What happens when the Messiah doesn’t show?

I am a Jew, and one who believes in the coming of the Messiah, but I am far more interested … Continued

I am a Jew, and one who believes in the coming of the Messiah, but I am far more interested in making the world messianic – peaceful, plentiful and teeming with life, than I am with the question of when the Messiah will actually arrive. In fact, I think that is our best shot at bringing the Messiah. And even if wrong about that, it is surely our best shot at making a better world.

Jewish tradition as a whole takes a dim view of calculating the exact time of the Messiah’s arrival (see for example warnings against such practices in the Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 97-98), although that hasn’t stopped more than few Jewish sages from making exceptions to the norm and offering their own predictions over the centuries. Needless to say, they have all been wrong.

Most recently, there has been genuine controversy around this topic as significant segments of the Chabad Lubavitch movement have held firmly to the belief that their “departed” (as opposed to dead) Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory, was and is, the Messiah. This is by no means the view of all members of the movement, but enough believe it that the controversy continues.

I mention this because messianic expectation, calculation and identification are not limited to any one religious tradition. I also mention it because such behavior is not the province of fools, however wrong they may be.

Such thinking usually grows out of deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and the genuine belief that it could get much better at any minute. That is actually the approach which lies at the heart of pretty much all western, and much eastern, religious thought. Of course, that doesn’t mean I have a “messiah calander” or think that anyone should. It simply means that I have deep empathy for the intense desire to see things change for the better.

The real problem is not offering a date for when the Messiah will show, it’s what to do when he or she fails to show up? Historically, one of two things happens and neither of them is good. Either the believers become deeply disillusioned and embittered, or, they find it impossible to admit that they were wrong and the entire focus of their spiritual lives becomes proving that in fact that were not wrong.

In the latter case, the believers’ world becomes increasingly narrow and disconnected from the very reality they sought to change, or they pursue aggressive means to force others to join them in their erroneous beliefs. The former is pathetic and the latter is dangerous. Certainly both should be avoided — in the first case, for the good of the faithful, and in the second case, for the good of the rest of us.

I am pretty confident that the world will still be here after May 21st. The real question is what to do on May 22nd. As long as those who think that I am wrong about what will happen on the 21st can also answer that question, I wish them, and the rest of us, the best of luck.

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • SFMichele1

    Bravo. Well put. I’m looking forward to May 22 – and beyond.

  • nikosd99

    Rabbi Brad, I’ve got news for you! Your Messiah was here once. Read the New Testament. It was written by Jews. In fact, the most prolific writer was Saul, later to become Paul after his encounter with your Messiah on the road to Damascus.

    I don’t know how much of the New Testament you may be aware of or if you have read any of it. I am hoping that you will read the following verses, keeping in mind that Saul was hellbent in wiping the Church off the face of the earth until Christ floored him. And please, ask God to open your eyes, your mind, and your heart.

    Philippians 3
    1Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

    2Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

    3For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

    4Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

    5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

    6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

    7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

    8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

    9And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

    10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

    11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

    12Not as though I had already attained, either were alread

  • natsera

    Since Jesus did not do what the Messiah is supposed to do, which is make this a better world, with peace for all, it’s obvious that he was never the Messiah. Even Christians can’t make peace with each other. That plus the fact that the whole New Testament is propaganda designed to convert pagans, and full of lies makes it even more unbelievable. Stop trying to convert people, and start rationally questioning the source of your own beliefs.

  • jcrisw3453

    Earth to Rabbi: He already came, like a lamb, He’s coming back, like a lion. You have until your last breath to believe.

  • YEAL9

    The Apostles’ Creed 2011: (updated based on the studies of NT historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

  • Secular

    “Most recently, there has been genuine controversy around this topic as significant segments of the Chabad Lubavitch movement have held firmly to the belief that their “departed” (as opposed to dead) Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory, was and is, the Messiah. This is by no means the view of all members of the movement, but enough believe it that the controversy continues.” Off the 12 million or so jews in the world what fraction would be Lubovichs? Then a fraction of them believe in this utter rubbish and that makes the controversy continues? That statement is in of itself rubbish. Perhaps there are more flat earthers than these Lubovichs. We need to give these morons same attention as we give to flat earthers.

  • Dadrick

    It’s always funny to watch religious people say other religious people are being ridiculous or loony.

  • octobergirl1

    Yeah, and it’s always sad to see any people, secular or religious, so angry that they can’t understand that wasn’t the case here, or so dishonest that even though they know, they pretend that it was.

  • jimward21

    I thought the Temple had to be rebuilt before the Messiah came?

  • telemachus

    Here is the problem with Christianity. Who better to know the qualifications and expectations of the Messiah, than the Jews?

    Either the Jews are really stupid, because they can not even recognize their own Messiah, or they are way evil for denying that he arrived.

    That is the problem of Christianity…. which has in turn become a serious problem for Jews….

  • nikosd99

    Natsera said, “Since Jesus did not do what the Messiah is supposed to do, which is make this a better world, with peace for all, it’s obvious that he was never the Messiah.”

    God said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:8-11)

    So, Natsera, you may think that you know how the Messiah was supposed to act, but you are wrong. The Jews celebrated the Passover just a few weeks ago. The Passover was a foreshadow of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ was The Lamb of God who shed His blood so that we, who accept Him, are saved from the wrath to come.

    The Israelites were told to put the blood of an unblemished lamb on the sideposts and the lintel of the door to their homes. Read Exodus 12. Note that these three locations would be the same as the three points of a cross. The Israelites were told to get in the house and when the Lord passed over the land, He would not smite them as He would the Egyptians. Quite simple enough,,,,,,,Get under the Blood!!! That’s what we Christians do. We’re under the blood of Jesus.

    If the Jews do not accept the New Testament it means that they are still under Old Testament laws and rituals. It means that they must continue to offer up blood sacrifices and everything else that Jewish Law demands. Boy what a burden that must be in this day and age. If they are not doing it, then they have put themselves between a rock and a hard place. How is it?

  • molama

    Well said!

  • MrMeaner

    I don’t have much of a problem with anything you’ve written here. Anyone who thinks they can calculate an exact date from scripture, is nuts.

    “but I am far more interested in making the world messianic – peaceful, plentiful and teeming with life, than I am with the question of when the Messiah will actually arrive. In fact, I think that is our best shot at bringing the Messiah”

    That’s not exactly true.

    The fastest way to bring the Messiah’s return, is for mankind to assume that we have the wisdom or authority to act on his behalf.
    The most dangerous thing we can attemp to do, is what our president described as “creating a heaven right here on earth”

    Of course we should be peaceful, and work to create prosperity where we can.
    But when creating peace and prosperity becomes a coordinated “global initiative”, you are headed toward disaster. It leads to the very type of behavior, that you describe happening as a result of making ridiculous predictions.

    The problem with “making the world more peaceful”, is that what passes as “peace” these days could just as easily be descibed as “forced tolerance” for things God has specifically forbidden.

    Rabbi,
    Do you think God wants to see Jerusalem divided, in the name of peace?
    or
    Do you think that when our efforts to create our peaceful utopia, results in half of the city being taken…as an Islamic capitol, no less, that Messiah will return, and pour out his wrath on “all nations”? (Zech 14:1-4)

    The first advent of the Messiah was instruct in the ways of true peace

    Is Ch.61
    1] The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
    [2] To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD….”

    Upon reading this passage, Christ closed the scroll of Isaiah, mid-verse, and proclaimed;
    “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
    Luke 4:21.

    Upon his return, you can b

  • YEAL9

    And now for some reality:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2011: (updated based on the studies of NT historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/ Christianity and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen ——————————————-

  • huntsblus

    Does anyone see that all this postulating is because of words written in a book over 1 1/2 milleniums old? Does anyone adhere to other written tomes that old? Nothing in the current age was even near like it was then. The Bible was written 300 years after Jesus died. The Messiah was to come to save the then righteous from the Romans. Wake up humanity and stop looking to dusty old books for help and the answers.

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