“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and, though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming.”
This is a part of the thirteen principles of the Jewish creed recited at the end of the daily morning service. “Messiah” is the Hebrew Mashiach, meaning “the anointed one” (in Greek, “Christos”), a title of honor given to the kings of Israel to signify that they were consecrated by God by anointing and, therefore, holy. However, the designation the Messiah refers only to the long awaited Redeemer of the Jewish people.
Except for the belief in God, nothing has occupied the Jewish mind more during the last 2,000 years than the coming of the Messiah. The daily prayers in the synagogue and at home revolve around this hope. While it has not yet been fulfilled, the very hope has been a temporary substitute for the Messiah, a binding conviction that saved the Jews from extinction. All through their exile, the Messiah has been the remedy for all their troubles and ills.
This hope has found its noblest expression in their prayerbook—in the daily prayers, the prayers of the Sabbath and festivals, and others. All bear witness to the intensity of this longing. Some of these prayers do not expressly mention the Messiah; they speak only of “redemption.” But all Jews traditionally have known that the “redemption” will be accomplished by the Messiah.
The constant yearning for the Messiah is expressed not only in the liturgy of the daily services of Orthodox Jews but also on various other occasions. For example, at the after-meal benediction that follows the service of a circumcision there is a remarkable passage, suggestive of the mystery of the Messiah:
May the All-merciful, regardful of the merit of them that are akin by the blood of circumcision, send us His Mashiach, walking in His integrity, to give good tidings and consolation to the people that is scattered and dispersed among the peoples. May the All-merciful send us the righteous priest who remains withdrawn in concealment, until a throne bright as the sun and radiant as the diamond shall be prepared for him, the prophet who covered his face with his mantle, and wrapped himself therein, with whom is God’s covenant of life and of peace.
At the time of Christ, the Jews awaited the Messiah as the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression. The Temple, with its sacrificial service, was intact. The Romans did not interfere in the Jews’ religious affairs, and the messianic hope was basically for a national liberation. But even then, to many Jews, the Messiah was also to be a Redeemer of the souls of men, both Jew and Gentile.
Thus, when John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36), he evidently expressed the hope and expectation of those around him. Great numbers of them came to be baptized.
After the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of the priestly rites, the messianic hope in general was for one who would bring the Jews back to the land of their fathers—the “Holy Land,” the “Promised Land”—and there restore the Davidic kingdom. But, as expressed in the liturgy, the hope was mainly to rebuild the Temple and restore the sacrifices and subsequently establish the Kingdom of “Shadai,” the Almighty. The need for reconciliation with God by full obedience (including restoration of the sacrifices) is evident in the liturgy more than the yearning for national physical redemption.
While all Orthodox Jews believe “with perfect faith” in the ultimate coming of the Messiah, few have a clear conception of the Messiah’s identity and task. Is he of divine nature, or mortal, or both? Is he to redeem the Jewish people only, or all “the families of the earth”? Is the purpose of his mission to bring the Jews back to their ancestral home, and that only in order to let them live in freedom and peace? Or is his purpose mainly to reconcile them with God through their keeping of the Law, based largely on prescribed sacrifices? When will he come? And where is he now?
According to some traditional authorities, the Messiah is similar in both identity and mission to the Christian Messiah: he is supernatural, and the purpose of his coming is the salvation of all mankind.
Some rabbis, among them the great Maimonides, thought that the Messiah would be a person of flesh and blood, but very wise and mighty, who would free the Jewish people from foreign yoke and provide them with a comfortable life. Thus they would be able to devote their time to the study of the Torah and the observance of its laws.
The Jewish people as a whole believe in the supernatural personality of the Messiah, a demigod who by some miracles will inaugurate a state of peace and happiness for the Jews, when God will provide them with all necessities and luxuries of life. This comfortable life in the “Age of the Messiah” is pictured in the Talmud as a wonder world of ease. For example, Rabban Gamaliel says that the soil in Israel will produce cakes and silk garments, the trees will bear fruit continuously, and the Jewish women would give birth to children every day (Talmud, Shabbath 30b).
Some see this era of the Messiah as paradise. Although the Jewish paradise is not as carnal as the Muslim paradise, which provides believers with beautiful maidens, it too offers an abundance of pleasures, such as sumptuous banquets where the meat of the wild ox and of the Leviathan will be served, accompanied by the marvelous, delicious wine preserved for the Jews since the six days of creation. All this bliss they consider will be only a just recompense for the suffering and martyrdom they had to endure during their long exile among their cruel enemies.
Pious and learned Jews have not shared this materialistic view of paradise. They have believed that the reward of righteous Jews will consist of sitting in company with all the righteous men, all crowned and feasting their eyes on the radiant glory of the Shekinah, the presence of God.
There is no consensus about the paradise. It is generally understood that it has been in existence since the creation of the world. It was Adam’s original home, from which he was expelled after his fall from grace. Every Jew is believed to have a share in this place of bliss after death and after some expiation in Gehenna, according to the number and gravity of sins committed in this life.
It is also generally understood that after the coming of the Messiah, the dead will be brought back to life and there will come the “Day of Judgment.” This doctrine is shrouded in vagueness. The rabbis have given no clear idea of this judgment day.
Vague also is the idea of a suffering Messiah. While Christianity has a clear idea of a Christ who had first to suffer and die for the atonement of the world and then return to earth as a triumphant King over all mankind, the Jewish sages who rejected the Messiahship of Jesus could not explain the apparent discrepancy between the Bible passages describing the Messiah as suffering (as in Isaiah 53) and those describing him as a victorious king, as was expected by the Jews. So they devised two different Messiahs: the Messiah, son of David, and the Messiah, son of Joseph. The son of Joseph would suffer, be defeated, and die, while the son of David would be the real Messiah as expected.
In the liturgy, the suffering Messiah is mentioned in a special Yom Kippur prayer. However, this idea of two Messiahs is now generally unknown.
In answer to the question of when the Messiah would come, a matter that has greatly occupied the Jews, the rabbis devised theories, various speculations, and calculations based on some passages of the Bible (such as Daniel 11). In time, some of the rabbis, fearing the despair likely when such calculations proved false, pronounced a curse upon those who speculated upon the date of the Messiah’s arrival (see Sanhedrin 97b). It says in Kethuboth 111a that two of the conditions that God made with Israel were that they should not be importunate about the end of time and should not reveal it.
It has been generally believed that God has set a date for the Messiah’s coming, and that this may even be today. But he may arrive before the appointed date, it is thought, if all the people repent of their sins, or if they are in utter despair, or when they keep two sabbaths. That he may come “today” they infer from Psalm 95:7, which is quoted also by Paul in Hebrews 3:7. And so he is expected every day, as they repeat daily at the end of the morning service.
The Jews generally deny that Jesus is the Messiah. But one may ask them, If he is not, who is?
Since the Roman conquest of the land of Israel various persons have claimed to be the Messiah and have been proved false, often after their disastrous effects. How will any new Messiah establish his identity? How will he be able to prove he is of the House of David and of the Tribe of Judah? No Jew today can trace his ancestry back beyond two or three hundred years.
The great Maimonides tells how to identify the Messiah, but what he says has inherent problems. According to him, the claimant to Messiahship will be able to prove the validity of his claim by bringing the Jewish people back to their ancestral home. He will rebuild the Temple, restore the sacrifices, force the Jews to keep all the laws of the Torah, fight God’s wars, subdue all enemies of the Jewish people, and so on. After he has achieved all that, he will be the true Messiah.
Now, all these achievements could be performed only during a period of many years. How will the Jews, with their various sects and parties, accept this person upon “credit” (that he will in due course perform these deeds), and how will he be able to persuade the various conflicting groups to go to Israel and keep the Torah, including its teachings on sacrifices and on full submission to rabbinic authority? One may doubt whether many Jews living comfortably in free countries will leave home and business, go to Israel, and wait till a certain person (who has suddenly appeared and claimed he is the Messiah) proves that his claim is legitimate.
If Jesus is not the Messiah, there is not and cannot be one, and the messianic hopes held through thousands of years have been founded on legend, superstition, and idolatry. However, those Jews who believe in their Torah may be comforted in the belief that their Redeemer liveth and that he is Jesus, the true Messiah of Israel.
Drift, wheel, then swim
hard against that torrent,
your river of air, and climb
cascades of wind, my salmon,
my creaky bird, and know
I ache, I creak with you.
I fly too—higher,
farther, faster than you.
But how? Like a louse on a sparrow,
a carried thing. So now
here by this tidal river
I stretch these twigs of arms
and reach for the muscled wings
that carry your white glint
sunwards. To soar on my own,
straining, wind-whipped, aching
toward … Not that sun.
The Essence Of Christian Action
This faith that we discuss is all action. Never make the mistake, however, of letting it take on the form of mere activism, that is, action simply for the purpose of promoting the name of Christianity. When I speak of the Gospel of Action, I mean redemptive action aimed at bringing the good news of salvation to all people everywhere. All activity in personal life and in church life must be judged by the relevance to the Gospel. It is not enough for the rummage sale, the bazaar, and the church suppers to be held in the name of a good cause. The fact that the end product of a church activity will bring more money to the treasury does not exempt it from the importance of being in itself an agency of love, joy, peace, and mutual helpfulness. In many churches such activities have come into disfavor because they have often been used as vehicles through which, in the name of a good cause, people could push each other around. This, then, is an even worse kind of activism—more dishonest than when the same thing happens for the sake of some worldly goal.
The Gospel of Action is the kind of activity that brings the good news of Christ to people right here and now. The real work of the Christian is to know Christ and to make Him known by those practical, constructive actions that show forth His love and His assurance of the abundant life He has promised. “Church work” activism is one thing and the real work of the church is something else.—C. W. FRANKE in Defrost Your Frozen Assets (copyright 1969 by Word, Inc.; used by permission).
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