Have you ever heard of Maimonides (1135-1204), a truly great Jewish philosopher?— seen as one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all time? He presented “Thirteen Principles of Faith,” consisting of “I Believe” statements.
The 12th was this: “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.”
SCRIPTURE ON THE MESSIAH
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet…..[the Lord said]: I will raise up a prophet like you from among their own people. I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I shall command.” Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 (NRSV)
BELIEF IN THE MESSIAH IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF ZIONISM
In our secular age, this is not appreciated or even recognized.
The term “Zionism” is not understood by many people, and the Messianic element in Zionism is known hardly at all. But historically, the expectation of Messiah is intricately bound to historic Zionist thinking. That is to say, when the Jewish communities would think about moving to Palestine, they were doing it in hopes that they would live and have their being there when the Messiah came in all his glory.
There have been “aliyot” (waves of immigration) to Israel—not large, but significant—from 1240 A. D. to 1840, late medieval and early modern eras. The driving force behind these aliyot (plural) was a “messianic ferment” that cropped up in Jewish communities every so often. There were attempts to predict when the messianic era would begin and the date the Messiah would appear. Charismatic leaders would organize groups of their members to go live in Palestine in order to hasten the time of “Redemption.”
It has been shown that in every generation there were a great many Jews, including communal and spiritual leaders, who were not content with passively hoping for divine intervention in the form of Messiah’s coming, but who instead took action aimed at bringing it about. They were convinced that a mass movement of Jewish immigration to Palestine would bring about his appearance and the Day of Redemption. Moving to Palestine would be the trigger.
Irving Howe (1920-1993) noted literary critic and son of Jewish immigrants, “saw messianism as the most urgent force in Jewish tradition, the force that could send a quiescent people into moments of transport and even collective frenzy.” (Daniel S. Ariel)
Even now in Israel itself, religious ultra-Orthodox folks are prepared to establish the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in anticipation of the Messiah’s imminent arrival. Preparation is being made by “weavers, smiths, and other artisans who have crafted the vestments, utensils, and paraphernalia necessary to conduct the priestly sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple.”
The Yearning for the Messiah Lessening
QUESTION: But…excuse me….Have you ever seen or heard of Jewish people living around you who have become excited about Messiah’s coming. I haven’t. Not until my wife and I went to the city of Jerusalem and asked people there: “Do you believe in the Messiah and that he will come? NOTE THIS: Many of our Jerusalem taxi drivers, waiters, servers and retailers were definite in their affirmative responses: “Yes, I do believe in the coming Messiah.” Some expressed a yearning to see him. And that was truly gratifying, especially coming from young people—2nd and 3rd generation Israelis.
Yes, many Jews DID in centuries past move to Palestine, or want to go there, out of a yearning for the Messiah’s coming….for the Day of Redemption. Yes…but that was then.
QUESTION: In modern times, in the mid-20th century and on, why were the Jews of Europe banging on Palestine’s door? ANSWER: Not because of Messianic hope but…because the Nazis were threatening.
Within the past 75 years or so, there hasn’t been much of a move to Israel to wait for the Messiah. It’s been largely because of a fear of anti-Semitic violence.
What’s happening to the expectation of Messiah? It’s been watered down.
LIBERAL JEWISH THOUGHT ON MESSIANISM
Liberal rabbis can’t envision any supernatural action of God in our world, and so they have changed the conception of Messiah’s personal coming to the coming of a “Messianic Age” when there is universal peace and justice. Some have joked that the Reform Jews in America think that getting on board the Democratic Party platform is to help bring on the new Messianic Age of Peace.
Liberal American and European Jews don’t believe in miraculous occurrences in history. The coming of the Messiah is modified in their thinking to be a vague “messianic age” in which there is universal peace brought about by human efforts. Example: “The idea of the personal Messiah was reinterpreted as the longing for universal brotherhood within the context of ethical monotheism.” (Ariel) The emphasis now of most American Jews has been on the human effort to create the perfect world of peace and justice. This denotes a messianic age without a Messiah. This is a messianism that won’t produce. It is a phantom.
Liberal thinking on the subject: non-literal, non-personal and perpetually-unfulfilled, for there is no redemption in this outlook.
MORE SCRIPTURE ON THE MESSIAH
“As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before Him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion…” Daniel 7:13-14 (NRSV)
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