Discovering the Jewish Messiah
Discovering the Jewish Messiah
By Penina Taylor
משיח - ANOINTED
The word “messiah” is the English pronunciation of the Hebrew word “mashiach”. This sometimes causes a problem because by using the English pronunciation, the true meaning of the word becomes obscured. The word mashiach is a form of the word “limshoach” which means to pour. A mashiach is something which has been anointed with oil in order to serve a special purpose. We will see in the following passages that in the bible, there was a custom to pour oil on people or things in order to consecrate them for service to God.
Shemot (Exodus) 297 "Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.
8 "You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them.
9 "You shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and bind caps on them, and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute. So you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.
Shemot (Exodus) 3022 Moreover, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
23 "Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty,
24 and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin.
25 "You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.
26 "With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony,
27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense,
28 and the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand.
29 "You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy.
30 "You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to Me.
31 "You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations.
ואת־אהרן ואת־בניו תמשׁח וקדשׁת אתם לכהן לי׃ 30
Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.
And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:
Tehillim (Psalms) 105:15
"Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm."
We see that in Biblical times, hundreds of people and things were anointed for a special purpose, many of which were anointed for service in the Tabernacle (Mishkan) or Temple (Beit Hamikdash). However, in each and every case except one, the word HaMashiach “THE Messiah”, doesn’t exist. In each and every case the person or item is “a mashiach.” The only time that the word, “Hamashiach” can be found in the Jewish bible is in the book of Vayikra. However, it is quite clear from the passage that this is not referring to the future messiah, but rather, to the High Priest.
Vayikra (Leviticus) 4:3
If the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.
אם הכהן המשׁיח יחטא לאשׁמת העם והקריב על חטאתו אשׁר חטא פר בן־בקר תמים לה’ לחטאת׃
Given that there are so many people and things that are referred to as messiahs in the Hebrew Scriptures and that there isn’t any specific reference to a person called, “HaMashiach,” where do we get the concept of the messiah from in the first place?
Most people think that the concept of the messiah comes only from the Prophets, but the truth is, this concept of a time at the end of days when Israel will be redeemed and vindicated and the world will know true peace and worship the G-d of Israel is hinted at in the Torah itself.
We see in the Parshah Vayechi – Bereishit (Genesis) 49:1-2 that Jacob gathers his children together to bless them and to reveal when the messiah would come. The text says,
“And Jacob called unto his sons, and said: 'Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days. Assemble yourselves, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.”
The Hebrew text reads:
(1) ויקרא יעקב אל־בניו ויאמר האספו ואגידה לכם את אשׁר־יקרא אתכם באחרית הימים׃
(2) הקבצו ושׁמעו בני יעקב ושׁמעו אל־ישׂראל אביכם׃
The above passage is curiously written for two reasons. Firstly, we know that the sons of Jacob did not live to see the “end of days” or Messianic era. This is easily dealt with since the Jewish people are the direct descendants of the sons of Jacob and therefore it can be said that we (or our descendants) will see the “end of days”. The more curious part of this passage, however, actually lies in the fact that Jacob never actually went on to tell his sons what would befall us in the Messianic Era or “end of days”.
Rashi comments that Jacob wanted to tell his children when the messiah would come, which would provide comfort to their descendents during times of exile, but the Divine Presence deserted him and he was unable to do so. Jacob then understood that although he had this information, God did not want the time of the End to be known. According to the Stone edition of the Chumash, “Israel would find its comfort not in deadlines but in faith and performance of God’s commandments.”
However, the point of our exploration of this passage is in the fact that this is the first time we come across the concept of the “End of Days - באחרית הימים” in the Torah. Thus, we have our first indication of the Jewish concept of a messianic era.
Judaism – the Jewish people – are the originators of the idea of “HaMashiach”. Since the Hebrew Scriptures make no reference specifically to The Messiah, or a person called, “HaMashiach,” the concept developed from a careful examination of all the texts referring to this “End Days” or Messianic era.
The result of this careful examination is an understanding of certain key elements of what would take place during the messianic era and a key figure which reveals himself as part of this incredible time.
Some of the verses which clearly and consistently tell about the messianic era also talk about an anointed king, a mashiach, who will reign during this supernatural time of universal peace and worship of the God of Israel.
The Jewish Bible
The Jewish bible consists of four different types or categories of writing. They are: History (stories), Law, Wisdom literature (poetry, proverbs) and Prophecy. When delving into the area of prophecy, we must first understand that there are two different types of prophecy; near and distant.
Near prophecy is prophecy that is given pertaining to the time in which it is given. That is, during the lifetime of the prophet or the intended recipient. Often times, near prophecy actually gives the time frame, but most significantly, near prophecy is usually very specific.
A good example of near prophecy can be found in the book of Jonah. The prophet Jonah is told by God that he needs to go to the town of Nineveh and warn its inhabitants that in 40 days the city will be destroyed. Those of us who are familiar with the story know that the people of Nineveh receive the prophecy, repent and avert the disastrous decree. This is one of the other qualities of near prophecy – it can be altered. But the point here is that the prophecy about Nineveh was given with a very specific time frame.
Another example of near prophecy, albeit with a much more extensive time frame is that of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah). Jeremiah refers to 70 years that the Jewish people would spend in exile in Babylon. Although Jeremiah lived to see the exile, he did not live to see the fulfillment of the 70 years prophecy. However, many of those who were exiled did live to see the prophecy fulfilled (including Daniel) and this prophecy contains the characteristics of near prophecy.
Many times in the bible, a prophecy is of immediate, short-term duration. But more often in the bible, prophecy is indefinite and is speaking about the distant future. Distant prophecy, therefore, is often given without a time frame, and is frequently accompanied by a vague preamble such as: “Thus says the Lord, it will come to pass at the end of days…” or, “In those days, says the Lord, such and such will happen”.
When we read the prophetic writings in the bible, there appears to be a common thread running through most of the distant prophecies. That theme is that there will come a time in the future of universal perfection; that is, a time of a utopia on earth. This utopian, or what we call “messianic” era, is characterized by essentially two factors – a time in the future when there will be no more war (peace on earth) and a time when all human beings will understand, know and have a relationship with God.
Below are just a few of the prophecies of the Tanakh which talk about this future time of perfection:
Micah 41 And it will come about in the last days that the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and the peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will come and say, "Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths." For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 And he will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war.
4 Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
Isaiah 3216 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness and righteousness will abide in the fertile field.
17 And the work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.
18 Then my people will live in a peaceful habitation, And in secure dwellings and in undisturbed resting places;
"In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety.”
“And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be one, and His name one.”
"They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the Lord, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
"And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me," says the Lord.
All of the above verses clearly and consistently define a time in the far future when there will be peace throughout the world (and therefore Israel will dwell securely within her borders) and all the inhabitants of the world will worship the God of Israel. But what’s missing in all these verses that we’ve just looked at is any reference to a messiah. That’s because the above verses are a subset of the larger group of messianic era verses which include these two key factors, so that we know that they are referring to the messianic era, but also include other pieces of information that we can learn about what the messianic era will be like. One of these other pieces of information is that during this time of universal peace and worship of God, there will arise a king who will be very special.
Just as an aside, it is worthwhile to note that while this anointed king who we refer to as the messiah is special, nowhere does the text imply that this king is not a human being nor that he is born in any unique way, nor any of the other supernatural qualities that Christians often insist are qualities of the messiah.
Here are some passages that clearly point to the messianic era and speak of this anointed king who will reign during that time:
Isaiah 111 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, and he will not judge by what gis eyes see, nor make a decision by what his ears hear;
4 But with righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Also righteousness will be the belt about his loins, and faithfulness the belt about his waist.
6 And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.
7 Also the cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Jeremiah 307 'Alas! for that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob's distress, but he will be saved from it.
8 'It shall come about on that day,' declares the Lord of hosts, 'that I will break his yoke from off their neck and will tear off their bonds; and strangers will no longer make them their slaves.
9 'But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
10 'Fear not, O Jacob My servant,' declares the Lord, 'and do not be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar and your offspring from the land of their captivity. And Jacob will return and will be quiet and at ease, and no one will make him afraid.
Jeremiah 235 "Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will raise up for David a righteous branch; and he will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.
6 "In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is his name by which he will be called, 'The Lord our righteousness.'
Ezekiel 3724 "My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.
25 "They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever.
26 "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.
27 "My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.
28 "And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever."'"
Ezekiel 3423 "Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.
24 "And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken.
25 "I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.
26 "I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing.
27 "Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure on their land. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them.
28 "They will no longer be a prey to the nations, and the beasts of the earth will not devour them; but they will live securely, and no one will make them afraid.
29 "I will establish for them a renowned planting place, and they will not again be victims of famine in the land, and they will not endure the insults of the nations anymore.
30 "Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people," declares the Lord God.
31 "As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men, and I am your God," declares the Lord God.
Hosea 34 For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols.
5 Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days.
2 Samuel 712 "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.
13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Tehillim (Psalms) 8935 "Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David.
36 "His descendants shall endure forever And his throne as the sun before Me.
37 "It shall be established forever like the moon, And the witness in the sky is faithful." Selah.
And so we see that while the Hebrew bible never refers to anyone, not even this anointed King who reigns during the messianic era as “The Messiah”, it does make reference to such a person. And since this king reigns during this end-of-days period of universal peace and worship of God, we call him “The Messiah.”
How will we know when the messianic era has arrived? When it happens, it will be pretty clear to the whole world. It won’t be a matter of faith; it will be a matter of fact. We’ll be able to look out the window and see that the world has changed.
And when the messianic era comes, how will we know who the messiah will be? It will be the anointed King who sits on the throne of Israel! Even when one considers the Talmudic idea of two messiahs – a “messiah ben Yosef” and a “messiah ben David”, Messiah ben David is the man who is anointed king over Israel after the Messiah ben Yosef falls in battle paving the way for the King to be anointed. (Sukkah 52a,b)
From the clear and consistent messianic prophecies, we obtain 2 categories of characteristics about the messiah –
1. Who he will be
2. What he will do (or what will happen when he is king)
What he will do
Reading the prophecies about the messianic era it is clear that during this time there will be world peace, Israel will dwell securely in her land and the entire world will recognize and worship the God of Israel. Since all of the passages we understand to be messianic contain these essential elements, we can then learn from them other things about the messiah and the messianic era. For example, we also understand that during the messianic era, the Jewish people will be gathered from exile and return to the land of Israel.
And He will lift up a standard for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
It is also pretty clear that during the messianic era, the Holy Temple (often referred to as the house of the Lord) will be rebuilt.
And it will come about in the last days that the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and the peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, "Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths." For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Who he will be
In addition to what will happen during the messianic era, we can also glean from these passages, a small amount of information about who the messiah must be. In order for anyone to be a candidate for the messiah, he must first qualify. According to the clear and consistent messianic passages, we learn that the messiah must be a king and that he must be a descendant of King David. Based on these two things, using passages concerning David and the throne, we come up with a list of five qualifications for a person to be the messiah.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 17:15
You shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.
Bereishit (Genesis) 49:10
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
2 Samuel 7:12-13
When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
What are the qualifications for The Messiah? From the clear and consistent end-time Messianic Era prophecies, we understand that there are five qualifications for The Messiah. These qualifications are that The Messiah will be male, Jewish, from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, a descendant of David through his son Solomon.
Again, to determine whether any one individual could qualify to be The Messiah (obviously, qualifying does not necessarily make one The Messiah), he must fulfill all five requirements.
Throughout history, the Jewish people have longingly awaited the coming of the messiah and the final redemption. We have eagerly looked to anyone who might possibly be that messiah, watching and waiting to see if the redemption was at hand. In our long history, many characters have come on the scene who appeared to be good candidates for the messiah. In fact, the sages have said that in every generation there is one who could be the messiah, if it turned out to be time for the messiah to come forth. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that in practically every generation there has been a person that someone or some group has placed their messianic hopes upon. It should also, therefore, be no surprise that it is not considered heresy within Judaism to believe that a particular person will be revealed as the messiah. This is what happened in the case of Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba.
In approximately 132 CE, a Jewish leader named Shimon Bar Kochba led a revolt against the Roman subjugation of Israel and Rabbi Akiva, seeing in him the fulfillment of many messianic prophecies, believed Bar Kochba to be the messiah. It is thought by some that this declaration by Rabbi Akiva deepened the schism between the early church and the Jews and thus sealed Christianity’s fate to become a non-Jewish religion. But we see from this example, that it has been our constant hope that the messiah will come; all we are waiting for is for the prophecies to be fulfilled.
Once a person dies without fulfilling the messianic prophecies, he is no longer a candidate for the messiah. However, that does not mean that he may not once again become eligible to be the messiah! It may come as a surprise, but Judaism even allows for the concept that the messiah may come from someone who is resurrected and later becomes the messiah. It says in the Talmud:
"If Moshiach will come from the living, it will be Rabeinu HaKadosh (i.e.Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi), if he comes from the dead, it will be Daniel (the Prophet)..." Sanhedrin 98:B
Anyone may consider any other person as the possible messiah, however, there is no validity to the claim until the candidate does the job and is anointed the messiah.
Has the messiah come yet?
Is there world peace?
Is there universal belief in G-d?
Is there a Temple?
Are all the Jews in the Land?
Does Israel dwell securely in her land?
Do we have a king?
It doesn’t take long before we realize that absolutely none of these things have happened, so we know that we are not in the Messianic Era; The Messiah has not yet come. Even so, we anxiously await his arrival and the final redemption of the world; may it happen in our days, soon!