The Messiah—What Would He Accomplish? And When?
WHAT does the term “Messiah” mean to you? Do you think of a human political figure who would defeat the enemies of Israel, restore the Jews to the Promised Land and rebuild the temple of God’s worship at Jerusalem?
No such Messiah has ever appeared. In some parts of the earth Jews are still downtrodden. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures definitely mention a “seed” through whom all of mankind would one day receive blessings. This seed, or Messiah (meaning “anointed one”), would descend from the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through the tribe of Judah and the family of King David.—Gen. 3:15; 12:1-3; 22:18; 26:3, 4; 28:13, 14; 49:10; 2 Sam. 7:12-16.
The subject of the Messiah, for many, however, involves much confusion. A Dictionary of Judaism states: “There were various concepts of the Messiah . . . However, there is no authoritative opinion as to all these concepts and Judaism has nothing definite to say on these matters.” But what about the Hebrew Scriptures? Have you personally examined what they say about the promised Messiah? What would he accomplish? And when?
A Preliminary Accomplishment
There is only one place in the Scriptures where the Hebrew word Mashiʹahh, or Messiah, appears as a noun by itself (that is, without qualifying words, such as in ‘the anointed one of God,’ “my anointed one”). This is at Daniel 9:24-27, which points to an unusual accomplishment of the Messiah, one that he would achieve long before the blessings of his rule would spread world wide. We read:
“There are seventy weeks that have been determined upon your people and upon your holy city, in order to terminate the transgression, and to finish off sin, and to make atonement for error, and to bring in righteousness for times indefinite, and to imprint a seal upon vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies. And you should know and have the insight that from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader, there will be seven weeks, also sixty-two weeks. She will return and be actually rebuilt, with a public square and moat, but in the straits of the times.
“And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself.
“And the city and the holy place the people of as leader that is coming will bring to their ruin. And the end of it will be by the flood. And until the end there will be war; what is decided upon is desolations.
“And he must keep the covenant in force for the many for one week; and at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease?.”
Did you notice that the arrival of “Messiah the Leader” (Mashiʹahh Nagidʹ, Hebrew) is here connected with putting an end to sin? What part does the Messiah have in this ? Let us consider some features of a prophecy found at Isaiah 52:13–53:12, which the ancient Jewish Aramaic paraphrase, or Targum, applies to “my servant, the Anointed One [or, the Messiah].”
“But he was wounded because of our sins, crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, and by his bruises we were healed.
“But the LORD chose to crush him by disease, that, if he made himself an offering for guilt, he might see offspring and have long life, and that through him the LORD’s purpose might prosper.
“Assuredly, I will give him the many as his portion, he shall receive the multitude as his spoil. For he exposed himself to death and was numbered among the sinners, whereas he bore the guilt of the many and made intercession for sinners.”—Isa. 53:5, 10, 12, Jewish Publication Society, 1973.
The making of “intercession for sinners” is a preliminary step that lays the foundation for persons to enjoy the future Messianic blessings. How so? Well, could anyone truly enjoy the benefits of Messiah’s rule while facing the rigors of old age and death? And what is the cause of this death process?
The first mention of death in the Scriptures is at Genesis 2:16, 17, which records God as saying to the first man Adam: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” Disobedience to that command would cause the dying process to become immediately operative upon Adam, leading to his eventual death.
The Scriptures record that Adam and his wife, Eve, did transgress God’s command. (Gen. 3:6) This affected, not only them, but all their offspring, including us alive today. The patriarch Job exclaimed: “Who can produce someone clean out of someone unclean? There is not one.” (Job 14:4) The psalmist David wrote: “Look! With error I was brought forth with birth pains, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Ps. 51:5) According to the Bible, man inherits sin and its eventual consequence, death, right from conception.
True, some persons object to the teaching that man inherits sin. They contend that, while all humans have an “inclination” toward evildoing, they are fully able to overcome it. Jewish rabbinical literature, for example, refers to certain “perfectly righteous” individuals. But have you ever met such a person? Have the combined efforts of even the most dedicated and highly educated humans succeeded in stemming the rising tide of hatred, crime, violence, sexual immorality and other woes that afflict mankind? Clearly, man needs divine help if he is to abolish sinful tendencies.
How High a “Price”?
But why did not the animal and other sacrifices under the Mosaic law, which included those on the Day of Atonement, cover over sin? The Scriptures indicate that atonement for inherited sin would require something far more valuable than those animal victims. We read, at Psalm 49:6-9:
“Those who are trusting in their means of maintenance, and who keep boasting about the abundance of their riches, not one of them can by any means redeem even a brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; (and the redemption price of their soul is so precious that it has ceased to time indefinite) that he should still live forever and not see the pit.”
How high was the “price” for ransoming mankind from sin and death? God’s perfect justice stipulated ‘soul for soul.’ (Deut. 19:21) Since Adam was originally perfect, sinless, only another perfect human could restore what Adam lost for his offspring through sin. As noted above, the Bible book of Daniel assigns that role to “Messiah the Leader.”
When should people start looking for fulfillment of this preliminary activity of the Messiah? How could this “anointed one” have a human line of descent, yet be sinless?
Counting the “Weeks” to Messiah
The prophecy of the “seventy weeks” specifies that “Messiah the Leader” would appear 69 weeks (7 + 62) “from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem.” (Dan. 9:25) When did that “word” go forth?
The Hebrew Scriptures, at Nehemiah 2:1-6, relate that Persian King Artaxerxes Longimanus issued such a “word,” or decree, for restoration and rebuilding at Jerusalem in his twentieth year, which was 455 B.C.E. Many Jewish and other scholars agree that the “weeks” mentioned here are “year weeks,” that is, each week being seven years long. Counting forward 69 weeks of years, or 483 years, from 455 B.C.E. brings us to the year 29 C.E. Did someone who claimed to be the Messiah appear in that year?*
What About Jesus of Nazareth?
Perhaps you think of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived at that time. Did Jesus bear the credentials of the promised Messiah? The Gospel account of Luke, which has won praise for historical accuracy, states that John the Baptizer, forerunner of Jesus, began his public preaching in the spring of “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” which ran into 29 C.E. (Luke 3:1, 2) Jesus was baptized and set out on his public preaching and teaching activity as God’s “anointed” one about six months later, in the fall of 29 C.E.—Luke 3:21-23; 4:16-21.
As noted in the preceding article in this magazine, the method and content of Jesus’ teaching, as well as his astonishing miracles, caused many to conclude that he was the promised Messiah. Even the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and death were things that the Hebrew Scriptures foretold with regard to the promised Messiah. How so?
First of all, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, concerning which we read at Micah 5:2: “And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one too little to get to be among the thousands of Judah, from you there will come out to me the one who is to become ruler in Israel, whose origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.” The Jewish Aramaic paraphrase, or Targum, of this verse states: “From you the Messiah will go forth before me.”—See Matthew 2:1.
The way Jesus was born, too, merits attention. The Gospel account relates:
“The angel Gabriel was sent forth from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin promised in marriage to a man named Joseph of David’s house; . . . So the angel said to her: . . . ‘look! you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you are to call his name Jesus. This one will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; . . . But Mary said to the angel: ‘How is this to be, since I am having no intercourse with a man?’ In answer the angel said to her: ‘Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason also what is born will be called holy, God’s Son.’”—Luke 1:26, 27, 30-32, 34, 35.
The miraculous conceiving of Jesus and the divine ‘overshadowing’ of his development in Mary’s womb would assure freedom from Adamic sin, making him a perfect human. The Messiah would thus be in position to pay the costly ransom price for redeeming mankind from sin and death.—Ps. 49:7; Matt. 20:28.
According to Daniel 9:25-27, “Messiah the Leader” would be “cut off” “at the half of the [seventieth] week.” In precise conformity Jesus died on Passover Day in the spring of 33 C.E. exactly half a ‘week of years,’ or three and a half years, after his baptism.—Matt. 26:2; John 13:1, 2.
Was Jesus the promised Messiah? The facts set out above clearly point to that conclusion. But evidence of this type may not be sufficient to convince many persons. Something more is necessary. And it is available. In what way?
A ‘Spirit of Genius’
It is important to bear in mind that Jesus’ life amounted to much more than mere agreement with dates and places predetermined in Bible prophecy. His teachings and activities are not simply words on paper. Jesus was a person. To determine whether he was the Messiah, one must consider the “spirit,” or driving heart attitude, that made Jesus what he was and that motivated the things he said and did. In this regard, Jewish scholar Claude Montefiore remarks in The Synoptic Gospels:
“There is a certain spirit and glow about the teaching of Jesus which you either appreciate or fail to appreciate. . . . The teaching of Jesus, which has had such gigantic effects upon the world, is more and other than a dissected list of injunctions. It is not merely the sum of its parts; it is a whole, a spirit. That spirit has the characteristics of genius. It is great, stimulating, heroic. . . .
“Even if you could find separate close parallels for 970 out of, say, the 1000 verses in the Gospel in which Jesus is the speaker, and even if you put them together and made a nice little book of them, you would not have produced a substitute of equal religious value. The unity, the aroma, the spirit, the genius, would all have fled. Or, rather, you could not infuse them into your elegant collection of fragments and tit-bits.”
Have you personally made an effort to capture the “spirit” of Jesus’ teachings by a careful study of the four Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the light of the Hebrew Scriptures? Doing so will help you to discern the preliminary role of the Messiah and why Jesus of Nazareth did not fulfill in his day many popular expectations concerning God’s “anointed one.” What he did accomplish, however, laid the groundwork for all mankind to gain marvelous blessings in the near future. What kind of blessings will these be? Will you live to see them come true?
Final Accomplishments Begin in Our Day
The Hebrew Scriptures also contain prophecies regarding the “son of man,” or Messiah, as a glorious heavenly king who would receive from God “rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” (Dan. 7:13, 14) Under that heavenly Kingdom rule, mankind will enjoy eternal life in perfect health in paradise restored earth wide. (Ps. 133:3; compare Isaiah 33:24; 35:5, 6.) Even the dead will return to life in a resurrection. (Job 14:13-15; Dan. 12:13; John 5:28, 29) The Messiah’s voluntary sacrifice of his perfect human life makes all of this possible. But when will such blessings come?
Contrary to popular Jewish expectations of his day, Jesus explained: “The kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness.” (Luke 17:20) How, then, can we determine when the Kingdom is at hand?
As a “sign . . . of the conclusion of the system of things,” Jesus predicted among other things large-scale warfare, significant food shortages, earthquakes, increasing of lawlessness and other “pangs of distress.” (Matt. 24:3, 6-8, 12; compare Revelation 6:1-8.) Have not such things plagued mankind on an unprecedented scale since the epoch-making year of 1914? According to Jesus’ prophecy, the generation that would experience this would see the blessings of Messiah’s rule begin to spread throughout the earth. (Matt. 24:34; Zech. 9:10) Is that not the best of news for people living today?
The Hebrew Scriptures outline a preliminary sin-atoning role for “Messiah the Leader” and pinpoint 29 C.E. as the year for him to appear. (Dan. 9:25) His sacrificial death would be due half a ‘week of years,’ or three and a half years, later. (Dan. 9:26, 27; Isa. 52:13-53:12) The life of Jesus of Nazareth exactly corresponds to these and all other prophecies about Messiah’s preliminary activities. In view of this, do not the Gospel accounts deserve the most serious and careful study? Are you willing to make such a study? Your desiring to share in the earth-wide blessings of Messiah’s rule makes it imperative that you do so.
Some say that this prophecy refers to two ‘anointed ones.’ One, they suggest, would appear after 7 weeks (49 years), the other after an additional 62 weeks (434 years). But this is neither what the text says nor how Jews of the first century C.E. viewed the matter. The Greek Septuagint translation, for example, links together the two periods that the Hebrew text has as “seven” and “sixty-two” “year weeks.” Viewing the Hebrew in this way, only one Messiah would be due after 69 weeks (483 years).
As to the viewpoint of this prophecy held by Jews at the beginning of the Common Era, a rabbi of the seventeenth century, Menasseh ben Israel wrote in his work De Termino Vitae [“Concerning the End of Life”]: “Some would accept those 70 weeks as meaning that after their end the Messiah would come who would constitute them rulers of the whole world. Indeed, all who took up arms against the Romans at that time held that opinion.”