Is the Messiah promised by ancient Hebrew prophets still coming to earth, or has he already come? That is the most profound mystery in all of Judaism.
Author Ray Stedman reveals that the long-awaited hope for the Jewish Messiah is a resounding theme throughout the Old Testament (The Hebrew Scriptures also known as the Tanakh).
“From the very beginning of the Old Testament, there is a sense of hope and expectation, like the sound of approaching footsteps: Someone is coming!… That hope increases…as prophet after prophet declares yet another tantalizing hint: Someone is coming!”
For several thousand years, the Jewish People have been waiting for the Messiah who, among other things, would redeem Israel and usher in an age of peace for the world. But do the Hebrew prophets speak of the Messiah as a literal person, or of the nation Israel? Let’s look closer at these prophecies.
Hundreds of ancient prophecies provide clues to the Messiah’s identity, such as his lineage, his birthplace, his mission and atoning death. Numerous imposters have claimed to be the Messiah, however, has anyone actually fulfilled the ancient Hebrew prophecies?
Christians and Messianic Jews (Jewish followers of Jesus) are convinced that while on earth, Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled hundreds of these ancient messianic prophecies in detail.
In his book, A Rabbi Looks at Jesus of Nazareth, Jonathan Bernis attempts to unravel the mystery of the Messiah by taking a deeper look at Jesus (Yeshua) and his claims. As a Jew, Bernis thought Jesus was just a great moral teacher who started a new religion. After being challenged to look at Jesus in light of ancient Hebrew prophecies, he began his search.
Five profound questions intrigued him:
- Did Jesus truly fulfill the prophetic “fingerprint” of the Messiah?
- Why did the Jewish leaders reject Jesus as their Messiah?
- What was the Messiah’s Mysterious Identity?
- Was Jesus the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53?
- What evidence supports Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?
Did Jesus Fulfill the Prophetic “Fingerprint” of the Messiah?
Bernis was shocked to learn that the original followers of Jesus were all Jews who saw him as the fulfillment of their scriptures. In fact, many of their writings in the gospels connect the ancient Hebrew prophecies to Jesus’ alleged fulfillment. So, Bernis read both the Old Testament messianic prophecies as well as the claims in the New Testament of how they were fulfilled by the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
Bernis notes that the prophetic clues provide a “fingerprint” for the Messiah’s identity. He wondered if they would fit together like pieces of a puzzle to reveal Jesus as the Christ (Greek for Messiah). Or would they expose him as a fraud?
He also wanted to see if recently found mysteries from over 980 Dead Sea Scrolls would shed light on the Messiah’s identity. Hidden in caves for 1,900 years, these ancient scrolls were finally telling their story about the identity of the true Messiah. He wondered what clues they would reveal.
As he read the Scriptures, Bernis was amazed to see how ancient prophets had indeed provided a “fingerprint” from which the Messiah could be identified. A few examples are,
- He would be from the lineage of David
- He would be born in Bethlehem
- He would be rejected by his own people
- He would be betrayed by a friend
- He would be sold for 30 pieces of silver
- He would be pierced in his hands and feet
- He would be buried in a rich man’s tomb
- He would be raised from the dead
Bernis was shocked to read that Jesus was from the line of David, was born in Bethlehem, was rejected by the Jewish leaders, was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, was nailed to a cross and then buried in a rich man’s tomb. And, his followers proclaimed that he rose from the dead.
Wondering if Jesus’ fulfillment might have been coincidental, Bernis read that the odds of Jesus fulfilling these eight prophecies would be one in 100 quadrillion. Professor of Mathematics Peter Stoner illustrates how improbable that would be:
First, blanket every inch of an area the size of Texas (268,000 square miles) with silver dollars two feet high.
Second, put a special mark on one dollar and bury it among the trillions of other silver dollars throughout the State of Texas.
Then blindfold someone and ask them to travel throughout Texas and pick up that marked dollar on one try.
It would have been more difficult for Jesus to have fulfilled eight prophecies than to pick up that one marked dollar. Yet, Jesus fulfilled far more— over forty-eight prophetic details written in roughly 300 Old Testament Scriptures. According to mathematicians, that’s statistically impossible.
Why Did Jewish Leaders Reject Jesus?
Since Jesus fulfilled so many of these prophecies, Bernis wondered why the vast majority of Israel’s leadership wouldn’t have been able to recognize him as the Messiah.
However, as he read the gospel accounts, he realized that Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecies in ways that no one was expecting. Israel was looking for another Moses who would deliver them from the oppression of Rome.
Yet, instead of conquering Rome, Jesus captured the hearts of people with his love and message of forgiveness. Instead of promoting himself, he brought glory to God by his words and deeds of compassion. Instead of wielding power, he exemplified humility and servitude. Instead of teaching legalistic rules about outward appearance, Jesus offered us a relationship with God by transforming hearts.
Jesus spoke of himself as a savior rather than a conqueror, stating that he must suffer and die for our sins. He told his follower Zacchaeus,
“I came to seek and save those who are lost.”
What Was the Messiah’s Mysterious Identity?
Jesus also made claims that infuriated many of the Scribes and Pharisees such as claiming his eternal existence by telling them he had pre-existed the Jewish patriarch, Abraham who had lived two thousand years earlier.
Seven hundred and forty years before Jesus was born, Isaiah wrote of the Messiah’s divine nature. He said, “For unto us a child is born,” whose identity would be “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace.” Mysteriously, the prophet reveals that God would take on human form.
Although Jesus always pointed to his Father as God, he also called himself God’s only Son, claiming oneness with his Father. And when Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus replied,
“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” 
Bernis was stunned to discover that the prophet Zechariah actually wrote of the day when the Jewish people would recognize Jesus as the Messiah they had rejected, a day when they will enter into a time of repentance. In Zechariah 12:10 we read,
“They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.”
Imagine the scene! Zechariah prophesies that Israel will be nearly destroyed by its enemies. Then the Lord Himself will descend in majestic power and glory, overthrowing Israel’s enemies. But when the rescued people of Israel see the wounds He had previously suffered, they will suddenly weep bitterly.
Why would these surviving Israelis be so distraught at such a time of victory? Could it be that their bitter anguish comes from the realization that their forefathers had rejected him two thousand years earlier and continued to reject him for almost 2000 years?
Was Jesus the Suffering Servant Depicted in Isaiah 53?
The most comprehensive description of the Messiah is in Isaiah 53 where the prophet foretells the Messiah suffering and dying for our sins. Here are just a few portions of that messianic prophecy:
“He took our suffering on him….the Lord has put on him the punishment for all the evil we have done….but he didn’t say a word. He was like a lamb being led to be killed….He was put to death….He had done nothing wrong.…He willingly gave his life….he carried away the sins of many…and asked forgiveness for those who sinned.”
So, how do Jewish rabbis today deal with the obvious parallels between Isaiah 53 and their fulfillment by Jesus of Nazareth?
Unbelievably, most Jewish people are unaware of Isaiah’s 53rd chapter because the synagogue readings of the weekly Haftarah purposely omit it, skipping from chapters 52 to 54. Most rabbis today believe Isaiah 53 refers to the suffering servant as the nation of Israel, rather than the Messiah.
Bernis was shocked to learn Isaiah 53 was always viewed as messianic until a thousand years after Christ. The 2nd century Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel viewed Isaiah’s prophecy as messianic. So too did The Babylonian Talmud, The Midrash Ruth Rabbah, the Zohar, and even the great Rabbi Maimonides, who wrote,
“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and, though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming.” 
That view was prevalent among Jewish sages until the eleventh century when Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi (known by the acronym Rashi) began teaching that the suffering servant was the nation of Israel, not the Messiah.
However, a careful reading of Isaiah 53 reveals that the prophecy of the suffering servant couldn’t refer to the nation of Israel since it wouldn’t make sense. For example, how could the nation die for sin?
Since the oldest copies of Isaiah were from the Masoretic Text, dated around 1000 C.E., skeptics suggested the prophecies might have been changed later by Christians to make it appear Jesus had fulfilled them.
However, in 1947, ancient Hebrew scrolls carbon dated around 200 years before Christ were discovered near the Dead Sea. Hidden for 1,900 years was a copy of Isaiah, virtually identical to the Book of Isaiah in our Bibles today. It’s clear that Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah’s 53rd chapter occurred after the prophecy was written, and couldn’t have been contrived.
Isaiah clearly reveals the Messiah would give his life for our sins. And, when John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he prophetically said of him, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
What did John mean by “Lamb of God?”
Unblemished lambs were sacrificed at Passover each year as a prophetic picture of how God would one day redeem people through the death of his Passover lamb, Jesus the Messiah. Lambs, goats, and bulls were also sacrificed in the temple to atone for sin, another act that pointed to the coming sacrifice of the promised Redeemer.
The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews explains how Messiah’s (Christ’s) blood is the only worthy sacrifice for our sin.
“For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ[a] came into the world, he said to God, ‘You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer.” 
Is there Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection?
Bernis needed to know one more vital thing to be convinced that Jesus is the true Messiah. He asks,
“Did Yeshua rise from the dead? For all of us, and most especially for Jews, the answer to this question makes all the difference.” 
He read the Old Testament prophecy where David refers to the Messiah as “Your holy one who would not undergo decay.”
“For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”
Toward the end of Jesus’ three-year ministry, he told his disciples he would be condemned and killed in Jerusalem.
This was devastating news! The disciples’ hopes and dreams of a conquering Messiah suddenly came to a screeching halt. They were stunned!
However, Jesus told them something else they didn’t fully understand. He said that after his death he would rise again.
If Jesus defeated death, it would mean that everything he told us about God, himself, and our purpose is true.
Bible scholar Wilbur Smith explains,
“When he said He would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say if He expected the devotion of any disciples – unless He was sure He was going to rise.”
As Jesus predicted, he was taken prisoner, condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, and crucified on a Roman cross.
After hanging on the cross for six tortuous hours, Jesus died. A Roman guard pierced his side to make sure he was dead. Then, Jesus was buried in the well-known tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Jewish council. Pilate ordered trained guards to maintain a 24-hour watch at the tomb.
Jesus’ disciples had gone into hiding, fearing they, too, would be arrested and possibly executed like Jesus.
But on the third day, Mary Magdalene and other women hurried to the disciples claiming they had seen Jesus alive! Shortly afterwards the eyewitnesses tell us that Jesus appeared alive to Peter, John, and over 500 others. The disciples were suddenly transformed.
Many people have difficulty believing Jesus really rose from the dead, including English journalist and skeptic, Frank Morison.
Morison began research for a book to prove that Jesus’ resurrection was a myth. However, as he examined the evidence, Morison’s views changed as well as the theme of his book. What was it that changed Morison’s mind as well as his book?
Morison discovered Jesus’ death was verified by both Jewish and Roman historians. Morison then wondered if the disciples had conspired a plot to make it appear Jesus had risen. However, there are three main problems with that theory:
- The tomb was secured by a large stone and a 24-hour trained Roman guard. It would have been impossible for the disciples to roll the stone away and remove Jesus’ body without notice.
- A resurrection plot would have died out as soon as someone discovered Jesus’ body, yet that never happened. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association, explains,
“With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eyewitness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? … The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.”
- The disciples changed from being cowards into men who were willing to be tortured and martyred for proclaiming the risen Jesus. Professor J. N. D. Anderson, author of Evidence for the Resurrection, reasons,
“Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence – and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication … That simply wouldn’t make sense.”
It was the dramatic transformation in the disciples’ behavior that convinced Morison the resurrection really happened. He writes,
“Whoever comes to this problem has sooner or later to confront a fact that cannot be explained away … This fact is that … a profound conviction came to the little group of people – a change that attests to the fact that Jesus had risen from the grave.”
In a reversal of his skepticism, Morison changed the title of his book to, Who Moved the Stone, which documents the evidence that persuaded him the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a true historical event.
The apostle Paul, a Jewish Pharisee who was originally a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, explains its impact on our lives.
“For Christ has completely abolished death, and has now, through the Gospel, opened to us men the shining possibilities of the life that is eternal.” 
After investigating both the Old and New Testaments, Bernis was convinced that Jesus Christ fulfilled over 300 messianic prophecies written hundreds of years before he existed.
He also understood that the Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus disregarded all the prophecies about the Messiah being a suffering servant. They wanted deliverance from Roman oppression, not forgiveness of their sin.
Bernis also realized that only God is capable of bringing a dead person back from the dead. He accepted the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection as historical and verification of his claims.
You may ask, why was it necessary for God to become a man and take upon Himself the penalty for our sins? Can’t an all-powerful, loving God just forgive us without judging our sins. Why does he demand justice?
Imagine entering a courtroom and you are guilty of murder. As you approach the bench, you realize that the judge is your father. Knowing that he loves you, you immediately begin to plead, “Dad, just let me go!”
With tears in his eyes, he responds, “I love you, son, but I’m a judge. I can’t simply let you go.”
Presenting the evidence against you, he bangs the gavel down and declares you guilty. Justice cannot be compromised, at least not by a judge. But because he loves you, he steps down from the bench, takes off the robe, and offers to pay the penalty for you. And in fact, he takes your place in the electric chair.
This is the picture painted by the New Testament. God stepped down into human history, in the person of Jesus Christ, and was crucified on the cross for us. Jesus is not a third-party whipping boy being punished for our sins, but rather he is God himself.
In reality, God had two choices: to punish us for our sin or to receive the punishment himself. In Christ, he chose the latter.
In other words, God’s perfect justice is completely satisfied by the death of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. All of our sins—no matter how bad they are or have been—are completely paid for by the blood of Christ. Paul writes,
“…yet now he has brought you back as his friends. He has done this through his death on the cross in his own human body. As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:22a NLT).
Finally, Bernis became a Messianic Jew, accepting Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel, as well as his own personal Savior and Lord. He writes,
“Embracing Yeshua is the most Jewish thing I have ever done. In fact, it is the most important thing I have ever done. The same God who changed my life…still has the power to change lives today. His love is transforming the lives of Jew and Gentile alike, all over the world.”
“God created you with a divine destiny to fulfill, and the only way to come into that destiny is to say yes to God and surrender yourself completely to Him.”
If you would like to learn more about the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth as well as the promise of eternal life he offers, go HERE.