The Case for Jesus the Messiah – Incredible Prophecies that Prove God Exists/Part 19

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©{{{copyright}}}
Why the Jews Rejected Their Messiah

Editor’s Note: This material was first published in book form in 1989 by the John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association (now known as the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute).

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Rabbis’ modern picture of the Messiah

As Alfred Edersheim observes in his monumental work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, “The general conception which the rabbis had formed of the Messiah, differed totally from what was presented by the prophet of Nazareth [Jesus].”[1]

The rabbis’ modern picture of the Messiah contradicts much of their own scriptural commentaries down through history (such as the Midrashic and Talmudic commentaries.) What is significant is that their own scriptural commentary paints a picture of the Messiah which fits none other than Jesus Christ.

How did they arrive at their modern interpretation which differs with their historical commentaries? Part of the problem was that they saw the Messiah everywhere in the Old Testament. Edersheim comments,

And perhaps the most valuable element in rabbinic commentation on Messianic times is that in which, as so frequently, it is explained, that all the miracles and deliverances of Israel’s past would be reenacted—only in a much wider manner, in the days of the Messiah. Thus the whole past was symbolic, and typical of the future—the Old Testament the glass, through which the universal blessings of the latter days were seen. It is in this sense that we would understand the two sayings of the Talmud: “All the prophets prophesied only of the days of the Messiah,” and “the world was created only for the Messiah.”[2]

Because the rabbis saw the Messiah everywhere in the Old Testament, they were able to choose from a variety of materials and form a selected picture of the Messiah that would cater to their needs. As Gloag remarks,

According to their interpretation of the Messianic prophecies, the Messiah was to be an earthly Prince who would sit upon the throne of David, rescue the Jews from the bondage and tyranny of Rome, restore the kingdom to Israel, and subdue their enemies. Entertaining such expectations, filled with such hopes, giving such an interpretation to the Messianic prophecies, it is no matter of surprise that they could not see their fulfillment in One whose life and character and fate were so opposite to those of their expected Messiah.[3]

There can be no doubt that the amount of Messianic material in the Hebrew Scriptures that the rabbis have to evaluate is substantial. Edersheim has painstakingly<refEdersheim, Life and Times, Vol. 2, p. 710ff.</ref> analyzed some 456 Old Testament passages which the ancient Jews deemed Messianic. Of these, 75 were from the Pentateuch, 243 from the prophets and 138 from the Hagiographa or the Writings. In addition, he cites over 558 references supporting their Messianic application.[4] Even with all of this, he tells us this is an incomplete list.[5]

After analyzing the rabbinic commentaries on the Messianic passages noted above, Edersheim concluded:

Accordingly, a careful perusal of their [456] scripture quotations shows that the main postulates of the New Testament concerning the Messiah are fully supported by rabbinic statements. Thus, such doctrines as the pre-mundane existence of the Messiah; his elevation above Moses, and even above the Angels; his representative character; his cruel suffering and derision; his violent death, and that for his people; his work on behalf of the living and of the dead; his redemption and restoration of Israel; the opposition of the gentiles; their partial judgment and conversion; the prevalence of his Law; the universal blessings of the latter days; and his kingdom—can be clearly deduced from unquestioned passages in ancient rabbinic writings…. There is, indeed, in rabbinic writings frequent reference to the sufferings, and even the death of the Messiah, and these are brought into connection with our sins—as how could it be otherwise in view of Isaiah LIII and other passages—….[6] (First emphasis ours.)

Edersheim’s emphasis was to show that it was Jesus Christ who met the rabbinic expectations in these areas.

But if the portrait of Jesus was there in the rabbinical writings, what other reasons distorted the rabbis’ picture of the Messiah? Besides the reasons already referred to, almost all of the Jewish commentaries were not open to accepting the idea of the removal of sin through the vicarious atonement and suffering of the Messiah.

That the idea of a suffering Messiah was not readily accepted is understandable. It detracted from their idea of a kingly Messiah. In addition, the Jews as a whole did not place a great emphasis on the concept of original sin and the utter sinfulness of human nature, even though it is in their Scriptures.[7] Thus, it was difficult for them to conceive of the Messiah as being an atoning sin-bearer.[8]

Another major reason the rabbis missed the true picture of the Messiah was because of the unthinkable idea that the Messiah would actually be both God and man in one person. That is why in the Gospels we see the Jews attempting to stone Jesus to death for claiming to be Messiah and God (e.g., Jn. 10:30-33).

Yet ironically, the Jews’ own concept of the Messiah revealed in their Scriptures was far above human and even angelic status. (For example, the Messiah was acknowledged in their commentaries as eternal because of Isaiah 9:6 and Micah 5:2.[9]) Because of this high view of the Messiah in their rabbinic commentaries, once the reality of Jesus’ Messiahship was seen, His dual nature (both God and man) was readily accepted by first century Jews who became Christians.[10]


In conclusion, from all of this it is clear that:

  1. The early rabbinic commentaries concerning the Messiah did fit the picture of Jesus as we have it in the New Testament.
  2. The rabbis formed their own picture of the Messiah that catered to their own political and personal needs.
  3. The rabbis rejected Jesus as the Messiah largely because they couldn’t accept the idea of the Incarnation—God and man in One Person, even though their Scriptures and commentaries clearly stated that the Messiah would be far more than a man.

Read Part 20


  1. Edersheim, Life and Times, Vol. 1, p. 160, emphasis added; cf. Vol. 2, p. 741.
  2. Ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 162,163.
  3. Delitzsch and Gloag, Part 2, p. 324.
  4. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 163.
  5. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 710.
  6. Ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 164-165.
  7. Ibid., p. 165.
  8. Ibid., p. 167.
  9. Ibid., pp. 171-172.
  10. Ibid., pp. 165-172.

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