Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

The onset of the Messianic era

As a resul of various questions on Yahoo! Answers, I have written this short outline of the various scenarios about the onset of the Messianic era. It seems that many people, even within the Jewish community, have an understanding shaped by the popular images fo Christian mythology and the ideas of Armageddon. As such, I hope to try and make the Jewish POV clearer and hope that anyone spotting any mistakes, or finding any areas requiring clarification, will let me know and help to improve this post.

Unlike many end time scenarios, there is not a single manner in which the mashiach can arrive in Judaism- but rather different scenarios depending on the state of the world. These differences in the onset also explain some of the contradictory prophecies: thus you find in Daniel it sounds like the Mashiach will arrive miraculously, but in Zachariah he arrives “lowly riding on a donkey”, in one instance it is miraculous and instant, in the other slow (riding a donkey is not a rapid means of transport) and through small natural steps (a donkey is a natural means of transport as opposed to the clouds of glory in Daniel).  For this reason many commentators, including Rambam in Hiilchos Melachim, see the coming of Mashiach not necessarily as a miraculous supernatural event, but as a natural progression of human history.  More differences occur in the literature, including whether or not there is a war between Gog and Magog, and the oft abused by the “messianic jews”, concept of “Mashiach ben Yosef” who preceeds Mashiach ben David.

A note before I start: A lot of this adapted from various writings and I don’t have the exact references on hand- primary sources I am using include the Talmud (masechta Sanhedrin) and Rambam Hilchos Malkhut.

The ways in which Mashiach can come;
There are basically three scenarios in which we see the arrival of mashiach, essentially they can be seen as the good, the bad and the ugly or deserving, the time is reached and the “saving humanity from itself” scenarios.

The UGLY:
Essentiall this is the case when humanity sinks so low in degradation that it has lost all elements of spirituality, like Bnei Yisrael when in Egypt.  Mashiach arrives to redeem us early in order to prevent us sinking so low that redemption is not possible, just as Moshe was sent to redeem Bnei Yisrael before the reached the last levels of impurity.  However, in this scenario there is a need for humanity to undergo through a “cleansing” and it is in this scenario that we see the war between Gog and Magog resulting in massive deaths and a conflict that ends up engulfing the world.

It is also in this scenario that we see the Mashiach ben Yosef.  Mashiach ben Yosef is a military leader, chosen to lead the Jews and to protect them while the conflagration is under way.  He is a descendant from the tribe of Ephraim and it is his job to save and preserve the Jewish nation.  As this is a time of cleansing and purification, this conflagration lasts for no more than a year, just as the souls time in Gehinnom lasts for no more than a year. Thus the coming of Mashiach ben Yosef preceeds that of Mashiach ben David by at most a year.

After the war, Eliyahu arrives to help prepare the world for the arival of Mashiach ben David.  Mashiach ben David comes to rebuild Israel, the Temple, gather all the Jews into Israel etc.  It is a completely natural set of events and the peace and acceptance of Mashiach as king is a natural thing for the world.  How the miraculous events such as the resurrection of the dead comes about is subject to debate.  Some say in this scenario it is a purely spiritual resurrection, only the righteous come to their reward and they enjoy a spiritual life in which they can enjoy all the rewards of both the spiritual and material world, with those living in the physical world earning their share when they die. Things such as eradication of poverty, disease etc are seen as the results of human intervention (technology in our world view) and the change in heart as one of lessons learnt and being becoming wiser.

The BAD:
This is the scenario where Mashiach comes not because we deserve his arrival but purely because the time has arrived for him to come. Various mystical sources derive this to be in the year 6000- or 23o years from now (as we are in the year 5770). This timing is derived from the statement in Tehillim that for G-d a thousand years is like a day thus like there were 6 days in the creation of the world prior to the Shabbos, there are 6000 years in the preparation of the world for its Shabbos, the time of Mashiach.  However, as we are not allowed to calculate the time of arrival of Mashiach, we can only speculate and hope that this is the furthest out: if the day comes and goes, it does not mean that Mashiach will not come, merely that our understanding is not complete.

In this scenario there is no war between Gog and Magog as the cleansing and purification of the world is not needed.  This also means that there is no Mashiach ben Yosef as a military leader for the Jewish people is not needed.   It should be noted that some authorities disagree and see the war between Gog and Magog occuring even here(with the presence of Mashiach ben Yosef), but see the war as more limited and possibly not encompassing the entire world, the cleansing and purification being lessened just as it is for a soul needing less purification in the world to come.  Others see Mashaich ben Yosef as arriving, but being a more subtle influence that guides the world into the necessary path and the flowering of the messianic era over an extended period of time.  Eliyahu HaNavi preceeds the coming of Mashiach ben David, sorting the kosher from the non-kosher and resolving the outstanding questions of halachah.  The differing elements of the times of Mashiach take place naturally over time- first the re-establishment of the Davidian monarchy, then the building of the Temple, followed by the ingathering of the Jewish exiles and the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin.  Some commentaries see these things happening as a natural events even before the onset of the Messianic era- as we have had to o through the full time and wait for the nature of the world (spiritual and physical) to redeem us, so these things happen through natural means. As in the scenaria above, how the dead are resurrected and whether the miracles are overt is a subject of debate.

Why do I refer to this scenario as “the bad”? After all, it is happening as it should be and as it was planned!  The essence here is that it happens not because of anything we did.  Essentially there is a timer running, if we do things properly, it should never reach zero, we should not be reliant on the natural course of events.  Thus, in essence, we have failed to fulfill the promise and potential we have- we have failed to elevate ourselves to a point where we could ignore the timer and merit a miraculous event.  We may have done something towards this, we may as individuals achieved and become righteous, but as a society as whole we have not achieved- we have not lived up to our potential, have not managed to reach the ultimate point of looking after each other.  “Kol Yisrael arazim zeh la zeh”- “All of Israel is responsible one for another”.  This is not just physically, but as a requirement to teach and elevate all of klal yisrael- and in this we would have failed.

The GOOD:
The ultimate scenario- the one in which we elevate ourselves to such a point as to merit the immediate arrival of Mashiach!  Obviously in this scenario there cannot be a war between Gog and Magog a his arrival is immediate and world peace comes as a miraculous process.  Thus there is also no Mashiach ben Yosef as his coming is dependent on their being a need for a military leader.  Another difference here is that Eliyahu HaNavi arrives AFTER the Mashicah rather than before.

In this scenario events occur miraculously.  Here is where midrash that state the third Temple will miraculously descend from the heavens takes place, here we have the dead awakening and rolling to Yerushalayim for the final judgement.  The eradication of poverty and disease, the world peace etc are miraculous in nature, coming not form human endeavor but as gifts from G-d. Here is where the righteous sit and dine at the table feasting on the flesh of the Leviathan, the light from the heavens visible to all.

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March 8, 2010 - Posted by | Other Torah, Torah | , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Hello. I don’t see any references to current day events, such as Israel becoming a nation again, and worldly nations rising up against them. I didn’t think these were Christian based principals, they are from scripture. Do you believe in looking for signs? I would argue that many prophesies have already been fulfilled regarding the end times. Respectfully, Mike

    Comment by mikeinspase | March 22, 2010 | Reply

    • The post was how abou it would come about. The gathering of the Jews into Israel is as a result of the messianic era, not a cause of it (though there are opinions that this occurs naturally in the first two scenarios and it is only a miraculous occurence in scenario three (The “Good” scenario).

      As for the nations rising up in war against israel- that is there- in the “Bad” and “Ugly” scenarios when the war with Gog and Magog occurs (or not in the case of those who see scenario two as not containing this war). In the “Good” scenario it does not occur at all.

      As for looking for signs- most Jews don’t spend much time searching for signs, its too easy to interpret events to be what we want to see rather than what they are. The attitude of most is that we will know the Mashiach is here because Mashiach has done what he is meant to. Whether or not we look for signs is immaterial- either the Messianic age comes about or it does not.

      Comment by marcl1969 | March 23, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] The busiest day of the year was April 6th with 98 views. The most popular post that day was The onset of the Messianic era. […]

    Pingback by 2010 in review « Musings of an Orthodox Jew | January 2, 2011 | Reply


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