INTRO: We examine the concept of Messiah in Jewish theology, and why ancient Jews rejected Jesus Christ but then chose Simon Bar Kokhba, helping Israel towards national suicide and loss of nationhood. In fact, ancient Israelites were not interested in the leadership style of Jesus, because of his refusal to embrace a political or military rejection of Rome, focusing on spiritual truths. But Simon arrived as a firebrand and was lauded as the antidote to Roman rule and liberation of Yahweh’s people.
What is Messiah? Writes the Ancient Hebrew Research Center,
The Hebrew word meshiyach is transliterated as Messiah. In the Tanakh (Old Testament) this word is translated in English as “Anointed One.” The root word of meshiyach is the verb mashach meaning “to anoint”. In ancient Hebrew culture it is customary to pour oil on the head of one who is being given a position of authority. This practice is called “anointing”. In the Greek Septuagint this Hebrew word is translated with the Greek word “christos” and is transliterated as “Christ”.
Jesus’ Ministry: Scholars place Jesus’ birth in 4 B.C., passing 33 years later. Opening His ministry, the Jews of the day considered him a pest and a rebel, challenging their authority. Some claim Jesus fulfilled 351 messianic prophecies and was the only pre-announced man in history. Yet, to explain why a man dedicated to feeding vast crowds and healing the sick and lame was rejected is summed up:
Old Testament passages on Christ’s divinity were misinterpreted since there was no clear and precise picture of who Messiah was. Jesus’ own disciples struggled to understand his mission and divine origin. Confusion on 3 aspects of Messiah created this lack of clarity: on how the word messiah applied to Jesus, on the mission of the Messiah, and, most important, over the Messiah’s parentage.
Rejection: But there is no doubt what ultimately got Christ murdered was brave opposition to the existing corrupt Jewish power structure combining elements of religion, power and money. So with the diabolical interplay of local authorities, and 6 trials – Jewish leaders manipulated Romans to publicly execute Jesus.
Simon Bar Kokhba :Simon Bar Kokhba (died 135 AD) was impressive but cocky. Charismatic, tall, strong, charming, fearless, cunning, literate, cruel and vulgar. Lineage from the House of David implied he theoretically could be the Messiah, a claim he did not reject. A warrior rebel leader intent on supplanting Jewish overlords, and during his 4-year war, with 400,000 soldiers, he nearly defeated mighty Rome. See The Bar Kokhba War AD 132–136.
King Messiah: “There was a strong and popular belief Bar Kokhba was the promised messiah.” The discovery of Bar Kokhba coins suggest widespread support, as “he minted coins with the slogan “leḥerut Yerushalayim: For the freedom of Jerusalem.” Some stated, “This is the King Messiah.” But despite being an observant Jew, his arrogance was such, legend states he merely said about God’s assistance: “We pray Thee, do not give assistance to the enemy; but we don’t need any help!”
Bar Kokhba Revolt: The revolt of 132-135 A. D. began with promise, after years Rome finally exacted a blood vengeance by General Severus. Writes Casius Dio,
50 of their most important outposts and 985 of their most famous villages were razed to the ground. 580,000 men were slain in the various raids and battles, and the number of those that perished by famine, disease, and fire was past finding out…nearly the whole of Judea was made desolate. (Dio, 69:14.1-2)
Of an ugly finale, Jerome wrote:
Jerusalem was completely destroyed and the Jewish nation was massacred in large groups at a time, with the result that they were even expelled from the borders of Judaea. That being the time when Barcochebas, leader of the Jews, was crushed and Jerusalem was demolished to the very ground. (Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, Chapter 9)
Simon Bar Kokhbar’s leadership is perhaps the greatest single disaster in Jewish history. Jews were not allowed their diets or law and not allowed to live within sight of Jerusalem, which was probably a moot point. Their beliefs were then enveloped in Kabbalah and expressed in the Talmud. But this was all driven by Simon’s false-messiah claims which died with him in battle:
...the majority of the Jewish population had either been killed, died of disease or starvation, or been sold into slavery. While small Jewish communities continued to exist, such as in the Galilee, the demography of Judea had shifted in favor of the non-Jewish population, as it would remain for almost 2,000 years until the advent of Zionist immigration. As a result, the remaining centers of Jewish cultural and religious life were all outside the land of Israel, especially in Babylonia, where the definitive codex of Jewish law – the Babylonian Talmud – was collected and redacted. In effect, the Jews were now a stateless people and would remain so until 1948 CE.
CONCLUSION: It’s amazing but predictable the real Messiah, a man filled with virtue and good works – Jesus Christ, was crucified by the Romans at behest of the Jewish leaders, his bitter rivals. Their lack of true biblical knowledge and impatience doomed their nation. But the boastful poser, Simon Bar Kokhbar, and his fighting reputation was too much for the Jewish population to resist. And so, as he revolted, building an army of almost half a million, his interest in resisting Rome made him a messiah akin to King David himself. For 3 years, until his empire was slaughtered and destroyed. But as the holiday of Christmas reveals, history has judged Christ the true King of the Jews, and His Kingdom has no end, even during an age of pure humanism, faithlessness and utter nonsense.
Kelly O’Connell is an author and attorney. He was born on the West Coast, raised in Las Vegas, and matriculated from the University of Oregon. After laboring for the Reformed Church in Galway, Ireland, he returned to America and attended law school in Virginia, where he earned a JD and a Master’s degree in Government. He spent a stint working as a researcher and writer of academic articles at a Miami law school, focusing on ancient law and society. He has also been employed as a university Speech & Debate professor. He then returned West and worked as an assistant district attorney. Kelly is now is a private practitioner with a small law practice in New Mexico.