When studying the scriptures I think it is important to understand the religious and cultural beliefs of the people who are involved in them at the time they were written, and how they compare to the beliefs of those same groups today. One thing I find of great interest is to study the perspective of the Jewish people and their thoughts on their need for a Messiah.
Do you ever wonder why the Jews did not recognize the Messiah as Jesus Christ when he came the first time? I believe one of many reasons is because they did not understand the role the Messiah was to play in their personal lives, as a personal Savior.
Again, I am not a scholar of Jewish tenets but I have done some research into their religious beliefs and come to some conclusions on my own. This is what I have discovered.
The Messiah that the Jews were looking for, and still look for, is one who will redeem them from political oppression. The Jewish people understand that they are the “Covenant People”, which they are, and as such deserve to receive their rightful place as a leader in the world order. Their Messiah will be a great political leader, their rightful king and ultimate world leader, who will come among them as a blessing because of their worship of the God of Israel, who has promised them power. In short, they will be restored to their original land, which was given them in the Old Testament, and be a political leader among nations.
According to Chabad.org:
“Two of the most fundamental tenets of the Jewish faith – as listed by Maimonides among the Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith – are the belief in the ultimate redemption, an awaited era of world peace, prosperity and wisdom, and the belief that the dead will be resurrected at that time.
The Messianic Era will be ushered in by a Jewish leader generally referred to as the Moshiach (messiah: Hebrew for "the anointed one"), a righteous scion of King David. He will rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and gather the Jewish people from all corners of the earth and return them to the Promised Land.”
What they don’t seem to understand is that the Messiah is needed for a much greater purpose. They do not have a belief that the Atonement He performed was for their personal salvation. The Jewish belief is that one can reach perfection by earning it, by living the laws outlined in the Torah. Simply put, they are the extreme opposite to the various Christians who believe that you are saved by grace alone. They believe that you will be saved solely because of the works you do.
“While Jewish belief also speaks of the soul's reward in the hereafter, earned through its toil in the course of life's journey, it sees the refinement of the physical and the infusion of holiness and purpose into the mundane as the paramount objective. It is the sanctification of the human body and the world at large that constitutes the very purpose of its creation.”
By understanding their belief system, one can see more fully why Jesus rebuked the Pharisee’s and Sadducees of His day because they relied only upon the law, preaching justice alone. They were furthering the mistaken idea that there was no need for a personal Savior, and the concept of mercy and grace.
I believe if we understand how the Jews perceived their progression as based on obedience to laws alone, and how they sought only for a political leader, we can see more fully the need for The Book of Mormon to correct false beliefs.
Keep this information in mind in all your studies of the scriptures and I believe you will see a greater emphasis on the correct doctrine of the fall, the Atonement, and the need for a personal Savior, to even get us to the place where we can receive the blessings of such.
This understanding has changed how I view all the teachings we are given, especially the teachings of Jesus Christ to the people in the New Testament times.