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Mashiach: Imminence and Redemption

Imminence and Redemption

Faith in the Soon Coming of Messiah

by John J. Parsons

According to Orthodox Jewish halakhah (law), belief in the coming of Mashiach (the Messiah) is required to be rightly regarded as a Jew.  The twelfth principle of Maimonides states, "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may delay, nevertheless I am waiting for his coming every day." Accordingly, anyone who rejects or doubts the imminent return of the Messiah is considered "apikoros," (i.e., heretical). Even those who (abstractly) believe that the Messiah will come "some day" are regarded as unbelieving, since this attitude negates the unconditional expectation of his imminent arrival.  Indeed, the obligation to expect the coming day of redemption applies to every minute of every day. As it is written in the Scriptures:

הַדְרִיכֵנִי בַאֲמִתֶּךָ וְלַמְּדֵנִי
כִּי־אַתָּה אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי
אוֹתְךָ קִוִּיתִי כָּל־הַיּוֹם׃

ha·dri·khei·ni  va·a·mit·te·kha ve·la·me·dei·ni
ki at·tah E·lo·hei yish·i
o·te·kha kiv·vi·ti  kol ha·yom

"Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I hope all the day long" (Psalm 25:5)

(Hebrew Study Card)

The sages state that the fervent expectation of the Messiah's coming actually hastens geulah (redemption). Just as the prayers and sighs of the Jews in Egypt caused God to commission Moses, so the prayers of the tzaddikim move the LORD Messiah to action (Rev. 8:4). On the other hand, if we do not expect imminent redemption, our troubles and suffering will increase and increase (the "birthpangs of the Messiah") until they culminate in the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" - עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). Waiting with expectancy is a matter of personal as well as corporate responsibility: "When a man is led in for judgment in the world to come, he will be asked, 'Did you await the salvation?'" (Shabbat 31a). On the other hand, "date setting" or claiming that the Messiah can come only at certain times or seasons "mars" the expectation of redemption. The time of the redemption is concealed, and "no man knows the day or hour" (Matt. 24:36). Forecasting the exact time or date of the Messiah's return may even cause a lax attitude and unreadiness for his glorious appearance (Luke 12:45-46).

But why wouldn't the LORD want to tell his children the hour of the promised Messiah's appearance?  According to tradition, if people knew how long they would have to wait, they might despair of life altogether, or, if they knew the exact time, they might "repent" just for that reason, and not because it came from the heart...

Yeshua said, "Behold, I come quickly (ταχύ)..." (Rev. 3:11; 22:12). It is a mitzvah to wait patiently for the return of Yeshua our Messiah.  Our "inward groaning" for the fulfilment of our redemption is the very hope by which we are saved (Rom. 8:23-24). The imminency of His return should fill our hearts with joyful excitement. Just as the Jews awaited liberation from bondage in Egypt "with loins girded, shoes on feet, and staff in hand" (Exod. 12:11), so too must we be ready to receive our Redemption at any moment. "Thus says the LORD: "Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy" (Jer. 31:16).

בִּלַּע הַמָּוֶת לָנֶצַח
וּמָחָה אֲדנָי יהוה דִּמְעָה מֵעַל כָּל־פָּנִים

bil·la  ha·ma·vet  la·ne·tzach,
u'ma·chah  Adonai  Elohim  dim·ah  mei·al  kol  pa·nim

"He will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe the tears away from all faces" (Isa. 25:8)

(Hebrew Study Card)

There is an old story of the Maggid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Magid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to humiliate him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.'  Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...

Regarding the Messiah's Second Coming, we therefore find ourselves in the same position of expectation as Israel's sons who heard the original prophecy from the patriarch Jacob: "the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until 'Shiloh' (שִׁילוֹ) comes..." (Gen. 49:10). Though Jesus told us about the "signs" of the time (and the "fig tree has brought forth its leaves," see Matt. 24:32-33), we do not know the exact "day or the hour" and therefore must be ready for his return at any time (Matt. 24:36-25:13). Nonetheless, the Spirit that gives life to hope within us cries out: "Come quickly, Yeshua!"

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