by Mark Kelly
While most Christians believe that some Old Testament writers predicted the coming of Jesus Christ, one Bible scholar says few people realize that Messianic passages in the Hebrew Bible are far more numerous than today's popular translations of the Bible reveal.
Messianic hope is "a clear and shining light throughout the Hebrew Bible," Michael Rydelnick, professor of Jewish studies at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, told the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship. But it has been diffused by a prism of scholarship bent on excising elements that point to Christ, Rydelnick noted.
Just as today there are many versions of the Christian Bible—each choosing different words to translate the Scripture for diverse audiences—there were different versions of the Hebrew Bible in the three centuries before Christ, Rydelnick said. However, when Protestant reformers turned away from the Latin Bible of the Roman Catholic Church to re-translate the Old Testament, Rydelnick noted that they accepted a version of the Hebrew Bible that had been influenced for centuries by rabbis who wanted to obscure the messianic message in the Scripture.
Those promises of the Messiah were what brought him to personal faith in Christ, Rydelnick said. "It was the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible that convinced me that Yeshua [Jesus] was indeed the Messiah," he told the messianic fellowship. "But there are some Bible teachers at evangelical Christian schools today who will tell you there is no messianic hope in the Old Testament. They will tell you that most of the passages are about David and that they were fulfilled in an historical context without reference to Yeshua."
In fact, centuries ago when the Hebrew Scriptures were being consolidated, Jewish scholars agreed they would only include a book in their canon if it carried a theme of messianic hope, Rydelnick said. In the Middle Ages, however, when Jews were being pressured to convert to Christianity, Jewish scholars began to emphasize King David as the fulfillment of prophecy. The Protestant reformers—and subsequent generations of Christian scholars—based their work on Hebrew texts and commentaries that reflected a bias against Christ, Rydelnick said.
He noted, for example, that in many translations the prophecy recorded in Numbers 24:7 is about a king who will be "higher than Agag," an Amalekite king from the time of King Saul and the prophet Samuel—a prophecy that could have been fulfilled by David. In other versions of the Hebrew Bible, however, the word "Agag" is "Gog," the end-times enemy of the returning Christ (Rev. 20:8)—a prophecy David could not fulfill.
Not only does that cast the entire passage in a new light, but it also reveals a messianic thread in other passages that share similar language, Rydelnick said.
For example, Numbers 24:9 picks up a phrase: "crouches like a lion," from another passage Moses wrote, Genesis 49:8-12. In this text, Moses prophesies that tribal identity ("the scepter") and judicial authority ("the ruler's staff") will remain with Judah, the tribe of David, "until Shiloh comes." On the surface, that doesn't seem to have a clear messianic meaning, Rydelnick said—until you see that "Shiloh" is a contraction of Hebrew words that mean "to whom it rightfully belongs." Suddenly, the passage in Genesis is seen to be a prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus' era, when Rome assumed judicial power over Israel (7 AD) and the Temple was destroyed (70 AD).
Christian Bible teachers who believe the Old Testament says little about the Messiah need to listen to the voice of Jesus in Luke 24, where He said that only the foolish and faithless fail to see what "the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms" taught about Him, Rydelnick said.
"When you read your Hebrew Bible, pay attention to the variant readings noted in the text," Rydelnick told the audience. "Because the teachings of the rabbis are embedded in the Masoretic Text on which many translations are based, and the Masoretic Text obscures the Messianic hope."
"The Hebrew Bible should be read without the prism of rabbinic interpretation," Rydelnick said, "so the true, simple meaning of the Scripture can be seen. And that simple meaning points to the death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Messiah."