Was Jesus a Prophet, a Rabbi, or a Divine Being?

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. According to traditions dating back to the fourth century, it contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus was crucified, at a place known as Calvary or Golgotha, and Jesus's empty tomb, where he is believed by Christians to have been buried and resurrected (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

Jews believe that Jesus, a young rabbi/teacher, was falsely accused by the Roman rulers of the Land of Israel, of claiming he was 'The King of the Jews' (Mark 15:2 & 18, Matthew 27:11, Luke 23:3, and John 18:33 & 19:21). At the same time Rabbi Jesus was being proclaimed by some of his followers to be 'The Son of God'.

Jews and Muslims are frequently asked by Christians why they do not believe that Jesus was The Son of God. It is true that Rabbi Jesus often did refer metaphorically to God as his father. He did this in accord with the metaphorical style of the Torah. He never expected that any Jew who heard him speak about God as his father would take his words literally.

As the Qur'an states: “It is not (possible) for any human being to whom Allah had given Scripture, wisdom and prophethood, that he should afterwards have said to mankind: Be slaves of me instead of Allah; but (Jesus said): Be ye faithful servants of the Lord by virtue of your constant teaching of Scripture and your constant study of it.” (Quran 3:79)

Jews and Muslims agree that in the years after he was gone, some of Jesus' followers began to believe and teach that the close connection Jesus felt to his father in Heaven meant he was not just the 'Son of Man” as he so often stated, but also literally the 'Son of God'. This new interpretation by some of his apostles of the metaphors 'father' and 'child of God', was a major mistake that Jesus did not foresee.

The Torah does refer both to the whole People of Israel metaphorically as God's first born son. (Exodus 4:22) and also refers to all those who are duty bound to act, even when mourning, as God commands us; as sons/children of God: “You (Plural) are Children of the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 14:1)

Does this mean that Jews either as individuals or as a people are Divine? Of course not. No Rabbi from the most Orthodox to the most Reform has ever taken these verses of the Torah literally. The term son/child of God should never be taken literally. It is a metaphor. It must be interpreted just as we interpret all the other verses in the Bible.

To say that every verse of Sacred Scripture must be interpreted; is not being disrespectful. To the contrary. It means that we have to give some thought and study to each verse in a Divine text. We cannot read Torah the way we read an ordinary book.

Jews dialogue with Torah. She challenges, inspires and questions us, and we examine and embrace her. The Jewish mystics asserted that each verse in the Torah is capable of being interpreted in seventy different ways.

Throughout the generations Rabbis have offered different meanings and views of Torah verses but according to the Talmud God said, “Both these (views) and those (views) are the words of the living God.”

God lives because of the ongoing interaction between the Divine revelation and its adherents. Without this dialogue the text would be a dead letter text and we would lack spiritual vitality and growth.

Divine revelation should always be taken seriously and Divine revelation should never be taken literally, in a simplistic way that contradicts reason, morality or other sacred texts.

Some verses were meant for special historical circumstances or conditions. Some verses have to be understood in the light of other verses. And all verses have to be interpreted with the guidance and insight of the many generations of commentators who have preceded us, as well as the best understandings of our own age.

Here are some examples of Midrash (the interpretive process at work) for “sons of God”.

The Hebrew word translated as sons, does sometimes mean sons, but usually it means children. Women can be as close to God as men, or closer.

Children indicates a very close loving relationship unlike that of King and subject. Millions of people can love a King but a King can’t love millions of people. God can.

First-born son indicates that God will send prophets to other nations in later generations.

First-born refers to the historical fact that Israel's Torah is the oldest of the living holy books that have come down to us. The 4,500 year old Epic of Gilgamesh text that mentions the man in the ark (Noah) has been dead for more than 18 centuries. The younger Gospels and Qur'an are still alive.

The Torah says Israel is God’s first-born son. The Torah does not say God’s only son.. Just as parents love all their children; so too does God love all nations and religions.

Just as parents can have many children who look different one from the other, so too does God’s revelation appear in different forms in different religions, and within each religion there are different interpretations of God’s revelation.

The first born is unique but that entails extra responsibilities; not extra privileges. “For you alone have I cared among all the nations of the world, therefore I will castigate you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)

Israel can not have any other Father except the One God of Israel; but God can and does redeem other nations. “Are not Israelites like Ethiopians to me? Says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Crete and the Arameans from Kir?” (Amos 9:7)

Prophet Jesus, like Prophet Muhammad after him, was just teaching Jews to make Judaism easier to observe. As the Qur’an states: “Allah intends for you ease; and does not intend for you hardship.” (Qur’an, 2:185)

But after Jesus was gone; Paul came along and led some Jews, and many more non-Jews into Shirk and Trinitarianism.

As the Qur’an states about the Children of Israel: “We separated them into sections on this earth. There are among them some that are the righteous, and some that are the not. We tested them with both prosperity and adversity, in order that they might return (to Us).” (7:168)

Then, in the generations following Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, some Jews abandoned the Tawhid of Prophet Jesus and followed the path of Paul and Trinitarian, idol-worshipping, Shirk.

As the Qur’an states: “They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Messiah-Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ-Messiah: (only) “O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord."(5:72)

And: “Whoever joins other gods with Allah, - Allah will forbid him the garden (of Paradise) and the Fire (of Hell) will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help. After them succeeded an (evil) generation: they had inherited the (Torah) Book, but chose (for themselves shirk) the vanities of this world, saying: “(all) will be forgiven us” (because Jesus, the Son of God, died for us as our vicarious atonement); if similar vanities came their way, they would (again) seize them. Was not the Covenant of the Book (Torah) taken with them (at Sinai): that they would not ascribe to God anything but the truth? And they (Christians) study what is in the (Torah) Book (yet they believe in the Trinity). But best for the righteous is the home in the Hereafter. will you not understand? (7:169)

In the Messianic Age, the one God, who should not be represented by any image or incarnation; will be invoked by all humanity, even while each people still retains its own religion and its own name or term for God: “In days to come…All peoples will walk, each in the name of their God, and we (Jews) will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)

When this happens and we live up to the ideal that religious pluralism is the will of God. we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

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