Rabbinic Support

Rabbinic Literature

We’ll start with the selection entitled Sanhedrin 99a. This is a selection from the Talmud.

  • Sanhedrin (99a):
  • R. Hillel said ‘There shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they have already enjoyed him in the days of Hezekiah.’ R. Joseph said: ‘May God forgive him (for saying so). Now, when did Hezekiah flourish? During the first Temple. Yet Zechariah, prophesying in the days of the second, proclaimed, ‘Rejoice greatly o daughter of Zion; shout, o daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy king cometh unto thee! He is just, having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.’[1]

In Sanhedrin 99a, Rabbi Hillel states his position concerning the Messiah. Rabbi Hillel was a first century rabbi and a contemporary of Yeshua. Rabbi Hillel states that the Messiah had already come and gone because the Messianic person was none other than King Hezekiah.

Rabbi Joseph immediately recognizes a problem with Hillel’s position. Hezekiah passed off the scene long before Zechariah prophesied. Zechariah is not looking back in time to Hezekiah. Zechariah is looking forward in time when he utters this prophecy.

Rabbi Joseph realizes that this prophecy can’t possible refer to Hezekiah. Hezekiah is long gone and yet Zechariah says the Messiah is still to come. Therefore, Rabbi Joseph utters this exclamation, “may God forgive Rabbi Hillel for his incorrect teaching.” “May God forgive Rabbi Hillel for this teaching which will discourage Israel.” “May God forgive Rabbi Hillel for teaching that the Messianic hope is over and done with.”

Then Rabbi Joseph proves Rabbi Hillel wrong by quoting Zechariah 9:9. The Messiah is yet to come and he will come in the manner specified by Zechariah.

Rabbi Hillel is dead wrong, there still exists a Messianic hope for Israel. The ironic part of this whole exchange lies in the fact that Hillel was a contemporary of Yeshua. For this, I’d like us to turn to Luke 2:41-47, which states:

And His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And His parents were unaware of it, but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for Him. And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.

When Yeshua visited the Temple at age twelve, Rabbi Hillel was one of the prominent sages of the time. Rabbi Hillel was, more than likely, one of those teachers who came face-to-face with this 12 year old boy. Yeshua listened to Rabbi Hillel and asked him questions and Rabbi Hillel was amazed at Yeshua‘s understanding and answers. Rabbi Hillel, who said that Israel’s Messianic hope had come and gone, looked at the Messiah square in the face and didn’t recognize Him – a sad and ironic exchange, he looked at the messiah square in the face and didn’t recognize Him.

Let’s move on to what Rabbi Saadiah Gaon said about Zechariah 9:9-10

  • Saadiah Gaon (to Daniel 7:13):
  • But is it not written of the Messiah, ‘Lowly and riding upon an ass’? Yes, this shows that He will come in humility, and not in pride upon horses.[2]

In Daniel 7:13-14, the Messiah is seen coming in glory. But Saadiah Gaon knows there is another side to the Messianic person, a humble side. Consequently, in his comments on Daniel 7:13, Saadiah Gaon quotes Zechariah in order to prove the Messiah’s humility. The Messiah will be both humble and glorious.

Next, let’s look at one of the Jewish communities’ most respected commentators – Rashi

  • Rashi:
  • This can only refer to King Messiah of whom it is said, “And his dominion shall be from sea to sea, since we do not find any ruler with such wide dominion during the days of the Second Temple.[3]

Rashi clearly states that Zechariah 9:9-10 refers to the Messiah. Why? Because no Jewish king has ever appeared and attained such a wide ranging authority.

Next, the rabbinic commentary Pesiqta also clearly identifies the one entering Jerusalem on a donkey as the Messianic person.

  • Pesiqta (34):
  • ‘He is just and victorious’ (Zechariah 9:9), that is the Messiah (who is so called).4 … riding upon an ass describes the Messiah.[5]

Finally, the rabbinic commentary Ecclesiastes Rabbah compares the Messiah of Zechariah 9:9-10 to Moses.

  • Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:9:
  • Like the first redeemer so is the last redeemer. Just as it is said of the first redeemer, “And Moses took his wife and sons and put them on a donkey” (Exd. 4:20), so it is said of the last redeemer, “Gentle and riding on a donkey.”

When Ecclesiastes Rabbah makes this comparison between Moses and Messiah, the verse it quotes is Zechariah 9:9.

I think I have clearly established the fact that respected Jewish commentators agree with us when we state that Zechariah 9:9-10 refers to the Messiah. Our interpretation is not some wild theology dreamed up by a Gentile missionary designed to trick ignorant Jews into changing their religion.

The Two Messiah Theory

Now we come to an amazing problem that the rabbis have when interpreting Messianic prophecy. The problem is this: the rabbis could never reconcile the prophecies about a rejected and suffering Messiah with the prophecies about a glorious and reigning Messiah. They could never put those two contrasting pictures together in one package.

The struggle becomes apparent as they try to interpret Zechariah 9:9-10. For example, look at the comment in Sanhedrin 98a:

  • Sanhedrin (98a):
  • R. Alexandrai said: R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, ‘And behold, one like the son of man cometh with the clouds of heaven’ (Daniel 7:13); whilst (elsewhere) ‘lowly and riding upon an ass’.[6]

Notice, Rabbi Joshua opposed two verses. He saw an apparent contradiction between the two. Daniel 7:13 describes a Messianic person who is very different than the one Zechariah 9:9 describes. Is he a glorious Messiah or a humble Messiah? Does he come in grandeur or in humility? On the clouds of heaven or on a donkey?

Since the rabbis couldn’t harmonize these two very diverse pictures of the Messiah, they developed what is known as the Two Messiah Theory. The Two Messiah position states that there will be two Messiahs for Israel. The first Messiah will be Messiah, Son of Joseph. He’ll come and lead Israel for a time but will be killed in the wars of Gog and Magog. In other words, he’ll suffer and die. Then the second Messiah will arise, Messiah Son of David. Messiah, Son of David will lead Israel, defeat her enemies, resurrect Messiah, Son of Joseph and institute the Messianic Kingdom.

That’s the Two Messiah Position of the rabbis down to the present day. In contrast, the Bible teaches that there will only be one Messiah for Israel, but that He will come two times. The first time He comes will be in humility, riding on a donkey. In addition, other prophecies state that He’ll be rejected by Israel, suffer, die and be resurrected. Then He’ll return to Israel a second time. The second time He comes will be in glory riding on a horse. When He returns He will save Israel physically and spiritually, and institute the glorious Messianic Kingdom.

Such a description can only fit one man – Yeshua of Nazareth. The Jewish Christians of the First Century understood the identity of Yeshua. They understood who He was, and they endured untold suffering when they steadfastly proclaimed His Messiahship to Israel and the world.

  1. ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah,” p. 20

  2. ^ Ibid.

  3. ^ Cohen, Dr. A., Soncino Books of the Bible, (New York, NY: The Soncino Press. LTD) 1992, p. 305

  4. ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah,” p. 20

  5. ^ Braude, William G., Pesikta Rabbati, (New Haven and London, Yale University Press) 1968, p. 668

  6. ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah,” p. 20