FROM: CHRISTIAN MESSIANIC ANALYSIS AND APOLOGETICS
BY: Steve Daskal
The Jewish faith, as was being taught & practiced in Jesus’ day, was no longer a single unified faith focused on “the Law and the Prophets,” but was made up of several sects that at best disdained or ignored each other, each following its own particular interpretations that suited them.
The Sadducees denied that anything beyond Torah [The Law, Pentateuch, Five Bks of Moses] was inspired of or delivered from God. So, they didn’t accept that there would be a Messiah at all. The Torah references frequently cited, such as Gen 3:15 and in Deuteronomy when Moses tells them that a Prophet like himself will come to lead Israel back to God after they have “fallen away,” point to from the perspectives of Christians, and of Pharisees, but they aren’t unambiguous/direct statements. The Psalms & the Prophets were considered by the Sadducees the way we’d consider books by C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton — good reading, edifying, but neither inspired nor authoritative for doctrine. The Kohanim [the priesthood-by-descent] and many of the other Levites were Sadducees. They controlled the Temple in Jesus’ day and had a sizeable presence on the Sanhedrin which was the religious court that had been granted ultimate socio-religious authority for the Jews of Judea under Roman rule.
The Essenes had separated themselves from what they viewed as a terminally corrupted Judea and a false priesthood [Because for the past 130 or so years the priests had come from the descendants of the Makkabeean/Hasmonean line, who, while priests, were not of the proper lineage to be High Priests, and as kings could not also be priests serving God.] The Essenes were awaiting Messiah as described in the Prophets, whom they apparently treated as canonical, but assumed that Messiah would not come until the priesthood was purified and the land and people restored to Torah compliance on the very ascetic lines they viewed as central [the Essenes were ascetic monastics; they essentially were what Christians would refer to as monks and nuns].
The Pharisees believed in the full Old Testament canon as we know it. They also accepted the rabbinical teachings, which began during the Babylonian exile centuries earlier, as inspired law — they referred to this as the “Oral Law” and claimed that its origins were in verbal instructions God gave to Moses to supplement the Torah. Thus, the Misnah and [rest of] Talmud are treated as inspired. Like the Essenes, they expected a Messiah to come as described by the Prophets, but also assumed that there would need to be a purification/cleansing before he would come.
In NO case did the vast majority of Jews expect that the Messiah would be the Son of God. While this is hinted at in the Prophets [e.g., Psalm 110, which Jesus Himself cited to confound the Pharisees, Daniel esp. chapter 9, etc.], the Prophets never explicitly say that Messiah would be the Son of God, or would be God, or would be part of a triune Godhead. They did indicate that there would be a Moshiakh ben Yosef and a Moshiakh ben David; the former coming as the suffering servant [viz Isaiah 53] and the latter coming as the conquering king.
Those Jews who followed Christ while He was on earth did so because of His Words and His miracles, which were fulfillment of various prophecies about Him. They were able to make the “leap” spiritually to accept Him as both “Son of Man” and “Son of God” — but even then, there were the heresies of Gnosticism, Arius, and Nestor to contend with.