Jewish people and even some skeptics like to assert that Christians are the ones who have come up with two act play about the coming of the Messiah. In other words, since Jesus failed at the messianic task, Christians then had no choice but to make up a second coming of Jesus. I already have a post called “Was Jesus a Failed Prophet?” here.
While there is much to discuss about this topic, the real question at hand is whether the Old Testament teaches two comings of the Messiah. Let me attempt to offer some helpful tips:
First, Jewish Messianism is a concept study. The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.”
So we can conclude that “anointed one” was not used as a title with a capital “M” in the Old Testament. Second, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah comes, he will do x, y, and z. However, what are we to do with the several texts in the Jewish Scriptures that speak of the following:
- The Jewish people are regathered to their land both before and after the Exile: Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12: 14-17; 16: 10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14-23; 32:36-44; Ezek.11:14-20;20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16; 23-31;36:16-36;37:1-28;39:21-29.
- The Jewish people are ruled by their Messiah with Jerusalem as its capital: Jer. 23: 5-6; 33:17; Ezek. 37:22, 24; Zech 9: 10; 14:9.
- Israel is recognized by the nations as being blessed: Isa. 62:2; 66:18; Ezek. 36: 23; 36; 37:28; Mal. 3:12.
- The nations go to Jerusalem to worship God: Isa. 2: 2-4; 56: 2-8; 62: 9-11; Jer 16: 19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech 9:16; Zech 14:16-18.
- The Temple is rebuilt with the presence of God in it: Isa. 2:2; 56:6; Ezek 37: 26-28; 40-48; 43:1-7; 48:35.
One text that is cited about a peaceable kingdom where we see the end of violence in both human society and the world of animals is Isaiah 11: 1-9:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.-Isa. 11: 1-9
Here we see no mention of the word “Messiah.” However, we do see the impact of the rule of Messiah in that the world is a different place.
But that leads me to my next point. In many cases, while the word ‘Messiah” is not mentioned, there are names used for the messianic person such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root, Servant of the Lord, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth. For example, we just read a name for the Messiah in Isa. 11:1-9 which is “Branch.” It is texts like these that prompt the following objection:
“The state of the world must prove that the Messiah has come; not a tract. Don’t you think that when the Messiah arrives, it should not be necessary for his identity to be subject to debate – for the world should be so drastically changed for the better that it should be absolutely incontestable! Why should it be necessary to prove him at all? If the Messiah has come, why should anyone have any doubt?” (Rabbi Chaim Richman, available at http://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).
Another text that is similar to Isaiah 11:1-9 is the following:
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and 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. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.- Isa 2: 1-4
Here we see again there is no mention of the word “Messiah. ” But again, there is mention of a figure that will judge between the nations and there will be a time of peace. Another passage that used the name “Branch” is Jer. 23:5-8:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.”
In these texts, it is clear Israel will dwell securely in the land. Another similar text that mentions the nations going to Jerusalem to worship a messianic figure is in Zechariah 14. I won’t copy the text. But you can read it here.
The Reigning Kingly Messiah and the Suffering/Rejected Messiah
Let’s look at one of these names for the Messiah: Daniel 7:13-14: The Glorious, Ruling King.
- In this passage, we see the following:
God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.
The figure will be given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language will serve him.
He is given a kingdom by the Ancient of days, so he must be interpreted as an individual, namely a king.
Clouds-as well as riding on or with clouds- are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (“God appearances”).
Rabbi Akiba (2nd century AD) proposed that one of the thrones in Dan 7:9 should be for God and another for David (a name for the Messiah).
- How the Son of Man is used in the New Testament
The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha) expression is employed to the earthly ministry of Jesus (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37).
Son of Man is used to describe the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33).
Son of Man has a future function as an eschatological judge (Matt. 25:31-36; Mark 14:60-65).
The Suffering, Lowly Rejected Messiah
After the time of Jesus, the rabbis tried to reconcile the passages about the suffering and rejected Messiah with the ruling, kingly Messiah. For example, we just looked at Daniel 7:13-14. But let’s look at the following:
Zechariah 9: 9
Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River[ to the ends of the earth.
Here is a comment by a rabbi on this topic:
“The Bible hints that two different figures will play important roles in Israel’s redemption. During the Second Temple period, the prophet Zechariah offered an oracle about the people of Jerusalem “lamenting to [God] about those who are slain … showing bitter grief as over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). The book of Daniel also contains a cryptic reference to “an anointed one [who] will disappear and vanish” (Daniel 9:26). These fallen would-be heroes came to be identified with the Messiah ben Joseph.” -Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope,
Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David:
There is an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two. This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a).
“It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; …[b. Sukkah 52a]
Who is Messiah Ben Joseph?
- He is descended from our patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph—makes early appearances in the Talmud and midrash literature.
- He is a successor of Messiah Ben David who will rise up during the birth pangs of the Messiah (the last days).
- He will command the hosts of Israel in combat, overseeing incredible victories, killing the king of Rome, restoring to Jewish hands the precious Temple vessels stolen by the Romans, before perishing in battle.
- For forty days the Messiah ben Joseph’s body will lie in the streets of Jerusalem, untouched—until the Messiah ben David arrives, sees to his resurrection, and ushers in Israel’s triumphant redemption.
- Now keep in mind the Messiah Ben Joseph is legendary. There are not really two different messianic figures in the Bible who are two separate figures. Instead, in contrast to this rabbinic model, the New Testament applies both the suffering and ruling predictions to one person, Jesus of Nazareth.
Remember Prophetic Telescoping: These Prophecies Bridge the First and Second Coming of the Messiah
Prophetic Telescoping is prophecy that bridges the First and Second Comings of the Messiah. In this way, prophecy telescopes forward to a time. The prophets saw future events as distant “peaks” (i.e., events) without an awareness of the large time gaps between them. Also, the prophets understood that history had two major periods—the present age and the age to come–although they did not always make a hard distinction between the two. Prophetic Telescoping stresses progressive revelation which means that God does not reveal everything at once.
There are texts that are fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus. But there is another part that will be fulfilled in the future. In this sense, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).
- Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, Jewish Lights Publishing.