You write that Christianity fills in the gaps of the Jewish definition of the role of the Messiah and argue that the only difference between Jews and Christians is that the Jews expect the first coming of the Messiah, while Christians expect the second coming. As all are aware, the Church claims that Jesus fulfilled many prophecies about the Messiah, all of which related to his first coming. Various lists are produced claiming that he fulfilled hundreds of prophecies, claims which have been answered in detail. I would like to turn my attention to just a couple of those prophecies and show why they do not fill in any gaps in definition, that they are not essential works of the Messiah, and that these prophecies do not indicate two comings.
Please imagine the following scenario: After the death of Jesus, Peter is preaching the gospel in Jerusalem, healing the sick and all of the things that he is supposed to have done in the Book of Acts. One day, he comes to a man—we’ll call him Shem—and he tells Shem the story of Jesus, his death, resurrection, and all the prophecies that Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled. At the end, Shem thanks Peter for his time, but he does not put his faith in Jesus. In fact, he claims that, based on what Peter has told him, Jesus cannot be the Messiah. “Why not?” asks Peter.
“Because,” answers Shem, “you said that Jesus was brought out of Egypt in fulfillment of Hosea 11:1. But that cannot be: everyone knows that Hosea 11:1 refers to the second coming of the Messiah, not the first. So, Jesus cannot be the Messiah.” How could Peter answer Shem?
This situation must seem incredibly far-fetched, perhaps even a bit funny. The reason is because the text indicates nothing about a first and second coming. This was not a big discussion among people before Jesus, which prophecies referred to the first and which to the second coming of the Messiah. This is because nothing in the text indicates any such thing. It is an invention, necessitated by Jesus’ failure to fulfill Messianic prophecy. Peter would have no way to answer Shem from the text. He could not point to any indicator in Hosea 11:1 and say, “This portion here shows that this is a first coming prophecy.” On the contrary, first coming prophecies are deemed such by the Church only after Jesus failed to fulfill Messianic prophecy. The difficulty was not with the gap-filled definition of the Jewish people; it was the need for a new definition of Messiah which could be ascribed to Jesus.
These fulfilled prophecies do not add essential knowledge to the office or person of the Messiah, as can be seen from the following:
Imagine that Jesus did not fulfill Hosea 11:1, but he had fulfilled other Christian Messianic prophecies, such as being born of a virgin. Under this condition, Peter is preaching the gospel in Jerusalem. He comes upon Shem, and he gives over the whole gospel to Shem. Shem again says that Jesus cannot be the Messiah. And again, Peter asks, “Why not?”
Shem answers, “Do you not know that the Messiah had to be called out of Egypt as it says in Hosea, ‘…out of Egypt I have called my son?’ Jesus failed to fulfill this prophecy. Ergo, he is not the Messiah.” How would Peter answer Shem?
It is tempting to say that Peter would put this off on the second coming, as the Church does with anything that Jesus did not fulfill on the first trip. But, this is not necessary, and I do not believe this is what he would do at all. Instead, Peter would point out that Hosea 11:1 is not a messianic prophecy. The “son” in that verse is Israel, and the prophet is referring back to the Exodus, not forward to the Messianic era. Peter can afford to do this, because nothing essential is lost from the definition of the Messiah by denying Hosea 11:1 is a prophecy. He only needs to appeal to a second coming when prophecies are clearly Messianic and contain essential qualities of the Messiah, yet remain unfulfilled in Jesus. So, universal knowledge of God must relate to the second coming, because it does not relate to Jesus, but it is undeniably linked to the reign of the Messiah. But, if Jesus had not been brought out of Egypt, no recourse need be made to a second coming, because nothing essential to the Messiah would have been missing.
Indeed, no one would have noticed. The situation with Shem would not have arisen, because a straightforward reading would not relate Hosea 11:1 to the Messiah; it would not occur to him to ask the question. The same is true of other prophecies that Christians claim Jesus fulfilled. If he had had a broken bone on the cross, it would have made no difference to the Christian claim that Jesus was the Messiah. If he had neither been born of a virgin nor come from Nazareth, it is the same. None of these prophecies is essential to the Messiah and add nothing meaningful to the definition. All of them rely upon texts taken out-of-context (except the Nazareth one, which does not exist), which texts could be dropped without changing Christian opinion regarding the Messianic claims of Jesus. None of them would require a second coming to explain why Jesus did not accomplish them. But with the Jewish understanding of the Messiah, an explanation is demanded precisely because those prophecies are essential.
That the Christian prophecies are unessential can be demonstrated in another way. Imagine a third scenario: This time, the Messiah has come, identified according to the Jewish understanding. He is a Davidic King, ruling over Israel in a time of universal peace and a universal knowledge of God, etc. And, imagine that Jesus had never lived. Peter is again on the streets of Israel, but he has a different message. He is now the head of a group that is waiting for the other Messiah. He approaches Shem and invites him to their meeting. Peter tells Shem that a second Messiah is to come, one that will fulfill the other prophecies. This one will be born of a virgin, come out of Egypt, and live in Nazareth. Could anything entice Shem to join this group? I hardly think so. All of those so-called prophecies are nothing in comparison to those already fulfilled. None of them give reason for a greater hope to come; they pale in comparison to those prophecies universally acknowledged to be Messianic. The Messianic Age could come without them having been fulfilled and nothing would be lost. No one would look for a second Messiah or a second coming whereby those other prophecies could be fulfilled.
Therefore, the Christian definition of the Messiah does not fill any gaps. It is a redefinition employed to explain how Jesus can be considered the Messiah while having none of the qualities of the Messiah, having done none of the accomplishments of the Messiah. The prophecies Jesus is said to have fulfilled are not essential to the definition of Messiah. If they are stripped away from the conception of the Messiah, the core definition of Messiah would remain unchanged. Moreover, those elements that relate to the first or second coming could not be identified as such by the text. Those essential to the Messiah were only labeled as second coming prophecies when Jesus did not fulfill them. One can only conclude that the Church is not filling in gaps but covering its tracks.