Why Don’t the Rabbis Believe in a Suffering Messiah?

A closer examination of what Jewish sages have to say about Messiah might surprise many of our readers

By David Lazarus | | Topics: Jesus, Yeshua
Why won't the rabbis accept a suffering Messiah?
Photo: Public domain

A savior Messiah that gives his life in love for his people. What a radical, unparalleled idea in human history. “God is love” just happens to be the greatest religious, philosophical, and moral concept ever given to the world, and it was given to us “from the Jews.”

How is it that His own people know him not? This love that is fully known to us through Him who “laid down His life for another,” how can it be that the Jewish Messiah who demonstrated that “love is the greatest of all,” remains foreign to their ears? This exquisite, surprising love, which cannot be surpassed by any other faith, culture or religion in the world, and has been changing the lives of people around the globe for thousands of years showing no signs of weakening in its power to inspire future generations, how do the rabbis not recognize Him?

The Jewish people to whom it was given to put pen to this idea of all ideas must have understood what they were saying when they contemplated a Messiah who demonstrates the epitome of love by sacrificing His life for ours.

Let me repeat. More than any other religion, the biblical faith gives us “God is love” which is made alive in Jesus the Messiah. No matter what denomination or stream of Christianity you may belong to, the one constant in all of them is the supremacy of love. Love is the ultimate expression of our humanity created in God’s image. It is the supreme virtue we should strive for. It is love, more than any other natural or distinct quality, that makes us human beings. It is love, more than anything else, that makes us uniquely men and women.


How do the rabbis not know this?

Actually, they do. For generations they contemplated that the Messiah must Himself be the manifestation and incarnation of “God is love.” He is, and below you can see that the rabbis do understand that the Messiah would suffer for our sins and demonstrate God’s love by making the ultimate sacrifice.

The two primary sources on which the rabbis base their discussions of a suffering Messiah are Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Here are just a few of many examples.

The Pesikta Rabbati is a collection of rabbinic commentaries on the Torah (Gen – Deut) and the Prophets dating back to the sixth or seventh century C.E. which clearly speaks of a suffering Messiah.

The Holy One, blessed be He, began to tell him (the Messiah) the conditions (of his future mission), and said to Him: ‘Those who are with you (your generation), their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke… and because of their sin your tongues will cleave to the roof of your mouth.’ (Psalm 22) Do you accept this?

The Messiah said… ‘Master of the worlds! With gladness in my soul and with joy in my heart I accept it, so that not a single one of Israel should perish and not only those who will be alive should be saved in my days, but even the dead who have died from the days of Adam, the first man until now.

Midrash Aseret Memrot, or Commentary of the Ten Statements, is a smaller rabbinic commentary from the 10th century C.E.

Commenting on Isaiah chapters 52 and 53, the rabbis state that the Messiah will be made a trespass offering:

The Messiah, in order to atone for them will make his soul a trespass offering (Isa. 53:10), as it is written just previously to this in the scripture ‘Behold my servant.’ (Isa. 52:13)

In Midrash Konen, a compilation of commentaries from the 11th century C.E. we find:

Messiah Son of David who lives in Jerusalem… Elijah takes him by the head… and says, ‘Beware thou the sufferings and wounds wherewith the Almighty does chastise thee for Israel’s sins.’ And so it is written, He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5).

The Zohar is considered one of the three ‘Holy Books’ of Judaism next to the Bible and the Talmud. Here are two quotes from the Zohar in an announcement regarding the atonement of the Messiah:

The children of the world are members one of another. When the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, he smites one just man amongst them, and for his sake heals all the rest. Whence do we learn this? From the saying, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ (Isa. 53:5), that is by letting of his blood – as when a man bleeds from his arm – there was healing for all of us–for the members of the body.

As long as Israel dwelt in the Holy Land, the rituals and sacrifices they performed (in the Temple) removed all those diseases from the world; now the Messiah removes them from the children of the world… (Zohar 2:12a)

So why do the rabbis still refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah? The real problem most likely has to do with the Christian understanding of the Trinity, a problem already mentioned in the New Testament, where we find the Jewish leaders debating the divinity of Jesus. Of course there were other political and social issues that made it difficult for the Jews to accept Jesus. But their rejection was not for lack of love, nor for an unwillingness to embrace the supreme value of a suffering, self-sacrificing Messiah.

For now, let us say that not only should we not be ashamed of the good gospel of our Messiah (for it is the power of salvation for both Jew and Gentile), but we should be proud to proclaim it in love to both Jew and Gentile.

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