The most common objection to the figure of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth as the long awaited and promised Messiah of Israel runs thus: ‘If Yeshua were really the Jewish Messiah, why is there no peace in the world?” A survey of the Talmud’s discussions on the subject of the messianic expectations reveals the lack of uniformity as to who the Messiah is, what he is to accomplish, and how (b.Sanhedrin 97a-99a).
On the identity of the Messiah, Maimonides (the Rambam) put it this way, that if a person – a potential Moshiach begins to accomplish those tasks and seems to possess the specific, requisite character traits, we can assume that he is the Moshiach. However, the final identification will take place only after he accomplishes each and every one of those tasks – (Hilchos Melachim 11:4). But the question is, does this disqualify Yeshua as the promised Messiah, or is he at least on track to be the potential Messiah? What do we know about the process of the Messianic Redemption? These questions we will explore.
The actual date of the Messianic redemption is a guarded mystery unknown to man – (Zohar Chadash, Tikunim, 95b. Cf. Shemot Rabba 25:12). It will happen “in its time” (Isaiah 60:22), predetermined from the beginning of creation. This ultimate ketz (time for the ‘end’) is unconditional: it does not depend on Israel’s merit, as it is said, “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it” (Isaiah 48:11); “I wrought for My Name’s sake that it should not be profaned in the eyes of the nations” (Ezekiel 20:9).
Even so, the wording of Isaiah 60:22 seems to display a contradiction by stating “in its time I will hasten it”: “in its time” means a set date; “I will hasten it” means that it may occur earlier, before “its time.” The contradiction is resolved as follows: “If they are worthy – ‘I will hasten it;’ if not – ‘in its time'” (Sanhedrin 98a. Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:1).
The Rebbe on the Days of the Messiah.
Rabbi Menechem Mendel Schneerson (the Rebbe) spoke in exciting terms about this being the last generation of exile and the first generation of Geulah (Redemption), he explained that we are in the last moments of exile – that Messiah is already active in the world. How can this be – being that the world continues in the natural way in all respects? In the sicha (conversation) of the 19/20 Kislev, 5752, the Rebbe referred to our times as “Yemos HaMoshiach”, saying that these days are in fact the Days of the Messiah. The Redemption is here, yet it is not here; Messiah is here, yet we need to bring Messiah. Confused yet?
The Rambam in his Mishnah Torah, the final section containing the laws of kings and King Messiah describes the events of the period following the rise to power of a King from the House of David, who is Messiah. These laws are defining for us the Days of Messiah. The Rambam states that in this period of time, one should not expect to witness anything miraculous, such as the prophecy of wolf and lamb dwelling together in a literal fashion, but rather, the world will conduct itself in its natural manner (Mishnah Torah, ch.12, halacha 1). This is based on the statement from the Sages that “there is no difference between this world and the Days of Messiah other than the end of servitude to the Gentile Kingdoms” (Sanhedrin 97).
According to the evidence provided above, Yeshua cannot be rejected as at least a Messianic candidate. A brief survey of the pertinent passages of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) paints a picture of a Messiah who suffers (Isa.53; Zec.12:10), yet is triumphant (Dan.7:13,14), is a humble servant (Zec.9:9) and yet an exalted King (2.Sam.7:12-14; Num.24:17). These prophecies seem to be contradictory, how can the Messiah suffer and die for his people but also usher in universal peace and reign as King? More than this, how can the Messiah accomplish this in his lifetime?
Can the Messiah come from the dead?
Many have said unequivocally the Messiah cannot come from the dead. This is a perfect example of people having preconceived ideas without looking and studying what it says in Torah. When this question comes up – “Is this according to Judaism?” – the answer is that the definition of Judaism is that which is written in Torah. Torah defines Judaism. We must search and see if the Messiah can be someone from among the dead. There is a number of sources for this belief. We have the Gemara in Sanhedrin, the Talmud, page Tzaddik-Ches amud Beis, where the Gemara says:
“Rav says that if Messiah is among those who are living, then it’s Rabbeinu HaKodesh, and if he’s among those who passed on, then it’s Daniel.”
Also in the Gemara, in Yerushalmi, Mesechta Brachos 2:4:
“The rabbanim say, ‘If Messiah is among the living, then his name is David, and if he’s from among those who passed on, then it’s David the King himself.”
Midrash Rabba Eicha 1:51 says a similar thing:
“If Messiah is among the living, then his name is David, and if he’s among those who passed on, his name is also David.”
The Abarbanel, in the seifer, Yeshuas Meshichoi, ch.1, writes:
“There should not be a question in your mind whether Messiah could be someone who will come after passing, because it says this in the Gemara. The Gemara says there is that possibility: if he’s among those who passed on, then it’s Daniel Ish Chamudos.”
We find also in the S’dei Chemed, who was a master of halacha, in his seifer Paas Sadeh, siman Ayin:
“There are two possibilities as to how Messiah can come. He can come as someone who is alive, and he can come as someone who has passed on, as it says in the Gemara in Sanhedrin.”
We can also look in the Torah, the commentary of Ohr HaChaim, Parshas Balak 24:16 on the pasuk – “ar’enu v’lo ata’, were he says exactly the same thing – that Messiah can come in two possible ways. One is from those who are living, and it could also be that he’ll be revealed from heaven. We also find in the Zohar, in Parshas Balak, pg 203, amud 2. The Zohar says that the Messiah is one who will be here, pass on, and then he’ll come back and take the Yidden out of exile. So it is indeed very possible for the Messiah to be one from among the dead.
The Days of the Messiah are divided into two periods.
While we continue to discuss this seemingly contradiction, we learn from the Rebbe that the Days of the Messiah are divided into two tekufos – literally two periods: 1) the beginning of the Days of the Messiah, when ‘there is no difference from this world besides servitude to the Nations alone’; and 2) a period following this when the natural conduct of the world will be nullified and instead the conduct of the world will be in a way of wonders. As the Rebbe writes:
“The Rambam himself holds that there are two matters in two different time periods: there is a time in the Days of Messiah which is connected with the coming of Messiah, and there is another additional time, which is added after the period of the beginning of the Days of Messiah…When the conduct of the world will change” (Likutei Sichos 15:417 and 27:191; In Davar Malchus 2 Iyar, 5751, ois 9)
The Messiah comes – before the coming of the Messiah.
“The appointment of David, the King Messiah, has already occurred, as it says [Ps.89:21], ‘I have found David My servant, with My holy oil I have anointed him.’ It requires only an acceptance of his Kingship by the people and complete revelation of the attachment between the King and the people – in the true and perfect Redemption.” – (From the talk of Shabbos Parshas Mishpatim, Parshas Shekalim, Mevorchim HaChodesh Adar, 5751)
When speaking about the coming of the Messiah, one can be making a reference to two very distinct instances. We must recall that the Messiah must, according to the Rambam, accomplish a series of tasks, beginning with compelling all of Israel to live according to Torah, fighting the wars of G-d, building the Holy Temple and gathering the exiles. It is evident that the Messiah must first come (“a King arises from the House of David”) and only then we can begin to speak about the Days of the Messiah. Only then, after the Messiah has accomplished all of these things, do we actually experience the revelations of Messiah, which is in fact referred to as “the coming of Messiah.”
“In the Days of the Messiah they will be completely refined… until they will be ready for the World to Come.” – (Maamarim of the Mitterler Rebbe, Vayikra B, Lag B’Omer, pg.695)