Ruler from the House of David
How can he be identified? What will he do?
AFTER every meal many Jews utter a prayer that expresses their hope for the great Ruler who was foretold to come from the house of King David. Part of this prayer, as published in the Daily Prayer Book by Joseph Hertz, says: “O make us worthy of the days of the Messiah, and the life of the world to come. “The coming of the Messiah has been a Jewish hope for thousands of years. Long before the Hebrews were released from slavery in Egypt, their forefather Jacob spoke of his coming, referring to him as Shiloh.
In the blessing Jacob gave his son Judah, he foretold that the Messiah (Mashíahh, in Hebrew, and Meshíhha, Aramaic) would come from Judah’s line of descent.” The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet; until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Gen. 49:10, Leeser translation) A paraphrase of this prophecy in the Targum of Palestine refers to Shiloh as “the King Meshiha. . . , whose is the kingdom, and to whom all the kingdoms of the earth shall be obedient.” Moses also foretold his coming.
At the time the nation of Israel was on the threshold of the Promised Land, God spoke to Moses about the coming Messiah, saying: “A prophet will I raise up unto them from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I may command him. And it shall come to pass, that if there be a man who will not hearken to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deut. 18:18, 19, Leeser) With these two highly respected persons in Jewish history being inspired by God to speak about the Messiah, the Jewish people have had a firm basis for hoping in him.
Although there is conflict in Jewish views about the Messiah, the belief of those who trust Jacob, Moses and other Hebrew prophets is that a Messiah is promised by God. On this point The Jewish Encyclopedia states: “In the rabbinical apocalyptic literature the conception of an earthly Messiah is the prevailing one, and from the end of the first century of the common era it is also the one officially accepted by Judaism.” It then makes reference to “‘The Prayer for the Coming of the Messiah,’ . . . in which the Messiah is called ‘descendant of David.’”
In the Daily Prayer Book by Hertz, on page 254, the coming of the Messiah is mentioned as the Jewish hope: “The salvation of the individual Israelite is indissolubly linked with the salvation of Israel; and through Israel, with the triumph of righteousness in the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. . . . To the overwhelming majority of the House of Israel in every generation, the Messianic Hope has meant the belief in the coming of a Messiah (lit. ‘The Anointed One’)—an exalted Personality, upon whom shall rest the spirit of the Lord. He will restore the glories of Israel in Israel’s ancient land. In his days, the peoples will unite in acknowledging the unity of God, and there will be cessation of warfare and the spread of freedom and righteousness over all the earth.”
That there are Jewish prayers for the Messiah to come makes it evident that there are Hebrews today who still look for him and his kingdom. This is also revealed by the custom of throwing open a door of the house during the observance of the Passover. The Jewish religious leader Bernstein, in his book What the Jews Believe, on page 62, says that this is done “for the return of Elijah, the prophet, to bring word of the coming of the Messiah.” He goes on to say on page 69: “The Orthodox still believe in the coming of a personal Messiah, and pray each day for his advent.”
If this Ruler from the house of David is yet to come, how is he to be identified? How is he to be distinguished from a false Messiah? Obviously, his identity would have to be established by some reliable means, and since God inspired his prophets to foretell the Messiah’s coming, he must have provided some means for identifying him.
Some persons might contend that they can be certain of the Messiah’s identity by his establishing the promised kingdom of justice, truth and peace, and with love governing the affairs of mankind. But waiting until that happens in order to identify him is dangerous, because it would be waiting until it is too late for a person to prove himself worthy of being admitted into the Messiah’s kingdom.
Just being fleshly descendants of Jacob does not guarantee God’s approval and his blessing of life under the rule of the Messiah. More is required. This is shown by God’s dealings with ancient Israel, to whom he repeatedly stressed the need for obedience. He also expected them to exercise faith in him, as their forefather Abraham had. Only by obedience and faith could they expect his blessing. God does not change; he still expects faith and obedience.—Deut. 28:1-68.
God always gave the Hebrews of long ago time to repent before bringing about great changes that affected their lives. He did this before the Babylonian captivity, warning the inhabitants of Judea for forty years by means of his prophet Jeremiah. This gave them ample time in which to repent of their disobedience to God and to escape the disaster of Jerusalem’s destruction. Certainly he can be expected to do the same thing before the Messiah’s kingdom makes itself felt in the world, bringing monumental changes. He would give the people opportunity to repent and to make themselves acceptable to him before those changes are made.
As God sent his prophet Jeremiah to instruct and to guide the people to preservation before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity, so he can be expected to send the greater One, the Prophet like Moses, his Messiah, in advance of the great change to be brought by the Messianic kingdom, that the people might be given opportunity to prepare for it. The fact that God inspired prophecies to be written that give information for identifying the Messiah shows that he comes before obvious changes are brought about by his kingdom. God would not have given those identifying prophecies if we could wait until the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom rule made his identity obvious.
IDENTIFYING THE MESSIAH
Jacob was inspired to foretell that the Messiah would be of the tribe of Judah. His coming must, therefore, be at a time when that tribe is identifiable. The prophet Isaiah said that he would be a “shoot out of the stem of Jesse.” (Isa. 11:1, Leeser) Since Jesse was the father of David, Isaiah was foretelling that the Messiah would come from David’s house, his line of descent. Jeremiah also foretold this. “Behold, days are coming, saith the LORD, when I will raise up unto David a righteous sprout, and he shall reign as king, and prosper, and he shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.” (Jer. 23:5, Leeser) These prophecies could not be used today to identify the Messiah because the genealogical records that are necessary for linking him with the tribe of Judah and the house of David are nonexistent. They were destroyed with the temple in the year 70 C.E.
Regarding the destruction of the temple and the archives, the book History of the Jewish People by Max Margolis and Alexander Marx says on pages 202, 203: “Titus hastened to inspect the Temple. But soon the sacred edifice was the prey of the flames which the Romans kept alive. . . . So Titus had the quarter occupied by his soldiers burned down: the council house, the hall of archives, the whole of the lower city down to the Pool of Siloam.” The Bible Cyclopædia by M’Clintock and Strong states: “But there can be little doubt that the registers of the Jewish tribes and families perished at the destruction of Jerusalem, and not before.”
God would not have caused prophecies to be written that foretell that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah and from the house of David if the Messiah was to come at a time when they would be unavailable for identifying him. Such would be the case if his coming were to be after 70 C.E., because the genealogical records ceased to exist then. Without them, there is no way for determining the tribe to which a Hebrew belongs or from what house he has descended. Since God preserved those records when the temple was destroyed the first time, before the Babylonian captivity, he could have preserved them again in 70 C.E. if he had regarded them as being necessary after that day. By letting them be destroyed, God showed that they had fulfilled their purpose, which primarily was to help identify the Messiah. But there are other prophecies that help in confirming his identity.
The prophet Micah was inspired to name the very town where the Ruler from the house of David would be born. “But thou, Beth-lechem Ephratah, the least though thou be among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from olden times, from most ancient days.” (Mic. 5:1, Leeser) Bethlehem today is not a Hebrew town but one controlled by Arabs. The fulfillment of this identifying prophecy would have to be at a time when Bethlehem was part of Judah and inhabited by Hebrews. This could not be in the future because Judah as a tribe no longer exists and, therefore, Bethlehem could not be “among the thousands of Judah.”
The coming of the Messiah was foretold by the prophet Daniel when he said: “I looked in the nightly visions, and, behold, with the clouds of heaven came one like a son of man, and he attained as far as the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there were given him dominion, and dignity, and government, and all people, nations, and languages had to serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom is one which shall never be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:13, 14, Leeser) Daniel’s prophecy pertains to when the Messiah, glorified and exalted, enters in upon his kingdom and brings all the earth under his rule.
However, at Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 53:3-5, it is foretold that the Messiah would be “despised and shunned by men,” “wounded,” “smitten” and “bruised,” which would not be the case when, with kingdom power, he smashes the political nations, as foretold in the second Psalm. So it is clear that the Messiah must have more than one coming. The first would be to prepare the people for the time when his kingdom would be set up and the second would be when his kingdom is established.
Isaiah foretold that the Messiah’s bruises would bring healing to the people. “Yet he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement for our peace was upon him; and through his bruises was healing granted to us.” (Isa. 53:5, Leeser) His being bruised would be healing to us because he would become like the trespass offering of “a ram without blemish” that the high priest of Israel offered on the altar for Hebrews who committed a “sin through ignorance, against the holy things of the LORD.” (Lev. 5:15, Leeser) Pointing this out, Isaiah goes on to say: “But the LORD was pleased to crush him through disease: when now his soul hath brought the trespass-offering, then shall he see his seed, live many days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” (Isa. 53:10, Leeser) The Messiah cannot be expected to be bruised as a trespass offering when he comes in the glory and majesty of his kingdom, the time Daniel foresaw. No, but his bruising would have to be at the time when he is “despised and shunned by men,” a time when the tribe of Judah would still be existing.
The many prophecies that identify the Messiah were fulfilled at a time when the Hebrews had their genealogical records and knew who belonged to David’s house and who belonged to the various tribes. They were all fulfilled by a Hebrew in the first century. He was of the tribe of Judah, as Jacob foretold, and he was a descendant of King David, as Isaiah and Jeremiah foretold. Although he was reared in Nazareth, he was born in Bethlehem, as Micah foretold. A registration order from Caesar Augustus compelled the Hebrews to register in their native cities, and this caused the parents of this Hebrew to be in Bethlehem at the time he was born.—Luke 2:1-4.
As foretold by the prophet Zechariah, this humble Hebrew, who was called Jehoshua in Hebrew and Jesus in Greek, rode into Jerusalem on an ass, as kings before him had done, but he was shunned by the leaders of the people. (Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:1-17) As foretold by Isaiah, he was wounded “for our transgressions” and “through his bruises was healing granted to us.” This was possible because his life, as Isaiah foretold, “brought the trespass-offering.” (Isa. 53:5, 10, Leeser) It was a perfect sin-atoning sacrifice that was foreshadowed by the bullock and the Lord’s goat offered by Aaron for the sins of the people on atonement day.—Lev. 16:17, 18.
As foretold by Isaiah, he was “despised and shunned” by the Hebrews. (Isa. 53:3, Leeser) They “esteemed him not” because they mistakenly expected the Messiah to come in power and glory in the first century and deliver them from the yoke of Rome. This is confirmed by the Daily Prayer Book, which says on pages 145 and 146: “The rebuilding of Jerusalem as the City of Righteousness would usher in the Messianic era. . . . In that New Jerusalem, the Messianic King would establish his throne. Throughout the days of the Second Temple, this feeling prevailed, and it grew in intensity during the tyranny of the Herods, the Roman puppet-kings of Judea.” The Hebrews failed to see that the humble coming of the Messiah in the first century, which they rejected, was preparatory to the more glorious coming due in the time future to their day.
As foretold at Psalm 69:22 in the Leeser translation (verse 21 in others), he was given vinegar to drink by his enemies. As foretold at Psalm 22:19 in the Leeser translation (verse 18 in others), lots were cast for his garments. As foretold at Isaiah 53:9, he was buried with the rich by being placed in a rich man’s empty tomb. He and his earthly mother could have no control over these things that happened to him in fulfillment of the prophecies.
As foretold by Deuteronomy 18:18, he was a prophet like Moses, and as such he foretold the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. This took place more than thirty-five years later when the Romans burned the temple in 70 C.E. With the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ was proved a true prophet through whom God spoke. (Luke 21:20-24) He was not God in the flesh, as some persons have mistakenly claimed, for he said: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.” (John 20:17) Nevertheless, he was the foretold Messiah.
Jesus fulfilled more than a hundred prophecies that were given to identify the Messiah. The chance that one man would fulfill them by accident is infinitesimally small. The fact that Jesus fulfilled them at a time when the genealogical records were in existence that proved his ancestry is further evidence identifying him as the promised Ruler from the house of David.
The kingdom of Messiah was not established by God in the first century because God’s appointed time for this had not then come. People had to be instructed and shown the need for repentance because of their disobedience to God, just as in Jeremiah’s day. Unlike Jeremiah’s preparatory work, which took forty years and was limited mainly to Judea, the preparatory work for the Messiah’s kingdom was to be done earth-wide. That takes time. When the work is finished, the Messiah will then institute the revolutionary changes that will affect all mankind. As foretold at Psalm 2:9, he will smash the political governments man has made “like a potter’s vessel,” and he will bless people of all nations with a rule of justice, righteousness and peace, as foretold at Isaiah 9:5, 6 in the Leeser translation (verses 6 and 7 in others).
It is during the second presence of the Messiah, when ruling from his glorious heavenly throne, that he will do what Hebrews mistakenly expected him to do in the first century. So the King Messiah is yet to bring to an end wicked rulers, oppression, injustice, wars and human suffering. To benefit from the changes he will bring, you must exercise faith in him and permit yourself to be guided by the preparatory work for his kingdom rule that he began more than 1900 years ago, at which time he fulfilled the prophecies that identify the Messiah. Your exercising faith in this Ruler from the house of David and in his God means eternal life under the righteous rule of his kingdom.—John 3:16.
Said a man who was trained at the feet of the famous Jewish Law teacher Gamaliel in the first century C.E.: “So we are declaring to you the good news about the promise made to the forefathers, that God has entirely fulfilled it to us their children in that he resurrected Jesus; even as it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my son, I have become your Father this day.’”—Acts 13:32, 33.