“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah…” Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith
Belief in the eventual coming of the Messiah and perfection of the world under his reign is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism. The concept is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah (Five Books of Moses), but many hints are given through exegetical teaching of several passages. The Hebrew term “Moshiach” literally means the “Anointed one” and specifically refers to the ancient practice of anointing kings with oil when they were coronated. Hence, the Moshiach is one who will be anointed as King at the appropriate time determined by God.
Recently there have been Christians encouraging intermarried couples to join "Messianic Synagogues" as a "perfect" common ground for their religious beliefs. In effect, they are advocating that the Jewish partner convert to Christianity and to accept Jesus as a personal savior. It is hardly a perfect solution: For the Jewish partner this is nothing short of abandonment of his or her faith. It is important to understand why.
There are several reasons why Judaism rejects the notion that Jesus was the messiah. However, the main objection to his ‘messiahship” is that he simply did not qualify. In order to be considered a “candidate” for moshiach a number of scriptural prophecies must be fulfilled by him, and such an individual must demonstrate a wide range of unparalleled attributes. Additionally, a radical transformation in the human condition must take place for that time to be deemed auspicious for advent of the messiah.
In chapter 11 of Isaiah, for example, the prophet proclaims “And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. The spirit of God shall rest upon him…He will judge the destitute with righteousness….He will strike the wicked of the world with his rod….” The description depicts a glorious and dynamic appearance of a person of an unidentified personality from the tribe of Judah and the House of David who will flourish and “bear fruit” in his efforts to perfect the world. Other verses in this chapter of Isaiah depict a similar tone of triumph over evil and successful spreading of peace throughout the world.
Let us see if the fruit borne during the short three-year career of Jesus fulfills these, and several other scriptural prognostications:
The Moshiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing them back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hoshea 3:4-5).
He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10, 42:1).
He will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and re-establish all of its services (Jeremiah 33:18).
He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the exclusive law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).
He will cause all nations to be filled with the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9).
Jesus did not accomplish any of these prophecies in his lifetime. He did not live in the milieu that would qualify him as the moshiach. Since his death people are still raising the sword instead of ploughshares, there are many wars raging around the world, billions of people do not know of One God, and the site of the Solomon’s original Temple in Jerusalem has not be rebuilt, and in fact, the Temple Mount continues to be defiled through political strife and turmoil.
It is an axiom of Jewish faith that in every generation there is a person born with the potential to be the moshiach. If the time is right for the messianic age within that person’s lifetime, then that person will be moshiach. But if that person dies before he completes the missions of the moshiach, then that person simply is not the messiah. The fact that the Roman government was able to execute Jesus is the ultimate litmus test of his fallibility and failure as a messianic figure. (Incidentally, among the passages indicating the nature of this moshiach is one that mentions he will Yira Zera (lit. “see seed”), or sire children. Jesus, as far as we know, died childless.
For these and other reasons, Judaism firmly believes that we are living in “pre-messianic times”, not a “post-messianic” epoch. There is no source in Jewish tradition, or in the scriptures for that matter, that the messiah will come a “Second Time.” Moreover, we are taught that the moshiach is not to be worshipped. It is against all principles of Judaism to worship any man as a way to achieve salvation or perfection. In the spirit of fairness, however, one should always try to extract a “spark” of good from evil. In this case, Maimonides says that a non-Jew may accept another being as a deity or mediator, as long as he does not actually worship it as an idol and still believes in God. Certain Christian sects, he adds, may be an acceptable religion for non-Jews, and may be in fulfillment of God’s ultimate purpose. The messiah, nonetheless, although a special and uniquely endowed person, completely in control of his senses and profoundly imbued with the spirit of God – shall still be a mortal being.
In order to appreciate the way most Jewish people feel concerning evangelical Christians proselytizing and spreading the gospel of Jesus as the messiah to the Jewish people, let us illustrate by way of analogy;
Imagine an avid collector of sports memorabilia engaging a broker to locate the “holy-grail’ of card collecting, the 1910 Honus Wagner tobacco card. (One was recently sold at auction for excess of $1,000,000)! The collector pays his broker a virtual life-savings of $500,000 to locate just one such gem that has been eluding him for many years. Suddenly one day, the broker excitedly calls his client and reports that he has located one and placed a down payment for the card. He describes in glowing detail how pristine it looks and its flawless mint condition. The client, in great anticipation, rushes to the dealer holding the card and takes a long look at it. Finally, he lets out a tremendous shout exclaiming his betrayal, “It’s an imitation, a fraud! Why have you played such a cruel trick on me!?” As an expert, he readily discerns the difference between the authentic and the bogus.
Such is our attitude concerning this issue. Placed in context of Judaism’s historical connection to great leaders and their teachings, e.g. Moses, David, or Daniel, we are the most qualified to determine what an authentic moshiach should look like. To yearn daily for nearly two thousand years for that figure to emerge only to be told he was always here in the “sacrifice” that was Jesus, is tantamount to the betrayal of our card collecting aficionado who thinks he has the crown jewel of the hobby in his grasp only to be shown an imposter!
Perfection in this sense is to commit oneself to work on our tikkun, or individual rectification. The world depends on each person, Jew or gentile, working toward the goal of refining our character traits and performing good deeds. Simple belief in vicarious atonement through a personal savior is anathema and irresponsible to the cause of Judaism. Indeed the Jewish Bible teaches, “I, even I, am the Lord; and besides Me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). A firm commitment to personal accountability directly to God for our actions is the only honest approach toward perfection. This will hasten the long-awaited, imminent redemption of the world through the true moshiach.