The pre-Messianic era, Messianic era, and identity of the Messiah himself are complicated and often misunderstood topics that involve a number of people and a process of unfolding events. While the grand details are known with certainty, specific elements must remain speculation until the actual time comes. In this lesson we will review the facts and questions regarding the coming of the Messiah.
The Pre-Messianic Era
Numerous scriptural prophecies, Midrashim, and other sources tell us that, as the time of the Messiah draws near, the world will experience changes and upheavals. Many of these will be positive, while others will be devastating.
Truth will ne’ederes [fail]… Isaiah 59:15
Changes in Religion and Belief
The Talmud explains that the word ne’ederes is also related to the word for “flocks.” The implication of the verse is that truth will fail because the Torah world will be divided into various groups, or flocks, each of which will claim the truth for its own. True Torah and faith will become indistinguishable from that which is false.
Rise of Atheism
Atheism will engulf the world and religious studies will become despised in the era preceding the Messiah. The Jewish world will not be spared from this calamity – many Jews will abandon the Torah and their faith as well. However, the wise will recognize that this torrent of disbelief is a test and that they must remain firm in their faith. This is the interpretation of the verse:
Many shall purify themselves – make themselves white and be refined; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but they that are wise shall understand.
There are many who are far from Torah and truth, however, who will see what is happening and realize its import. They will return to God, yet they will suffer ridicule for abandoning the norms of secular culture. This is the meaning of the verse:
He who departs from evil will be considered a fool. Isaiah 59:15.
Social & National Upheaval & Decline
This decline in religious unity will be, partially, the result of a general global decline in values, morals, and important social institutions. Because change will advance so rapidly, parents and children will experience the world on radically different terms. As a result, there will be no respect of the elderly or for one’s parents. Governments will become godless and economies will fail.
Increase in Secular Knowledge
This will all be accompanied by a sudden increase in world population. This will be a time of tremendous strain. The Midrash states:
One-third of the world’s suffering will come in the generation before the Messiah. According to some recent authorities, there will be an explosion of secular and scientific knowledge before the coming of the Messiah.
This is understood from a passage in the Zohar:
In the 600th year of the 6th millennium, the supernal gates of wisdom and the lower wellsprings of wisdom will open. This will prepare the world to enter the 7th millennium just as man prepares for Sabbath before sunset.
This prophecy establishes the Hebrew year 5600 (1839/1840) as the start of a new era in Human knowledge. Though we cannot tie this Zohar to any specific even in that year, it does correspond to the onset of the scientific revolution and modern technological era.
Ingathering of Exiles
He will gather the dispersed of Israel - Psalms 147:2
God will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. God your Lord will once again gather you from among all the nations where He scattered you. Deuteronomy 30:3
Either after or concurrent with the pre-messianic upheavals there will be a return of the Jewish people to their ancestral land. The unfolding of this process, whether gradual or sudden, miraculous or natural, is uncertain. However it occurs, it will only be completed by the Messiah himself:
Restoration of Prophecy
On that day, God will stretch forth his hand a second time to recover His people… He will send up a banner for the nations, assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth. Isaiah 11:11-12
Besides the prophetic indications of a national return, it is also a necessary component of the redemptive process. It appears that the coming of the Messiah is concomitant with a return of prophecy.
However, this can only happen when a number of other conditions are fulfilled, one of which is that the majority of the Jewish population must reside in the land of Israel. Therefore, there must be a resettlement prior to the advent of the Messiah.
O mountains of Israel, let your branches sprout forth and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are at hand to come. Ezekiel 36:8
Cultivation of the Land
I will open rivers on the high hills and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness cedar, the acacia, myrtle, and the oil-tree. I will set in the desert cypress, the plane-tree, and the larch together so that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of HaShem has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it. Isaiah 41: 18 - 2013
These passages are only a sampling of those prophesying a renewed cultivation of the land of Israel prior to the redemption.
The War of Gog and Magog
One of the final steps in the messianic advent is the War of Gog and Magog. The Book of Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39, prophecies a war in the era immediately preceding the Messiah. This war, according to the Zohar, will take place in the vicinity of Jerusalem. It will be the final showdown for the Land of Israel, a battle royale for the soul of the land. Upon its conclusion, the Jews will live free of harassment in their land. According to Rabbi Akiva, the war will last one year.
Though the names of Gog and Magog appear early in Tanakh, the exact identities of these nations in modern terms is uncertain. According to the Talmud, the second Psalm is a reference to this eventual conflict.
The Two Messiahs
It is little known that there actually are two Messiahs: Moshiach ben David (Messiah, son of David) and Moshiach ben Yosef (Messiah, son of Joseph – sometimes called Moshiach ben Ephraim). This is alluded to in numerous places:
And you, son of man, take one stick, and write upon it: For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions; then take another stick, and write upon it: For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and of all the house of Israel his companions; and join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. Ezekiel 37:16-17
Ephraim’s envy will depart and Judah’s enemies will be cut off. Ephraim will not envy Judah and Judah will not envy nor harass Ephraim. Isaiah 11:13
Moshiach Ben Yosef
Of particular importance is the latter verse teaching that each of the Messiahs will have their own missions uniquely suited to their strengths. They will not envy one another nor interfere with their respective jobs. Each Messiah will have his own era, as well, with the Era of Moshiach ben Yosef coming first.
All messianic tasks up to and including the War of Gog and Magog will be the duties of Moshiach ben Yosef. It is he who will wage the war and conquer:
The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble. They will set them ablaze and consume them; there will be no survivor of the house of Esau, for God has spoken. Obadiah 1:18
It appears that this Messiah will die in battle, though, and be mourned by Israel:
They shall look to Me because they have pushed him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for a first born son. Zechariah 12:10
According to some scholars, however, the decree of death for Moshiach ben Yosef was rescinded.
Following the War of Gog and Magog, the prophet Elijah will herald the impending messianic age:
Behold! I will send Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of God! He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and of the children to their fathers… Malachi 3:23
As we see in the verse, he will turn people back to truth and rectify much of the world’s pre-messianic decline. Immediately following his arrival, the final Messiah, ben David, will be revealed.
Summary of This Lesson
- There are a number of stages to the coming of the Messiah.
- The first is a period of social, spiritual, and political decline.
- According to contemporary understandings of the Zohar, there will be an explosion of secular wisdom concurrent with these travails.
- There will be tremendous difficulty discerning truth from falsehood in these times. The wise will see and recognize the greater significance of these events.
- Concurrent with or following this era will be a return of the Jews to their ancestral land. This return is an intrinsic part of the eventual return of prophecy.
- The land will be cultivated and bloom again.
- As the population increases and the former glory is Israel approaches its return, there will be a Great War: the War of Gog and Magog.
- This war will be waged on behalf of God by Moshiach ben Yosef, one of the two Messiahs.
- Either immediately before or after this war (after, according to most) Elijah the prophet will appear to announce and make final preparations for the final Messiah, Moshiach ben David.
For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.