I’m currently rereading Pinchas Lapide and Moltmann’s dialogue, Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine, originally published in German in 1979. It’s a great example of what Jewish-Christian dialogue can look like, though I’m sure lots of both Jews and Christians would take issue with their representatives’ proposals! Anyway, I just came across this distinction that Lapide makes between Jewish and Christian messianism. In reality, it’s probably not as simple as this but good thing to reflect on nonetheless:
All messianic speculation in Judaism remains “functional” rather than “personal,” for all believing Jews pray daily for the messiah–no one prays to the messiah. This instrumentality of the redeemer king enabled several of the outstanding figures of the medieval rabbinate, when faced with the forced disputations of a triumphal imperial church–which attempted to prove its redeemed character with all the means to power–to give up the faith in the messiah as a foundation of Judaism. Indeed, in the vortex of the militant Christomonism of the Church authorities there even developed a kind of Jewish antimessianism which could say:
“After the enslavements in Egypt there came the redemption through Moses. After the enslavement by Babylon there came the redemption by Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. After that came the persecutions by Elam, the Medes, and the Persians, and the redemption by Mordecai and Esther.
“After that there came the enslavement by Greece and the redemption through the Hasmoneans and their sons, and then there came the Roman captivity. Then the Israelites said: We are tired of being redeemed and enslaved, redeemed and again enslaved. We want no more ‘redemption’ by human hands. Redemption comes only from God” (Midrash Tehillim on 36:10).
Thus Christianity step by step became a who-religion, whose fundamental question about the essence of the Godhead was: Who is the Creator of the universe? Who is God’s Son? Who is the true Christ?
Judaism on the other hand was and remains predominantly a what-religion, which forgoes the profoundly probing who-question and pragmatically hopes to determine what God has accomplished on earth, what corresponds to God’s will, and–in the most daring case–what God intends for us.
This who-what debate, which naturally cannot be corralled in any precise schema, often reminds Jewish readers of the New Testament dispute between the two hills, between the hill of the Sermon on the Mount in Galilee and the hill of Golgotha in Jerusalem–between what Jesus proclaimed in his eschatological message and the who of his person as the christologically proclaimed one.
Judaism and Christianity are both stamped with a profound messianism. The former, however, places its emphasis on the what: the redemption. The latter on the who: the redeemer himself.
That the who and the what are not to be separated here, indeed that “both are the words of the living God,” as the Pharisees were careful to say in their disputes, is evidenced both by the second petition of the Our Father, “Your kingdom come!” and also the twelfth truth of faith of Maimonides, which has long since become part of the liturgy of the synagogue: “I believe with complete conviction in the appearance of the messiah, and even if he tarries I will nevertheless await his daily coming.”
Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine (Fortress, 1981), 84-86.