Jews don’t believe the Messiah will come twice

Jews don’t believe the Messiah will come twice

Jews don’t believe the Messiah will come twice

Judaism actually has many different traditions about the coming of the Messiah, including beliefs that there are two messiahs who will each come once, as well as beliefs that there is a potential Messiah present in each generation. Scripture and history teach us that there will be one Messiah who will come twice.

You probably feel that the notion of a “second coming” is a copout, a clever excuse as to why Jesus didn’t do everything he was supposed to do according to the traditional Jewish view of the Messiah. It’s as if Christians are saying, “Just give him one more chance! He’ll get it right the next time.”408 Actually, as we have emphasized repeatedly (vol. 1, 2.1; see also vol. 3, 4.30 , 4.32), Jesus did everything the Messiah was required to do before the Second Temple was destroyed, he is doing everything the Messiah is presently required to do, and when he returns, he will finish his Messianic task, right on schedule.

In contrast with this biblical position of one Messiah fulfilling a wide range of prophecies, first by being born as a man on the earth, then coming with divine power from heaven, traditional Judaism has developed at least three different options (see above, 3.22–3.23): (1) There will be two Messiahs, one who will suffer and die and one who will rule and reign.409 (2) There are different possible scenarios for the Messiah’s coming, depending on our behavior. If we are righteous, he will come with the clouds; if we are sinful, he will come on a donkey. (3) There is a potential Messiah in every generation, and it is up to us to recognize him and become worthy of him. More recently, some of the followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, have developed a fourth option: The Messiah (=Rabbi Schneerson) will be resurrected and then will return and reign as king.410

The Schottenstein Talmud, reflecting Orthodox Jewish views, explains the traditional belief about the presence of a potential Messiah in each generation. At the same time, however, it demonstrates how difficult it is to square this teaching with some important Talmudic texts. Commenting on the famous account of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s encounter with the Messiah—almost two thousand years ago (see above, 3.23)—the Schottenstein Talmud explains:

The Midrash states that the Messiah was born when the Temple was destroyed and was subsequently taken to Gan Eden [i.e., the Garden of Eden, or heavenly Paradise].…

This should not be understood to mean that the Messiah is not a natural-born human being. Rather, in every generation since the destruction of the Temple there has lived a person of outstanding piety, ready to be invested with the spirit of the Messiah when the time for the redemption comes. As was the case with Moses, this person will not know that he is destined to be the Messiah, until the time is ready.411

All this speculation, however, is unnecessary. The Bible speaks of only one Messiah, from the line of David yet greater than David, a king and yet a priest, first suffering and dying for the sins of Israel and the world, then returning in triumph and judgment. In contrast with Rabbinic speculation, there is no need to create a second Messiah descended from a different tribe, a Messiah whom the Hebrew Scriptures do not know at all.

And there is no need to create an either-or scenario (coming in the clouds or riding on a donkey), since the Tanakh speaks of both-and (first riding on a donkey, then coming in the clouds).412 There is also no need to ask who the alleged potential Messiah is for each generation, since there were specific requirements for the Messiah (including when and where he would be born; see vol. 3, 4.32–4.33), and if he did not come at the appointed time and place, then all the believing in the world cannot make him into the Messiah.

Of course, it is often said that it is anathema for Jews to believe that the Messiah has already come, yet as we have seen, many traditional Jews actually believe that every generation has had a potential Messiah. Thus, following the traditional Jewish logic here, many Messiahs have already come but none of them were recognized since none of the previous generations proved worthy enough to merit the Messiah. Traditional Judaism, then, would recognize many possible Messiahs who have already come but no actual Messiah who has come.

May I suggest another approach? What if Yeshua—the one and only Messiah—came at the time expected by the prophets, but his generation was not worthy of receiving him, leading to his rejection, suffering, and death.413 All this, however, was known in advance by God, who foresaw and foreordained the Messiah’s death as an atoning sacrifice for the world.414 Therefore, what mankind meant for evil, God meant for good. At the end of this age, when my Jewish people recognize Jesus as Messiah and call on him to return, they will prove themselves worthy of him, and he will joyfully come again in the clouds of heaven, just as Daniel wrote, and establish his kingdom in Jerusalem. Doesn’t this make more sense than the traditional Jewish view?

Let me go one step farther: This not only makes more sense, it has a striking parallel in the Torah. Do you remember the story of Joseph and his brothers, the sons of Jacob? Joseph was called by God to be the leader among his siblings, but they hated him and sold him into slavery in Egypt. While Joseph was in Egypt, languishing in prison, God set in motion a plan that led to seven years of severe famine.

How does Scripture describe these events? “He called down famine on the land and destroyed all their supplies of food; and he sent a man before them—Joseph, sold as a slave” (Ps. 105:16–17). What a statement! Joseph’s brothers maliciously sold him into slavery in Egypt, but the Bible says that God sent Joseph there. This is exactly what Joseph said to his brothers many years later: “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.

He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt” (Gen. 45:7–8). Of course, it is true that the brothers bore the responsibility for their sins, but it is equally true that God himself was orchestrating the events, having a higher purpose—the saving of many lives—through it all.

Yet there’s more to the story (and the parallel between Joseph and Jesus). Joseph was the viceroy to the Pharaoh when his brothers first came to Egypt to buy grain, but they didn’t recognize him. He hardly resembled the seventeen-year-old they had sold into slavery. He was esteemed and venerated by the Egyptians, he spoke Egyptian, and he wore Egyptian garb. Foreigners honored him; his own family didn’t even know who he was. (Need I point out the parallel with Yeshua here?) But when the brothers returned the second time to Egypt, Joseph revealed himself to them. Anyone who has read this entire story in Genesis (chapters 37, 39–47) will agree that it is one of the most moving accounts ever written. What intrigue, what suspense, what emotion!

After Jacob died, the brothers of Joseph became afraid that he would retaliate against them because of their cruelty toward him as a teenager. But Joseph responded, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). This same picture applies to our relationship as Jews with Yeshua.415

The first time around, Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him, but the second time he made himself known to them. It was the same Joseph, but he was rejected before he was accepted. (The same thing happened to Moses; see Exodus 2–5.) First he suffered abasement, then he was exalted. First he was esteemed by the Gentiles, then he was honored by his own flesh and blood.

And so it will be with Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and his brothers, the Jewish people. We will recognize him in the end, but we will be held accountable for rejecting him until that time. And while Messianic Jews eagerly await the time when our people as a whole will turn back to God in repentance and put their trust in his Messiah, we encourage each and every individual Jew to make that choice today.

There are not two Messiahs, nor is there a potential Messiah in every generation. There is one Messiah who came once—right on schedule—and in the fullness of time he will come again. With all my heart, I pray that you will acknowledge him today so that you can welcome him when he returns.

408 Cf., e.g., Sigal, The Jew and the Christian Missionary, 88; see further vol. 3, 5.15, for an in-depth answer.

409 It’s also worth remembering that other religious Jews at the time of Jesus were looking for two Messiahs as well, one a priest from the line of Aaron, the other a Davidic king (see vol. 1, 2.1).

410 See concisely Lenowitz, Jewish Messiahs, 215–23, who actually makes reference to “the dual, human-and-divine status of the Rebbe” in Lubavitcher thought (see 217–18, and above, end of 3.22). Lenowitz notes that “the Rebbe’s death in June 1994 received several responses among adherents of the ‘moshiach-now’ movement. The most common of these followed the line developed in basic Chabad [Lubavitch] documents, finding its authority in Maimonides’ theory that each generation may have a potential messiah who becomes the messiah if the generation is worthy—and holding that this generation did not prove to be so; but two substantial groups held (and continue to do so at this writing) that the Rebbe was not dead and/or that he would return” (216). He points to a split among the Rebbe’s followers after his death arising over “the [Lubavitch] missionary program’s presentation of the doctrine, that the Rebbe will be resurrected and is yet the messiah,” noting that “the missionaries—who hold to this belief like almost all Lubavitch hasidim do—only wish to refrain from public discussion of it since they view it as counterproductive. Of course, non-Lubavitch orthodoxy, as represented by the Rabbinic Council of America, condemns Lubavitchers and their belief (216).

411 Tractate Sanhedrin, vol. 3, 98a5.

412 Other either-or scenarios discussed in the Talmud and Jewish tradition include the views that the Messiah will come when the world is totally righteous or that the Messiah will come when the world is totally wicked. For the use of this doctrine by the followers of Shabbetai Zvi, the powerful false messiah of the seventeenth century, see the classic study of Gershom Scholem, Shabbetai Zvi (Princeton: Princeton, 1973). Note also that some modern, more liberal forms of Judaism, believe that the Messiah is a concept (more or less a code word for the Messianic era, synonymous with human improvement) or that the Messiah is a myth, more or less a carryover from ancient pagan beliefs.

413 Note the words of Paul and Barnabas to their fellow Jews who rejected the message of the Messiah: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).

414 See Acts 2:23: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” See also Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:20.

415 We will return to this theme in vol. 3, 4.1.

Brown, M. L. (2000). Answering Jewish objections to Jesus, Volume 2: Theological objections (232). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

Jews don’t believe the Messiah will come twice