When Can We Expect The Messiah?
Messianic expectation in Israel was reaching a climax. The people of Israel had chafed under Roman domination for many years – suffering, waiting, hoping for the promised Deliverer, the Messiah, to come and set them free and establish His kingdom over Israel. Jesus had worked many miracles throughout the land in the last three years and many of the people hoped and trusted that now, at this time, He would set up that long-awaited and promised kingdom. With one accord, His disciples lifted up their voices in praise: “. . . Hosanna! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk. 11:9, 10). Save now! Save now! The cry echoed through the hills of Jerusalem. Yes, this must be the time. Now He will set up His kingdom, sit on the throne of David, and we will rule with Him over all the land. The stage was set, the time seemingly correct, the disciples of Jesus were ready for that kingdom.
As Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, He paused, looked out over the city, and with anguish of heart wept over it. Many in Israel had recognized Him as the Messiah. Many had realized that this was the One spoken of by the prophets. Many had accepted Him as their Redeemer and Deliverer. Yet many of the rabbis despised Him and the people, as a whole, rejected Him. With tears of sorrow and heaviness of heart because of what was coming, Jesus cried: “. . . if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hidden from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Lk. 19:42-44).
Destruction was coming. The enemies of Israel would surround that tiny nation in 70 A.D. and destroy both the holy city of Jerusalem and the sacred Temple, all because the people did not know the time of the coming of the Messiah. The worship of the people had long since become that of adherence to the tradition of the rabbis instead of a heart belief in the God of Israel and His eternal Word. For centuries, Israel had been in this spiritual condition. Isaiah had written, “. . . Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isa. 29:13). Jesus, cornmenting on the spiritual condition of Israel in His day, said, “. . . Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? . . . Thus have ye made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition . . . But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mt. 15:3, 6b, 9). Tradition had helped to blind the leaders and the people to the truth of the Word of God. As Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, He implied that they should have realized this was the time of His promised coming. Had they known and believed the Hebrew prophets, they would have realized that this was the very time for the appearing of the promised Messiah.
Messianic expectations ran high in the first few centuries of this era. Rabbinical writings have numerous references to that period as the expected advent of the Messiah. With the passage of time it became sinful, according to the rabbis, to try and figure out the time of the Messiah’s coming. “Blasted be the bones of those who calculate the end. For they would say, since the predetermined time has arrived, and yet he has not come, he will never come. But [even so], wait for him, as it is written. Though he tarry, wait for him” (Sanh. 97b). The time of His coming had passed. The Messiah did not come as the rabbis expected Him to. Seemingly all hope was lost. The rabbis had looked for a king to deliver them and set up his kingdom, but his time had come and gone. It appeared to the rabbis that God himself had turned His back on the hope of Israel.
Many references in Jewish writing state that the Messiah should have come almost two thousand years ago. To quote one source, “The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah [Law] flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era” (Sanh. 97a). Rashi, the French Talmudic scholar, said in response to this passage, “After two thousand years of the law [Abraham to Christ], Messiah ought to have come . . . .” From this Jewish writing it is evident that the Messiah should have come almost two thousand years ago. This would place Messiah’s coming after two thousand years of the law and during the first century of this era – the time of Jesus.
A Jewish rabbi who rejected the claims of Jesus as the Messiah had this to say about the Messiah’s coming: “The first century, especially the generation before the destruction [of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem], witnessed a remarkable outburst of messianic emotionalism. This is to be attributed, as we shall see, not to an intensification of Roman persecution but to the prevalent belief, induced by the popular chronology of that day, that the age was on the threshold of the Millennium . . . When Jesus came into Galilee, ‘spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is at hand’, he was voicing the opinion universally held that the year 5000 in the Creation calendar, which is to usher in the sixth millennium – the age of the Kingdom of God – was at hand. It was this chronologic fact which inflamed the Messianic hope of the people, rather than Roman persecutions. . . The Messiah was expected around the second quarter of the first century C.E.” (Messianic Speculation in Israel, Rabbi A.H. Silver). According to this rabbi, the Messiah should have come almost two thousand years ago, and yet today the rabbis believe that Messiah has not come.
The Temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of Jewish worship. The first Temple, built under Solomon’s reign, was destroyed in 586 B.C., when the Southern Kingdom went into Babylonian captivity. After returning to the land of Israel, the Jews initiated the building of the second Temple, which later was expanded by Herod. This Temple (the second one) eventually became known as Herod’s Temple. It was during the lifespan of this Temple that biblical and rabbinical sources expected the coming of the Messiah.
The prophet Zechariah prophesied during the preliminary building of the second Temple. He gave a prophecy concerning the Messiah at that time; “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass” Zech. 9:9). The Talmud (Sanh. 99a) says this about that passage: “Rabbi Hillel said: There shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they have already enjoyed him in the days of Hezekiah. Rabbi Joseph said; May God forgive him [for saying so]. Now, when did Hezekiah flourish? During the FIRST Temple. Yet Zechariah, prophesying in the days of the SECOND, proclaimed, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee! he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” Both the prophet and the Talmudic reference expected the Messiah during the second Temple. The prophet Malachi, during the building of the second Temple, tells us the same thing when he prophesied, “. . . and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple. . .” (Mal. 3:1). According to both biblical and extra-biblical sources, the Messiah should have come during the time of the second Temple, which stood until its destruction in 70 A.D.
With all the traditional evidence that the Messiah was expected during the first century of this era, it is not surprising that the foundation for this belief is to be found in God’s Word. The Hebrew prophet Daniel was in Babylonian captivity. The city of Jerusalem and the first Temple had been destroyed many years earlier and the nation taken into captivity. Based on an understanding from the prophet Jeremiah (25:11), Daniel knew that Judah’s captivity in Babylon would soon be over and that they would be going back to the land of Israel. While in prayer for his people and the city of Jerusalem, Daniel received an astounding prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. It was a prophecy that the city of Jerusalem would be rebuilt and the Messiah would come in a certain time period.
The period of time covering the entire prophecy (Dan. 9:24) would be seventy sets of seven-year periods. The Hebrew word for “weeks” in this prophecy is “shevooa”, which means “a group of seven”. It is similar to “dozen” in the English language, which means “a group of twelve”. The prophecy is then broken down into three time periods, with the city being rebuilt again in seven weeks, or forty-nine years (v. 25); the Messiah coming in another sixty-two weeks, or four hundred thirty-four years (v. 26); and then one final week, or seven-year period (v. 27). The prophecy about the anointed One, the Messiah, must have amazed Daniel: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary . . . ” (v. 26). Not only would the Messiah come four hundred eighty-three years from the beginning of the rebuilding of the city, but He would be “cut off”. According to the revelation Daniel received from God’s messenger, the Messiah would first suffer and die. He would not initially reign as King, but die as the Lamb of God.
Daniel was also told that after the Messiah was “cut off . . . the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary . . . .” Imagine Daniel’s amazement that the city of Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt and destroyed again, and that the destruction of the city and Temple would be after Messiah was cut off. It is no wonder that Jesus had prophesied some five hundred years after the time of Daniel that the city and Temple would be destroyed, because they knew “. . . not the time of thy visitation.” Daniel had prophesied about the very time that the Messiah would come. In the first century of this era, during the time of the second Temple, Jesus the Messiah came in fulfillment of the prophecy of that Hebrew prophet. He came, as prophesied, before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. The prophecies of the Messiah of Israel come to fruition in Jesus.
According to ancient Jewish sources and, more importantly, the Holy Scriptures of Israel, Messiah was to come almost two thousand years ago. History has seen the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures. Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, came first as the Lamb of God to suffer and die for the sins of the world (Isa. 53). He came at the right time, to the right place, with the right credentials, in fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
To the Jew, a crucified Savior is a stumbling block, to the Greek foolishness. But to those who can break through empty tradition and impotent humanism, He is Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Savior.