Updated: Apr 25, 2020
In the research for my book, I found early on that I needed to ask a tough question:
If the Jews, the people of God, did not believe in Jesus as their promised Messiah, why do Christians?
The simple answer: he didn't come as they expected, or do what they longed for, in the way they thought it should be done.
Why did the Jewish people long for a messiah?
They had been carried away to exile by Babylon because of their sin. They had been allowed to return home, but things were not right, and they knew it. Their sin kept them apart from God.
What did the Jews hope for in a messiah?
Well, not everybody thought the same way of course, but generally the hope was for a full and complete return from exile which meant forgiveness of their sins. When God was pleased with them once more, then there would be the restoration of the temple, with God's presence dwelling there. There would be freedom from oppressors, and an everlasting kingdom reigned over by a son of David, ushering in a time of everlasting peace, where all the nations would be blessed.
So why not Jesus?
Jesus lived and died (and in their mind, did not rise up again), and nothing had changed. They were in their promised land but things were still not right. They were still under the thumb of Rome, with no son of David on the throne. The Temple was not filled with the holy presence, and indeed not long afterward, it was torn to the ground and never rebuilt! And a time of peace? Ha! The streets of Jerusalem were thick with corpses and the people were carried away as slaves.
Yet, some Jews did believe.
Jesus had many believers among the Jewish people, even highly educated men like Paul. Raised on scripture from a young age, how did these God-fearing Jews see Jesus as Messiah? They did not have what we call today “The New Testament” to prove it to them. Yet, they could hold the law and prophets in one hand, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the other, and say, “Our Messiah has come!”
How? Are there hints of a messiah who is like Jesus and the kingdom of heaven he proclaimed in the books we call the Old Testament? Are their verses in the Old Testament that support Jesus' vision of what the Messiah should be?
The story of Jesus begins in the very first book of the Bible.
In Genesis we see the first, overarching, exile. Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden where they had walked with God. God, however, had a plan to end that exile. Genesis 3:15 says that evil would strike Eve's offspring “seed” (a word for a descendant) on the heel, but he would crush the snake's head. This is the first promise of a messiah who would free them from exile.
Another promise goes to Abraham, where Abraham is told that through his “seed” all the nations of the earth would be blessed. (Exodus 22:19)
After Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt, God says if they keep His covenant they will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)
King David gets another promise. He is told that after he has died, one of his descendants would be raised up, and God would establish his throne forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-16)
Daniel, in exile in Babylon, received the vision of a son of man, presented before God and given an everlasting kingdom. (Daniel 7)
Isaiah speaks to the exiled people of a son being born named mighty God, prince of peace, wonderful counselor, who will hold the throne of David with justice and righteousness forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7) Again in Isaiah, a shoot of Jesse (Jesse was David's dad) will have the Spirit of the Lord rest on him, and will have the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-5) Isaiah also has a really challenging prophecy of a suffering servant who bore our griefs and sorrows, was afflicted, and who was told if he was to offer himself as a guilt offering, he would see his offspring and prolong his days. One servant, to justify the many. This prophecy was spoken about the nation of Israel, but Jesus took this role on himself. (Isaiah 53)
God will create a new heaven and a new Earth – which is a way of saying the whole universe. (Isaiah 65:17) There we will be glad and rejoice forever.
The dead will be resurrected to live in this new universe. (Daniel 12:22, Isaiah 26:19, Psalm 71:20)
This list is not exhaustive, but these are very strong verses that present the Jewish hope for a Messiah, and the kingdom he would usher in.