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The Messiah as the "Son of God" in Jewish Tradition

A look at how the Old Testament, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and
modern Judaism assert that the Messiah 
will be known as the Son of God

(NKJV) 34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

"The power of the Highest will come upon you and overshadow you"

“And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada…” (2 Chronicles 24:20, KJV).

This is an example of when the Bible specifically says that the Holy Spirit “came upon” a person. The Hebrew is especially interesting, though. The literal translation of this passage is “and the Spirit of God hath clothed Zechariah son of Jehoiada” (YLT). In other words, Zechariah put on the holy spirit likes clothes. In this way, the Holy Spirit was on top of, and overshadowed, Zechariah. The Holy Spirit acted similarly when he overshadowed Mary.

"Therefore he will be called the Son of God"

  • “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me” (Isaiah 1:2, KJV)
  • “Have you not just now called to me, ‘My father, you are the friend of my youth” (Jeremiah 3:4, KJV).
  • “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 1:6, KJV)
  • “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10, KJV).
  • The Children of Light [must] avoid the way of evil.” These are “those who seek His commandments and to those who live blamelessly in the proper way” (DDS, Damascus Document, 4Q266 Frag. 1 and 4Q268 Frag. 1).[1]

As we can read from various passages in the Tanakh, a “son,” or “child” of God is one who “seek[s] His commandments and [one]… who live[s] blamelessly in the proper way.” This person’s father and master is God Himself. We read in Romans 8:14 that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (NET). Earlier in the New Testament, we read “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1, Matthew 4:1).[2] 1 John 4:15 (KJV) says plainly that “Jesus is the Son of God.” Cased closed then, right? Those who are led by the Spirit are a son, Jesus was led by the Spirit, therefore John rightly concludes that Jesus is a son of God. Although this course of reasoning does explain that Jesus was certainly “a” son of God, it does not adequately explain how or why he is called “the” son of God – a specific son of God.

Psalm 2: The Messiah as the Son of God

"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, 3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us... 6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.[3] 7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. 8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. 10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him."

Rashi, one of the greatest Jewish commentators of all time, notes that verse 1 refers to the Messiah:

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Our Sages (Ber. 7b) expounded the passage as referring to the King Messiah, but according to its apparent meaning, it is proper to interpret it as referring to David himself, as the matter is stated (II Sam. 5:17): “And the Philistines heard that they had anointed David as king over Israel, and all the Philistines went up to seek, etc.,” and they fell into his hands. Concerning them, he says, “Why have nations gathered,” and they all gathered.

Rashi continues by elaborating on verse 7:

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  • “I will tell of the decree”: Said David, “This is an established decree, and [one] that I have received to tell this and to make known.”
  • “The Lord said to me”: through Nathan, Gad, and Samuel.
  • “You are My son”: The head over Israel, who are called “My firstborn son.” And they will endure through you, as is stated concerning Abner (II Sam. 3:18): “for God said, etc., ‘By the hand of My bondsman David shall I deliver… Israel.’” And for their sake, you are before Me as a son because they are all dependent upon you.
  • “this day have I”: for I have enthroned you over them.
  • “begotten you”: to be called My son and to be beloved to Me as a son for their sake, as it is stated (II Sam. 7:14) concerning Solomon: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to Me a son.” We find further concerning David (Ps. 89:27) “He shall call Me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’”

Rashi explains that just as David was called the “son of God” and just as Rashi says of Abner “you are before Me [God] a son,” Messiah is also called a son. He identifies Messiah as the topic of verse 1 and continues his commentary of verse 7 by applying the “thou art my son” to Messiah. [4]

2 Esdras: The Messiah as the Son of God

“For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. 29 After those years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath” (2 Esdras 7:28-29, NRSA).


“"This is the interpretation of the vision: As for your seeing a man come up from the heart of the sea, 26 this is he whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation; and he will direct those who are left. 27 And as for your seeing wind and fire and a storm coming out of his mouth, 28 and as for his not holding a spear or weapon of war, yet destroying the onrushing multitude that came to conquer him, this is the interpretation: 29 The days are coming when the Most High will deliver those who are on the earth. 30 And bewilderment of mind shall come over those who inhabit the earth. 31 They shall plan to make war against one another, city against city, place against place, people against people, and kingdom against kingdom. 32 When these things take place and the signs occur that I showed you before, then my Son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea. 33 "Then, when all the nations hear his voice, all the nations shall leave their own lands and the warfare that they have against one another; 34 and an innumerable multitude shall be gathered together, as you saw, wishing to come and conquer him. 35 But he shall stand on the top of Mount Zion. 36 And Zion shall come and be made manifest to all people, prepared and built, as you saw the mountain carved out without hands. 37 Then he, my Son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness (this was symbolized by the storm)” (2 Esdras 13:25-37, NRSA).

1 Enoch 105:1-5 and the Birth of a Divine Son

“After a time, my son Mathusala took a wife for his son Lamech. 2. She became pregnant by him, and brought forth a child, the flesh of which was as white as snow, and red as a rose; the hair of whose head was white like wool, and long; and whose eyes were beautiful. When he opened them, he illuminated all the house, like the sun; the whole house abounded with light. 3. And when he was taken from the hand of the midwife, opening also his mouth, he spoke to the Lord of righteousness. Then Lamech his father was afraid of him; and flying away came to his own father Mathusala, and said, I have begotten a son, unlike to other children. He is not human; but, resembling the offspring of the angels of heaven, is of a different nature from ours, being altogether unlike to us. 4. His eyes are bright as the rays of the sun; his countenance glorious, and he looks not as if he belonged to me, but to the angels. 5. I am afraid, lest something miraculous should take place on earth in his days.”[5]

Although 1 Enoch 105:1-5 is not speaking of the Messiah here, this passage does prove that the birth of a divine, semi-divine, or angelic baby who would one day bring about miracles was certainly a possibility in the mind of certain third century B.C. Jewish theologians. Thus, if such a spectacular birth was possible, a spectacular conception was also within the realm of possibilty.

The Son of God and the Spirit of God: Old Testamental View

  • “And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears” (Isaiah 11:2-3, KJV).

This passage in Isaiah 11 is affirmed by Orthodox Jews to be speaking of the Jewish Messiah. Christian theologians agree that this passage speaks of Messiah, yet they go a step further in claiming that Isaiah speaks specifically of Jesus. It is my intention to demonstrate that although much of Judaism’s beliefs about the Messiah are not specifically found in the Bible, these beliefs do have their ultimate origins in the Bible. Thus, I have decided to use these covertly messianic passages from Isaiah 11 and Psalm 2 to preface our inquiry into the traditional Jewish view. Before we delve too deeply into this section, it may be to your benefit to undertake a review of my analysis of John 1:1-3 (which is not yet posted).

The Son of God and the Spirit of God: Traditional Jewish View

According to the popular, non-Jesus-believing, Orthodox Jewish website Chabad.org: “When Mashiach will redeem Israel, the unique pre-existing soul of Mashiach ‘stored’ in Gan Eden from aforetimes will descend and be bestowed upon that tzadik [extremely righteous person]”.[6] The same organization also says, quoting a rabbinic text:

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“At the proper time G-d will reveal Himself to him [the tzadik] and send him [the tzadik], and then will dwell upon him [the tzadik] the spirit of Mashiach which is hidden and concealed above until his [the tzadik’s] coming. Thus we find also with [King] Saul that the spirit of royalty and the Holy Spirit which he had not sensed at all within himself came upon him after he was anointed… The tzadik himself does not realize this potential. Because of our sins many such tzadikim passed away already. We did not merit that the Messianic spirit was conferred upon them. They were fit and appropriate for this, but their generations were not fit…”[7]

From these Orthodox Jewish sources we are told that an extremely righteous person becomes the Messiah when the “Spirit of Messiah” descends from above to “dwell upon him” and anoint him with the “spirit of royalty” (which appears to be identified as the Holy Spirit itself). Additionally, Isaiah 11:2-3 calls this spirit “the Spirit of God.” The rabbis identify Isaiah 11:2-3 as speaking of Messiah being anointed with the “Spirit of God” and with being anointed with the spirit of royalty called “the Spirit of Messiah.” Thus, is the tzadik anointed with two spirits: the Spirit of God and the royal Spirit of Messiah?


“Thus God consulted the Torah and created the world, while the Torah declares, In the beginning God created (i, i), beginning referring to the Torah, as in the verse, The Lord made me as the beginning of His way (Prov. viii, 22).The speaker [in Genesis 1:1] is the Torah (Wisdom) personified, referring to the pre-Creation era. The Torah was with God as with a tutor, reared, as it were, by the Almighty… it was also covered up and hidden” (Bereishit Rabbah 3.3-4.1).


Notice what the author of Bereishit Rabbah says regarding the Torah: it was raised (reared) and educated (tutored) by God Himself. By stating that the Torah was reared and trained by God, it likens the Torah to a child since a fully mature adult does not require rearing or training. Thus, in a sense, the Torah is the unique first-born son of God because as we read, “The LORD created me as the beginning of his works, before his deeds of long ago” (Proverbs 8:22, NET). The following is taken from the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) article titled Son of God:

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The phrase "the only begotten son" (John iii. 16) is merely another rendering for "the beloved son." The Septuagint translates  ("thine only son") of Gen. xxii. 2 by "thy beloved son." But in this translation there is apparent a special use of the root , of frequent occurrence in rabbinical literature, as a synonym of  ("choose," "elect"; see Bacher, "Die Aelteste Terminologie der Jüdischen Schriftauslegung," s.v.); the "only begotten" thus reverts to the attribute of the "servant" who is the "chosen" one… The Logos in Philo is designated as the "son of God"; the Logos is the first-born; God is the father of the Logos ("De Agricultura Noe," § 12 [ed. Mangey, i. 308]; "De Profugis," § 20 [ed. Mangey, i. 562]). In all probability these terms, while implying the distinct personality of the Logos, carry only a figurative meaning. The Torah also is said to be God's "daughter" (Lev. R. xx.).[8]

The Son of God and the Spirit of God: New Testamental View

  • “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia,having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to(Acts 16:6-7, NIV).
  • “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory” (1 Peter 1:10-11, NET).
  • “For no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21, NET).
  • "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26, KJV).
  • "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5, KJV).


Notice that in Acts 16, we read that Paul was being delayed by both the “Holy Spirit” and the “Spirit of Christ.” Was Paul delayed by two spirits? No, he was delayed by the same spirit. Likewise, did the prophets prophesy by two spirits? No, the prophets spoke by the word of a single spirit – the Holy Spirit of Messiah, the Son of God, the Spirit of God. Likewise, there is one intermediary between God and man.

Conclusion

What have we seen from scripture itself? We understand that each person who obeys the will of God is called a “son of God.” Yet scripture talks about a preeminent “son of God.” According to rabbinic tradition and certain apocryphal works, this unique first-born son would be the Messiah. Yet apparently, we are also confronted with two different kinds of “sons of God” as this concept pertains to Messiah. On one hand we are told that Messiah will be born from the line of David yet on the other hand we are told that the “Spirit of Messiah” is the eternal “Spirit of God” that hovered over the face of the deep waters. Which one is it? According to rabbinic tradition, an especially righteous man called a tzadik would be chosen to be anointed with the “Spirit of Messiah.” Thus, this tzadik would become the Messiah. This makes sense because the very word “mashiach” literally means “anointed one” or “the one who is anointed.” Thus, the Spirit of Messiah would “descend” upon, or anoint, a tzadik and make him to become the Messiah. It should not be a surprise for us when we remember what the Gospels say about the baptism of Jesus: “After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight”” (Matthew 4:16-17, NET).

Source Citations and Notes

[1] Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., & Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation: The comprehensive translation of the controversial ancient scrolls, with material never published or translated before now, and including the most recently released texts (New York: Harper Collins, 1996), 51.

[2] It should be noted that “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” are equivalent terms. “Holy Ghost” comes from the German phrase “Heiliger Geist” and “Holy Spirit” (Sanctified Spirit) comes from the Latin phrase “Spiritus Sanctus.”

[3] A similar statement is made in 2 Esdras 13:25 which implies that they are referring to the same messianic figure.

[4] Accessed 2/13/15 http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16223/jewish/Chapter-2.htm#showrashi=true