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The Hebrew Bible Testifies – The Messiah Is As Old As God is! Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

We come to the final part of our discussion.

The Rabbinic and Christian Understanding of Messiah’s Preexistence

Suffice it to say, texts such as Micah 5:2 led some of the Jews to embrace the notion of the Messiah’s preexistence, or at least the preexistence of his name, e.g. Jews understood from such passages that even before the universe was created God had already determined to send the Messiah into the world.

Note, for instance, how the following Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible interprets Micah 5:2:

“And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you who were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth before me the anointed One [Messiah], to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned from of old, from ancient times.” (Kevin J. Cathcart & Robert P. Gordon, The Targum of the Minor Prophets: The Aramaic Bible [Liturgical Press, 1989], Volume 14, p. 122; italic emphasis ours)

Another passage that was understood in this same sense is Psalm 72, specifically v. 17:

Composed by Solomon, uttered in prophecy. O God, give your just rulings to the King Messiah, and your righteousness to the son of King David… May his name be invoked for ever; and before the sun came to be his name was determined; so all the peoples will be blessed by his merit, and they shall speak well of him.” (Targum Psalms: An English Translation, by Edward M. Cook)

Here is another version of the Targum:

“May his name be remembered forever, his name which was made ready even before the sun came into being.” (Samson H. Levey, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation [Hebrew Union College, New York 1974], Targum to the Hagiographa, p. 117)


Yet was the fire of the Gehenna created on the eve of the Sabbath? Surely it was taught: Seven things were created before the world was created, and these are they: The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. The Torah, for it is written, The Lord made me [sc. the Torah] as the beginning of his way. Repentance, for it is written, Before the mountains were brought forth, and it is written, Thou turnest man to contrition, and sayest, Repent, ye children of men.27 The Garden of Eden, as it is written, And the Lord planted a garden in Eden from aforetime.28 The Gehenna, for it is written, For Tophet [i.e., Gehenna] is ordered of old. The Throne of Glory and the Temple, for it is written, Thou throne of glory, on high from the beginning, Thou place of our sanctuary. The name of the Messiah, as it is written, His [sc. the Messiah's] name shall endure for ever, and has exited before the sun! — I will tell you: only its cavity was created before the world was created, but its fire [was created] on the eve of the Sabbath. Pesahim 54a


Resh Lakish said: Where is visiting the sick indicated in the Torah? In the verse, If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men etc. How is it implied? — Raba answered: [The verse means this:] If these men die the common death of all men, who lie sick a-bed and men come in and visit them, what will people say? The Lord hath not sent me for this [task]. Raba expounded: But if the Lord make a new thing: if the Gehenna is already created, ‘tis well: if not, let the Lord create it. But that is not so, for it was taught: Seven things were created before the world, viz., The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. The Torah, for it is written, The Lord possessed me [sc. the Torah] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.6 Repentance, for it is written, Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world . . . Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Repent, ye sons of men. The Garden of Eden, as it is written, And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden from aforetime. Gehenna, as it is written, For Tophet is ordained of old. The Throne of Glory, as it is written, Thy Throne is established from of old. The Temple, as it is written, A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. The name of the Messiah, as it is written, His name [sc. of Messiah] shall endure for ever, and [has existed] before the sun! — But Moses said thus: If a mouth has already been created for it [sc. Gehenna], ‘tis well; if not, let the Lord create one. But is it not written, There is no new thing under the sun? — He said thus: If the mouth is not near to this spot, let it draw near. Nedarim 39b

There are also references which say that the Messiah was actually born before the world and that he has been in heaven ever since!

As the following scholar explains:

“Jewish authors and sages had a very specific way of emphasizing the great importance they attached to certain central values in Jewish life and thought: they made statements to the effect that the features in question were preexistent in the sense that they were either actually created in the six days of Genesis or their idea came up before God at that seminal time. Among them they mentioned the Tora, Repentance, the Garden of Eden and Gehenna, God’s throne of Glory, the Fathers, Israel, the Temple–and the Messiah. Of these various entities to which preexistence was ascribed, the Messiah is mentioned in a much earlier literary source than the others. He first appears as preexistent in the apocryphal First Book of Enoch, which was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic about 150 B.C.E. From that period on, the concept of the Messiah who was created in the six days of Creation, or even prior to them, or who was born at variously stated subsequent dates (see chapter 3) and was then hidden to await his time, became a standard feature of Jewish Messianic eschatology. In one version it is the name of the Messiah which was created in the Beginning, in another, his spirit or his soul; in a third, he himself was actually born and even his celestial throne was fashioned.

“The concept of the preexistence of the Messiah accords with the general Talmudic view which holds that ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, prepares the remedy before the wound’ (B. Meg. 13b). By this token, of course, the preexistence of the Messiah means that the exile of Israel (the wound) was predetermined by God in the very six days of Creation. Only if this was so did the creation of the Messiah, the ultimate healer of the great national disaster of Israel, at the early date make sense, and more than that, become a mythical necessity.” (Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years [Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI 1979], 2. Preexistence and Names of the Messiah, pp. 16-17; bold emphasis ours)

Patai then cites a few examples illustrating this, some of which include:

R. Shim‘on ben Laqish explained: “and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the water (Gen. 1:2)–this is the spirit of King Messiah, as it is written, And the spirit of the Lord will rest upon him (Isa. 11:2). By what merit will it [the spirit of the Messiah] come? … By the merit of repentance.” (Gen. Rab. 2:4)

You find that at the beginning of the creation of the world King Messiah was born [and] that he emerged in the thought [of God] even before the world was created…. (Pes. Rab. Ed. Friedman, p. 152b)

(Ibid, p. 19; bold emphasis ours)

Here we see that some of the rabbis actually believed that it was the Spirit of the Messiah that was hovering over the water of the earth at the start of creation!


R. Hosha‘ya said: “In the future Jerusalem will be a lantern for the nations of the world, and they will walk in her light….”

In Thy light do we see light (Ps. 36:10). This is the light of the Messiah, as it is written, And God saw the light that it was good (Gen. 1:4). This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, saw the generation of the Messiah and its deeds prior to the creation of the world. And He hid the light for the Messiah and his generation under His Throne of Glory.

Satan said before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the World! The light which is hidden under Your Throne of Glory, for whom is it [destined]?” He said to him: “For him who will turn you back and disgrace you, and shame your face.” He said to him: “Master of the world! Show him to me!” He said to him: “Come and see him!” When Satan saw the Messiah, he trembled and fell upon his face and said: “Surely this is the Messiah who in the future will cast me and all the princes of the nations of the world into Gehenna….”

In that hour the nations became awestruck and said before him: “Master of the World! Who is he into whose hand we shall fall, what is his name and what is his nature?” The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: “His name is Ephraim, My True Messiah. He will raise his stature and the stature of his generation, and will light up the eyes of Israel, and will save his people, and no nation and language shall be able to stand up against him…. All his enemies and adversaries will be affrighted and will flee from him… and even the rivers will cease to flow into the sea….”

[When He created the Messiah], the Holy One, blessed be He, began to tell him the conditions [of his future mission], and said to him: “Those who are hidden with you [your generation], their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke, and they will render you like unto a calf whose eyes have grown dim, and they will choke your spirit with the yoke, and because of their sins your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth. Do you accept this?

The Messiah said before the Holy One, blessed be He, “Master of the World! Will that suffering last many years?” The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: “By your life and the life of my head, it is a septenary of it that I decreed upon you. But if your soul is troubled, I shall banish them as from this moment.”

He said before Him: “Master of the Worlds! With gladness in my soul and with joy in my heart I accept it, so that not a single one of Israel should perish; and not only those who will be alive should be saved in my days, but even the dead who have died from the days of Adam the first man until now. And not only they, but even the stillborn should be saved in my days; and not only the stillborn, but even those to whose creation You gave thought but who were not created. This is what I want, this is what I accept!” (Pes. Rab. pp. 161a-b)

They said: In the septenary in which the Son of David comes they will bring iron beams and put them upon his neck until his body bends and he cries and weeps, and his voice rise up into the Heights, and he says before Him: “Master of the World! How much can my strength suffer? How much my spirit? How much my soul? And how much my limbs? Am I not but flesh and blood?...”

In that hour the Holy One, blessed be He, says to him: “Ephraim, My True Messiah, you have already accepted [this suffering] from the six days of creation. Now your suffering shall be like My suffering. For ever since the day on which wicked Nebuchadnezzar came up and destroyed My Temple and burnt My sanctuary, and I exiled My children among the nations of the world, by your life and the life of your head, I have not sat on My Throne. And if you do not believe me, see the dew that is upon My head….”

In that hour he says before Him: “Master of the World! Now my mind is at rest, for it is sufficient for the servant to be like his Master!” (Pes. Rab. pp. 162a) (Ibid, 12. The Suffering Messiah, pp. 111-113; bold emphasis ours)

In these examples, we not only have a preexistent Messiah who dwells and speaks with God in heaven, but one who also voluntary takes on the sins of his people in order to save them!

Finally, here is what a noted medieval Jewish Rabbi named David Qimhi (also spelled Kimchi) had to say concerning Micah 5:2:

“It will be said in the Messianic age that his 'origins are from old, from ancient time;' 'from Bethlehem' means that he will be of the house of David, because there is a long period of time between David and the Messiah-King; and he is El (God), which is how he is ‘from old, from ancient times’.” (Risto Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings [Keren Ahvah Meshihit, Jerusalem 1992], p. 115)

The Rabbi correctly reasoned that in order for the Messiah to be from of old, from ancient times, he must be God!

Now contrast these statements with the way the following early Church Father quoted specific OT texts such as Micah 5:2 to prove the Messiah’s eternal generation and preexistence:

18. He who has seen the Son, has seen the Father John 14:9: for in all things the Son is like to Him who begot Him; begotten Life of Life and Light of Light, Power of Power, God of God; and the characteristics of the Godhead are unchangeable in the Son; and he who is counted worthy to behold Godhead in the Son, attains to the fruition of the Father. This is not my word, but that of the Only-begotten: Have I been so long time with you, and have you not known Me, Philip? He that has seen Me, has seen the Father. John 14:9 And to be brief, let us neither separate them, nor make a confusion: neither say thou ever that the Son is foreign to the Father, nor admit those who say that the Father is at one time Father, and at another Son: for these are strange and impious statements, and not the doctrines of the Church. But the Father having begotten the Son, remained the Father and is not changed. He begot Wisdom, yet lost not wisdom Himself; and begot Power, yet became not weak: He begot God, but lost not His own Godhead: and neither did He lose anything Himself by diminution or change; nor has He who was begotten any thing wanting. Perfect is He who begot, Perfect that which was begotten: God was He who begot, God He who was begotten; God of all Himself, yet entitling the Father His own God. For He is not ashamed to say, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God. John 20:17.

19. But lest you should think that He is in a like sense Father of the Son and of the creatures, Christ drew a distinction in what follows. For He said not, I ascend to our Father, lest the creatures should be made fellows of the Only-begotten; but He said, My Father and your Father; in one way Mine, by nature; in another yours, by adoption. And again, to my God and your God, in one way Mine, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and in another way yours, as His workmanship. The Son of God then is Very God, ineffably begotten before all ages (for I say the same things often to you, that it may be graven upon your mind). This also believe, that God has a Son: but about the manner be not curious, for by searching you will not find. Exalt not yourself, lest you fall: think upon those things only which have been commanded you. Sirach 3:22 Tell me first what He is who begot, and then learn that which He begot; but if you can not conceive the nature of Him who has begotten, search not curiously into the manner of that which is begotten.

20. For godliness it suffices you to know, as we have said, that God has One Only Son, One naturally begotten; who began not His being when He was born in Bethlehem, but Before All Ages. For hear the Prophet Micah saying, And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrata, art little to be among the thousands of Judah. Out of you shall come forth unto Me a Ruler, who shall feed My people Israel: and His goings forth are from the beginning, from days of eternity. Think not then of Him who is now come forth out of Bethlehem, but worship Him who was eternally begotten of the Father. Suffer none to speak of a beginning of the Son in time, but as A TIMELESS Beginning acknowledge the Father. For the Father is the Beginning of the Son, TIMELESS, INCOMPREHENSIBLE, WITHOUT BEGINNING. The fountain of the river of righteousness, even of the Only-begotten, is the Father, who begot Him as Himself only knows. And would you know that our Lord Jesus Christ is King Eternal? Hear Him again saying, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad. John 8:56 And then, when the Jews received this hardly, He says what to them was still harder, Before Abraham was, I am. And again He says to the Father, And now, Father, glorify Thou Me with Your own self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. He says plainly, before the world was, I had the glory which is with You. And again when He says, For You loved Me before the foundation of the world John 17:24, He plainly declares, The glory which I have with you is from eternity.

21. We believe then In One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father, Very God, Before All Worlds, by Whom All Things Were Made. For whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were made through Him Colossians 1:16, and of things created none is exempted from His authority. Silenced be every heresy which brings in different creators and makers of the world; silenced the tongue which blasphemes the Christ the Son of God; let them be silenced who say that the sun is the Christ, for He is the sun's Creator, not the sun which we see. Silenced be they who say that the world is the workmanship of Angels, who wish to steal away the dignity of the Only-begotten. For whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or anything that is named, all things were made by Christ. He reigns over the things which have been made by Him, not having seized another's spoils, but reigning over His own workmanship, even as the Evangelist John has said, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made. John 1:3 All things were made by Him, the Father working by the Son. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 11; bold emphasis ours)

Further Reading