Rabbis Speak About Messiah

Neither has eye seen O GOD beside Thee what He hath prepared for him who waiteth for Him.

People long for perfection in an imperfect world, and for vindication of the righteous in a world of unrighteousness.  This is a basic ingredient of the human heart, mind and spirit.  The whole Tanakh is full of this conviction.  The prophets of Israel were vehement in denouncing perversion and injustice, while looking forward to the time when a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in justice, and a man shall be like an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, like rivers of water in a dry place, like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

How is this longing for perfection to be fulfilled?  The Biblical view taught by the prophets was that Messiah would accomplish it.  The prophets foretold a time when Messiah would make final atonement for the sins of both Jew and Gentile.  The Hebrew word ‘Mashiach’ (Messiah) means ‘the Anointed One, and relates to the One Whom GOD chose to redeem His people.  The Tanakh teaches that this Go’el, Kinsman Redeemer, shall come to Tsion and unto those who turn from transgressions in Jacob.  The prophecies inspired by the Ruach Hakodesh, the Holy Spirit, reveal that Israel and mankind will be redeemed by faith in Messiah.

The traditional views: Orthodox rabbis of past centuries have considered Messiah to be the center of the whole creation.  The Messiah is discussed in the context of ‘the Light’ in the Genesis Creation account.  According to the rabbis this special Light was created before the sun, moon and stars.  The Yalkut, a rabbinic medieval anthology says: And GOD saw the light that it was good, that is the Light of Messiah, to teach you that GOD saw the generation of Messiah and His works before He created the universe, and He hid the Messiah under His throne of Glory.

Satan asked GOD, Master of the Universe for whom is this Light under Your throne of Glory?  GOD answered him, It is for the Messiah, who is to turn you backward and who will put you to scorn with shamefaced-ness.  In another rabbinic reference we are told that all the prophets who prophesied have only made predictions regarding Messiah.  As regards eternity, it is said in Isaiah 64, verse 4: Neither has eye seen O GOD beside Thee what He hath prepared for him who waiteth for Him. 

The rabbis also were aware the Tanakh predicted Messiah would be both humiliated and exalted.  They tried to resolve this apparent contradiction in three different ways: The first possibility developed in the Talmud was that the Messiah existed from before the creation of the world and came to earth when the second Temple was destroyed.  Rabbi Shemuel bar Nehmani said: On the day when the Temple was destroyed, Israel suffered much for their sins, and from whence do we know that on that day when the Temple was destroyed Messiah was born?  For it is written: Before she travailed, she brought forth the Messiah. 

Various reports are then offered as to His whereabouts after His birth.  The Babylonian Talmud says that He sits at the gates of the city of Rome and suffers affliction with his people.  There he awaits GOD’s call to step out as exalted Saviour and bring about Israel’s salvation.  He would do it as soon as Israel hears GOD’s voice and repents.  This view eventually was abandoned, perhaps because it too closely resembled the view of Jewish believers in YESHUA who believed that the Messiah had first come as suffering Saviour and would return in glory as King Redeemer.

A second explanation of the seemingly contradictory portrayals of Messiah as one both humiliated and exalted, appears elsewhere in the Talmud.  R. Alexandri said that R. Joshua bar Levi combined the two paradoxical passages, the one that says, Behold!  One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7, verse 13) showing Messiah’s glory, and the other verse that says, Poor and riding upon a donkey (Zechariah 9, verse 9), showing Messiah’s humility.  He explained it in this manner: If they are worthy, He will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’; if they are unworthy, He will come ‘poor and riding upon a donkey’.

A third solution is found in the Babylonian Talmud.  Here the two different roles of Messiah are fulfilled in two different Messiahs.  The first one is Messiah Ben Joseph, who fights, suffers extreme humiliation and is pierced, fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy.  They shall look on to Me whom they have pierced. The second one is Messiah Ben David, who comes later and to whom GOD says, I will declare the decree, the LORD hath said unto Me, ‘Thou art My Son.  This day have I begotten Thee.  Ask of Me and I shall give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance’.

The Messianic view: Rabbis fail to recognize one other possibility, that the Messiah was to atone for the sins of the people first, and then return as the Exalted One to establish His kingdom.  This view, of course, inevitably leads to YESHUA as the Messiah.  A truth that has escaped the rabbis of past and present.  Supported by the Tenakh, this view resolves the dilemma faced by most Talmudic rabbis.  The rabbis strove to resolve the two distinct threads of prophecies in the Tenakh, as a man standing afar off looking at two mountain peaks in direct line.  They were unable to discern the time gulf that existed between those peaks.  With the hindsight of a quarterback and the additional revelation of the B’rit Hadashah (New Covenant), the theory which best resolves the paradox is that one Messiah was to come in two different eras for two distinct purposes.  He was to come first as a suffering Saviour to atone for the sins of the people and to bring peace to those who repented and receive the atonement in faith.  He is to come next as the exalted King to rain judgment upon the unjust and to establish His Messianic kingdom forever.

With this model in mind, it is appropriate to begin to identify this Messiah promised to Eve in the beginning.  The first ray of promise to redeem mankind is found in the first few pages of the Tenach in the Book of Genesis.  This redemption prophecy was given after the great disaster that overtook our first ancestors.  The ancient Serpent, sometimes called nahash ha-kadmoni, was more subtle than any other creature and proved irresistible to Eve, and then to Adam.  GOD gave Adam and Eve virtual free reign in the garden of Eden.  He told them they could eat from every tree but one, warning them that disobedience would produce very harmful consequences.  They chose to eat from that Tree of Knowledge of good and evil anyway in clear disobedience to GOD.  Instead of trusting their Father, they yielded to the temptation of pride.  After all, the Tempter had promised them ‘Ye shall be like GOD’. 

Adam and Eve’s misguided challenge to GOD’s uniqueness and authority had to be punished.  But along with the punishment, came a blessing and a promise to humanity.  The woman, the first to obey Satan instead of GOD, is told that ‘out of her seed would come the One who will bruise the head of this Serpent’,  whom Satan had used to mislead humanity. According to the prophecy GOD said, I will put enmity between thee andthe woman, and between thy seed and her seed.  He shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel. The seed of the woman would deal a fatal blow to the head of the Serpent, and the seed of the woman would, in turn, sustain a bruise to the heel, a non fatal blow.

The Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew scriptures Targum Jonathan,relates this prophecy to the Messiah, explaining: ‘Butthey will be healed, (shuph), in the footsteps, (heels), in the days of King Messiah’.  Here the word ‘shupf’ is not translated as ‘bruise’, but rather in the sense of rubbing with a medicine, and thus, as healing.  One of the greatest Jewish commentators, 12th - 13th Century Rabbi David Kimchi, gave support to this Scripture as a prophecy about Messiah’s redemption of mankind.  He recognized that salvation is by the hand of the conquering Messiah, who would wound Satan, the head, the king and prince of the house of the wicked. 

How did Eve understand this Scripture?  Evidence suggests she understood it to mean that she would bear a child who would bruise the head of Satan.  Note that when Eve bore her first son Cain, she said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.  The Targum of Palestine elaborates on this verse as follows: And Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and brought forth Cain, and she said, I have obtained the man, the Angel of the LORD.’  These verses indicate that Eve expected more than an earthly child, and by her exclamation, one who would literally fulfill the promise.  Presumably when Cain killed Abel, her expectations of the promised seed were dashed.  Later when she finally bore Seth she exclaimed, For GOD has appointed me another seed.

The rabbis comment on this as follows: She (Eve) hinted at that seed which would arise from another source, the King Messiah.  Some rabbinic sources then did recognize that the Messianic seed would emanate from Eve.  When Cain slew Abel, however, Eve realized that Cain, whom Eve had thought was the man, was not.  Since Abel was dead, he could not qualify  either.  Thus, the Appointed One rose from Eve’s son, Seth.  The genealogical line was now pinpointed.

Zion Messianic Fellowship, www.zmf.org