The Teachings of Jesus and the Teachings of the Jews in the Time of Christ Respecting the Messiah and His Kingdom.

By Professor Hugh M. Scott, D.D.,

Chicago Theological Seminary.

Taken from THE BIBLICAL WORLD, Volume 1, Issue 6.


In the following brief statement of the teachings of Jesus about himself and his kingdom in their relation to the teachings of the Jews respecting the Messiah and his kingdom, we shall notice especially some points in which the two systems differ rather than seek to set forth the doctrines of the gospel in the framework of Pharisaic theology. Such a method of treatment not only favors clearness of statement, but also seems to follow the balance of truth; for the essentials of Christianity lie more outside than inside Judaism, and what is unlike the theology of the scribes is more prominent in the words of Christ than are those things which he approved in their teachings.1 Of course, certain fundamental doctrines underlie both Judaism and Christianity, for both draw instruction from the Old Testament, the teachings of both center in the Messianic hope, and the gospel is, in an important sense, the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. These considerations weighed so much with earlier writers, such as Schöttgen (Horœ Hebraicœ, 1742), Bertholdt (Christologia Judœorum, 1811) and Gfrörer (Jahrhundert des Heils, 1838), that they spoke of Jewish theology as if essentially the same as Christian in its views of the Messiah and his kingdom. The chief question at issue seemed to be whether Jesus of Nazareth really was the Messiah in whom both the synagogue and the church believed. All that Christians hold was regarded as already hoped for by Israel. From such premises we can see how easy it was for Strauss to build up his mythical Life of Jesus out of Jewish expectations of the Christian Messiah, and for Renan and Grätz2 to teach that original Christianity was simply an outgrowth of Judaism under a wonderful reformer of the school of Hillel named Jesus. But recent investigation has largely moved away from this low plane; the attempt to make Christianity a form of Judaism is about given up; and such a reconstruction of history belongs almost entirely to the past.3

Jesus and his gospel were a fulfilment, a development of Judaism; but they were such a fulfilment as the butterfly is of the caterpillar, a development which makes it much easier to describe them by way of contrast than of comparison, for the one has wings, finds its true home above the earth and is spiritual, while the other creeps upon the ground, and rests everywhere upon what is national and material.

1. We come now to our subject proper, and notice first of all that Jesus taught a new conception of the character of God, which revolutionized all man’s spiritual relations to Jehovah, Some of the teachers of later Jewish theology, (a) in opposition to heathenism, and (b) through the deeper study of the Old Testament in the schools of the scribes, had reached a lofty view of the transcendental and holy character of God.4 This teaching Jesus accepted as the noblest development of the theology of the scribes; but he enlarged it so as to make the heavenly Sovereign, of whom Israel spoke as head of the theocratic kingdom, the divine Parent of all men. He made the Lord of heaven and earth Father (Matt. 11:25), who reveals the treasures of his grace, not to the wise and prudent but to babes, he put God’s fatherly love at the foundation of his preaching of the kingdom. The believer is now a child and his prayer runs:

Our father. . . . Thy kingdom come.” Bousset does not hesitate to say (p. 41ff.) that faith in the God-Father, and the central position given it by Jesus, may be called what is essentially and fundamentally new in his preaching. So far-reaching is this new view of God. The Jews regarded Jehovah as the righteous judge; and when they spoke of him occasionally as father they limited his fatherhood to Israel, and even then made no vital, practical use of the conception. Now, instead of a transcendental, far-off God of holiness and otherworldliness, whom men necessarily served in legal worship, Jesus taught the Heavenly Father as immanent, to whom believers stand in the moral, spiritual relation of loving children. His view of God as Father, by changing the character of Jehovah, transformed all Jewish teachings respecting man’s relation to God, just as a change in the nature of the sun would change all the relations of the planets that revolve about it. Love has taken the place of law; the theocracy has become a family; the king is now father; and the subject, the slave, has become a son. And yet law and the claims of right are not weakened by this turning of a kingdom into a family, for this relation of love is a relation of likeness, and the children of the king must be perfect even as their Father in Heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Instead of making void the law, the gospel rather establishes it (Rom. 3:31).

2. This enlarged conception of God led Jesus to teach also a new view of man and the world. The Fatherhood of God had as its natural correlate the brotherhood of man. And if all men are brethren, then this world as their home is the Father’s house. The Jews had torn God and the world apart, putting the one in the remotest heaven of spiritual abstractions, and handing the other over to everything undivine, earthly and devilish. Now Jesus brought that infinitely distant God back to the world and put his children in immediate communion with him. He taught that -this fair world still belongs to Jehovah. The heavenly Father makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good; he cares for the grass and the flowers; he watches the fall of the sparrow; hence this is not the devil’s world, and instead of dreading it, suspecting it, and washing off every contact with it as defiling, after the ascetic spirit of the Pharisees, in order to get nearer God, the disciples of Christ were taught to enjoy it as a gift of the Father in heaven for which they should be thankful to him. The Jews considered John the Baptist a true man of God, an ideal saint; but Jesus, using this world as not abusing it, they regarded as “ a man gluttonous and a wine- bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners’’ (Matt, 11:19). The only man that did not belong to this earth was looked upon by the Pharisees, the professional saints of his day, as too worldly, too much at home in nature and among men. Bousset is so struck by this far-reaching contrast that he says Christ’s doctrine of the supreme God as Father, and his new view of man’s relation to the world about him and the present life, are the two points in which he departed most radically from the teachings of his time.

And yet Jesus did teach separation from the world of the severest sort; but it was in the sense that God and His kingdom are to have the first place in the thoughts and affections of men. Worldly goods, friends, wife and children, even life itself (Matt. 7:13; Luke 14:26) must be given a second place by those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe Christ’s holy gospel. Here the requirements of Jesus go into the very motives of men, and demand a separation from the world far greater than was sought after by the Rabbis.

But in this renunciation of the world there was nothing ascetic, no idea that possession of wife and friends, houses or lands, was wrong in itself (Matt. 25:14; Luke 16:10), and none of that misanthropy, which led the Pharisees to look upon this world and human life now as only a means to an end, and to bitterly hate the rich, the Sadducees, the Herodians and the Romans.

3. The teachings of Jesus also respecting the Messiah show marked divergence from Jewish theology. The following points may be distinguished: [1] The scribes spoke of the Messiah as ideally preexistent in the mind of God, and occasionally a personal preexistence seems taught (Enoch 48:3); but of the exalted character of the Messiah, as set forth in the Gospels as the eternal Son of God, we find no clear conception. The idea of the incarnation of God was utterly foreign and abhorrent to Judaism. Rabbinical theology taught no God-Man. The scribes expected that Messiah would be born as other men. He would not be sinless. In adult life he would become the Messiah. He would probably die like other men (so 4 Ezra); hence we can see how John the Baptist could be thought of as the Messiah, and how many false messiahs could arise. In contrast with all this is Christ, the supernatural Messiah, born of a virgin, without sin (John 8:46), who did all that Jehovah did (John 5:19), the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. Wendt says: "according to the conception of the Jews the messianic king was also Son of God; according to the conception of Jesus (Mark 12:35-37) the Son of God as such was the messianic King.”5

[2] Jewish teachings respecting the Messiah were diverse, fragmentary, and conflicting; Jesus first presented and taught a consistent, personal, whole Messiah. The two views in the Old Testament, of a glorious king like David, and of the suffering servant of the Lord, were never harmonized in the theology of the Rabbis. They finally adopted the theory of two messiahs. Sometimes they spoke of the Messiah as a king, again as a prophet; Gfrörer finds four types of Messiah in the rabbinical writings; but nowhere are they harmonious; nowhere do they show the royal and prophetic, much less the divine elements in living union. Christianity first united the perfectly human and the perfectly divine Messiah, the man of sorrows and the King of glory.

[3] Jesus appeared as prophet, priest, and king, a combination of offices unknown to the Jewish conception of the Messiah. The scribes rarely spoke of him as a prophet—in John 7:40 the prophet and the Messiah are distinguished,—neither did they combine in him prophetic and royal functions; neither did they speak of him as a priest. The Targum of Jonathan speaks of the Messiah as a high priest; but that is as a ruler. The shekinah and the metairon are also called high priest, just as Philo calls his logos high priest. But these titles were not meant to describe the Messiah, though Baldensperger thinks they had been identified with him before the time of Christ; the logos of Philo, which he terms the “first-born” and “only begotten ” son of God, was never spoken of as becoming incarnate, neither was it ever identified with the Messiah. The priesthood of the Messiah and the incarnation of the logos are purely Christian conceptions. The Jew expected above all else a king; but Jesus appeared first of all as a prophet; and was so far from the Jewish messianic hopes that he regarded the inducements to make him a king as seductions of satan.

[4] These differences of view show themselves further in the fact that Jewish theology in the time of Christ had no doctrine of a suffering Messiah. The Rabbis did not know what to make of passages like Ps. 22; Zech. 12:10; 13:7; and Isaiah 53. As we have noticed, the royal Messiah and the suffering Messiah were never identified in Jewish teachings, an identification which forms the very corner-stone of the gospel. To avoid such a doctrine, the scribes wrested their Scriptures in the most violent way. The Targum of Jonathan on Isa. 52-53 identifies the servant of Jehovah with the Messiah; but the passages describing his sufferings are referred to Israel. It was thought that the Messiah might suffer, but he would do so as a soldier endures the hardships of a victorious campaign. He might bear affliction as a just one in spite of his being just; but the teaching of Jesus was unknown, that suffering is necessary even for the perfect man in full communion with God, for true piety involves self-denial for the good of others. Some of the richest Christian virtues grow only in the place of pain, where patience has its perfect work and where that love which endures all things blossoms.

[5] The closely associated doctrine, that the Messiah made atonement by his sufferings and death, was utterly unfamiliar to Pharisaic theology.6 This cardinal teaching of Christianity was not even visible on the horizon of Jewish thought; hence Jesus must teach it again and again as a strange thing to his disciples and others (Matt. i6:22; Luke 17:25). It was entirely new to those who heard it. Peter rebuked Christ for speaking of such a thing as possible. The disciples were all “ exceeding sorry” when he told them that he should die, though he added at once that he would arise again. Paul speaks of it as most strange and repulsive to the Jews, the chief stumbling-block to their accepting the gospel (I Cor. i:23). And when the Lord was crucified his followers saw in this a proof that Jesus was not “he who should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21). Suffering and death formed no part of the work of the Messiah, according to Jewish conceptions. The cross had no more place in the theology of the Rabbis than the modern guillotine has in that of the Christian. It need hardly be added that the doctrine of the resurrection of the Messiah, his becoming the first-fruits of them that sleep, his ascension to heaven, his mediatorial reign in glory, and his relation as exalted Lord to his people were all unknown to Jewish teachings in the time of Christ..

4. The Kingdom of God preached by Jesus was also very different from that taught and expected by the Jews. The following particulars may be noticed:

[1] All students of the New Testament know the national character of the messianic kingdom hoped for by Israel. It was said that the Jewish people under Messiah would differ from their former state only in ruling over all the nations of the earth. The long struggle against Rome shows it was a conquering Messiah and a temporal kingdom that were expected by the mass of the Jews. In such a kingdom the Rabbis thought the law would be established, the temple restored, and Judaism reign over the gentiles. But of deliverance from sin, of the overthrow of the kingdom of satan, of a regenerated humanity, and of a spiritual rule of the Messiah very little was heard or thought. Here and there a godly soul like Simeon or Anna had dreams of such a Messiah;7 but only Christian hearts were responsive to such visions and saved them from oblivion. In contrast with these largely material views, Jesus taught the true spiritual sovereignty of Jehovah as the Father in heaven, whose will is the highest law of the kingdom and the supreme aim of man. This will Jesus realized for the first time; and he led men through faith and repentance and union with himself to a like realization of the will of God. Such a realization is a present reality and no longer a remote possibility as it was in rabbinical teachings. Hence the kingdom of God is not so much a future local manifestation as the Jews represented it, as a present, spiritual quality, the great moral good, which man needs. The believer trusts in God as his father; this trust receives the gift of divine righteousness; the gift of this righteousness means the rule of God’s will in man’s will; and as this rule constitutes the kingdom of God in the heart, the kingdom that Jesus founded, it might well be said that this kingdom was in the midst of men, or within them. Judaism was at best a religion of hope; but Jesus brought a religion of possession. The essentials of the messianic kingdom are enjoyed now; and this life is by no means what the Pharisees regarded it, a preparation for a kingdom of glory hereafter. Wendt calls this far-reaching principle the deepest contrast between the teachings of Jesus and those of the Jews, for here was a conscious breaking through of the comfortless transcendentalism of the future, which so weighed upon Judaism. The one great hope of Israel, in the time of Christ, was that of the national glories of the Jews; and that was the only great hope of his people about which Jesus was silent. Instead of national salvation for Israel, he taught spiritual deliverance for individuals of all nations.

[2] The relation in which Jesus set his kingdom to the kingdoms of the world shows how new were his teachings within Judaism. The founder of the heavenly kingdom appeared under Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor; the kingdom and the empire appeared together, each claiming the world of humanity, the Orbis Romanus. Now for the Jews, the Gentiles and their rulers had no rights which the messianic kingdom of Israel was bound to respect. Only as conquered subjects of Israel had they any hope of happiness. But Jesus showed that both the Jew and the Roman had a place in God’s economy. He opened a new philosophy of religion and human society, in which both church and state had distinct rights; piety and politics had separate domains, and should not be confounded in a coarse national theocracy as was done in the teachings of Jewish priestcraft. In the brief statement:“ Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” Ranke declares,8 Jesus fixed the rights of politics and religion; and this, he maintains, is the most important, most original, and most fruitful in its results of all the sayings of Christ, He taught here what Judaism had never grasped, that national and human interests, the things of the state and the concerns of religion may and should be distinguished; he revealed for the first time international human devotion to God and duty to man.

[3] Another striking feature in the teaching of Jesus was that he made the recognition of himself as Messiah and redeemer a condition of belonging to the kingdom of God. Jewish theology had no such doctrine. Sack, a Jewish writer, expressing this thought in an unsympathetic way,9 calls it dogmatic faith, and says it received its peculiar character through faith in Jesus Christ. Now for the first time, he continues, was religion made a matter of the individual conscience. It was built on a supernatural faith and not upon a mere natural belief, as he says the Jews ever taught. To have the Son was to have life; to not have the Son of God was to incur the wrath of God and eternal death. There was no way now to enter heaven but by taking up the cross and following Christ (Mark 8:35; 10:29). Both the person and the preaching of Jesus must be accepted (John 6:29). All the power of God to save, all the mercy of the heavenly Father were revealed in him, hence he claimed the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:5, 7), a thing that horrified the Jews, for it made him equal with God.

[4] Coming to life in the kingdom, a world-wide difference of teaching appears, Pharisaic piety was fundamentally and everywhere legalism, only softened occasionally by the messianic hope. Now Jesus went back to the broader, deeper teachings of the prophets and the psalms, the true religion of Israel, into which the law came incidentally to give the knowledge of sin (cf. Rom, 5:20). He set aside, as utterly inconsistent with his gospel, the whole system of levitical purifications, and taught in its place the free grace of God, simple faith, forgiveness, and obedience of love, all of which was a peculiar stumbling-block to the legalistic Pharisees (Matt. 21:31; Luke 7:36-48). The two objections constantly urged by Jews against early Christianity were that it destroyed the law, and that it offered a humble, obscure, crucified Messiah. Both the gospel and Christ were entirely foreign to Jewish thought and expectations, and could never have appeared as a natural product of Judaism, The Jew looked for the favor of God as a thing to be purchased by good works; the Christians received it as a gracious gift; the Jew expected earthly riches and glory as the form of his reward; the Christian longed to be “ rich in faith,” rich toward God in an eternal life already begun on earth; the Jew was full of forebodings because his theology ever preached the unfitness of Israel to receive the Messiah and his kingdom; the Christian received from Jesus a gospel, glad tidings of joyful certainty, for nothing could separate believers from the full enjoyment of God both now and hereafter. Jesus gave the idea of future everlasting life in heaven an importance unknown to Jewish theology, and made it an organic part of his view of the kingdom of heaven in a way hitherto unheard of.

[5] Christ’s interpretation of the law of love, which underlies all the commandments, shows how far he differed from Judaism. The Jews found in the Old Testament love to God (Deut. 6:51) and love to one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18); but Jesus added three new elements, which revolutionized religious life (Mark 12:28-34): (a) He widened the conception of “neighbor” to make it include all men in need, even enemies, while the scribes taught love only to the neighbor Jew; (b) he put love to God and love to man on the same plane, whereas the Rabbis put love to God above love to man; and (c) he brought these two principles lying apart in the Old Testament, into vital, organic union, making love to man the test and proof of love to God. Hillel summed up the law in the golden rule, that is, in ethics; but Jesus joined love to man to love to God. He made ethics and religion, piety and theology, social duties and religious duties one, and thus, as never before had been done, vitally unified doctrine and life.

[6] Similar difference can be seen in Christ’s teachings about all the commandments. He laid stress upon the spirit not the letter. In only one case did he depart from the Mosaic law; that was in the question of marriage: but here he went back to the original revelation of God, which taught one man and one woman in wedlock. This law Jesus fulfilled. He stripped off all traditionalism from the law, like icicles and sleet from a tree in early spring, and called it into life, showing its true, fruitful expression of the mind of God. From his own divine consciousness as the incarnate Word he expounded the written Word, teaching men for all time what was local and temporary in it and what was universal and permanent. This living test of doctrines can be seen especially in the two great fields of ceremonial purification and the Sabbath. Jesus taught that it was not eating with unwashen hands that defiled the man; but rather bad thoughts uttered by uncharitable tongues. Not work for God and humanity broke the Sabbath; but going idle only to glorify this sign of the covenant made it of non-effect.

Jesus ate with publicans and sinners until he was denounced as a Samaritan. He could even propose to destroy the temple, the center of Mosaic legalism, while the Jew expected that Messiah would confer upon it eternal glory. Law, which the scribes put at the center of religious life, Jesus put at the circumference; and faith, mercy, love, virtue, which they placed in the distance, he put in the foreground. Thus ‘the whole outlook and perspective of man’s life was changed. The saint among the Jews was the man that washed himself most. Jesus said, " Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

[7] Our limits will not permit us to trace the difference between the eschatological teachings of Christ respecting his kingdom and those of the Jews; we notice only the closing scene, the view of the last judgment, (a) The Jews taught that the judge would be Jehovah; Jesus taught that the Son of Man will be judge (John 5:22). Stanton goes so far as to call this view " the most significant new feature of the Christian doctrine of the Messiah.”10 In the Old Testament two lines of prophecy run towards hope and victory; the one looks for the Day of Vengeance of Jehovah, it sings the dies irœ of Judaism (Isa, 34:8; 35:4); the other speaks of the seed of Abraham, the son of David, the messianic King. But Judaism never identified these two movements. It was Jesus that made the son of David the Son of Man and judge of all the earth in the day of vengeance of our God.

(b) Jesus also taught great difference of rewards and punishments. He spoke of few cities and many cities, of few stripes and many stripes. The Jews did not so speak. For them all Israel would finally be saved; and the Gentiles with some exceptions be lost. Jesus told the Jews that not every Israelite that said " Lord, Lord ” would be saved; while from east and west, north and south, Gentiles would enter the kingdom of God past faithless Jews, who would be thrust out (Luke 13:24-30).

(c) The literal, materialistic views of rewards and punishments held by the Jews, were made spiritual by Christ. Flesh and blood could not inherit the kingdom, neither could they be punished in the future life. Heaven and hell are both spiritual in their joys and sorrows. Especially in speaking of the happiness of the redeemed did Jesus differ from the earthly, material conception cherished by the best of Jews.



1) See the valuable essay of Bousset, Jesu Predict in ihrem Gegensatz zum Judentum, Göttingen, 1892.

2) Gesch. der Juden 1867, III, p. 217.

3) Lucius, Der Essenismus in sein. Verhältniss z. Judentum, Strassburg, 1891, and the literature there quoted; also Lightfoot, Epp. to Colossians and Philemon, 1875 p. 82.

4) Cf. Baldensperger, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu im Licht der Messian. Hoffnungen seiner Zeit, 2d ed., Strassburg, 1892.

5) The Teaching of Jesus. Engl. Transl., Edinburgh, 1892, Vol. II., p. 133.

6) See Dalman, Der leidtnde u. dtr sterbende Messias der Synagoge. Berlin. 1888 p. 86.

7) Cf. also Enoch 48:4, 5; Psalms of Solomon, 17.

8) Weltgeschichte, III. p. 161, quoted in Holtzmann’s essay Das Neue Testament und der römische Staat, Strassburg, 1892.

9) Die altjüdische Religion im Uebergang vom Bibelthume zum Talmudismus. Berlin, 1889, p. 457.

10) The Jewish and the Christian Messiah. Edinburgh, 1886, p. 291.