC during which the Lord disciplined the nation for its apostasy. But in that case he warned them over a period of several generations through the prophets (see especially Jeremiah). He sent them away to Babylon, but promised that they would return and rebuild the temple, which they did (Jer.29:10-14). The point is that God always used the temple to connect with his covenant people in grace. So, how is it that without any prophetic voice or warning the Lord lets his temple, the center of his personal relationship with Israel, get destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD? That’s a colossal oversight in God’s dealings with his people, unless he provided some message that explains it.
Interestingly, if you for a moment take seriously the material in the gospels, you find an Old Testament prophet (John the Baptist) prophesying judgment on Israel again, and bearing eloquent witness to another man whom he refers to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Jn.1:29). That man is Jesus of Nazareth, who in the next chapter of John’s gospel refers to his own body as the temple—the meeting place of God and man (Jn.2:18-21). You also find in the gospels a prediction by Jesus regarding the fall of the Jerusalem temple (Matt.12:6; 23:37-39; Lk.21:5-6), a prophecy that came to pass exactly as Jesus predicted. Jesus healed people by the hundreds, raised some of them from the dead, cast out demons left and right, made food out of practically nothing on more than one occasion, walked on water, stilled the storms with a word, and came back from the dead himself after three days in the grave. What do people want?! So, on the one hand you have the destruction of God’s personal Old Covenant temple and system, and on the other hand a prophet who points to Messiah who in turn does all these amazing things. Hello…!! If John was not a true prophet, and Jesus is not Messiah, why did God let the temple go away? How is the Holy God dealing with sin today if not through the man Jesus?
3. He does fit the Messianic bill. The Old Testament describes Messiah in terms that fit Jesus, and only Jesus. The material about this is vast and well documented in books like the ones I just recommended, so I will not review it here. But suffice it to say that the themes of Messiah in the Old Testament, notably in passages like Isaiah 9:6-7 and chapter 53, fit Jesus of Nazareth perfectly if you take seriously what he says about himself, the fact that he was a miracle worker who was resurrected, and that he will return to judge the world. But again, you must come to the texts of the New Testament with some sort of an open mind in order to come to these conclusions. If you refuse to take seriously the actual documentation written by Jesus’ contemporaries and their friends, then of course you can postulate reasons not to see Jesus as Messiah. This is what skeptics like the one who wrote that article rely on. They reject the New Testament out of hand, and then point to the fact that Jesus therefore cannot be Messiah. It’s an inverted kind of circular reasoning.
So, I would not let skepticism of this circular sort shake your faith in Christ or in his friends and family, all of whom bear eloquent witness to his identity. These people sealed their testimony with their own blood. There is every reason to trust what they say—and every reason to trust Christ Jesus as Lord.