The Messianic King … Your Thoughts?

KingThe title “Christ” or “Messiah” refers to God’s “anointed one.” Overall, the prophetic imagery is that of a king, although prophets and priests were anointed too. (For more, see What does “Christ” Actually Mean?)

In our modern world it’s hard to grasp what awe and worship kings inspired, and why Israel desired one so much.

I found it fascinating to read a description of the Messianic King by an orthodox rabbi, Nosson Scherman, which I’ve put below. I’m guessing that the rabbi derives some of his ideas from Scripture, some from Jewish tradition, and some from how kings like David and Solomon functioned in the ancient world.

Knowing that Jews and Christians disagree about the Messiah in many ways, I didn’t expect to agree with all of it. But what I found surprising was how it actually did sound like Jesus in ways I never thought of. Take a look:

The Messianic King

The ideal Jewish king ascends his throne in a time of tranquility. The nation is secure and prosperous because its ultimate King, God, has made it so, and its way of life is charted by the Torah. The king plays a unique role. He, as first citizen of the nation, is the living embodiment of Torah and how its statutes and holiness ennoble man.

Holder of immense and almost unbridled power, he submits to the laws in the book of Torah which he carries with him at all times; required by his duty to the nation to hold wealth and exhibit pomp, he acquires what he must, but shuns excess; enabled by his station to indulge his passions, he sets an example of sobriety and self-control; inhibited by no mortal restraint, he turns his energies to the selfless service of his people; able to establish the absolute dominion of his own will, he does not rest until his people know the rigors of Torah study and a discipline of honesty and morality in their personal and business lives that would earn sainthood in any other nation.

It is the function of the king to safeguard the Torah and see to it that the people study it and obey its commandments. Nor is he to be considered above the Halacha [law] — on the contrary, it is his duty to be a model of scrupulous adherence to the laws of the Torah. His office, however, carries with it a unique legal status which may be divided into two categories:

a) As the sovereign embodiment of the nation, the king is entitled to respect and reverence exceeding anyone else’s. All must step aside to make way for him and even property may be destroyed for his convenience. Nor may the king voluntarily forfeit any of his prerogatives; to do so is to demean the nation he leads. He is as obligated to exercise his claim upon the awe of the nation as is each of its members to grant it.

b) The king has extra-legal powers to confiscate, punish, and condemn to execution. A Jewish court of law may not execute a murderer save under a set of extraordinarily strict rules of evidence and testimony; a king may have the murderer killed, so long as he is satisfied that sufficient proof of guilt exists, even if the evidence is circumstantial. Whoever is disrespectful or defiant of the king is liable to the death penalty upon his command and at his pleasure. All this is to insure that he has the power to inspire the fear of, and destroy the capacity of evil-doers. In the exercise of his extra-legal powers, the king is guided by one consideration – to correct any situation, as required by the times.

(From The Book of Ruth: Megillas Ruth, Mesorah Publications, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz (Translator), Rabbi Nosson Scherman, pp xxxi – xxxiii.)


Okay, this might be a little challenging for some readers. But what are your thoughts about how the Messianic imagery here relates (or doesn’t relate) to the Christ you find in the New Testament?


13 Responses to “The Messianic King … Your Thoughts?”

  1. 1
    Stephen W. Hiemstra|August 25, 2014

    The idea of a Messianic King is completely outside the scope of postmodern thinking. In a culture where everyone is a buddy and all authorities questioned, the idea of sovereignty–especially a sovereign king–is hard for most people to grasp. Of course, this makes the idea of biblical faith nearly inaccessible. The usual recourse is to pare God down to buddy status or to profess faith but fail to act on it.

  2. 2
    Nancy Johnsen|August 25, 2014

    “He…is the living embodiment of Torah…” The first thing I thought of was when Yeshua said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5: 17-20 (pericope 21, Throckmorton) Our good Jerusalem Perspective teachers have taught us that our Lord Yeshua here refers to his purpose of correctly interpreting Torah to us. An improper interpretation of Torah abolishes or destroys it. A proper interpretation of Torah is its completion or fulfillment. Hence, like the Jewish ideal of the Messiah, Yeshua is the embodiment of Torah and its ultimate interpreter to his followers, his subjects, to speak in regal language. Yeshua is clear that he encourages the Jewish people in the strongest terms to follow the demands of Torah. He himself followed all its commands and teachings, even to the carrying of the curse for us by hanging on a tree in “selfless service”.

  3. 3
    David Strommen|August 25, 2014

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… I heard a rabbi say once that if he were to rewrite that he would “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Torah” if you look at John’s opening line “In the beginning was the Word and etc.” I think that is exactly what we should be thinking of Jesus as Christ. He embodies, fulfills and lives out the Torah, not to give us the set of rules but to reveal God’s great love for us.

  4. 4
    Darrell Phillips|August 26, 2014

    This is so comforting! I was inspired as I read this wonderful description.It does sound like Lord Jesus, and the part where He protects the Torah was especially interesting. I think the Hebrew word “shamar,” might also mean something similar, and the Bible might translate this as “obey” as well. Thank you Lois for sharing this article!

  5. 5
    Bernardine Daniels|August 26, 2014

    He is and always will be my BRIDEGROOM KING! I agreed with the Rabbi, but I would not describe Him as having “almost” unbridled power. He is THE ALMIGHTY GOD! #ElShaddai

  6. 6
    Lois Tverberg|August 26, 2014

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments so far. I agree that it’s very surprising to think of a king who is responsible for safeguarding and modeling of righteous living for his people. That’s what Jesus was doing in his teaching, of course.

    The part that might be most shocking to people is the part about having power to make life or death judgments. But it’s exactly what Jesus is talking about in terms of separating the sheep and the goats at the end. We never think about kings being judges, but that was part of their duties. A king has the power to declare “not guilty” too, and that’s why I think Jesus had the authority to declare sinners forgiven.

    Stephen, I so agree with your comment. In a postmodern culture, this kind of imagery just does not compute. What’s more, it’s not part of people’s “felt-needs” – ideas that the church can “sell” in order to attract people. What then?

  7. 7
    Karl|August 30, 2014

    Two phrases come to mind that are completely consistent with this radically powerful King, Yeshua ben Joseph of Nazareth: “King of Kings” and “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” No one on earth, not even a king, can escape the consequences of what is written in the ledger. I think this may have been what drove Saul mad.

  8. 8
    Lois Tverberg|August 31, 2014

    Excellent point, Karl. It’s interesting that you point this out. I just bumped into a similar idea, that the “king of kings” will hold kings accountable for how they used their authority and how they judged their people.

    Listen to this quote:

    HEAR THEN, YOU KINGS, take this to heart… It is the Lord who gave you your authority; your power comes from the Most High. He will put your actions to the test and scrutinize your intentions. Though you are viceroys of his kingly power, you have not been upright judges; you do not stand up for the law or guide your steps by the will of God… The small man may find pity and forgiveness, but the powerful will be called powerfully to account; for he who is all men’s master is obsequious to none, and is not overawed by greatness. Small and great alike are of his making, and all are under his providence equally, but it is the powerful for whom he reserves the sternest inquisition. (Wisdom of Solomon 6:1-9)

  9. 9
    Karl|September 11, 2014

    Lois, I love it. It’s taken me a while to get back to you, but the day you wrote your response (and before I read it), I was distracted by a question my visiting brother posed about the origins of the opening line to Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans”:

    “Mine ear is open, and my heart prepared:
    The worst is worldly loss thou canst unfold:—
    Say, is my kingdom lost?”

    It’s from the second scene in Richard II, and part of the King’s conversation with allies as his kingdom falls apart under rebellion. In the process King Richard says this, which I think also very much on point:

    “Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood
    With solemn reverence: throw away respect,
    Tradition, form and ceremonious duty,
    For you have but mistook me all this while:
    I live with bread like you, feel want,
    Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
    How can you say to me, I am a king?”

    I firmly believe one really can’t enjoy Shakespeare without really knowing the Scripture.

  10. 10
    Margaret Collier|October 30, 2014

    I have just finished enjoying “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus”. I got a lot of help from it, and am looking forward to reading the sequel.
    I am new to the blog; but this article is great. I especially appreciate the scriptural references that perfectly fit the topic. For example, “It is the Lord who gave you your authority; your power comes from the Most High.”
    That exactly fits the words of Rabbi Jesus in Matthew 28:18 – “All power is GIVEN unto me …”

    That reminds me of a word that has bothered me for decades. What is the meaning of “co-equal”? Is it a word that can be clarified from something in Hebrew literature?
    I can see scriptural evidence that God, his Son and his Spirit are equally divine, equally eternal, and so on. But the words of our Rabbi about himself AND the Spirit seem to indicate that they are not equally independent (John 5:19; 16:13; etc.).

  11. 11
    Dwight Kindred|March 24, 2015

    Margaret, if I may, I might suggest the concept you’re looking for is an agent. The rabbis said, “A person’s agent is as he himself,” meaning that if one sent an agent to act on his behalf it was as if he himself was acting. In Gen. 24 the servant of Abraham negotiated the marriage of Isaac as if he were Abraham’s presence. In ex. 7:1 the Heb. says that Moses was God to Pharoah, to be listened to as he were Yahweh Himself. It seems the concept could be termed a legal equality, a status given by the master. Lois I’ve been reading your articles for the past few days and they are excellent. I’ve heard of your book and intend to read it- I’m blind so I’ll have to find the most accessible format. Blessings.

  12. 12
    gary|October 1, 2018

    2 In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
    shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
    all the nations shall stream to it.
    3 Many peoples shall come and say,
    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
    that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
    For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
    4 He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
    they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
    nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

    Isaiah 2:1-4

    Gary: Did Jesus fulfill any part of this prophecy during his life time? Answer: No. Neither did Bar Kochba nor any other messiah pretender. They all failed! They did not judge the nations of the world. They did not bring peace to the entire world. That is the true test of the real messiah: bringing peace to the entire world. Jesus did not do that. Saying that he will do it when he comes a second time is nothing more than spin: a desperate attempt to come up with an ad hoc solution to Jesus’ failure to fulfill this prophecy during his lifetime.

    The Hebrew Bible says NOTHING about the messiah coming to earth TWO times. Forget about the other problems with Jesus’ messiah claim, such as his two discrepant genealogies found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the fact that Jesus did not establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem that brought peace to the entire world during his lifetime is absolute, indisputable evidence that Jesus was not the messiah. Don’t buy into the desperate, contorted “harmonizations” raised by Christian apologists for why Jesus will fulfill this prophecy in the future (two thousand years and counting, btw).

    There is no concept of a “second coming” of the messiah in any passage of the Hebrew Bible!

  13. 13
    Lois Tverberg|October 2, 2018

    Dear Gary,

    Your post is too long and normally would get blocked from my blog. But I will override it just this one time.

    I grew up in the Lutheran church and see exactly your point, which I would agree with before I started studying early rabbinic literature.

    The more I’ve read about Judaism in the first century, the more I’ve realized that your argument is lacking data about the discussion going on about the Messiah.

    It was not confined to a short list of obvious prophecies like Isaiah 2. Rather, early rabbis (including Jesus) were actually thinking on a much higher level, reading the overall prophetic narrative about the redemption of the world. Prominent in that discussion was a figure who would suffer and die for the sins of his people, as Isaiah 53 prophesies. He would heal his people’s wounds, as Jesus did, causing the blind to see and the lame to walk, as in Isaiah 35:5-6. How could this be? Some proposed that two messiahs needed to come. Others discussed an intermediate “Messianic Age” between the messiah’s suffering and when he’d sit down to reign in glory, and judge the sinners of the earth.

    There is actually Scriptural precedent for this. There is a person in the Hebrew Bible who both suffers and reigns as king, and redeems his people in the process. It was Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. He suffered in a dungeon in Egypt because of their hatred, but then was put command over Egypt and saved the Egyptians from starvation. In doing so, he also saved his own family from starvation.

    I didn’t think of this insight myself. I actually discovered it in the liturgy of the ancient synagogue. On the week that they read about Joseph’s enslavement, they would meditate on Isaiah 53, about the suffering of the Messiah.

    I wrote about this in the last chapters of my most recent book, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus if you’re curious to learn more.

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