What The Rabbis Know About Messiah

The LORD thy GOD will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto Me; unto Him, you shall hearken. 

Moses is called as a prophet and priest, but not as the Messiah. This text from Deuteronomy 18 verse 15 makes that clear.  While Moses plays a most significant role as a chosen leader, he was not of the Messianic lineage.  He was from the Tribe of Levi, whereas the Messiah was to come from Judah.  Nevertheless, Moses was a forerunner of the Messiah.  In that respect, Messiah was to be like Moses in circumstances, character, and calling.  Similarities between Moses and Messiah in circumstances are obvious. 

Moses began his career in Egypt.  Messiah was to be called out of Egypt.  As an infant, Moses’ life was in danger by a Gentile king.  This is also true concerning the Messiah.  Moses’ life was saved by GOD’s direct intervention, and this was the case with Messiah.   Moses was rejected and maligned by his own people, and responded in love by interceding on their behalf.  This is Messiah’s modus operandi.  Finally, both Moses and Messiah are redeemers of their people.  (Zechariah 9, verse 9 and Isaiah 53, verse 11.) Humility best describes the character of both Moses and Messiah.  We read that Moses was very meek, above all the men who were upon the face of the earth.  When the Prophet Zechariah characterizes the Messiah, he portrays Him as lowly, and riding upon the foal of an ass. 

In addition to their similarities in circumstance and character, each had a special calling as Prophet and Priest.  Messiah is Prophet.  Moses and Messiah were called to be prophets, but as Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18, Messiah would be a greater prophet than he. The Targum Pseudo Jonathan amplifies this Deuteronomy passage by stating that the Prophet would have the Ruach Ha’Kodesh, (Holy Spirit); And a right Prophet, or Prophet of Righteousness, will the LORD your GOD give you; a Prophet from among you; of your brethren, like unto me, with the Ruach Ha’Kodesh, (Holy Spirit), will the LORD your GOD raise up unto you; to Him, you shall be obedient.  GOD underscores Moses’ prophecy by saying again in verse 19 of the same chapter: I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak unto them all that I command Him.  And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto My word which He shall speak in My Name, I will require it of him. 

Most Jewish commentators believe that Joshua and other prophets fulfilled the Scriptural reference to the Prophet.  However, Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (RALBAG), of the fourteenth Century, identified the Prophet as Messiah.  A Prophet from the midst of thee.  In fact, Messiah is such a Prophet, as it is stated in the Midrash, of the verse,Behold, My servant shall prosper. (Isaiah 52, verse 13).

Moses, by the miracles which he wrought, brought a single nation to the worship of GOD; but the Messiah will draw all peoples to the worship of GOD.  The Midrashic passage that RALBAG cites, refers to Messiah as ‘Prophet’ states, It is written, Behold, My servant shall deal wisely; He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. (Isaiah 52, verse 13).  It means, He shall be more exalted than Abraham, of whom it is written, I lift up My hand. (Genesis 14, verse 22).  He shall be more extolled than Moses, of whom it is said, As a nursing father beareth a nursing child; (Numbers 11, verse 12),and shall be very high, that is, Messiah shall be higher than the ministering angels.

Apparently, there were those in the First Century who believed that the Prophet of Deuteronomy referred to the Messiah.  That is why they asked Yochanan Ben-Z’kharyah, John the Immerser, who was calling the Jewish people to repent of their sins, Art thou that Prophet?Since he denied it, they asked him, Why are you immersing people then, if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah; neither that Prophet?  A few years later, Simon Bar Yonah, speaking in the Temple, quoted the Deuteronomy prophecy to prove that GOD had, in fact, raised up that Prophet, the Messiah, from their midst ( Acts 3, verse 23 and 26).

Messiah as Priest.  Both Moses and Messiah were called to serve in a priestly role, although neither of them qualified as Temple High Priests, since they were not of the Aaronic lineage.  Nonetheless, they were called to fulfill the priestly function of ministering salvation to their people.  Moses saved Israel physically by leading them out of the oppression of  Egyptian bondage.  During their forty years in the desert, he also served as intercessor between GOD and the people whenever they sinned.  For example, while Moses was on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel made the golden calf.  GOD then told Moses what the people had done, threatened to destroy them, and establish a new messianic line through Moses.  And the LORD said unto Moses, ‘I have seen this people and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.  Now therefore, let me alone that my wrath may burn against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation. (Exodus 32, verses 9 and 10).

Moses interceded by imploring GOD to forgive the people.  He also pleaded with GOD to keep the lineage promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, rather than to start a new one beginning with Moses.  This prayer of Moses was accepted by GOD.  Similarly, Messiah was called to serve in a priestly role.  Of Him the Psalmist writes, Thou are a priest forever. This priestly role would be manifest in Messiah’s work as Intercessor and Redeemer.  Isaiah spoke of Messiah’s role as intercessor when he prophesied that Messiah bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

As Redeemer, He would save His people from their sins.  In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.  The chastisement for our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes, we are healed.  The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all, for He was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of My people, was He stricken. (Isaiah 53, verses 5, 6 and 8).

Jewish leaders were looking forward to this priestly Messiah, and they were aware that there was a prophetic dimension to the ministry of the priests of the first Temple period.  It appears that the Urim and Thummim worn by the High Priest in his breastplate were in some way connected with this prophetic ministry, whereby, they discerned the will of the LORD and gave counsel.  The Urim and Thummim, elements of the priestly garment disappeared by the end of the first Temple era.  From that period on, many Jewish leaders looked forward to a Priest who would fulfill the function of the first Temple era priest who employed the Urim and Thummim to communicate directly with GOD, and to discern His will for the people.  Thus we are told in the Book of Ezra, And the governor said unto them that they should not eat of the holy things, until there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim. (Ezra 2, verse 63).

Such a priest never arose during the second Temple era.  However, many looked forward to the Messiah Who would incorporate the high offices of Priest and Prophet in Himself.  In this regard we read an historical account in the Book of Maccabees in the Second Century B.C. E. regarding the rededication of the second Temple that had been profaned by the Greeks.  They discussed what should be done about the altar which had been profaned, and very properly decided to pull it down, and deposited the stones in a suitable place on the Temple hill, to await the appearance of the Prophet, who should give a ruling about them.  (First Maccabees 4, verses 44, 46).

The Talmud teaches that Moses, our master, was a high priest.  The Prophet, therefore, whom GOD would raise up in addition to the quality of being the Prophet, would also be the High Priest like unto Moses.  The Talmud also teaches that all the prophets prophesied only for the coming of the Messiah.  Hence the One who was to be the Prophet, and the High Priest like unto Moses, was also the Messiah.  But instead of being from the lineage of Moses, He would descend from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and Jesse.  Shalom.

Zion Messianic Fellowship, www.zmf.org