Was the promised Messiah to be God?
UNITARIANS, LIKE ALL OTHER CHRISTIANS, believe that Jesus Christ was and is the long-awaited Anointed One of God, the Messiah, the descendant of King David who is described in Jeremiah 33:15:
In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
Unlike other Christians, Unitarians agree with the modern Jewish position that the Messiah is only a descendant of David, and not also God. Like most Jews today, they insist that nothing in the Old Testament suggests any identity of the Messianic Son of David with God Himself. Jews often assert that nothing in the Tanakh (Old Testament) ascribes godness to their Messiah, which is why no Jew today looks for a supernatural being as their future King. However, the repeated insistence that Jews have always rejected any such identity is based on an extremely thin historical case. Messianic Jewish commentator, David Stern, says that, “Contrary to modern Jewish opinion, which holds that the Messiah is to be human only, numerous Jewish sources speak of the supernatural features of the Messiah” (1992, p. 153).
Does the Old Testament identify the Messiah with God Himself? Absolutely not, say Unitarians. Beg to differ. Ezekiel's thrilling futuristic panorama foretells, among other things, the construction of a spectacular temple. Jewish exegetes invariably interpret this (how else, really?) to refer to “the final deliverance of Israel and the restoration of the Temple in the Messianic age” (Fisch 1950, p. 296). In 43:7, Ezekiel hears a voice proclaiming,
Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name…
God is the speaker, and He says the soles of His feet will dwell there. Who else could He be referring to other than the Messiah, King of the world? The phrase “soles of My feet” surely rules out the interpretation that He is speaking of the glory of God that will dwell in the Most Holy Place at the same time. Messiah is God!
God speaks again, this time in Zephaniah 3:17, where He says He will dwell in the midst of Israel, and will "rejoice over them with singing". Again, this has to be speaking of Israel's Messianic King.
The prophecies of Zechariah are, according to Jewish commentator Rev. Dr. A. Cohen “rich in Messianism” (1948, p. 268). He says of the King introduced in 9:9 (“your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass”) that “This can only refer to King Messiah” (p. 305). Chapter 14 contains some thrilling passages which establish the coming of a great king who will be very God! Let's begin with three verses that certainly point in that direction:
Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east… Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You (3-5).
Note that God's feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives, and that He will be accompanied by all “the saints”. Whether these saints be identified with angels or with glorified human saints, the passage surely should be seen as parallel to New Testament passages that speak of the coming of Jesus Christ to rule the nations — see Matthew 25:31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. God comes with His saints; Jesus comes likewise. Jesus is God. The plot thickens. Speaking of the great King who will rule over all the earth, 14:9 identifies him with “the Lord” (Yahweh), Israel's God. Then Zechariah adds,
And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts ( 14:16).
This King is explicitly identified with the Lord of hosts. In addition, 6:12-13 call this king "a man" who will both sit on the throne and also be a priest! What could be plainer? The descendant of David who is to sit on the millennial throne is divine. Those who believe the New Testament don't need to be told who that is to be.
Micah 5:2 boldly declares,
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:2).
The Jews of Jesus' days recognized this verse as a prophecy of Messiah (Matt. 2:6). The Jewish Soncino commentary takes “going forth” (found only here, and in 2 Kings 10:27 where it refers to a privy!) to refer to “lineage” (Cohen, p. 175) but, in light of its conviction that Messiah will be a man only, adds, “It is possible that this phrase gave rise to the later Jewish doctrine that the Messiah existed in the mind of God from time immemorial, as part of the Creator's plan at the inception of the universe”. Presumably Unitarian thinkers would take the same tack. However, the path of seeking a minimal interpretive twist strongly suggests the passage actually speaks of Messiah's eternal nature.
Psalm 84:9 & 11 says,
O God, behold our shield, and look upon the face of Your anointed [Messiah]… 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Here, both Messiah and God are called a “shield”. Strict interpretation does not require taking the two as identical with each other, but the hint could hardly be plainer.
Both Jewish and Christian commentators recognize the Messianic son of David in the glowing description of the wedding of a mighty king in Psalm 45:
You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Your lips; therefore God has blessed You forever. Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things… Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions (vss. 2-7).
These verses tell us that God has anointed this mighty king. But the words, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” show that this king shares divinity with God. Though Jewish commentators reject this simple interpretation on the grounds that “it does not suit the context”, they acknowledge that the translation above “appears to be the obvious translation” (Cohen, p. 141). God cannot be put in a box; He can reign invisibly in heaven and on earth in “visible form” all at the same time, His “unity of being” remaining perfectly intact in the process. Once one grasps this basic concept the stumblingblock that prevents Unitarians acknowledging Jesus' divinity simply disappears completely. So too does the rationale behind the insistence of some that one God actually is two beings.
References and notes
Cohen, A. 1948, The Twelve Prophets, The Soncino Press, London
Fisch, M. A. Rabbi Dr. 1950, Ezekiel, The Soncino Press, London
Stern, D. H. 1992, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., Clarksville
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