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RABBINIC JUDAISM ON THE TIME OF MESSIAH’S APPEARANCE

In this post I will quote some of the statements of Jewish rabbis who, on the basis of texts such as Daniel 9:24-27, believed that the Messiah was supposed to show up right around the same time that Jesus appeared on the scene claiming to be the Messiah of Israel. Note, for instance, what the following Christian theologian and scholar wrote in regards to the timeline given by Daniel:

But the most remarkable prophecy concerning the time of the appearance of the Messiah, is that of Daniel’s seventy weeks, referred to in a former lecture, but on which it is requisite to dwell for a little: ‘Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to and to bring in seal up the vision make reconciliation for iniquity, everlasting righteousness, and to and prophecy, and Know therefore and to anoint the Most Holy. understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations He shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate ‘ (Dan. ix. 24-27).

Neither your time nor the nature of this lecture will permit me to enter upon any critical examination of this remarkable and undoubtedly in many respects obscure prophecy. It is to be observed that the time of the here to be specified. Messiah’s advent appears It was to occur a certain number of weeks after a certain event, namely, ‘the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.’ It is in general admitted that the weeks are to be understood, according to the prophetical mode of computation, as weeks of years (Ezek. iv. 6). There is a wonderful agreement on this point among almost all biblical scholars. Jewish Rabbis as well as Christian commentators, those who give to the passage an anti-Messianic interpretation as well as those who regard it as Messianic, agree in considering the weeks as weeks of years, and hence in asserting that by the seventy weeks in the prediction are meant four hundred and ninety years. Thus, Dr. Adler writes: ‘The angel tells Daniel that by these seventy years mentioned in Jeremiah’s prophecy, ordinary years were not to be understood, but years of release, or weeks of years, that is, periods of seven years each.’ The Hebrew word here translated weeks denotes merely periods of sevens, without reference to their nature, whether they are days, weeks, months, years, or millenniums; the duration of the period must be decided from the context. So that the translation ‘ seventy weeks ‘ is more definite than the original warrants. Now, from the context it is evident that the term cannot be understood as weeks of natural days, because the seventy days would be only a year and a half, a period far too short for the accomplishment of all the particulars mentioned in the prophecy. Jerusalem was not only to be restored and built, but to be destroyed, and the sacrificial worship of the Jew s was to cease. On the other hand, it is evident also from the context, that the reference is to the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the seventy years that should elapse between the Babylonish captivity and the restoration of the Jews to their city and nation (Dan. ix. 2): the seventy septenary periods of Daniel answer to the seventy years of Jeremiah; and hence it is inferred that the septenary periods here mentioned are not periods of seven days, but of seven years. According to this calculation, the seventy weeks of Daniel amount to 490 years. These weeks or septenary periods are again subdivided into three parts — seven weeks, threes core and two weeks, and one week (7 + 62 + 1); and events are stated as happening at the end of each. After seven weeks, Jerusalem was to be rebuilt; after threescore and two weeks, Messiah was to be cut off; and during one week, the covenant was to be confirmed with many. Each of these periods is to be considered as consecutive,—the one following the other, and each is calculated from the close of the preceding; this is necessary to make up the whole number of the seventy weeks. From this it follows that sixty-nine septenary periods—that is, considering the sevens to be not weeks of days, but weeks of years, 483 years—were to elapse between the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah. Now we learn that such a commandment was given in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus to Nehemiah (Neh. ii.), which, according to the most approved chronology, occurred B.C. 454. Adding to this the thirty years which elapsed before Jesus commenced His public ministry (454 + 30 = 484), then the period of our Lord’s appearance will, as nearly as possible, coincide with the prophetical weeks of Daniel.

We are the more confirmed in the correctness of this calculation by the knowledge of the remarkable fact, that about the time when our Lord was upon the earth, there was a general expectation of the advent of the Messiah not only among the Jews, but throughout the East, as we learn from the writings of Virgil, Tacitus, Suetonius, and the Sibylline oracles.1 We cannot account for such an expectation, except on the supposition that, according to the most approved calculation, the weeks of Daniel were then approaching their termination. Josephus observes that Daniel, whom he calls one of the greatest of the prophets, did not only prophesy of future events, as did other prophets, ‘but he also determined the time of their accomplishment.’2 In the Talmud we are informed that ‘in Daniel is delivered to us the end of the Messiah;’ that is, as Rabbi Jarchi explains it, the time of His appearance.’ There is also in the Talmud the statement, that about the time of Titus the Messiah was considered as having already come, although concealed until the Jews were rendered more worthy for his appearance.3 And Rabbi Nehumias, said to have lived about fifty years before our Lord, is cited by Grotius as affirming that the time fixed by Daniel for the Messiah could not go beyond fifty years.4 (Paton James Gloag, D.D., The Messianic Prophecies [T. & T. Clark, 38 George Street, Edinburgh 1879], pp. 222-226; bold emphasis mine)

1 See on this, Supplement II. to Lecture ILI.

2 Joseph. Ant. x. 11. 7.

3 Referred to in Anger’s Geschichte der Messianischen Idee, p. 86.

4 Grotius, De Veritate Religionis Christiane, v. 14: ‘ In Jesum autem tam bene convenit, ut magister Hebræus Nehumias, qui annis quinquaginta eum præcessit, aperte jam tum dixerit, non posse ultraeos quinquaginta annos protrahi tempus Messiæ a Daniele significa tum. For talmudic references to the time of the birth of the Messiah, see M’Caul’s Old Paths, pp. 387–398. (Ibid., p. 226)

Josephus, Jarchi and Nehumias are not the only Jewish authorities who believed the Messiah was to appear right when Jesus showed up, just as the next quotations confirm. All bold and/or capital emphasis will be mine.

TALMUD

נְהִי דְּיָדְעִין לְהוֹן דְּיִחְרוּב מִי יוֹדְעִין לְאִימַּתִּי אָמַר אַבָּיֵי וְלָא יָדְעִין לְאִימַּת וְהָכְתִיב שָׁבוּעִים שִׁבְעִים נֶחְתַּךְ עַל עַמְּךָ וְעַל עִיר קׇדְשֶׁךָ וְאַכַּתִּי מִי יָדְעִינַן בְּהֵי יוֹמָא:

The Gemara responds: Although they might have known that the Second Temple would be destroyed, as the verse speaks of three Temples, did they know when it would be destroyed? Would they have considered that it might occur in their lifetimes, preventing them from sacrificing their offerings? Abaye said: And did they not know when? But isn’t it written: “Seventy sevens are decreed upon your people and upon your sacred city” (Daniel 9:24), which indicates that the Second Temple would be destroyed seventy Sabbatical cycles of seven years after the destruction of the First Temple, which is 490 years. The Gemara answers: And still, did we know on which day it would be destroyed? It was therefore impossible to use this factor as a means to broach the dissolution of their vows. (Nazir, 32b https://www.sefaria.org/Nazir.32b.5-6?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en)

תנא דבי אליהו ששת אלפים שנה הוי עלמא שני אלפים תוהו שני אלפים תורה שני אלפים ימות המשיח

The school of Eliyahu taught: Six thousand years is the duration of the world. Two thousand of the six thousand years are characterized by chaos; two thousand years are characterized by Torah, from the era of the Patriarchs until the end of the mishnaic period; and two thousand years are the period of the coming of the Messiah.

(Sanhedrin 97a https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.97a.14?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en)

ובעונותינו שרבו יצאו מהם מה שיצאו

That is the course that history was to take, but due to our sins that time frame increased. The Messiah did not come after four thousand years passed, and furthermore, the years that elapsed since then, which were to have been the messianic era, have elapsed. (Sanhedrin 97b https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.97b.1?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en)

מאי ויפח לקץ ולא יכזב א”ר שמואל בר נחמני אמר ר’ יונתן תיפח עצמן של מחשבי קיצין שהיו אומרים כיון שהגיע את הקץ ולא בא שוב אינו בא אלא חכה לו שנאמר אם יתמהמה חכה לו שמא תאמר אנו מחכין והוא אינו מחכה ת”ל (ישעיהו ל, יח) לכן יחכה ה’ לחננכם ולכן ירום לרחמכם

The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of the phrase “And it declares [veyafe’a] of the end, and does not lie”? Rabbi Shmuel bar Namani says that Rabbi Yonatan says: May those who calculate the end of days be cursed [tippa], as they would say once the end of days that they calculated arrived and the Messiah did not come, that he will no longer come at all. Rather, the proper behavior is to continue to wait for his coming, as it is stated: “Though it tarry, wait for it.” Lest you say we are expectantly awaiting the end of days and the Holy One, Blessed be He, is not awaiting the end of days and does not want to redeem His people, the verse states: “And therefore will the Lord wait, to be gracious to you; and therefore will He be exalted, to have mercy upon you; for the Lord is a God of judgment; happy are all they who wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:18). (Ibid., https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.97b.9?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en)

וכי מאחר שאנו מחכים והוא מחכה מי מעכב מדת הדין מעכבת וכי מאחר שמדת הדין מעכבת אנו למה מחכין לקבל שכר שנאמר (ישעיהו ל, יח) אשרי כל חוכי לו

And seemingly, since we are awaiting the end of days and the Holy One, Blessed be He, is also awaiting the end of days, who is preventing the coming of the Messiah? It is the divine attribute of judgment that prevents his coming, as it is written: “For the Lord is a God of judgment,” and we are not worthy. And since the attribute of judgment prevents the coming of the Messiah and we are not worthy of redemption, why do we await his coming daily? We do so in order to receive a reward for awaiting his coming, as it is stated: “Happy are all they who wait for Him.” (Ibid. https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.97b.9?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en)

Here’s a different English rendering of the foregoing references:

The Tanna debe Eliyyahu teaches: The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation;37 two thousand years the Torah flourished;38 and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era,39 but through our many iniquities all these years have been lost.1 (Sanhedrin 97a http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_97.html#PARTb)

  1. I.e., no Torah. It is a tradition that Abraham was fifty-two years old when he began to convert men to the worship of the true God; from Adam until then, two thousand years elapsed.
  2. I.e., from Abraham’s fifty-second year until one hundred and seventy-two years after the destruction of the second Temple. This does not mean that the Torah should cease thereafter, but is mentioned merely to distinguish it from the next era.
  3. I.e., Messiah will come within that period. (Ibid. http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_97.html#97a_37)
  4. He should have come at the beginning of the last two thousand years; the delay is due to our sins.(Ibid. http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_97.html#97b_1)

Pay close attention to the fact that the Messiah was supposed to appear right at the time the Lord Jesus showed up! Sadly, because of the Jewish rejection of Jesus the rabbis assumed that the Messiah didn’t show up due to the sins of the people. Little did they realize that their Messiah arrived right on time.

There’s more:

  1. Hanan b. Tahlifa sent [word] to R. Joseph: I once met a man who possessed a scroll written in Hebrew in Assyrian characters.7I said to him: ‘Whence has this come to thee?’ He replied, ‘I hired myself as a mercenary in the Roman army, and found it amongst the Roman archives. In it is stated that four thousand, two hundred and thirty8-one years after the creation the world will be orphaned.9[As to the years following,] some of them will be spent in the war of the great sea monsters,10 and some in the war of Gog and Magog, and the remaining [period] will be the Messianic era, whilst the Holy One, blessed be He, will renew his world only after seven thousand years.’ R. Abba the son of Raba said: The statement was after five thousand years.

It has been taught; R. Nathan said: This verse pierces and descends to the very abyss:11  For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though he tarry, wait for him; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.12 Not as our Masters, who interpreted the verse, until a time and times and the dividing of time;13  nor as R. Simlai who expounded, Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink a third time;14 nor as R. Akiba who expounded, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth:15 but the first dynasty [sc. the Hasmonean] shall last seventy years, the second [the Herodian], fifty two, and the reign of Bar Koziba16  two and a half years.17

What is meant by ‘but at the end it shall speak [we-yafeah] and not lie?’ — R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: Blasted be18 the bones of those who calculate the end.19  For they would say, since the predetermined time HAS ARRIVED, and yet he has not come, he will never come. But [even so], wait for him, as it is written, Though he tarry, wait for him. Should you say, We look forward [to his coming] but He does not: therefore Scripture saith, And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you.20 But since we look forward to it, and He does likewise, what delays [his coming]? — The Attribute of Justice delays it.21 But since the Attribute of Justice delays it, why do we await it? — To be rewarded [for hoping], as it is written, blessed are all they that wait for him.22 (Sanhedrin 97b http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_97.html#PARTb)

  1. The verses cited from Daniel, the Psalms, and Haggai were interpreted so as to give a definite date for the advent of the Messiah. R. Nathan however, on the authority of Hab. II, 3, asserts that all such calculations are false. The three verses refer to the Hasmonean, Herodian, and Bar Koziba’s reign, but the advent of Messiah is unknowable, Rashi. (Ibid. http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_97.html#97b_17)
  2. I.e., Messiah’s advent. (Ibid. http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_97.html#97b_19)

RASHI

One of Judaism’s greatest medieval rabbis and a hostile opponent of Christianity, Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) had no choice but to interpret the weeks of Daniel as pointing to the advent of the Messiah. Ironically, he acknowledges that Daniel prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman general Titus, and still failed to see how the Messiah was supposed to have showed up by that time.

24 Seventy weeks [of years] have been decreed upon your people and upon the city of your Sanctuary to terminate the transgression and to end sin, and to expiate iniquity, and to bring eternal righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies.

Seventy weeks [of years] have been decreed: on Jerusalem from the day of the first destruction in the days of Zedekiah until it will be [destroyed] the second time.

to terminate the transgression and to end sin: so that Israel should receive their complete retribution in the exile of Titus and his subjugation, in order that their transgressions should terminate, their sins should end, and their iniquities should be expiated, in order to bring upon them eternal righteousness and to anoint upon them (sic) the Holy of Holies: the Ark, the altars, and the holy vessels, which they will bring to them THROUGH THE KING MESSIAH. The number of seventy weeks is four hundred and ninety years. The Babylonian exile was seventy [years] and the Second Temple stood four hundred and twenty [years]. (The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16492/showrashi/true#v24; capital emphasis mine)

26 And after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one will be cut off, and he will be no more, and the people of the coming monarch will destroy the city and the Sanctuary, and his end will come about by inundation, and until the end of the war, it will be cut off into desolation.

And after: those weeks.

the anointed one will be cut off: Agrippa, the king of Judea, who was ruling at the time of the destruction, will be slain.

and he will be no more: Heb. וְאֵין לוֹ, and he will not have. The meaning is that he will not be.

the anointed one: Heb. מָשִׁיחַ. This is purely an expression of a prince and a dignitary.

and the city and the Sanctuary: lit. and the city and the Holy. and the people of the coming monarch will destroy: [The monarch who will come] upon them. That is Titus and his armies.

and his end will come about by inundation: And his end will be damnation and destruction, for He will inundate the power of his kingdom THROUGH THE MESSIAH, and until the end of the wars of Gog the city will exist. (Ibid. https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16492/showrashi/true#v26; capital emphasis mine)

cut off into desolation: a destruction of desolation.

27 And he will strengthen a covenant for the princes for one week, and half the week he will abolish sacrifice and meal- offering, and on high, among abominations, will be the dumb one, and until destruction and extermination befall the dumb one.

And he will strengthen a covenant for the princes for one week: לָרַבִּים, for the princes, like “and all the officers of (רַבֵּי) the king,” in the Book of Jeremiah (39:13).

will strengthen: Titus [will strengthen] a covenant with the princes of Israel.

for one week: He will promise them the strengthening of a covenant and peace for seven years, but within the seven years, he will abrogate his covenant.

he will abolish sacrifice and meal-offering: This is what he says in the first vision (8:26): “and in tranquility he will destroy many.”

Through a covenant of tranquility, he will destroy them. and on high, among abominations will be the dumb one: This is a pejorative for pagan deities. i.e., on a high place, among abominations and disgusting things, he will place the dumb one, the pagan deity, which is dumb like a silent stone.

high: Heb. כְּנַף, lit. wing, an expression of height, like the wing of a flying bird.

and until destruction and extermination befall the dumb one: and the ruling of the abomination will endure until the day that the destruction and extermination decreed upon it [will] befall it, IN THE DAYS OF THE KING MESSIAH.

befall the dumb one: Heb. תִּתַּ, reach; and total destruction will descend upon the image of the pagan deity and upon its worshippers. (Ibid. https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16492/showrashi/true#v27; capital emphasis mine)

The aforementioned rabbinic texts show just how explicitly clear God has made it in his inspired Word that Jesus is indeed the only true Messiah of Israel who came at the exact precise time the prophets said he would. It is only the blindness of one’s heart that leads a person to reject the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God who was to come into the world to save sinners from their transgressions:

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God… At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:1, 9-11 New International Version (NIV)

“But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Mark 14:61-62 NIV

“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” Matthew 16:15-19 NIV

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’” John 11:23-27 NIV

“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said TO HIM, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:24-31 NIV

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