Dear Rabbi Singer:
I have been a Jewish Christian (Messianic Jew, meshumed, whatever) for 20+ years. I have been attending a Conservative temple recently and my rabbi there lent me your tape series. I listened to about six of the tapes and enjoyed your style and research very much. Thank you for your fair and even-handed presentation of both sides. (By the way, I do use an interlinear bible as you suggested and recommend it to everyone.)
While I am not a staff member of Jews for Jesus, I work with them fairly often as well as folks from Chosen People Ministries. Certainly I refer people to Isaiah 53 and other passages you covered, but I usually start with a different tack that you did not mention (in the six tapes I have heard so far). I wanted to get your opinion on this, or you could simply tell me, “That is on tape 14,” for example, and I’d listen to that one.
My approach goes something along the lines of, “If not Jesus, then who?”
The main Scriptures I use are the promises that David’s throne shall never go empty. There are lots of passages that say that, the main ones are Jeremiah 33:17-26 and I Chronicles 17:12-14. So if God promised that, then that must mean that there is a Davidic king right now. So “If not Jesus, then who?” In all fairness, some of the other passages seem to make the promise conditional (“if your sons walk in my ways”) except that makes me uncomfortable because of the certainty of the Jeremiah 33 promise. I trust your view on this because you have made a defense of a literal fulfillment of other promises about which you have spoken on your tapes. Thank you for your time on this.
Although the answer to your question is addressed on the audio program Who Is the Messiah?, I believe that the point you raise is also of great interest to our readers. Curiously, the biblical “tack” that you use does not directly seek to prove that Jesus is the messiah. Rather, you present a series of verses from the Jewish Scriptures in order to demonstrate that Judaism is a defective religion. As you can well imagine, you have undertaken a formidable task. Although the methodology you employ entails a more roundabout approach to Jewish evangelism, this technique is used widely by missionaries dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity.
In your argument, you maintain that the Bible teaches that there is supposed to be a Davidic ruler sitting on the royal throne at all times. You also point out that although traditional Judaism lacks any ruler from the House of David, Christianity claims Jesus as its king. You conclude, therefore that the Church alone, which claims Jesus as its king, can rightly claim spiritual legitimacy because it boasts a Davidic ruler as ordained by the Jewish Scriptures.
Although this question has been asked of me many times in the past, you are the first to use the words of Jeremiah and I Chronicles to support this argument. In general, this contention is based on a verse found in Genesis. Far be it from me to tell a missionary how to conduct his evangelism; however, the verses you quote do not in any way convey the message that the throne of David is to be occupied without interruption. In fact all of these biblical texts clearly affirm the Davidic covenant – God has set aside the royal throne for the descendants of King David alone. None of the verses you mentioned, however, teach that there will not be an interruption of David’s throne.
For example, you quoted Jeremiah 33:17-26 to support your contention, yet this text does not refer to a period when Jewry is in its diaspora as it is today. On the contrary, these verses are messianic in nature, and the prophecies they contain will be fulfilled in the future. In essence, this prophecy specifically foretells the events that will follow the advent of the messiah, which even Christian concede has not yet occurred. Christian commentators therefore acknowledge that these verses contain a future prophecy of a millennial kingdom. For example, Charles Caldwell Ryrie writes in his annotation on Jeremiah 33:14-26,
The King-Messiah will emerge from the Davidic dynasty to rule in the millennial kingdom (see Jeremiah 23:5).1
In your reading of Jeremiah’s words you made two serious errors that caused you to misconstrue the words of the prophet. Your first mistake was to take these verses out of context. Had you begun your quote one verse earlier, you would have quickly discovered that Jeremiah’s words refer to a time in the future, and you would have concluded that this prophecy has no bearing on our time. The passage in Jeremiah states:
In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. This is the name by which she will be called: ‘The Lord Our Righteousness.’(Jeremiah 33:16)
Ponder this: Has Judah been saved? Does Jerusalem dwell safely? We are well aware of the answers to these questions. The children of Israel, therefore, abide without a king because the messiah has not yet come. In fact, the predicament of the people of Judah and the condition of the city of Jerusalem became much worse around the beginning of the first century C.E. than it ever had been before. In fact, if Jesus were the messiah, why isn’t “Judah saved, and Jerusalem dwell safely.” In fact, I can think of no greater proof that Jesus is not the messiah from the very passage you quoted.
The prophet Jeremiah is speaking of a future eschatological era when the Jewish people will dwell in their holy city in peace and tranquility. Such a golden age has not occurred since the glorious days of King Solomon. Only under these utopian circumstances will our anointed king again occupy the throne of David. This will occur, without interruption, only in the messianic age – just as the prophet foretold.2 Your second error, however, is far more puzzling because the very verses from which you quoted demonstrate that Jeremiah is speaking of an end-of-days prophecy. Let’s explore Jeremiah’s prophecy:
“…for thus says the Lord, “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.” The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.'” Moreover the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the Lord has chosen, He has also cast them off?’ Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them.” Thus says the Lord, “If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.”(Jeremiah 33:17-26)
These ten verses contain some of the most comforting messianic passages in the Jewish Scriptures.None of them, however, speaks of our current era as you suggested; rather, each of these passages give us a glimpse of the future messianic age that has yet to come.
You constructed your entire appealing to a passage from the Book of Jeremiah, which states:
“…for thus says the Lord, “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel…”(Jeremiah 33:17)
Yet surprisingly, you ignored the following verse that is a vital part of the same sentence and prophecy. This selective reading of Jeremiah’s prophetic message led you to erroneously conclude that the prophet speaks of all of Jewish history. This is a misinterpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy. The following passage continues,
“…nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.”(Jeremiah 33:18)
As you are well aware, neither a priest nor a Levite has brought a burnt, grain or sacrificial offering in Jerusalem for over 1,900 years. The prophets of Israel foretold that the sacrificial system would be restored in all of its glory at the end of days.
At what juncture therefore, will the royal throne of David once again seat a ruler? At the same time that the sacrificial system will be restored to its rightful place in Jerusalem – during the advent of the messiah, and not before. At the End of Days the messiah, the “prince,” will offer a sin sacrifice on behalf of himself and the nation,
And upon that day shall the prince prepare for himself and for all the people of the land a bullock for a sin-offering.(Ezekiel 45:22)
Moreover, in the following chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet declares that the messiah will offer a Passover sacrifice:
And the burnt offering that the prince shall offer unto the Lord in the Sabbath day shall be six lambs without blemish, and a ram without a blemish.(Eze 46:4)
As an aside, why would the messiah have to bring a lamb offering if, as the New Testament insists, Jesus was himself the lamb offering? (Jn. 1:29, 36; I Cor. 5:7; I Pet.19; Rev. 5:6-8, 6:1-16, 7:9-17) Furthermore, according to Christian teachings, why would Jesus have to bring a bull as a sin offering in the future Temple? Church teachings clearly state that Jesus was sinless (Jn. 8:46; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15, 7:26, 9:14; I Pet. 1:19; 2:22, I Jn. 3:5). In fact, in Hosea 3:4-5, the prophet reveals this divine plan of history as he declares that the Jewish people would remain for many days without a king, sacrifice or high priest (ephod) until the messianic age. The prophet states:
“…for the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.”(Hosea 3:4-5 )
This prophecy completely undermines your contention that Judaism is deficient because it lacks a Davidic king. The Jewish people are today without a king precisely as Hosea had foretold. Moreover, the Church’s claim that it has a king places an enormous strain on Christian theology. Notice how Hosea, just as Jeremiah, connects the future king with future sacrifices as he declares that both of these ecclesiastical functions will be restored only in the “latter days.”
In your question you also referred to I Chronicles 17:12-14 to support your contention. This passage states:
He is the one who will build a house for Me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he will be My son. I will never take My love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over My house and My kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.(I Chronicles 17:12-14)
As I mentioned above, I am somewhat surprised by the selection of verses from which you quoted to support your contention. I have yet to encounter a Christian who used passages from Jeremiah and I Chronicles to support the claim that there can never be a moment without a king reigning on the throne of David. Missionaries typically use Genesis 49:10 to support this well-known argument. Although this text may appear at first glance to be somewhat more ambiguous than the Scriptures you used, Christians zealously employ this verse to argue that the Torah states that the reign of Davidic kings will continue without interruption. This text reads:
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes…”(I Chronicles 17:12-14)
What is the meaning of the uncommon Hebrew word “Shiloh”? Although there is some disagreement over the definition of this obscure word, there is a wide consensus among Jews and Christians that Shiloh is an uncommon reference to the messiah. Bear in mind, this verse is part of the blessing that Jacob bestowed on his son Judah, the ancestor of King David. Using Genesis 49:10, Christians argue that Jacob is revealing that the “scepter,” the symbol of kingship, will never depart from the tribe of Judah even until the End of Days. Pointing to the fact that the Jewish people maintain that there is no Davidic king today, missionaries argue that Judaism is a defective and blinding religion that has turned its back on Jesus, king of the Jews.
Although it appears as though the Church has made a serious charge against the Jewish faith, this contention is born out of Christendom’s inability to grasp one of the most important covenants in the Bible. The notion that the reign of a Davidic king will continue uninterrupted is unknown to the Jewish Scriptures. This Christian creed has come about as the result of a skewed understanding of Jacob’s blessing and a misinterpretation of a vital promise made by God to King David. In all of the verses that you quoted, the Bible declares that the legitimate royal throne of the Jewish people will never be occupied by anyone other than a member of the tribe of Judah and the House of David. I Chronicles 17:12-142 is therefore, one of the most well-known passages in the Jewish Scriptures, because it contains God’s everlasting covenant with King David – the irrevocable promise that the throne would never depart from his dynasty until the end of time.
Yet how can we be confident that this is the correct interpretation of the Scripture’s message? How can we know with certainty that the Bible is not suggesting that there would never be an interruption of a Davidic king to sit on the throne at every moment throughout history, as missionaries insist? The answer is simple. Even the Church concedes that there was no king on the throne of David for five centuries! In other words, missionaries acknowledge that from the time the Babylonians removed King Zedekiah from his throne and destroyed the First Temple, there has been no king since who reigned over the Jewish people who was a descendant of the House of David. If the Christian rendering of these prophecies is correct, why was there no king from the House of David who ruled during the Second Temple period? No further evidence is necessary to demonstrate that the Church’s interpretation of Genesis 49:10 and I Chronicles 17:12-14 is erroneous.
There is, however, a far more serious problem with which missionaries must contend with regarding their claim that Jesus was a direct descendant from the House of David. According to Christian teachings, Jesus was born of a virgin. Although this assertion in the New Testament provides an important record of pagan influences on first century of Christianity, it also deals a devastating blow to the Church’s claim that Jesus is the messiah from the lineage of King David.
By insisting that Jesus was born of a virgin, Christendom therefore concedes that Jesus lacked the human Jewish father necessary to trace his lineage back to King David and the tribe of Judah. This patrilineal connection to the Davidic dynasty is vital for any claimant to the throne of David, because the lineage of the mother is irrelevant in this regard. The Torah clearly states that tribal affiliation is traced exclusively through the father.
They assembled the entire congregation together on the first day of the second month, and they declared their pedigrees after their families, by the house of their fathers…“(Numbers 1:18)
Moreover, the author of the Book of Hebrews’ strange assertion that Jesus was also a high priest further weakens the Church’s claim that Jesus is eligible to rule as a Davidic king. For example, the author the Epistle to the Hebrews writes:
Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.(Hebrews 3:1)
Seeing then that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.(Hebrews 4:14)
This stunning assertion that Jesus was high priest further undermines the Church’s claim that Jesus was a Davidic king. Simply put, the same man can never be both high priest and king. The high priest must be a descendant of Aaron (the brother of Moses), who was a descendant from the tribe of Levi. A Davidic king, on the other hand, has to trace his lineage from the House of David, descended from the tribe of Judah. It is impossible for the same person to be both a member of the tribe of Levi and Judah.
It isn’t difficult to understand why the Book of Hebrews repeatedly insists that Jesus served as high priest – the notion that Jesus provided the ultimate sin sacrifice for the human race was vital to the core theology of this Pauline author. This astonishing claim, however, completely sabotages the missionary contention that Jesus was eligible to sit on David’s throne.
There is no mystery as to how Christianity inflicted this theological wound upon itself. During the first century, the Church had endured a rapid theological transition. In its earliest years, the founders of Christianity sought Jews to join their young movement. As the first century began to draw to a close, however, Christendom recognized that the Jewish people were by and large unimpressed with their message. The zealous effort to convert the Jew en mass failed. The Church understood that if Christianity was going to flourish, they needed to attract converts from heathen communities that dotted the Fertile Crescent. Although the Church’s swift adaptation at this crucial juncture was highly successful, it would have devastating consequences for the theological complexion of this once-Jewish heresy.
Quite rapidly and with great ease, Christendom adopted pagan teachings and ideas that were widely familiar to the citizens of the Roman Empire. Virtually all of the god-men and divine saviors of Persia, the Far East, North Africa, and Rome were born to a virgin mother.3 As a result, the notion that Jesus was also born of a virgin quickly became well ensconced and widely accepted in the teachings of the young Christian Church.
Christianity would eventually import many other notable pagan beliefs into its teachings. Yet many of these creeds, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, would take a few more centuries and numerous political struggles until they were firmly a part of Church orthodoxy. The belief that Jesus was born of a virgin, on the other hand, was adopted by the Church so early that the New Testament was still being fashioned when it was embraced by first century Christians.
Christendom paid no small price for becoming the repository of pagan lore. The consequences for adopting the doctrine of the virgin birth created a theological disaster from which the Church has never recovered, and rendered every royal and priestly claim it has made for Jesus untenable.
Rabbi Tovia Singer