Identifying the Messiah
Has the Messiah come? If so, who is he, and why have so many who profess to accept the Hebrew Scriptures failed to identify him?
“Father,” asked a little Jewish boy on passover night, “for whom is that extra glass of wine on the Seder table and why did you open the door?” “That glass of wine is for the prophet Elijah,” replied his father. “You see, we expect him to return some passover night and bring us the good news that the Messiah has come. That is also why I opened the door.”
Yes, each year millions of Jews throughout the world include preparations for Elijah in their passover celebration, still looking for the Messiah to come. Especially do Orthodox Jews look for a personal Messiah. Some of these even refuse to have anything to do with Zionism, convinced that when the Messiah comes he will need the help neither of the United Nations nor of the wealthy Jews residing in the United States.
However, less and less do Jews look for a personal Messiah. Some believe that their nation, and particularly Zionism, will be the Messiah of the world, while others merely look for a Messianic era, “which is to be achieved by the co-operative efforts of good men of all nations, races and religions.”—What the Jews Believe, Bernstein.
In the minds of those who expect a personal Messiah, his coming is linked with the Messianic era, the time when he will rule all the world in righteousness. But are these two events necessarily linked, or could it be that the Messiah would come at one time and the Messianic era come at a later time, perhaps a much later time? This not only is possible but is exactly what the Scriptures and the facts of history indicate to be the case: that some nineteen centuries ago the Messiah actually came, whereas his world rule establishing righteousness is still in the future.
THE MESSIAH IN PROPHECY
The Jewish Encyclopedia claims: “Not until the fall of the Maccabean dynasty, when the despotic government of Herod the Great and his family, and the increasing tyranny of the Roman empire had made their condition ever more unbearable, did the Jews seek refuge in the hope of a personal Messiah.” The facts and the Scriptures, however, prove otherwise. As far back as the garden of Eden God gave basis for hope in a personal Messiah when he said to the Serpent: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you in the head and you will bruise him in the heel.”—Gen. 3:15.
The hope of a personal Messiah became brighter when God promised Abraham that, because of his obedience, “by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” Becoming still more specific, the prophecy Jacob made on his deathbed stated: “The scepter will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him the obedience of the people will belong.” Helping further to identify the Messiah are God’s words to David: “I shall certainly raise up your seed after you, . . . and I shall certainly establish the throne of his kingdom firmly forever.”—Gen. 22:17, 18; 49:10; 2 Sam. 7:12, 13, 16.
The very place where this promised One was to be born was also foretold: “But thou, Bethlehem . . . , out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old.” Surely such prophetic promises gave hope that a personal Messiah was to come and cannot at all be made to apply to a nation, much less to a co-operative effort among many nations.—Mic. 5:2, AS.
And not only were the lineage and birthplace of the Messiah thus clearly given, but the very year of his appearing was pinpointed. Where? At Daniel 9:25 (AV): “From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks.” By means of the Scriptural rule found at Ezekiel 4:6 of counting a day for a year this is seen to involve a total of 483 years. God’s Word shows that the command to restore and build Jerusalem went forth in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (III), which secular history shows to be the year 455 B.C. Counting 483 years from that time we come to A.D. 29, the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. This was the very year that Jesus appeared as the promised Messiah.—Neh. 2:1; Luke 3:1.
FULFILLING THE PROPHECIES
Clearly, then, ever since the first martyr, Abel, men of faith have hoped for the coming of the Messiah, a personal deliverer, and particularly since God gave David a Messianic promise, some thousand years before the days of Herod the Great. That is why the Jews time and again stated that the Messiah was to come through David’s line.—John 7:42; Matt. 22:42.
The fourfold Gospel record shows that Jesus Christ met the requirements regarding the Messiah’s lineage, his birthplace and the time of his coming. (Luke 2:10-16; 3:23-34) And what is more, on occasions he admitted being the Messiah. Thus, in reply to the woman at the well of Sychar, who had said: “I know that Messiah is coming, who is called Christ,” Jesus replied: “I who am speaking to you am he.” Likewise, when the high priest asked Jesus: “Are you the Christ the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus answered, “I am.”—John 4:25, 26; Mark 14:61, 62.
Micah had prophesied that the Messiah had a prehuman existence and Jesus repeatedly testified thereto. He claimed to have come down from above and to have been in existence before Abraham was. (John 3:13; 8:58) Had he been a dupe or an impostor, could he have performed such miracles as curing the sick, casting out demons, commanding the elements and having them obey him, raising the dead, etc.? Surely all this was ample proof that God’s power was backing up Jesus in his claims to be His Son and the Messiah.
No wonder that the people said: “When the Christ [Messiah] arrives, he will not perform more signs than this man has performed, will he?” That is why he could say to his followers: “Believe on account of the works themselves.” Yes, just as God gave Moses credentials so that his people would believe that Jehovah had indeed appeared to Moses and commissioned him, so also Jehovah empowered Jesus Christ to perform countless miracles of amazing magnitude so that the Jews had reason to believe that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, “the Son of the living God,” as Peter so confidently identified him.—John 7:31; 14:11; Matt. 16:16.
God had foretold that the way would be prepared before the Messiah, which prophecy John the Baptist fulfilled. (Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 17:12, 13) As Jesus continued with his ministry more and more prophecies concerning him were fulfilled, among which were his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his being sold for thirty pieces of silver. (Zech. 9:9; 11:12; Matt. 21:4, 5; 26:15) The prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 53, saw remarkable and detailed fulfillment in Jesus: he was despised and rejected, bore the infirmities of others, was tried and falsely condemned, was numbered with sinners, died a sacrificial death, was buried with the rich, etc. See Matthew 8:17; 27:12-14, 38, 57-60; Mark 15:1-15; John 1:29; 12:38.
WHY NOT RECOGNIZED
In view of all these scriptures and facts identifying Jesus as the Messiah, why did the nation of Israel, and especially its religious leaders, fail to recognize him? In the first place, let it be noted that this failure should not surprise any Jew familiar with the history of his people, for the Hebrew Scriptures time and again testify that they were a stubborn nation. (Ex. 32:9; Deut. 9:6; 2 Chron. 30:8) From the time of their call out of Egypt to their restoration after Babylonian captivity theirs is a record of repeated backslidings, of ignoring God’s instructions and of persecuting his prophets. (2 Chron. 36:15, 16) Having so abused the slaves of the great Vineyard Owner, Jehovah God, it is not surprising that they maliciously killed his Son, even as Jesus showed in one of his illustrations.—Matt. 21:33-46.
Another thing: the clergy of Jesus’ day had deteriorated to such an extent that they were hypocrites and money lovers, both characteristics designed to keep them from identifying Jesus as the Messiah. As Jesus told them: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” His exposing their selfishness made it all the harder for them to weigh objectively the evidence, and so they sought refuge by accusing Jesus of doing his works by means of the power of Satan the Devil!—John 5:44; Matt. 12:22-31.
There is still another reason why these religious leaders failed to recognize their Messiah. They were chafing under the Roman yoke and so were eagerly looking for the Messiah to free them from it. Did not Isaiah foretell that “the government shall be upon his shoulder,” and that “of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end”? More than that, had not Isaiah also prophesied that the Messiah would be a very wise and righteous ruler, that he would destroy all the wicked and that all nations would give their allegiance to him? Surely he had.—Isa. 9:6, 7; 11:1-10, AS.
‘FOR EVERYTHING AN APPOINTED TIME’
Then does God’s Word contradict itself, or was some of it uttered in vain? Neither. Obviously such contrasting prophecies could not be fulfilled at one and the same time. It must therefore be that God’s rule applies here, namely, “For everything there is an appointed time, even a time for every affair under the heavens.”—Eccl. 3:1.
The Scriptures show that it was God’s purpose in the beginning to have the whole earth become a paradise. (Gen. 1:26-28) They also show that this purpose will eventually be realized by the Messiah’s reign. This, however, involves two comings of the Messiah, God’s Son, each for a separate and distinct purpose. The first coming, or rather “presence,” took place A.D. 29 to 33. At that time Jesus came as a lowly man, bore witness to his Father’s name, proved his integrity under test and died for the sins of mankind. Thereby he proved himself worthy to be Messiah the King and furnished a legal basis for relieving all mankind from disability due to Adam’s sin. After Jesus’ having accomplished these purposes God raised him from the dead and highly exalted him.—John 18:37; Heb. 5:8; Matt. 20:28; Phil. 2:9.
Shortly before his death Jesus not only told his followers that he would return but also gave them a detailed prophecy by which the time of his return could be identified. That return or second presence is to be for the purpose of realizing the fulfillment of all the glorious prophecies regarding his reign, which the Jews of his day mistakenly thought he should have fulfilled at his first presence.—Matthew, chapter 24; Mark, chapter 13; Luke, chapter 21.
For long centuries Jews have felt obligated to back up the mistake made by their leaders in the first century, when they rejected the Messiah. Now, however, the trend is to recognize Jesus as one of their prophets. Such a view is but logical, since absolutely no one else ever so profoundly affected humankind for good as did Jesus. But is this sufficient? It is not. To benefit fully from the Messiah’s reign we must also recognize his claims: that he is the Son of God in a unique sense; that he had a prehuman existence; that he died sacrificially for our sins; that his prophecy that he should be raised from the dead was indeed fulfilled.
Atheists, agnostics, deists, modernist clergy, Jews and Moslems who may profess to recognize Jesus’ qualities as a great teacher and humanitarian while refusing to recognize his claims, are inconsistent. Either the foregoing-noted claims of his are true or else he was either a self-deceived fool or a faker; in either case he could not have been a great teacher and a humanitarian. We cannot have it both ways. God’s Word is unequivocal.
Yes, not only has Jesus ‘left for us a model that we should follow in his steps closely,’ but he is also our means of gaining everlasting life; for “there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah.—1 Pet. 2:21; Acts 4:12.