A Jewish Perspective on the Dual Nature of the Messiah
Part 2 of David’s Greater Son – A Jewish Perspective on the Dual Nature of the Messiah
Last time we saw that the Messiah was first understood as being David’s Greater Son who would restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1: 6). Then we saw how Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah’s kingdom would extend throughout the whole earth, on a higher spiritual level.
Over the past hundred years, the Chassidic stream of orthodox Judaism has developed an understanding of their chief rabbi (called “rebbe”) as a messianic figure with supernatural anointing. The rebbe is more than just a rabbinical leader. He is a Tsaddik – such a holy and righteous man, that some of his holiness and righteousness gets imparted to his followers who associate and identify with him. He is seen as a kind of ladder connecting man and God.
In some of the literature from the Lubavitch movement, Rebbe Schneerson was purported to have the anointing of Isaiah 11:2, and therefore he was more than a mere mortal man. In the Breslev movement they claim that there is redemptive and supernatural power in reciting their rebbe’s name, Nachman, over and over in a mantra-like phrase “Na Nach Nachman Meuman”.
The Lubavitch and Breslev movements see their rebbes as descendants of King David and therefore as the Messiah B’cheskah. This refers to someone in the position of the Messiah; who is potentially the Messiah; the Messiah in formative stage. (The Lubavitch movement went so far as to say that Isaiah 53 was referring to their rebbe when he was sick before he died.)
So the idea that the messiah is David’s son, yet more than David’s son, is not strange to the Jewish world, neither in the prophets, nor even in some streams of rabbinic Judaism. This is what Yeshua referred to when He said, “How can the Messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord?” (Matthew 22:42-45; Luke 20:41-44). This tension between the Messiah being a man, yet more than a man – David’s son yet more than David’s son – is a dramatic challenge that is left unsolved at the end of the period of the Law and the Prophets.
The Heavenly Man
Isaiah’s vision of the Messiah was a major step forward in prophetic revelation from David’s kingdom. The understanding of the Messiah in the New Covenant is another leap forward in the same prophetic stream. Here the fullness of the messiah’s supernatural and divine nature comes to light.
Interestingly enough the New Covenant revelation of the divine nature of the messiah is explained by pointing us back to a figure in the Law and the Prophets – not King David, but the figure known as the “Angel of the Lord.” Here are some examples:
- In Genesis 18 a heavenly man visits Abraham and is referred to on the one hand as an angel from God, and on the other hand as YHVH Himself.
- In Genesis 32 the angel who wrestles all night with Jacob is referred to as both man and God (El Shaddai).
- In Exodus 3 the figure inside the burning bush who talks to Moses is called an angel but also YHVH God Himself.
- In Exodus 14 the same God/Angel appears inside the pillar of fire and cloud, and leads the children of Israel through the Red Sea and through their wanderings in the desert.
- In Exodus 24 Moses and Aaron, along with seventy elders of Israel, see the God of Israel in the form of a man on the mountain and eat with him.
- In Joshua 5, the same figure who is in the burning bush meets Joshua before the battle of Jericho. He is called the captain of the angelic armies of God, yet Joshua bows down and worships him, taking off his shoes as Moses did at the burning bush.
- In the Ezekiel 1 vision, at the top of the glory fire is a throne with a “Man” sitting on it. Again, this is a revelation of God appearing to mankind in the form of a man.
- In Zechariah 2 – 3 this angel of the Lord appears standing before Joshua the high priest. In chapter 2 verse 10 he says that he is YHVH, and in verse 11 he says that YHVH has sent him.
- In Daniel 7 this divine Messiah is brought before the throne of the Ancient of Days. He is given eternal authority over all the nations, and those nations worship Him.
- In Daniel 10 the divine angel of the Lord appears in lightening and fire and tells Daniel what will happen in the end times.
Note: The Hebrew form in the phrase “the Angel of the Lord” is called s’michut. In this grammatical structure two nouns are placed together, somewhat like in the English words “book-end” or “camp-fire”. It literally says Angel-YHVH. The words “the” and “of” do not appear in the original. This can mean either “an angel coming from the Lord” or simply “Jehovah Angel.”
The Mystery of Messiah
How can this figure be both a messenger from God and at the same time referred to as YHVH himself? This mystery certainly plagued the rabbis. Their opinions were split. The Talmud (Tractate Shavu’ot 35:72) says that the name of these figures was Kodesh (holy), meaning they were divine. On the other hand, the Midrash according to Rashi says that they were all Chol (not holy), meaning they were mere men or angels. This mystery is not solved in the Law or the Prophets, nor in rabbinic writings.
The New Covenant begins in Matthew describing Yeshua as the son of David. It endsin Revelation describing Yeshua as the divine angel of the Lord (Revelation 1:8, 11-17). This description of Yeshua is virtually identical with the description of the YHVH angel in Daniel 10.
Yeshua is the divine angel of the Lord who appeared to all of our forefathers. We react to the divinity of Yeshua the Messiah in the same way that our patriarchs and prophets reacted to the divinity of the Angel YHVH. Our forefathers worshiped Him and cut covenant with Him. He is both an emissary from God and an epiphany of God.
Two thousand years ago, that divine angel was born in the midst of men as David’s son, circumcised on the eighth day. In that way the prophecy of the miraculous birth of Immanuel (God with us) from Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled.
The full revelation of the Messiah combines two different images from the Hebrew Law and Prophets: Davidic King and Divine Angel. (In Hebrew, “king” is melech; and “angel” is malach. Yeshua is both “melech” and “malach.”) The key word in this dynamic tension is “both.”
So God first gave a basic kingdom government to David. Then through Isaiah, God prophesied additional, spiritual dimensions for that kingdom and its king; David’s greater son.
Many of the mysteries of the Bible are resolved by understanding that God puts together two things that are different, seemingly contradictory: marriage of husband and wife (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5), reconciliation between Israel and the Church (Ezekiel 37, Romans 11), giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21), the uniting of heaven and earth (Genesis 1, Ephesians 1:10).
In the case of Messiah Yeshua, we have the great mystery (I Timothy 3:16) of the human and the divine coming together. Genesis 1:26-28 states that man was created to be the image and likeness of God. Only in Yeshua do we see man coming fully into the image of God, and God coming fully into the likeness of man.
This article originally appeared on Tikkun International, May 6, 2019, and reposted with permission.