The Messiah--Person or Ideal?
Harold Kushner is one of the most prominent Jewish voices in America today. Almost invariably, whenever the Hebrew point of view is desired, the news media solicit his opinions and publicize them widely. This Jewish leader has attracted considerable attention over the past couple of decades as a result of several controversial books he has authored.
In 1971 Kushner produced a book titled, When Children Ask About God. In this volume the famous “rabbi” offered advice to parents about how to cope with their children’s “fears, fantasies, and religious needs.” It is difficult to imagine a literary production that contains more error per square inch of space. As one surveys the pages of this work, he is reminded of the admonition of another Hebrew writer—one almost twenty centuries ago. A divine penman suggested that there are some, who by reason of time ought to be teachers, but who have need that someone teach them their ABCs all over again (Hebrews 5:12).
Consider, for example, Kushner’s observation regarding the term “Messiah.” He has written: “Today, few people still look for a person, called the Messiah, to appear and change the world.” He goes on to assert that the idea of “Messiah” arose in ancient times because people grew tired of unjust rulers, and so they longed for an ideal ruler to come and deliver them. He concluded by suggesting that the term “Messiah” merely embodies an “age” when “all the people will agree on what the world needs.”
Kushner’s view has no basis whatsoever in fact. There is not the slightest evidence in the Old Testament that his opinion regarding the Messiah is valid. Rather, this prominent scholar’s view is the result of his own skeptical inclinations regarding the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, Kushner even goes so far as to deny that God is a person.
But what of Kushner’s idea concerning the Messiah? Let us reflect upon this momentarily. The notion that the Messiah is but an “ideal” is negated thoroughly by a consideration of the test of the Old Testament Scriptures. No better refutation can be found than that which is detailed in the book of Isaiah, chapter 53. This marvelous section of divine literature is a galaxy of prophetic testimony regarding the nature of the Messiah, Who, incidentally, is identified specifically in the New Testament as Jesus Christ (see John 4:25-26). Consider these crucial points in this regard.
First, there is ample historical evidence that the early Jews, both before and after the birth of Jesus, believed that Isaiah 53 was Messianic in its import. It was only after the early Christians began to use it as an apologetic for their claim that Jesus of Nazareth was this Messiah that novel (i.e., nonpersonal) views of the passage became vogue.
Second, anyone who is able to read this chapter with reasonable skill can see clearly that a person is the object of the prophet’s oracle. Verse 2, for example, reads: “For he [the Messiah] grew up before him [God] as a tender plant.” Again: “He was despised, and rejected of men.” Count the personal pronouns referring to the Messiah that are employed within this chapter. Aside from rationalistic bias, there is no compelling reason whatsoever for denying that a real person is being described here.
In the New Testament, Paul spoke of certain Jews who refused to believe in Jesus as the Christ because of the “veil” that shrouded their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:15). Mr. Kushner is of that sort. There is ample evidence that the Messianic hope is fulfilled gloriously in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.