This questions came up in a weekly bible study I attend. I quickly wrote out the three point argument below. I think there work well together. Would love to hear your comments below.
How can a knowledgeable Jew be sure that Jesus is not the promised Messiah?
In my first year of being a Christian, I got to study the bible with a seminary student. He suggested reading the Old Testament through a “Christological” lense. This was revolutionary for me. It was hard to believe how frequently Jesus was alluded to, foreshadowed, or prophesied about. Some of the more well known are chapters like Isaiah 53. I found myself thinking, “how can a Jew be confident that Jesus is not the promised Messiah?” Most Jews response would lead me to believe that they have not given it much thought, but many have clearly given it a lot of thought. One, in particular, told me that it was mostly prophecy (like Isaiah 53) that hinted towards Jesus and since all prophecy have not been fulfilled, he could not assume any has. Now I see that there are problems with that answer. Mainly, some prophecy clearly has been fulfilled. For example the destruction of the temple or the destruction of Nineveh. Nineveh has become particularly interesting to me recently and it has something to say about this argument. The Jew I had been talking to named half a dozen passages but one stuck with me. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Micah 4:1-2.
A story told in 3 of the 4 Gospels: Why do the Pharisees reprimand Jesus for not having His disciples wash their hands?
This story is found in Matthew 15:1-20, Mark 7:1-13, and Luke 11:37-43. At first glance, one might suppose that the Pharisees are referring to the law, but they are actually referring to “traditions of our fathers” or “traditions of our elders”. I think this distinction Jesus is making is the key to understanding some books like Galatians where Paul also talks about the distinction between the Law and the “traditions of my fathers.” The washing of hands before a meal is a tradition that one can find in the Talmud. Jesus response in Matthew and Mark is in part to refer to Isaiah 29:13.
Why are Nineveh and the profits Johan and Nahum important to this question, particularly to non-Jews?
Nineveh is a city that comes up several times in the bible. It is one of the eight cities founded by Nimrod. Genisis mentions 8 cities he founded, 4 the in plains of Shinar and 4 in Assyria including the capital of Assyria, which is Nineveh. Two prophets talk of Nineveh: Johan was sent there to have them repent and Nahum tells of their pending destruction some hundred years later. By today’s boundaries, this would be modern day Iraq. Interestingly in the story, I mentioned above where the Pharisees reprimand Jesus for not having His disciples wash their hands, immediately before that in Luke, Jesus says, “this generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” When most people think of Jonah, they think of the story where he gets swallowed by a fish. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to tell those people to repent. I think this is particularly interesting for the same reason it must have infuriated Jonah: God is giving Israel’s enemies the key to a reprieve from God’s justice. Which is to say God is extending grace to Israel’s enemies provided they repent and presumably follow the law. Repentance is specifically stated in the text. Following the law, I think if more than fair as later they are destroyed as you can read in Nahum and I can only assume the only thing that has changed is that Nineveh has stopped following the law and is now going to be punished for it. I think it follows that the law is for both the Jew and Gentile.
Also interesting is the passage in Nahum 1:15, “keep your feasts, Israel.” The prophet Nahum, about a century after Jonah, is foretelling the destruction of Nahum. Why here is Israel reminded to keep the feasts? It is interesting to read that according to Wikipedia who cites Encyclopaedia Judaica, “The city was later said to be devoted to “the Ishtar of Nineveh” and Nina was one of the Sumerian and Assyrian names of that goddess.” In other words, the very name of Nineveh is derived from the same goddess we get the name Easter. And when this city is devoted to destruction, Israel is reminded to keep the feasts. Since the text does not specifically state why God is destroying Nineveh, I think the proximity in time to the Spring feast of Passover and the pagan holiday Easter that Nineveh was likely celebrating in its place is a good assumption as any.