Tyron Inbody has a very interesting chapter on Christianity and Judaism in his Many Faces of Christology. With “post-Holocaust” theologies, he notes that the contention between Judaism and Christianity isn’t over Jesus’s teachings–which scholars now believe fell largely within the parameters of 1st-century Pharisaic Judaism. Nor is it over his death–which was not the fault of “the Jews” but of the Jerusalem politico-religious establishment and the Roman occupying government. It’s not, he contends, even necessarily over Jesus’s resurrection–resurrection was a core belief of the Pharisees, and Inbody cites the contemporary Jewish New Testament scholar Pinchas Lapide, who actually accepts that Jesus was resurrected. While this is obviously a minority view, Inbody argues that it shows that the resurrection as such is not incompatible with Judaism.
But this also highlights where the true point of contention lies–in the messiahship of Jesus. Inbody points out that the resurrection does not per se prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Jews can, in principle, accept the fact of the resurrection. What faithful Jews deny, however, is that the world has been redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. This isn’t, as Christians sometimes like to think, because Jews wanted a “political-military” Messiah and thus couldn’t accept a “spiritual,” nonviolent one. While this view is self-flattering for Christians, it misses the point. That is, for Jews, the advent of the Messiah is inextricably linked with the redemption of the world–that is, the end of violence and suffering and the establishment of God’s universal kingdom. 1st-century Judaism had a variety of concepts of what the Messiah would be like, and even varied on whether the Messiah should be indentified with a specific individual at all. But the consistent theme was that the messianic age would user in peace, justice, and wholeness for God’s creation. Jewish rejection of the messianic status of Jesus isn’t due to “stubbornness” or “blindness” as much Christian tradition has had it, but can in fact be seen as a faithful response to God’s promises as they were revealed through the Torah and Prophets.
Inbody argues that Christians were able to identify Jesus as the Messiah only by reinterpreting the meaning of messiahship. Christians, if they’re being honest, must admit that the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus did not establish God’s kingdom. Rather, Jesus provides a “foretaste” of the kingdom, which will only be established in its fullness at the end of time. Somewhat paradoxically, this shows that Christians and Jews may be closer together than it at first seems. If Christians view Jesus’s messiahship in terms of prolepsis and promise, then they have much in common with Jews who still await the coming of the Messiah. Both are awaiting the same Kingdom–God’s universal reign of shalom. Whether or not Jesus is the one who will reign as Messiah in that kingdom is ultimately an eschatological question that we can’t definitively settle now–even if we agree that Jesus was resurrected!