Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew living in a country that was ruled by foreign occupiers — the Romans. At that time, the Jews were waiting for the “mashiach” — the anointed one.
The Jews had been promised by God a king descended from King David who would rule with wisdom and justice: “For the time is coming, says the Lord, when I will place a righteous Branch upon King David’s throne. He shall be a King who shall rule with wisdom and justice and cause righteousness to prevail everywhere throughout the earth…” (or depending on the translation, “…throughout the land“). (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
God had promised that the spirit of God would rest upon the Jewish “mashiach” and that he would be wise, understanding, and mighty: “The royal line of David will be cut off, chopped down like a tree; but from the stump will grow a Shoot — yes, a new Branch from the old root. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of Wisdom, understanding, counsel, and might; the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight will be obedience to the Lord. He will not judge by appearance, false evidence, or hearsay, but will defend the poor and the exploited, He will rule against the wicked who oppress them. For he will be clothed with fairness and truth.” (Isaiah 11:1-5)
The earliest Christians, including Jesus’ original disciples and John the Baptist, were Jews who believed that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled God’s promise. But Jesus of Nazareth was not what people had expected. It has been argued that many Jews did not accept Jesus as the “mashiach” because they expected something else: A leader of a physical kingdom, not a spiritual one.
As in Jesus’ time, for thousands of years, scholars and religious leaders have argued whether Jesus of Nazareth fulfills all the identifying prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the promised “mashiach.” Most contemporary Jews believe He did not, while most contemporary Christians believe that He did. As in all matters involving God and the heart, it is ultimately a matter of faith.
I’m not a religious scholar. It’s my understanding that the English word “Messiah” is used interchangeably with the Hebrew term “mashiach” by most Christians. However, there appear to be ideological differences between Judaism and Christianity that may prevent those terms from being interchangeable in some contexts. For my simple purposes, they are the same.
Whether you believe in Jesus is a personal decision — a decision of the heart. No one can prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised mashiach and no one can prove He is not. I believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. I believe Jesus’ arrival was anticipated by the Jews, but I suspect He and His message were different than expected. I believe He challenged the authority of people who had expected to be rewarded. I believe He welcomed not only Jews, but all people of the world to follow Him and worship God. I believe confusion and disagreements over Jesus’ identity arise not from uncertainty, but from a lack of faith.
“It was winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of the Dedication Celebration. He was at the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Hall. The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ ‘I have already told you, and you don’t believe me,’ Jesus replied. ‘The proof is in the miracles I do in the name of my Father. But you don’t believe me because you are not part of my flock. My sheep recognize my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else, so no one can kidnap them from me. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30)
“…but all the predictions concerning this man have come true. And many came to the decision that he was the Messiah.” (John 10:40-42)
No matter what else you believe, it is my prayer that you believe this: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:16-17)
The story of Jesus of Nazareth is a love story between God and humanity. It is a story for the heart.
Love without heart is no love at all.
God without Jesus is God’s promise un-fulfilled.
Photo by Vinicius Moreira Da Silva of Ancient Tomb in Yad Hashmona, Israel