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

Mark Eastman :: Chapter Six: The Time of Messiah's Coming

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One of the most interesting aspects of rabbinic Messianic speculation has to do with the time of his coming. Following the Babylonian captivity, which was from 606- 537 B.C.E., the rabbis began to pore through the scriptures to find clues regarding the time of Messiah's coming. As we shall see, there were many prophecies which they believed were specific indicators of the time when Messiah would be expected.

Some have stated that there have always been intense Messianic expectations throughout the ages, and that those expectations were no different during the time period of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. However, a study of such expectations reveals this is not the case. During the first two quarters of the first century C.E., more than at any time in history, Messianic expectations were very high. Why was this so?

Was this great Messianic expectation at the time of Jesus simply because the Jews were suffering severely under the Roman yoke? Or was it because Bible prophecy pointed to that period of time as the time of Israel's appointment with Messiah?

In the book by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel, we read about the tremendous expectations at the time of Jesus Christ that the Messiah would come soon. The reasons for this hope are explained in the following quotes:

"Prior to the first century (C.E.) the Messianic interest was not excessive...The First Century, however, especially the generation before the destruction [of the Second Temple] witnessed a remarkable outburst of Messianic emotionalism. This is to be attributed, as we shall see, not to an intensification of Roman persecution, but to the prevalent belief induced by the popular chronology of that day that the age was on the threshold of the Millennium...when Jesus came into Galilee, 'spreading the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying the 'time is fulfilled' and the Kingdom of God is at hand,' he was voicing the opinion universally held that...the age of the kingdom of God-was at hand...it was this chronological fact which inflamed the Messianic hope rather than the Roman persecutions...Jesus appeared in the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate (26-36 c.e.)...It seems likely, therefore, that in the minds of the people the Millennium was to begin around the year 30 C.E. Be it remembered that it is not the Messiah who brings about the Millennium. It is the inevitable advent of the Millennium which carries along with it the Messiah and his appointed activities. The Messiah was expected around the second quarter of the First Century C.E. because the Millennium was at hand. Prior to that time he was not expected, because according to the chronology of the day the Millennium was still considerably removed."[1]

Rabbi Silver makes several remarkable points. First, the Messiah was not expected prior to the first century "because of the chronology of the day." As we will see, there were chronological indicators, recognized as such by the rabbis, which pinpointed the time period, even the very day that the Messiah would come.

Secondly, it was this understanding of biblical chronology and prophecy, rather than the suffering of the people, that led to the tremendous expectation that the Messiah was soon to come.

The Desire of All Nations

In the book of Haggai we find an interesting prophecy that indicates that the Messiah would come to the Second Temple. Haggai prophesied in the years 520-516 B.C.E. At that time, the Jews had been back in the land for a generation, however the city of Jerusalem and the Second Temple had not yet been completely rebuilt. Yet, Haggai prophesied that the "desire of all nations" (an idiom for the Messiah) would come to the Second Temple.

"For thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Once more, it is a little while, I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the Lord of hosts. 'The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,' says the Lord of hosts.'The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,' says the Lord of hosts. 'And in this place I will give peace,' says the Lord of hosts."(Haggai 2:6-9)

This portion of scripture makes several specific predictions.

  1. The Lord is going to shake heaven and earth.
  2. All the nations will come to the "Desire of All Nations," an idiom for the Messiah.
  3. God would fill "this temple," i.e. the Second Temple with glory.
  4. The glory of the Second Temple would be greater than the first.
  5. Finally, notice the emphasis on the timing; "It is a little while."

This prophecy is specifically applied to the time of the coming of the Messiah in the Midrash.[2]

To the Jewish mind, the coming of the Messiah is believed to be an event that truly will "shake the heavens and the earth." This will be the event that will restore the nation of Israel to the place of prominence that it once enjoyed under the reign of king David. The Messiah (here referred to as "the desire of all nations") will be sought, not only by the nation of Israel, but by the Gentile nations as well.

The prophet states that God would fill "This Temple" with glory. Which Temple? The obvious answer is that Haggai was referring to the one that stood during his day or possibly a future temple. We can tell this by the context of the passage. He states that the glory of this latter temple, would exceed that of the first.

Now we know that from an architectural point of view the Second Temple was not nearly as impressive as the First Temple built by King Solomon. Nevertheless, God said that he would fill the Second Temple with his glory and that its glory would exceed that of the First Temple. Therefore, since it did not exceed the first from a material, architectural point of view, the prophet must be speaking of another type of glory.

During the days of the First Temple we know that the glory of God filled the Holy of Holies. However, before its destruction, the shekinah glory of God left the Holy of Holies of that temple. When the Second Temple was built, including the Holy of Holies, there is no record in the Bible that the Shekinah glory of God ever dwelt in that temple.

So how could the glory of God fill the Second Temple to the point of exceeding the glory of the first? One way would be for the "Desire of All Nations," the Messiah of Israel, to come to and teach in that Second Temple!

The rabbis believed that the glory of God dwelt in the Messiah. Therefore, his appearance in the Second Temple would certainly qualify as an event that would cause the "glory of the latter temple to exceed the first." However, the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. Therefore, if the glory of the Second Temple was to be exceed the first, some glorious event, an event of biblical proportions, had to occur in the Second Temple before it's destruction in 70 C.E.. If we search the Tanakh and the writings of the ancient rabbis, we are unable to find the event that could fulfill this prophecy. Did the prophet mess up?

During his life, Jesus of Nazareth taught in the Second Temple. The first time was at the age of twelve. Jesus even prophesied its destruction in Luke 19:43-45:

"For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."

Surely the life, ministry, teachings and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth have shaken the foundations of the earth. Many peoples have come to the "Desire of All Nations" and his presence in the Second Temple certainly caused the glory of that temple to exceed the glory of the first!

The First Temple was limited to a faint whisper of God's presence, a spiritual manifestation of the creator. But, if Jesus is who he claimed, then in him we had both the physical and spiritual manifestation of the Almighty Creator of the universe, Jesus, the God-Man, who walked and taught in the temple. Surely, the glory of the Second Temple exceeded the first!

Until Shiloh Comes

In the 49th chapter of the book of Genesis we read of the last blessing that Jacob bestowed to his sons.

"And Jacob called his sons and said, 'Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.'" (Genesis 49:1)

When he had gathered them together he began to prophesy over each of them. When he finally got to his son Judah he gave a prophecy concerning the Messiah.

"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him shall be the obedience of the people." (Genesis 49:10)

This strange prophecy has several words that need to be defined in order to be fully understood. The "scepter" has been understood to mean the "tribal staff" or "tribal identity." This "tribal identity" was linked, in the minds of the Jews, to their right to apply and enforce Mosaic law upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment, or jus gladii.[3] As we shall see, there is abundant evidence from the writings from the ancient rabbis that the name "Shiloh" is an idiom for the Messiah.

Therefore, according to this prophecy, the tribal identity or scepter of the tribe of Judah would not cease until the Messiah came. Judah was not only the name of the son of Jacob, but it was also the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.

With these definitions in place we can restate the prophecy as follows:

"The [national identity of Judah, which includes the right to enforce mosaic law, including the right to administer capital punishment upon the people, as called for in the Torah] shall not depart from [the southern kingdom (Judah) ], nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh[the Messiah] comes; and to him shall be the obedience of the people."

This prophecy gives specific indicators regarding the time of the coming of the Messiah! The prophecy declares that he would come before the right to impose Jewish law (which includes capital punishment) is rescinded and before the national identity of Judah was removed!

During the 70-year Babylonian captivity, from 606-537 B.C.E., the southern kingdom of Israel, Judah, had lost its national sovereignty, but it retained its tribal staff or national identity.[4] It is very significant that in the book of Ezra we read that during the 70-year Babylonian captivity, the Jews still retained their own lawgivers or judges.[5] The Jews maintained their identity and judicial authority over their own people even during 70 years of slavery. The scepter had not been lost during the Babylonian captivity.

During the next five centuries the Jews suffered under the rulership of the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires. Yet, Judah retained its tribal identity up until the first quarter of the first century C.E.

In the first quarter of the first century C.E. The Jews were under Roman dominion when an unprecedented event occurred. According to Josephus (Antiquities 17:13) around the year 6-7 C.E., the son and successor to King Herod, a man named Herod Archelaus, was dethroned and banished to Vienna, a city of Gaul.[6] He was replaced, not by a Jewish king, but by a Roman procurator named Caponius. The legal power of the Sanhedrin was immediately restricted.

With the ascension of Caponius the Sanhedrin lost their ability to adjudicate capital cases. This was the normal policy toward all the nations under the yoke of the Romans. The province of Judea had, however, been spared from this policy up to this point. However, Caesar Agustus had had enough of the Jews and finally removed the judicial authority from them at the ascension of Caponius. This transfer of power was recorded by Josephus.[7]

"And now Archelaus' part of Judea was reduced into a province, and Caponius, one of the Equestrian order of the Romans, was sent as a procurator,having the power of life and death put into his hands by Caesar!"

The power of the Sanhedrin to adjudicate capital cases was immediately removed. In the minds of the Jewish leadership, this event signified the removal of the scepter or national identity of the tribe of Judah!

If you think that this is a Christian contrivance, think again. Here are several ancient rabbinical references that indicate that the rabbis believed that Genesis 49:10 was referring to the Messiah.

In the Targum Onkelos it states:

"The transmission of dominion shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children's children, forever, until Messiah comes."[8]

In the Targum pseudo-Jonathan it states:

"Kings and rulers shall not cease from the house of Judah...until King Messiah comes."[9]

The Targum Yerushalmi states:

"Kings shall not cease from the house of Judah...until the time of the coming of the King Messiah...to whom all the dominions of the earth shall become subservient."[10]

In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b, Rabbi Johanan said:

"The world was created for the sake of the Messiah, what is this Messiah's name? The school of Rabbi Shila said 'his name is Shiloh, for it is written; until Shiloh come.'"

These amazing commentaries should eliminate any doubt that the Jews that lived prior to the Christian era believed that one of the names of the Messiah was Shiloh. Furthermore, these quotes should eliminate all doubt that the ancient rabbis believed that the Messiah would come before the removal of the scepter from Judah!

Woe Unto Us, For Messiah Has Not Appeared!

So far we have established that Shiloh is an idiom for the Messiah and that the scepter (that is, the tribal identity, associated with the right to impose capital punishment) had departed from the kingdom of Judah, early in the first quarter of the first century. What was the reaction of the Jews when the right to adjudicate capital cases (called the jus gladii) was removed from Judah? Did they view the removal of their authority on capital cases as the removal of the scepter from Judah? The answer can be categorically be stated as YES!

When Archelaus was banished, the power of the Sanhedrin was severely curtailed. Capital cases could no longer tried by the Sanhedrin. Such cases were now transferred to the Roman procurator, Caponius. This transfer of power is even mentioned in the Talmud:

"A little more than forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken away from the Jews."[11]

This certainly corresponds to the same event recorded by Josephus we saw earlier. In Antiquities 20:9 Josephus again points out that the Sanhedrin had no authority over capital cases:

"After the death of the procurator Festus, when Albinus was about to succeed him, the high-priest Ananius considered it a favorable opportunity to assemble the Sanhedrin. He therefore caused James the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, and several others, to appear before this hastily assembled council, and pronounced upon them the sentence of death by stoning. All the wise men and strict observers of the law who were at Jerusalem expressed their disapprobation of this act...some even went to Albinus himself, who had departed to Alexandria, to bring this breach of the law under his observation, and to inform him that Ananius had acted illegally in assembling the Sanhedrin without the Roman authority."

This remarkable passage not only mentions Jesus of Nazareth and his brother James as historical figures, but it also declares that the Sanhedrin had no authority to pass the death sentence upon any man!

The jus gladii, the right to impose the death sentence, had been removed. The remaining authority of Judah had been taken away by the Romans in the early years of the first century. The scepter had departed from Judah. Its royal and legal power were removed; but where was Shiloh?

The reaction of the Jews to these monumental events is recorded in the Talmud. Augustin Lemann in his book Jesus before the Sanhedrin records a statement by Rabbi Rachmon:

"When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death, a general consternation took possession of them: they covered their heads with ashes, and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming: 'Woe unto us for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come'"[12],[13],[14]

The scepter was smitten from the hands of the tribe of Judah. The kingdom of Judea, the last remnant of the greatness of Israel, was debased into being merely a part of the province of Syria. While the Jews wept in the streets of Jerusalem, there was growing up in the city of Nazareth, the young son of a Jewish carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. The inescapable conclusion was that Shiloh had come - Only then was the scepter removed!

Daniel's Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks

In a city called Babylon around the year 537 B.C.E., a Hebrew named Daniel, while deep in prayer, was interrupted by an angel named Gabriel. Daniel had been praying for the people of Israel when the angel stated that he had come to give Daniel "skill and understanding" regarding the future of the nation.

In the book of Daniel 9:24-26 we find the angel's statement.

"Seventy sevens are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the prince, there shall be seven sevens and sixty two sevens; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. And after the sixty two sevens the Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary." (Daniel 9:24-26)

This message pinpointed the time of the coming of the long awaited "Messiah the Prince." ().

At the time of this angelic visitation, Jerusalem was completely desolate. The majority of Israelites had been taken captive by the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem (including the temple) had been destroyed by the Babylonian empire 70 years earlier. The Hebrew people were, however, about to be freed by the Medo-Persian King Cyrus.

The prophecy states that "seventy sevens" are determined for the people of Israel. In Hebrew the word translated as "sevens" is the plural form of the word "shabua" (), which literally means a week of years; much like the English word decade means ten years.

The prophecy declares that Daniel should "know and understand" that from the going forth of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, until the Messiah the prince comes, that there will be sixty two sevens and seven sevens of years. Therefore, if a seven (shabua) is seven years, then 69 sevens is 483 years (69 x 7=483 years). Some scholars believe that at that time in history most of the known ancient calendars calculated a year as 360 days (Chinese, Mayan, Egyptian, Hebrew, Babylonian and many others).[15] Some scholars believe an astronomical event (e.g., a close passing of mars, a meteor or comet striking the earth) lengthened the time the earth takes to rotate one time around the sun to the current 365.25 days per year.[16] Scholars also believe that for prophetic calendar the Jews used a 360 day calendar year.

Sir Robert Anderson, in his book The Coming Prince, applied this principle of a 360 day calendar year to the 483 years, and made an astounding discovery.[17]

Anderson multiplied the 360 days per calendar year by the 483 years to get 173,880 days. Gabriel was telling Daniel that 173,880 days after the command is given to "restore and rebuild Jerusalem" the Messiah would come. Remember, at the time this prophecy was given the city of Jerusalem was desolate. Is there a record of a command such as this recorded anywhere in history?

Yes!

In the second chapter of the book of Nehemiah it states:

"In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. Therefore, the king said to me 'why is your face sad, since you are not sick?'"

Nehemiah went on to explain that he was sad because he had heard a report that the city of his people, Jerusalem, was still desolate. Nehemiah requested that he be allowed to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. King Artaxerxes granted his wish on the spot.

The 1990 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica states that Artaxerxes Longimanus ascended to the throne of the Medo-Persian Empire in July 465 B.C.E by Hebrew tradition, when the day of the month is not specifically stated, it is given to be the first day of that month. So, the day of the decree by Artaxerxes was the first day of the Hebrew month Nisan 445 B.C.E. The first day of Nisan in 445 B.C.E. Corresponds to the 14th day of March. This was verified by astronomical calculations at the British royal observatory and reported by Sir Robert Anderson.

Remember that the prophecy states that 69 weeks of years (173,880 days) after the command goes forth to restore the city of Jerusalem the Messiah will come. If we count 173,880 days forward from 14th of March, 445 B.C.E., we come to April 6th, 32 C. E. Again this date was verified by the British royal observatory.[18]

Here are the calculations.

March 14th 445 B.C.E. To March 14th, 32 C.E. Is 476 years.

(1 B.C. to 1 C.E. is one year. There is no year zero)

476 years x 365 days per year= 173,740 days
Add for leap years= 116 days[19]
March 14th to April 6th= 24 days
Total = 173,880 days!

What happened on April sixth, 32 C.E.? According to Anderson's calculations a humble carpenter rode into the east gate of Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowds cried "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"[20] This man's name was Jesus of Nazareth. This was the first day that he allowed his followers to proclaim him as their Messiah. He had previously told them that his day had not yet come.

Skeptical? Read on.

Is there any other way to check the accuracy of this date? Yes!

In Chapter three of the gospel written by the Roman physician Luke, it states that in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and began his ministry. The 1990 encyclopedia britannica states that the reign of Caesar Tiberius started on august 19th in the year 14 C.E. Most scholars believe Jesus was baptized in the fall season. Consequently, according to Luke chapter three, the ministry of Jesus started with his baptism in the fall of the fifteenth year of the reign of Caesar Tiberius and (according to most biblical scholars) lasted four Passovers or 3 1/2 years.[21] The first Passover of Jesus' ministry would have been in the spring of 29 C.E. The fourth Passover of his ministry was the day of his crucifixion and would have fallen in the year 32 C.E. The Passover in that year fell on April 10th. Remarkably, according to Robert Anderson and the British royal observatory, the Sunday before that Passover was April 6th!

That day, April 6th, 32 C.E., was exactly 173,880 days after Artaxerxes gave the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem on March 14, 445 B.C.E. That day was the first day that Jesus of Nazareth allowed his disciples to proclaim him as Messiah!

This prophecy is one of the many proofs that God transcends time and is able to see the beginning of time from the end with incredible precision!

Ancient Jews and Daniel's Seventy Weeks

Some of you may be thinking that the application of this prophecy to the Messiah is a Christian contrivance. In fact, most modern rabbis try to deny the messianic application of this prophecy. However, it is well established that ancient Jews believed that this prophecy pinpointed the time of Messiah's coming. In fact, many in the Qumran community (the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls) believed that they were living in the very generation to which this prophecy pointed! [Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 1992 pg. 58.]

In the Babylonian Talmud, compiled between A.D. 200-500, ancient rabbis commented on the time of Messiah's coming and Daniel's seventy weeks prophecy.

Regarding the times referred to in Daniel's prophecy, Rabbi Judah, the main compiler of the Talmud, said:

"These times were over long aog"
Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98b and 97a

In the twelfth century A.D., Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon (Maimonides), one of the most respected rabbis in history, and a man who rejected the messianic claims of Jesus of Nazereth, said regarding Daniel's seventy weeks of prophecy:

"Daniel has elucidated to us the knowledge of the end times. However, since they are secret, the wise [rabbis] have barred the calculation of the days of Messiah's coming so that the untutored populace will not be led astray when they see that the End Times have already come but there is no sign of the Messiah" (Emphasis added). [Igeret Teiman, Chapter 3, p. 24.]

Finally, Rabbi Moses Abraham Levi said regarding the time of Messiah's coming:

"I have examined and searched all the Holy Scriptures and have not found the time for the coming of Messiah clearly fixed, except in the words of Gabriel to the prophet Daniel, which are written in the 9th chapter of the prophecy Daniel." [The Messiah of the Targums, Talmuds and Rabbinical Writers, 1971]

In the Targum of the prophets, in Tractate Megillah 3a, which was composed by Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel, we read:

"And the (voice from heaven) came forth and exclaimed, who is he that has revealed my secrets to mankind?.. He further sought to reveal by a Targum the inner meaning of the Hagiographa (a portion of scripture which includes Daniel), but a voice from heaven went forth and said, enough! What was the reason?--because the date of the Messiah was foretold in it!"

In this amazing commentary from the Targum of the Prophets, the writer expressed the knowledge that Daniel's prophecy referred to the coming of the Messiah.[22]

Furthermore, it is well established that the Jews of the Qumran community (the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls) believed that Daniel's seventy weeks prophecy pinpointed the time of the coming of the Messiah. In fact, many in the Qumran community based their Messianic hope on similar chronological calculations. They believed that they were living in the generation to which this prophecy pointed![23]

Daniel states that the Messiah would be "cut off." The Hebrew word translated as "cut off" is "karath." This word literally means to punish with death by piercings. Jesus was tried and convicted for blasphemy by the Sanhedrin and for insurrection against the Roman empire, both capital crimes, punishable by death. Jesus was then "pierced" by crucifixion on a Roman cross.

The prophecy then states that after the Messiah is "cut off" the people of the prince who is to come would "destroy the city and the sanctuary." In the year 70 C.E. Ten legions of Roman soldiers under the Roman general Titus Vespasian destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Josephus dramatically records that the city was burned to the ground and millions of Jews were killed, cannibalized or starved to death.

A final note on this prophecy. This was written by Daniel at a time when the temple in Jerusalem was desolate. Destroyed in 587 B.C.E., there was no indication in Daniel's day that it would be rebuilt. However, Daniel states that after the temple is rebuilt, the Messiah would come and then "the prince of the people who is to come" would then destroy it again. So the Messiah had to come to the Second Temple before it was destroyed! In the aftermath of the Roman invasion the people wept in the streets crying that the temple had been destroyed yet Messiah had not come.

As Jesus rode near to the city of Jerusalem, he stopped and wept, saying;

"If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hid from your eyes! For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation!" (Luke 19:42-44)

I believe Jesus held the Jewish people accountable for failing to recognize that the 483 years were up! However, according to the popular view (not the biblical one) he was not what they expected or wanted in a Messiah. The truth had been hidden from their eyes.

Regarding the Seventy Weeks Prophecy and the Destruction of the Temple

The fact that the Second Temple would be destroyed was undeniably known by the ancient rabbis. And the belief that the Messiah was to come to that temple was also held by most of them. In the Babylonian Talmud (tractate Nazir 32b) we read an interesting discussion about the Second Temple and its destruction. Rabbi Joseph says:

"Had I been there, I should have said to them: is it not written, the temple of the Lord the temple of the Lord the temple of the Lord are these, which points to the destruction of the first and Second Temples? Granted that they [the rabbis of the Second Temple period] knew it would be destroyed, did they know when this would occur? Rabbi Abaye objected: and did they not know when? Is it not written, seventy weeks are determined upon the people, and upon the holy city. All the same, did they know on which day?"[24]

This is an obvious reference to Daniel's seventy weeks prophecy and clearly demonstrates that the rabbis tied this prophecy to the destruction of the Second Temple. Since, in the same portion of scripture we read that the Messiah was to come to that temple, it was entirely reasonable for the rabbis to believe that the Anointed One (Messiah) would arrive before its destruction.

"2000 Years with Messiah"

Throughout the ages many rabbis speculated about the time of the coming of the Messiah. They looked to the Bible for clues and numerical patterns which they felt were placed there so that the day of his coming could be known. As we saw with the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel, God was very specific!

The ancient Jewish scholars believed that God worked in numerical patterns. One of the most intriguing beliefs was the idea of the "world week." just as God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, so the world would last seven thousand years. This rabbinical belief came from the scriptural notion that a thousand years is as a day and a day is as a thousand years in the sight of God.

"For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night." (Psalms 90:4)

This same concept was believed by the early Christian church fathers as well.

"But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (2 Peter 3:8)

In an early church document called the Epistle of Barnabus, believed by many early church authorities to be authentic, there is a fascinating statement:

"And God made in six days the works of his hands; and he finished them on the seventh day, and he rested on the seventh day and sanctified it. Consider my children what that signifies, he finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this: that in six thousand years the Lord God will bring all things to an end. For him one day is as a thousand years...therefore children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, shall all things be accomplished...then he shall rest on the seventh day."

The ancient rabbis reasoned that since God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh then the world would last seven thousand years. This belief led them to speculate about when the Messiah would come in relation to the seven thousand years.

In the Babylonian Talmud there is a large section (Sanhedrin 96b-99a) in which several prominent rabbis express their opinions on the time of the coming of the Messiah.

Rabbi Elias, who lived 200 years before Jesus wrote:

"The world endures 6000 years: two thousand before the law, two thousand with the law and two thousand with the Messiah." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b-99a)

According to this rabbinical commentary the Messiah was to come at the end of the fourth millennium. The Messiah would then be with the people for two thousand years. After that time, there would come Messiah's one thousand year reign on earth. If this chronology is true, then our generation is living at the very end of the "2000 years with Messiah!"

The millennium, the one thousand year reign of the Messiah, is discussed by Rabbi Kattina in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b-99a:

"The world endures 6000 years and one thousand it shall be laid waste, that is, the enemies of God shall be laid waste, whereof it is said,'the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.' As out of seven years every seventh is a year of remission, so out of the seven thousand years of the world, the seventh millennium shall be the 1000 years of remission, that God alone my be exalted in that day."

Later in the Sanhedrin we see another reference to the world week:

"Rabbi Kattina said: six thousand years shall the world exist, and one thousand it shall be desolate, as it is written, and the Lord shall alone be exalted in that day (a reference to Isaiah 2:2). Rabbi Abaye said: it will be desolate two thousand years, as it is said, after two days will he revive us: in the third day, he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight (a reference to Hosea 6:1). It has been taught in accordance with Rabbi Kattina: just as the seventh year is one year of release in seven, so is the world: one thousand years out of seven shall be fallow, as it is written and the Lord shall alone be exalted in that day."[25]

The belief that the Messiah was expected to come after four thousand years of earth history helps to further explain the great Messianic expectations in the first century. According to Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, the beginning of the fifth millennium after creation occurred during the early portion of the first century C.E., during the very life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth!![26]

Summary

In our examination of Messianic prophecy and ancient rabbinical interpretations, we have seen a number of indicators which pinpointed the time of Messiah's coming. According to the ancient Jewish scholars, the Savior was to come:

  1. During the time when membership in tribe of Judah could confidently be traced. (Genesis 49:10)
  2. Previous to the demolition of the Second Temple. (Daniel 9:24-27)
  3. Before the scepter had departed from Judah. (Genesis 49:10)
  4. At the beginning of the fifth millennium after creation!. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96-99)

Remarkably, after 70 C.E., none of these criteria would ever exist again!

However, when Jesus was growing up in Nazareth, the scepter had not passed from Judah, the Second Temple was still standing, and the fifth millennium after creation was at hand. Messiah had come, the scepter was removed, then the Second Temple was destroyed, just as Daniel had predicted.

Why Messiah Delayeth His Coming?

After the nation of Israel was crushed by the Roman army, the people were enslaved and dispersed around the world. In their adversity they began to wonder why the Messiah had apparently missed his appointment with the Jewish people!

In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96-99 (written roughly between 200-500 C.E.), the rabbis expressed their disappointment that the Messiah had not come during the expected time. They explain that the delay in the coming of the Messiah was due to the sin of Israel. Otherwise, he would have come around the year four thousand after creation (precisely the time Jesus of Nazareth came).[27]

An astonishing quote is found in Sanhedrin 97b. Rabbi Rabh states:

"All the predestined dates for redemption (the coming of Messiah) have passed and the matter now depends only on the repentance and good deeds."[28]

Here Rabbi Rabh expresses his pain and displeasure that the Messiah did not come when he was expected. From that time onward, according to Rabbi Rabh, the coming of the Messiah depended on the nation of Israel turning to God in repentance.

Further along in Sanhedrin we find another astonishing quote:

"The Tannadebe Eliyyahu teaches: the world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era, but through our many iniquities all these years have been lost!"[29]

Finally, in the Yakult on Psalms 139:16-17 we find the statement:

"This world is to last 6000 years; 2000 years it was waste and desolate, 2000 years marks the period under the law, 2000 years under the Messiah. And because our sins are increased, they are increased."[30]

These incredible quotes speak for themselves. The fact that they are recorded in the highly venerated writings of the men who were the heads of ancient rabbinical academies is astonishing! These men, according to their understanding of the Hebrew Bible and the chronology of the day, recognized that the time appointed for the coming of the Messiah had passed!

Was the Bible and its time indicators wrong? Or, had he come?

Notes

[1] A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, 1927, Macmillan Co., pg 5-7, ISBN 0-8446-2937-5.

[2] Tractate Debharim Rabba, (Midrasha Deuteronomy) 1, ed Warsh, pg 4b line 15 from the top.

[3] jus gladii means the authority to adjudicate capital cases and impose capital punishment.

[4] Paraphrased from Evidence That Demands a Verdict,Josh McDowell, Here's Life Publisher, pg. 168.

[5] See Ezra 1:5,8 where we read of the priests and prince of Judah, still in existence after seventy years away from Israel.

[6] Archelaus was the second son of Herod the Great. Herod's oldest son, Herod Antipater was murdered by Herod the Great, along with a number of other family members.Archelaus' mother was a Samaritan, giving him only one quarter, or less, Jewish blood. At the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C.E., Archelaus was placed over Judea as "Entharch" by Ceasar Augustus. However, he was never accepted by the Jews and was removed from office in 6 or 7 C.E.

[7] Wars of the Jews, Book 2, chapter 8.

[8] The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum, Samson H.Levy (Cincinnati:Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974), pg 2.

[9] The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum, Samson H.Levy (Cincinnati:Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974), pg 7.

[10] Ibid., pg.8.

[11] Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, folio 24.

[12] Babylonian Talmud, Chapter 4, folio 37.

[13] Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, by Augustin Lemann, 1886, Translated by Julius Magath, NL#0239683, Library of Congress # 15-24973.

[14] See also the momumental work Pugio Fidei, Martini, Raymundus, published by De Vosin in 1651. For a detailed discussion of this reference see The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, preface pg. iv S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer, KTAV Publishing House, Inc. New York, 1969.

[15] See Footprints of the Messiah, Chuck Missler, Koinonia House, PO Box D, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, 83816-0317.

[16] See Signs in the Heavens, Chuck Missler, Koinonia House, PO Box D, Coeur d' Alene, Idaho, 83816-0317.

[17] See The Coming Prince, Sir Robert Anderson.

[18] ibid.

[19] Leap years do not occur in century years unless divisible by 400 (therefore, we much add three less leap years in four centuries).

[20] See The New Testament, Luke Chapter 19.

[21] The day that a Roman ruler ascends to the throne begins his first year.

[22] See also the Talmud, tractate Nazir 32b and The Yakult, vol 2, pg. 79d.

[23] Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 1992, pg. 58.

[24] Babylonian Talmud Section Nazir 32b.

[25] Sanhedrin 97a & b.

[26] A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, 1927, Macmillan Co., pg. 5-7, ISBN 0-8446-2937-5.

[27] See Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Appendix IX., pg. 737-741.

[28] Sanhedrin 97b.

[29] Sanhedrin 97a & b.

[30] Yakult on Psalms 139:16-17, (vol. 2, pg. 129d).

Chapter Five: Messiah—The Son of God? ← Prior Section
Chapter Seven: Will Messiah Come Twice? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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