By Tony Pearce
One day, I was deep in discussion with my Jewish friend when he exclaimed in an exasperated tone, “Your Jesus can’t be the Messiah, because there is no peace in the world!”
I responded that Yeshua came the first time to provide atonement for our sins in fulfillment of Scripture’s prophecies of the Suffering Servant—and that He will soon come again to judge the world in righteousness and bring in the promised age of peace and justice.
My friend challenged me, “Where did you get this idea of a ‘Second Coming’? Was it because Jesus did not succeed the first time that he needs another try? The Bible doesn’t say anything about the Messiah coming twice.”
Perhaps my friend had been reading Rabbi Kaplan’s book, The Real Messiah? which states, “The main task of the Messiah was to bring the world back to God and to abolish all war, suffering and injustice from the world. Clearly, Jesus did not accomplish this. In order to get around this failure, Christians invented the doctrine of the ‘Second Coming.’ All the prophecies that Jesus did not fulfill the first time are supposed to be taken care of the second time around. However the Jewish Bible offers absolutely no evidence to support the Christian doctrine of a ‘Second Coming.’”
This is a traditional Jewish response to the question of whether Yeshua could be the promised Messiah. It is obvious that there has not been universal peace in the days since Yeshua came—but does this necessarily mean that Yeshua is not the Messiah prophesied in the Jewish Bible? Let’s consider the question.
A Problem for Rabbinic Judaism
If we look to rabbinic tradition, we can see that the rabbis too have had difficulties with this issue. Although the prophets painted a clear picture of the Messiah reigning and bringing about the redemption of Israel, the end of war and universal knowledge of God (Isaiah 2:1-4, Isaiah 11:1-9, Ezekiel 40-48, Daniel 2:44, Zechariah 14), there is another set of prophecies that speak of the Messiah suffering as an atonement for sin (Psalm 22, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Daniel 9:25-26, Zechariah 12:10). How do the rabbis reconcile these two seemingly contradictory depictions of Messiah?
One intriguing possibility, which can be traced to the third or fourth century CE, is that there are two Messiahs—one called “Messiah son of Joseph,” who suffers and dies; the other called “Messiah son of David,” who rules and reigns. The suffering Messiah is given the name “Son of Joseph” because He suffers rejection and humiliation like Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 37-41). The reigning Messiah is given the name “Son of David” because He reigns in triumph like King David.
An Alternative View
So are there two Messiahs—or do the Prophets describe the same Messiah who is coming on two different occasions with two different aims? Let us examine the latter view.
The accounts of Yeshua’s life in the New Testament point to the conclusion that He is the Messiah who fulfills all the prophecies. The New Testament writers also teach that Yeshua will come again in person at some unspecified date in the future. The New Testament, therefore, teaches two comings of the same Messiah. This is not just an incidental doctrine, but is integral to the whole message of the New Testament.
This does not imply that Yeshua failed the first time and is coming back to try again. Rather, it points to different aims for each coming. Yeshua fulfilled the Messianic prophecies of the Suffering Servant through His sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. He fulfilled other Messianic prophecies as well: He was born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and He preached a message of good news to the poor, bringing release to those in captivity to sin and sickness (Isaiah 61:1-2). He was executed as a transgressor—although without sin Himself—prayed for those responsible for His death, was buried in a rich man’s tomb and rose again from the dead on the third day (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12:10, Psalm 16:8-11).
When the Messiah Yeshua returns in power and glory, He will be revealed as the longed-for Messiah, Son of David. He will bring an end to the conflict which will be raging over Jerusalem, threatening the world with destruction (Zechariah 12-14, Revelation 16-19). He will destroy the world system responsible for corruption and wickedness on earth and for the end-time tribulation (Jeremiah 51, Revelation 18) and He will set up a godly kingdom from Jerusalem, bringing peace and justice to the nations of the world (Isaiah 2:1-4, Revelation 20:4-6).
The fact that Yeshua did not bring lasting peace at His first coming does not disprove the possibility that He is indeed the promised One of Israel. Rather, it is part of God’s plan that Messiah would come once to die for our sin, bringing salvation and forgiveness to all who believe, and later return as Judge and King. The view of two comings of Messiah with two distinct aims as described in the New Testament fits perfectly with the two distinct “portraits” of the suffering and reigning Messiah found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Yeshua Himself stated that His first coming was not the “end of the story.” He said,
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18).
There is one Messiah who would come twice—and that Second Coming could be very soon!