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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Mark Eastman :: The Search for the Messiah

Mark Eastman :: Chapter Seven: Will Messiah Come Twice?

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During the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth he declared to his disciples that after his death and resurrection he would come again for his church. This belief, called the "Second Coming," is the great hope of the Christian believer. Virtually all contemporary rabbis, however, reject the idea that the Messiah will come twice, claiming that there is no scriptural or ancient rabbinical foundation for this belief.

During our examination of Messianic prophecy we found that there were "two veins" of prophecy recognized by the ancient rabbis regarding the life, ministry and destiny of the Messiah. Several prophecies predicted a suffering servant who would die for the sins of the people while others predicted a ruling and reigning Messiah.

Virtually no ancient rabbinical writer denied that the subject of the two lines of prophecy was a Messianic figure. However, they simply could not envision how one individual, in one lifetime, could both rule and reign on the throne of David forever and ever, and yet be despised, rejected, suffer and die. [Isaiah 9:6; 52:12-53] Consequently, they conceived to split the Messiah in two, creating one Messiah for each line of prophecy. However, as we shall see, one individual could accomplish both lines of prophecy. This requires one caveat: he would have to come twice! Is there ancient evidence of a rabbinical belief in just such a solution to this puzzle?

One Messiah or Two?

The "two Messiah" theory is a rabbinical idea which developed in the first or second century C.E. It's not known exactly who first proposed the idea, nevertheless, it is a belief that eventually became firmly rooted in the Talmud. Did this concept develop because of a biblical foundation? Are there biblical prophecies that form the basis for two Messiahs?

During our examination of Messianic prophecy we have found that every one contained a single consistent theme. Whether a "suffering servant" prophecy or one of the "ruling and reigning" scriptures, we find that there is no place where a plural personal pronoun is used in reference to the Messiah. All of the Messianic prophecies use the singular pronoun.

In Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19 we read:

"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people, like myself; him you shall heed... I will raise up a prophet from them from among their own people, like yourself: I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command him; and if anybody fails to heed the words he speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account." (J.P.S. Version, 1985)

In this Messianic prophecy, we read that God is going to "raise up a prophet" from among the Jewish people. This is stated twice, in verse 15 and again in verse 18. God then goes on to say that "I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak all that I command him." throughout this Messianic prophecy we do not find the use of pronouns, such as they or theirs when referring to this Messianic figure. The only personal pronouns we see used are singular, indicating one Messiah.

In what many believe is the very first Messianic prophecy in the Bible, Genesis 3:15, we read that "the seed" of the woman will bruise the head of Satan. Again, this seed is proclaimed with a singular personal pronoun.

In another undisputed prophecy of the Messiah, Micah 5:2, we read:

"And you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, least among the clans of Judah, from you one shall come forth to rule Israel for me. One whose origin is from old, from ancient times."[1]

Again, in this undisputed prophecy of the birth place of the Messiah, God says through the prophet Micah that "one shall come forth." Here nor anywhere else in the Bible is it indicated that two shall come forth. As one examines all the known Old Testament Messianic prophecies we would find that there is no direct scriptural evidence that there will be multiple Messiahs. In each case only singular personal pronouns are used to describe the origin, ministry and destiny of the Messiah.

One Messiah or Two in the Dead Sea Scrolls

We saw earlier in our discussion of the Qumran text, 4Q521, a reference to a single Messianic figure. In the Biblical Archaeology Review, December 1992, in an article by Hebrew scholars Michael Wise and James Tabor, we find a fascinating analysis of this text.

"Our Qumran text, 4Q521, is, astonishingly, quite close to this Christian concept of the Messiah. Our text speaks not only of a single Messianic figure...but it also describes him in extremely exalted terms, quite like the Christian view of Jesus as a cosmic agent. That there was, in fact, an expectation of a single Messianic figure at Qumran is really not so surprising. A reexamination of the Qumran literature on this subject leads one to question the two Messiah theory. As a matter of fact, only once in any Dead Sea Scroll text is the idea of two Messiahs stated unambiguously."[2]

Wise and Tabor go on to state:

"In short, there is not much evidence in the previously published scrolls that straightforwardly supports a putative doctrine of two Messiahs...So the text that is the subject of this article (4Q521) is, in speaking of a single Messiah, more the rule than the exception...The Messiah of our text is thus much closer to the Christian Messiah, in this regard, than in any previously published text and requires us to reexamine the previously, rather restricted, views of Messianic expectations at Qumran."

These recent discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls, have dramatically changed the belief that the Qumran community was expecting two Messiahs. For the past forty-five years, scholars have felt that the Essenes of Qumran, which was a devout sect of Judaism, were expecting and believed in two Messiahs. However, these new discoveries reveal strong evidence that the Qumran community was expecting only one Messiah!

The article goes on to state that there is abundant evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Messiah would in fact be both a ruling, reigning, and triumphant and yet a suffering rejected figure as well. On page 58 they state:

"There is no doubt that the Qumran community had faith in the ultimate victory of such a Messiah over all evil. However, a closer reading of these texts reveals an additional theme, equally dominant-that of an initial, though temporary, triumph of the wicked over righteousness. That is, there was the belief among the Qumran community that the Messiah would suffer initial defeat, but that he would ultimately triumph in the end of days."

According to Wise and Tabor, the Qumran community believed that the Messiah would come once, "suffer initial defeat" but at a later time he would "ultimately triumph in the end of days." Although not stated explicitly, this sounds like two appearances of a single Messiah! One appearance in humility and one in glory!

Wise and Tabor go on to show that because of Daniel's "70 weeks" prophecy, the Qumran community believed that the Messiah was going to come in the era in which they lived (first century B.C.E.- first century C.E.)

"We know the Qumran group was intensely interested in this seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel. They tried to place themselves within this chronological scheme as they calculated the eschaton.[3] They must have made something out of this Messiah figure who was cut off."

Wise and Tabor admit that the person spoken of in Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy was believed by the Essenes of Qumran to be a Messiah of Davidic descent called the teacher of righteousness. The article goes on to state that:

"The teacher of righteousness, frequently referred to in the Qumran documents, appears to be a Messiah figure of Davidic descent, who is connected by the writers at Qumran specifically with the figure written about in Daniel 9:25."

When we synthesize the statements by Wise and Tabor regarding the beliefs of the Qumran community, an astonishing, but familiar view of the Messiah comes forth.

This fragment and its interpretation point out that at least some in the Qumran community was expecting a single Messiah, one from the line of David, one whom they called "the teacher of righteousness." This belief in a single Messiah was "more the rule than the exception." According to Wise and Tabor, the "Qumran community had faith in the ultimate victory of such a Messiah over all evil." However, they go on to state that "a closer reading of these texts reveals an additional theme, equally dominant-that of an initial, though temporary, triumph of the wicked over righteousness. That is, there was the belief among the Qumran community that the Messiah would suffer initial defeat, but that he would ultimately triumph in the end of days." Finally, Wise and Tabor admit that the Qumran community believed that the Messiah would be "cut off" or killed as prophesied by Daniel's seventy weeks prophecy.

Even more astonishing than the fact that the Qumran community applied both veins of prophecy to a single Messiah, is the fact that they placed the suffering servant prophecies first, followed by the ruling and reigning prophecies. That is, the Qumran community apparently believed (based on biblical chronology) that the Messiah would come during their time, and that he would suffer initial defeat, be cut off (killed) only to return at a later time in glory!

No wonder Wise and Tabor were compelled to state that the beliefs of the Qumran community point to a Messiah that "is thus much closer to the Christian Messiah."

So we have discovered sound scholarship that demonstrates that the single Messiah belief was the rule rather than the exception during the first century B.C.E. This new evidence should not be surprising, since it is in perfect agreement with what the Bible has taught for 3500 years. There was to be one Messiah!

A Messiah Who Will Both Suffer and Rule Forever?

If there is to be but one Messiah, then we should be able to find additional evidence in the scriptures that he would fulfill both "veins" of prophecy. The discovery of a passage of scripture which unites both "veins" of prophecy in the life and ministry of a single individual would be powerful evidence that in fact there is only one Messiah.

As we look through the Tanakh we do find areas where the two "veins" of prophecy are united in the same portion of scripture.

In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, an undeniably Messianic passage, we see the two lines of prophecy united in a description of the same individual. In the Jewish Publication Society version of Isaiah 52:13, we read:

"Indeed, my servant shall prosper, be exalted and raise to great heights."

And yet, in the following verses, we read that this same servant is to be:

"...Despised and rejected by men a man of suffering, familiar with disease...But he was wounded because of our sins, crushed because of our iniquitiesyfor he was cut off from the land of the living through the sin of My people, who deserved the punishment...though he had done no injustice and spoken no falsehood...assuredly, I will give him the many as his portion, and he shall receive the multitude as his spoil. For he exposed himself to death and was numbered among the sinners, where as he bore the guilt of the many and made intercession for the sinners."

In this incredible portion of scripture we see a despised, rejected servant, who dies for the sins of the people. Yet, he would also prosper and be exalted and raised to great heights. Both veins of prophecy are here united in the same individual.

In the book of Zechariah we find another Messianic prophecy in which the two veins are again united in the same individual.

"Rejoice greatly, fair Zion; raise a shout, fair Jerusalem. Low, your king is coming to you. He is victorious, triumphant, yet humble riding on a ass, on a donkey foaled by a she-ass. He shall banish chariots from Ephraim and horses from Jerusalem; the warrior's bow shall be banished. He shall call on the nations to surrender and his rule shall extend from sea to sea and from ocean to lands end." (Zechariah 9:9-10, J. P. S. Version, 1985)

Here the Messiah is portrayed as a victorious, triumphant king, one to whom the nations will surrender. His rule shall extend from sea to sea, and yet, his arrival will be lowly, riding on a donkey.

Finally, in the book of Daniel 9:24-27, we are told of the specific activities of the coming Messiah. In the Septuagint version[4] we read that he would come to the rebuilt temple, and through his life there would be "an end of sins," "transgressions would be sealed up," he would "blot out iniquities," "bring in everlasting righteousness," "seal up vision and prophecy." However, we discover that he would be "cut off" ("karath" in Hebrew) which is to be killed, thrust through or pierced. The Septuagint translates this word as, "shall be destroyed." The person being "destroyed" is specifically referred to as "the Christ," which as we have seen is the Greek translation for the Hebrew word Mashiyach, the Messiah.

Here again, we see the Messianic figure described in exalted terms, accomplishing great things, and yet being killed as well, therefore, fulfilling both veins of prophecy in the same portion of scripture!

One Appearance or Two?

Since there is no scriptural evidence for the two Messiah theory, and since it can be shown that both "veins" of prophecy can be united in a single figure, we must now explain how the two veins of prophecy can be fulfilled in the life of one individual.

How can someone both rule and reign on David's throne "henceforth and forevermore," as Isaiah 9:6 states, and yet, be despised and rejected and die ultimately for the sins of the people? This question is surely a problem that the ancient rabbis struggled over for centuries.

Could the Messiah, in a single appearance, both rule and reign on the throne of David forever and ever, and yet be despised and rejected? Or must he come twice? To answer this question, we must look at both of these lines of Messianic prophecy and logically determine which one must occur first.

When we examine the prophecies of the ruling and reigning Messiah we discover that his reign will last forever and ever. Consequently, we see that this particular line of prophecy has no ending, however it does have a beginning. Therefore, if this line of prophecy is to be fulfilled in the life of a single individual, one who will also suffer, be rejected and die, then this everlasting triumph must logically be fulfilled last. The ruling and reigning prophecies could not be fulfilled first, only to be interrupted by the rejection, suffering and death of the individual, because this would nullify the prophetic theme that the ruling and reigning would be forever and ever and ever.

Since, the ruling and reigning prophecies are to continue without interruption, it therefore follows, that if there is one Messiah, the suffering servant line of prophecy must be fulfilled first. It can not logically occur the other way around. This was unforeseen by most of the ancient rabbis, so they interpretively split the Messiah in two, one Messiah for each vein of prophecy.

Since, the Messiah's ruling and reigning mission must come after his rejection, suffering and death, is it logical that both of these veins of prophecy could be fulfilled in a single appearing of a single individual? The answer is obviously no. The Messiah could not come to the earth, be despised, be rejected, suffer and die, and yet rule and reign forever and ever in a single appearance. However, he could accomplish this by appearing twice! In fact, if there is only one Messiah (as the evidence from scripture and the Dead Sea Scrolls shows us) he must accomplish these two destinies in two appearances!

Is there any scriptural evidence that the Messiah would come twice?

The Prophet Hosea and the Two Appearances of Messiah

In the book of Hosea, we see a fascinating prophecy regarding the Messiah and the eventual restoration of the nation of Israel. In Hosea 5:15-6:2, we read:

"I will return again to my place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek my face; in their affliction they will diligently seek me. Come and let us return to the Lord; for he has torn but he will heal us; he has stricken but he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live in his sight."[5]

In this remarkable prophecy, we see a rather peculiar statement by God. He states, "I will return again to my place till they acknowledge their offense." What could this possibly mean? Where is God returning from?

In the Bible we are taught that God is a spirit being whose dwelling place is in heaven. Yet, we are also taught that God is omnipresent, existing at all places at once. Prior to this passage, God had delivered a sharp rebuke to the Israelites for their unfaithfulness. God then proceeds to declare that because of their unfaithfulness, "I will return to my place till they acknowledge their offense."

The context of this scripture seems to indicate that God himself visited planet earth at a finite point in time and then returned to his place! The passage then implies that God would return to the people after they acknowledge their offense.

This, however, presents an interesting problem. In order for God to return to his place (heaven) he would have to first leave it. It is clear that God, in his omnipresent state, couldn't really leave heaven. However, if he manifested himself in a physical body (in the person of the Messiah) he could leave and "return to [his] place," only to return again a second time to the people.

After returning to what we presume to be heaven, the passage indicates that God would return to the people of Israel when they acknowledge their offense. The word "offense" is singular. What singular offense might compel God to withdraw himself from the people of Israel and make such a requirement.

The rejection of the Messiah, the physical manifestation of God himself, might be enough to warrant such a response.

As we have seen in this discussion there is no evidence in the scriptures for two separate Messiahs. In fact, new evidence points out that the Qumran community believed in a single Messiah. We have seen that the Messianic prophecies use singular personal pronouns and not plural ones. We have seen that there is evidence that both lines of prophecy can be united into the life and destiny of a single individual who comes not once, but twice to planet earth. This is exactly what the New Testament records regarding the life, mission, ministry and destiny of Jesus of Nazareth.

Did some ancient rabbis believe that the Messiah would come twice?

Yes! Some defintely did.

The Book of Ruth:The Shadows of Two Messianic Appearances

The book of Ruth is perhaps one of the most overlooked books in the Tanakh, yet it is one of the most fascinating prophetic books in the entire Bible. On the surface it is a love story about a moabite named Ruth, and her marriage to a man from Bethlehem named Boaz. However, rabbinical and Christian scholars find many Messianic "types" or shadows just below the surface of the text.[6],[7]For our purpose we will examine an ancient Jewish view of the book that ties it to the Messiah and his coming.

In the Midrash on the book of Ruth there are several fascinating quotes by the rabbis that demonstrate the belief that Messiah would appear on the scene twice.

In the second chapter of the text we read the story of Ruth and her introduction to Boaz. She had been gleaning grain in a field when Boaz meets her and tells her that he has heard of her faithfulness to her mother-in-law Naomi, one of his near relatives. During their first meal together we read:

"And at mealtime Boaz said to her, 'Come this way, eat from the bread and dip your morsel in the sour wine.'"

One of the commentators in the Midrash Ruth Rabbah states that:

"'Come this way', refers to King Messiah, 'Eat from the bread', means the bread of royalty, and 'dip your morsel in the sour wine', refers to the sufferings of the Messiah, as it is written, 'but he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities'" (a reference to Isaiah 53:5).

After accepting Boaz' invitation, Ruth:

"Sat beside the reapers; and he [Boaz] served her roasted grain; and she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over."

According to the Midrash;

"'She sat beside the reapers,'...means that for a short while the kingship will be snatched away from the Messiah, as it is written, 'For I will gather all nations to Jerusalem to wage war' (Zechariah 14:2), while the passage, 'and he served her roasted grain', means that the kingship will be restored to him, as it is written, 'He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth' (Isaiah 11:4)."[8]

So, according to this portion of the Midrash, the Messiah will come on the scene only to suffer ('dip your morsel in the sour wine'), then he will have the kingdom temporarily taken from him and he will withdraw, ("for a short while the kingship will be snatched away from the Messiah"). Then after an unspecified period of time the Messiah will return in power and glory ("the kingship of Messiah will be restored to him.").

In another startling comment in the Midrash Ruth Rabbah, we find Rabbi Berachya, speaking in the name of Rabbi Levi declaring:

"It will be with the last deliverer,(the Messiah), as with the first (Moses); as the first deliverer revealed himself first to the Israelites and then withdrew, so also will the last deliverer reveal himself to the Israelites and then withdraw for a while."[9]

The fact that rabbis of the Midrashim, men who were among the most respected Jewish scholars of their time, believed that the Messiah would come to the people of Israel, have his kingdom temporarily removed, suffer, and then return in glory to regain his kingdom, is nothing less than astonishing!

"Our Righteous Anointed is Departed!"

Earlier we read this fascinating observation from the Rosh Hashanah prayer book regarding the coming of the Messiah, his suffering and his reappearance "as a new creature."

"Our righteous anointed is departed from us: horror has seized us, and we have none to justify us. He has borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He bears our sins on his shoulders, that we may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound, at the time that the eternal will create the Messiah as a new creature. O bring him up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time on mount Lebanon, by the hand of Yinon."[10],[11]

We examined this prayer in some detail in chapter two, however, there are some aspects to this ancient prayer that are pertinent to this chapter.

According to this prayer, the Messiah would apparently depart after an initial appearance ("Our righteous anointed is departed from us: horror has seized us, and we have none to justify us") the context of this prayer seems to indicate that the Messiah has departed as a result of some kind of suffering ("He has borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He bears our sins on his shoulders, that we may find pardon for our iniquities").

Finally, as a result of the wounding and suffering of the Messiah, the people of God would be "healed" and justified in the sight of God. This will happen when he, the Messiah (called Yinon) reappears as "a new creature" ("We shall be healed by his wound, at the time that the eternal will create the Messiah as a new creature").

Messiah Will Come Twice

In the Midrashic commentaries on the book of Ruth as well as the astonishing prayer just reviewed, we find the belief that the Messiah would come initially to the people and nation of Israel, and yet would be wounded, suffer and apparently depart as a result of this suffering. Following these events, he would return in glory "as a new creature" to heal the people of God and "assemble [them] the second time on Mount Lebanon."

This belief in the two comings of the Messiah as well as the justification of the people through his suffering, is exactly what Jesus of Nazareth claimed would be accomplished through his life!

Truly, Jesus' qualifications for the title Messiah are compatible with ancient rabbinical beliefs as well as the scriptures we have examined. The problem of the two "veins" of prophecy are solved when we realize that both missions are achievable by two appearances of one individual. His first appearance would be characterized by humility and suffering, his second appearance in glory and majesty.

Jesus of Nazareth is the only person in history that can bridge this gap and solve this puzzle.

The Messiah will come TWICE!


[1] Micah 5:2 Jewish Publication Society, 1985.

[2] Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1992, page 60-61.

[3] End of the world which they associate with the coming of the Messiah.

[4] Translated from Hebrew to Greek in 285-247 B.C.E.

[5] Hosea 5:15-6:2.

[6] See The Book of Ruth, Chuck Missler, Koinonia House, PO box Coeur d' Alene, Idaho, 83816-0317

[7] Types in the Old Testament, Ada Habershon.

[8] This entire discussion is adapted from The Messianic Hope, Arthur Kac, pg. 77-78, Baker Books, 1975 ISBN 0-8010-5362-5.

[9] Midrash Ruth Rabbah 5:6 was compiled in the ninth century A.D. but based on much older material.

[10] Yinon is one of the ancient rabbinical names for the Messiah.

[11] See The Messianic Hope, Arthur Kac, The chapter of the Suffering Servant.

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