Anticipating the Messiah’s Return
By Matt Ward
There is nothing at all new about the concept of “imminence.” According to Orthodox Jewish thinking, believing in the imminent return of the Messiah is critical if one is to be even considered in any way a “Jew.” Imminence, so derided today as a modern invention, is not in fact “new” in any way, nor is it “modern.” The concept of imminence predates Judaism itself (Genesis 3:15).
There remains even today within Orthodox Judaism a strong belief in the future coming of the Messiah. This belief in the imminent, any moment return of Messiah is so significant and important to Judaism that anyone who either rejects or even doubts Messiah’s imminent return is to be considered as if they have become heretical.
What a tragedy it is for Orthodox Jews that their Messiah did indeed come to them, but that they missed their deliverer two thousand years ago, a deliverer who was, “…lowly, and riding upon a donkey, and upon a colt the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
Yet one day soon that same Messiah will return and they will turn their faces back to the one they once rejected, with a new heart of belief:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zechariah 12:10).
Though the Jewish nation rejected their true Messiah two thousand years ago, the belief within Judaism regarding the imminent return of their Messiah continues to this day. It is absolutely intrinsic to Judaism; it is the spine that holds the whole religion together. Waiting in anticipation for the any day return of Messiah is as old as Judaism itself:
“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” (Genesis 49:10, KJV).
This Messianic prophecy dates from the very beginnings of Judaism. When Jacob, grandson of Abraham, was old and approaching death he called together each of his twelve sons to tell them what would become of their lineages. At the grand age of 147, Jacob, who was renamed Israel by God, gave an oracle that has shaped the destiny of not just Israel, but the world.
Focusing on his fourth son, Judah, Jacob prophesied about the future emergence of a person called “Shiloh.” This man is the future Messiah and Ruler of Israel, a man to whom true rule and Kingship belongs. This man would hold the “sceptre,” meaning that he alone will have the right to rule, to him alone will belong the honour of Kingship, and he will have the sole right to administer justice and prescribe the law.
Later, Balaam, in the book of Numbers, declared the same when he famously prophesied, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).
Psalm 45:6-7 refers to this mysterious individual:
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore, God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy above Your fellows.”
Importantly, the psalmist here refers to this man who will one day soon hold “a sceptre” as being “God” himself in human form. The King to come will also be God Himself manifested in flesh.
The writer of Hebrews, in the New Testament, confirms the identity of this individual:
“But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore, God, Your God, has placed You above Your companions by anointing You with the oil of joy’” (Hebrews 1:8-9).
The angel Gabriel, when he appeared to Mary, told her that her son would inherit, “the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32-33) and that he would “reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary, is Shiloh, “…and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10 KJV).
The “gathering of the people” referred to here means much more than the simple notion that this man Jesus will one day come to rule and reign in just Israel. The term “people” is in the plural. It is prophesying a time and a rule that extends far beyond the Davidic Empire, instead foreseeing an eternal and all-encompassing rule by Shiloh over all of the earth and the peoples in it.
It will also be a rule of peace. The term “the obedience of the peoples” denotes not just submission to authority, but a willing obedience. This will be an accepted and peaceful rule over all; and this coming kingdom will be built by the King’s subjects, out of their love for him and in their obedience to him.
Jews, from the very beginning were taught to live in active anticipation of the coming of this Messiah. An Orthodox Jew who is faithful to the law should always be living in a state of anticipation:
“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 25:5).
A Jew not actively anticipating Messiah is no Jew at all, according to Orthodox Judaism. Living in a constant state of anticipation over the coming of Messiah may seem like a minor point to modern Christians, but in Judaism it is anything but. It is at the very core of their whole belief system.
How different is the modern church today? Here, we find this same concept of imminence openly derided and mocked as a “fringe” belief by those esteemed as our leaders. Some of these leaders have a global reach.
Individuals within Judaism living without this daily and active expectation of Messiah were to be considered “apikoros,” or heretical: they were to be put in the same category as an unbelieving Jew. The imminent belief in Messiah’s return is just as important to modern Christian belief as it is to Judaism:
“Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed” (Rev 16:15).
The entire Mosaic Law is built on the single premise that one day a ruler will come. Moses, through whom the Law was given, spoke to this when he prophesied about the coming of Messiah, a “prophet like me” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
Moses was specific:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:18).
A part of this process necessarily involves actively looking for and anticipating his coming; because he, Shiloh or Jesus Christ, personally spoke about it so often.
It is in this context, of actively anticipating the coming of Messiah, that we should understand the dialogue between the Pharisees and John the Baptist in the New Testament:
“Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No’” (John 1:19-21).
The Pharisees who questioned John were waiting in daily expectation for the arrival of their long- anticipated Messiah. It is the ultimate irony that, even though they were looking so intently, they did not recognize his coming and rejected the very man they had been so desperately longing for.
The situation is the same today. So many who proclaim a faith in Christ are oblivious to the fact that his coming is so obviously close. Even worse is that many can see the clear signs but simply don’t care and/ or worse, are ignoring them.
It is a part of the growing apostasy and falling away which will continue to get worse and worse.
Jesus encouraged his disciples to long for his return, telling them that he would certainly come again:
“I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
In Mark 13:32-33, Jesus spoke these words:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.”
Just as Orthodox Jews are meant to wait and watch for Messiah’s return, so are we! There will even be specific rewards given to those watching and longing for his return:
“Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim 4:8).
Jesus commands us in Luke 21:36, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
How many are watching and praying that they “may be able to escape all that is about to happen?” To my eyes, not many. Equally, how many Christians today are watching and making themselves ready, so that when that hour does come they “… may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Revelation 16:15 is a warning as much as an encouragement – a warning to the unbelieving world and the church concerning the sudden nature of the coming of Jesus Christ for his Bride. The suddenness with which Christ will come will leave no room for escape, or for making any arrangements. This verse indicates that when Jesus does suddenly come, his coming will be one of judgment for his followers, and there will be some who will be put to shame:
“…Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed” (Rev 16:15).
That day fast approaches for all of us. So just as you would prepare for a great storm that approaches, yet for the moment remains on the horizon, so prepare for this day now whilst you still can – whilst there is still time and opportunity.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).