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The World to Come
Both groups believe in recompense after death. Goodness on earth will be rewarded then, and evil will be punished. Both groups also affirm immortality and resurrection, but they disagree on what the words mean. Traditionalists have a more literal conception, and modernists say we can’t know anything more precise than the fact of life after death.
Jewish people in general think that Christians are too presumptuous about these things, that we really can’t guess what the specifics will be like. All we know is that we will survive death and that the life to come will involve the resurrection of the body. Christians undoubtedly ascertain details based on their reading of the New Testament, which teaches far more about these things than does the Old Testament.
Traditionalists say the Messiah will be a man and that they are to hope and pray for the coming of this man. He will not be God, but he will abolish evil and establish goodness on a firm foundation.
Modernists, in contrast, are looking not to a man but to an age—a messianic age. But God is not the primary mover here. We human beings will bring it about by working for our dreams of justice and goodness. God inspires our dreams, and Torah helps us understand them, but it will be our efforts that will bring this age to pass.
Why Jews Reject Jesus as Messiah
Perhaps you are wondering why Jews say the Messiah will not be God. This is because Jews observe that the Old Testament prophecies never predict that the messiah will be God. Christians point to Isaiah 9:6 (“For a child has been born for us / … and he is named / Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God …” NRSV), but Jews translate this as referring not to Messiah but to God who sent this child (“For a child has been born to us, / A son has been given us. / And authority has settled on his shoulders. / He has been named / ‘The Mighty God is planning grace; / The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler’“ Isa. 9:5 Tanakh NJPS).
Christians see Jesus as God not so much because of prophecies in the Old Testament but because of what they see in His own life. For example, He claimed the authority to forgive sins, which all first-century Jews knew was the prerogative of God alone (Mark 2:7). This by itself, completely apart from Jesus’ miracles, was Jesus’ own claim to divinity.
The primary reason Jewish people don’t think Jesus was the anticipated Messiah is that Jesus did not bring worldwide peace and submission of the nations to Himself, as the psalmist and prophets said the Messiah would (see Ps. 2:9; Isa. 9:2–7; 11:1–5; Jer. 33:14–26; Ezek. 37:24–28). Quite the opposite, Jesus’ followers caused division and conflict in first-century Israel, and representatives of the Roman Empire had Jesus put to death.
Christians reply that there are two streams of prophecy in Tanakh (the Old Testament) about the Messiah. One does indeed say the Messiah will bring worldwide peace and justice. But there is another one that suggests the Messiah will be a servant whose sufferings will save the world (Ps. 22; 55; 88; Isa. 53:5, 10, 12). Jesus suffered and saved in His first coming and will bring worldwide peace and justice in His second.
In his book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, Jacob Neusner says he cannot accept Jesus as Messiah because a true Jew would never reject the Jewish law, which was the greatest gift God gave to His people. Neusner says Jesus changed the law and focused not on daily holiness (which the law is all about) but salvation in the next life for the individual.
Christians say that Jesus did not reject biblical law, but taught the meaning of the law. He, in fact, took the law very seriously, as these words in the Sermon on the Mount show:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17–19 NRSV)
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