The reason it's such a strong argument is not because it can't be refuted but because it's so persuasive to Jews. But what's worse, it's so persuasive to many Christians as well! My partner in ministry Rev. Fred Klett of CHAIM ministry to the Jewish People tells the story of how he attended a lecture years ago at Philadelphia College of the Bible [more recently:"Philadelphia Biblical University"; now re-re-named "Cairn University"]
The featured speaker was Tovia Singer of "Outreach Judaism", a well-known "anti-missionary" who opposes Christian arguments for Jesus with Jewish arguments. According to Rev. Klett none of the faculty in attendance could successfully refute Singer's argument that Jesus did not bring in the Messianic Age. The faculty gave Singer the utmost deference, and he dominated the discussion. Fred was confident he could have refuted Singer's argument with a Covenantal and Reformed rebuttal, but he never got the chance. In essence, the faculty agreed with Singer, because they subscribe to a theology called "Premillenial Dispensationalism". The "Left Behind" concept of the "Rapture", a future literal thousand year reign of Christ, three separate resurrections, a future re-built Jerusalem temple, reinstitution of animal sacrifice, a future Jewish rule over all of Palestine, parts of Syria, parts of Iraq and Lebanon; from "The River of Egypt the River Euphrates" (Gen. 15:18, Josh. 15.47) and most especially, a Messianic Kingdom that Christ failed to set up at His first coming ... is all part of this view. It's hard to refute a Jewish apologist if you agree with his basic premise.The opposite view to this is "Covenant Theology", which maintains the Kingdom has arrived, that Singer is wrong, that Cairn University is wrong *, and that most evangelical Christians in American are wrong. So then, how do Jews envision this Kingdom? The short answer is: "in its final form only, and according to Jewish tradition's selective choice of scriptural passages."
* [Correction Update: In this blog, I stated that Cairn University in Philadelphia https://cairn.edu "is wrong" about their views on Premillennial Dispensationalism. Let me clarify at this time that this is no longer true. Several years ago, at the same time that the leadership changed the name of the university from Philadelphia Biblical University to Cairn University, the board of directors changed the school's statement of faith to reflect their changed theological perspective, and eliminated references to beliefs that supported Premillennial Dispensationalism. Cairn's board of directors and its leadership have, for some time supported Covenant Theology as the view that best describes Scripture's perspective on the Covenant of Grace and of eschatology ("Last Things").]
A lot of Jewish tradition is good, but not all. Tevye, in "Fiddler on the Roof", would disagree of course. And the Jews aren't entirely wrong about the Messianic Kingdom either. Since the days of Christ on earth, Judaism's view centers upon the glories of the Kingdom, most especially in its final form: glorious, peaceful, and presiding over the whole earth with the promised son of David on a throne in Jerusalem. For most of Jewish post-biblical history, that was the view. Since the Age of Enlightenment of the late 17th Century, many Jews have become less "doctrinaire" about this, and about their theology in general: "perhaps all this is only a pipe-dream. Perhaps there is no coming messiah, or "age" for the messiah. And who can say the Hebrew Scriptures themselves are more than just pious legend anyway," is what many Jews believe today. But the main Jewish argument remains, and it's based on Scripture (albeit wrongly understood): that if there is a Messianic Age, it's not here yet: and so Jesus failed to start it. Therefore he cannot be the Messiah. Strong argument? Yet here's the response:
Just as Judaism has had an historic "disconnect" with Scriptures' two portrayals of the Messiah (the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 and the conquering king of Psalm 110), so also has it had a "disconnect" with the Messianic Age at its beginning, vs. the Messianic Age at its completion. Jews have seized upon the choicest portrayal of the Messiah and His Kingdom to suit a preconceived theology: of the Messiah as glorious ruler in an age of sinless perfection and universal peace. But the argument's circular: it pre-supposes its conclusion: their argument really isn't: "Jesus failed to set up the Messianic Kingdom (or Messianic Age)," but it's this: "Jesus failed to set up that Kingdom according to our understanding of it." So what's Judaism's understanding? Unhappily, it's like the Christian dispensationalists' understanding of it, only without the "Jesus" part. In other words, the Kingdom in its glorious final form only, and the Kingdom as in "not here yet."
The Hebrew prophets spoke extensively of the glories of the Kingdom: There will be "peace to her like a river" (Isaiah 66:12); "the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb" (Isaiah 11:6), "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4). But the prophets also spoke of that Kingdom as coming progressively; growing, even in the midst of conflict, and contending with evil before its final glorious conquest. Consider Daniel 2:35 & 2:44, for example. Indeed, the whole of chapter 2, and it's "mirror-image" chapter, chapter 7 (particularly 7:13-18) speaks of that Kingdom in this way. The Messiah comes in His Kingdom during the reign of the fourth world empire from Daniel's time. Daniel's time was Babylon, the one afterwards was Media-Persia's time, the third was Greece (Dan. 8:20,21). The fourth could only be Rome.
Yes, Christians believe it was Rome, but Jews don't care what Christians believe. However they would care what Rashi believes, (one of the greatest of rabbis), and Rashi believed it was Rome. How he got around the conclusion that the Messiah was anyone but Jesus is an exercise in theological contortionism. But here's his quote anyway, on Daniel 2:44: " 'And in the days of these kings'; in the days of these kings, when the kingdom of Rome is still in existence, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom, The Kingdom of the Holy One, blessed be He, which will never be destroyed, is the Kingdom of the Messiah."[Talmud tractate "Avoda Zara 2b", as quoted by Dr. Michael J. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol. III, Baker Books.]
Here's the point: the Hebrew Bible states the Messiah's Kingdom came in the days of Rome, and that its origin was that of progression and growth, even in the midst of conflict and evil. This is not the commonly accepted Jewish portrayal, but it is the biblical portrayal.
Now, if only all dispensationalists would see it that way. But they don't. They see it the Jewish way: to them, the Kingdom isn't here now, it awaits the coming of the Messiah. And they take that Daniel 2 passage and split it up to make Rome's empire a "revived" Roman Empire of 10 modern industrialized nations that has yet to find its final form and be ruled by the future "Beast" of Revelation. That way, Jesus can come in His Kingdom (which isn't supposed to be here yet!)
Clearly, John the Baptist and Jesus spoke repeatedly of Kingdom as being "at hand" (Matt. 3:2, Mk. 1:15). "At hand" does not mean "separated by 2000 years of post-biblical history from the time that I said it." He spoke of those alive at His first coming, "standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom." (Matt. 16:28) He spoke of the Kingdom as a farmer's field of wheat with tares [weeds] in it, when at the time of the harvest [the Final Judgment], those impurities and "bad seeds" get removed. (Matt. 13:24 ff). Clearly, that was the Kingdom all right, but not in its final form.
Share Daniel 2 with your Jewish friend. You can even use a Jewish Publication Society Bible when you do it. See what kind of reaction you get. And share Matt. 16:28 ff with your "dispy" Christian friends as well