I was discussing recently with a friend the phenomenon of the development of the idea of the Messiah as a consciousness contra the older understanding of the Messiah as a person. Of course, notions that the Messiah is a person who inspires a consciousness came up, and also that the Messiah is a person who represents a consciousness, or who presides over a kingdom imbued with some special consciousness, etc. During the conversation we spoke about Messiah in Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism (Krishna consciousness). Finally, we ended with some observations about differences in “Jewish” concepts of Messiah and “Christian” ones.
One of the primary takeaways from the conversation was that the arrival of the Messiah in Christianity is usually understood to include the annihilation of everyone who is not a servant of Adonai, generally understood to include only those who have pledged service to the Messiah Jesus. The contention in our conversation was that the Messiah in Judaism, however, describes a messianic era in which the messianic kingdom brings the entire world to the knowledge of Adonai through peace, wisdom, and beauty throughout the messianic age, rather than annihilating everyone who doesn’t already know Adonai or serve the Messiah at the time of its commencement. In fact, there are even Christians who believe that there will be no defining characteristics of any end-times events. No battle of Gog and Magog, no battle of Armageddon. We will just be walking around on a day like any given other day, and the Messiah will appear, snap his fingers, and everyone who is not a servant of Jesus Christ will be instantly vanquished. It’s these differing concepts of the arrival of the Messiah and his kingdom that I want to talk about here.
At the outset I’ll mention that I am using a Messianic Jewish bible for this. The Tree of Life Version. I have no idea if it is a good translation. I’ve been having trouble lately with Jewish and Christian numbering systems not matching up and wanted an English-language bible that has the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible translated consistently, with numbering that is common to the Jewish system. I do actually like a couple of the translation choices in it, though I have found some problems as well. However, I’m basically mentioning that there will likely be a lot of “Yeshua” and other Messianic Jewish types of terminology here. Please don’t think I am associated with Messianic Jewish folks, though. Trust me, I am not going to ever tell Jews the Torah has been replaced, and I am not going to tell 2.5 billion Christians that they should become Jews and start following the Torah and move to Israel and all that.
The next thing to mention before digging in is that Jews and Christians have a set of overlapping eschatological terms that have bearing on one’s understanding on the nature of the arrival of the Messiah that the bible is not particularly clear on. The Christians talk about heaven, the new heaven and the new earth, and the messianic age. Jews also use the word “heaven”, though they also frequently talk about גן עדן (the Garden of Eden) or paradise, עולם הבא (the coming world), and מלכות משיחי (messianic kingdom). When referring to the Garden of Eden, they aren’t referring to the actual garden of Eden where Adam and Eve lived and were thrown out of, but a metaphorical one, some other idyllic realm resembling that original Eden where Adonai’s people go when they die.
Heaven or the Garden of Eden are where Adonai’s people go when they die. The coming world or the new heaven and the new earth are the state of things after this world, after all final judgments and victories, where there will be some new reality, completely perfect, that will occur after this one and have no end. The messianic kingdom or messianic age is when the Messiah will come, toward the end of human history to rule the world in perfection.
In my experience Jews tend to be quite diverse and, in many instances, imprecise in their use of these terms, such that heaven or the coming world are often interchangeable, so that both of these terms refer to the immediate state after death rather than a completely new world after this one, as has been said of the coming world above. However, since there are three terms, and since the Christians delineate between heaven and the coming world (they call it the new heaven and new earth), we will operate with that distinction in mind.
So I will use a combination of the two sets of terms and talk about “heaven”, “the coming world”, and the messianic kingdom, and to begin with I’ll say that the coming world and the messianic kingdom are indistinguishable for the lion’s share of Christianity, a religion of two billion people. As far as Christians are concerned, only a group of Protestants within the American Evangelical strain try to separate these two concepts with any clarity or consistency. However, given the diversity in eschatological and messianic prophecy, it will be beneficial to speak of them separately here.
In conclusion concerning the terminology, then, there are these three terms, heaven, the coming world, and the messianic kingdom, but for many Christians the coming world and the messianic kingdom are the same, while for many Jews, the coming world and heaven are the same. No, this is not ideal. It isn’t exactly clean and systematized. Since this essay is about the messianic kingdom, Jewish confusion over where a person goes when they die vs. the world that will exist after this one is not of central relevance, but the Christian confusion between the messianic kingdom and the world that will exist after this one is a bit more central. Again, this is the majority Christian position, that there is no distinction between the messianic kingdom and the coming world. Therefore, let me through a couple of ideas at you.
Thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, “In those days it will come to pass that ten men from every language of the nations will grasp the corner of the garment of a Jew saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”Zechariah 8:23
No longer will each teach his neighbor or each his brother, saying: ‘Know ADONAI,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest.” it is a declaration of ADONAI. “For I will forgive their iniquity, their sin I will remember no more.”Jeremiah 31:33
Above we have two radically different eschatological pictures. In the first, we see that people will be very intent on learning about Adonai, while in the second, no one will need to learn about Adonai. Yet the first verse describes a situation where a Jew is going to play some sort of role in people learning about Adonai, and, if you read the context in Zechariah around it, you will see that this Jew helping people to know Adonai is connected to a final victory of Israel as described in the latter chapters of the book of Zechariah. In fact, the description of the messianic kingdom from this book forms the central text for analysis in this essay below.
Conceptually speaking, a distinction between a messianic kingdom and a world to come resolves not only the apparent inconsistency between these verses, but reconciles myriad references in scripture and religious tradition about an eschatological state in which no one will be prevented from knowing about Adonai because Adonai will be victorious and accessible with other references in scripture that effectively say that that a lack of prevention from knowing about God will be moot altogether because no one will need to learn anything about Adonai. Everyone will already know everything about Adonai that could ever possibly be contemplated because Adonai and humanity are essentially the same in that they are in complete harmony. I guess that’s my best attempt to describe this alluded state of reality where Adonai is so present that nobody even needs to know anything about him.
An additional note about the lack of distinction between the messianic kingdom and the coming world in Christianity should be made concerning their actual dogmatic history. Just in case any Christians read this. The mantra of current Roman Catholics and majority of Protestants is that the idea that life as we currently know it will continue normatively until Jesus appears without warning, snaps his fingers, and the New Heaven and Earth are inaugurated, and they will say that this is the historic, infallible church position from the beginning of all things.
However, there is the matter of Papias and some other early significant Christians. Papias was a disciple of the Apostle John, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. Traditionally Christians understand that the Apostle John wrote the New Testament book of Revelation, a marked example of Jewish apocalyptic literature the likes of the Book of Enoch or certain of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that Christians reference in order to determine their understanding of these eschatological issues.
Certain modern, academically liberal scholars have conjectured based on spurious higher text critical evidence that another John, a John the Revelator (a title of a pretty vicious Depeche Mode song, actually), was the author. The ancients knew nothing of this notion, however. So there was a guy Papias who was actually a student of this guy John, the author of the New Testament’s primary source of apocalyptic literature. Papias was written about a couple of hundred years later by a bishop named Eusebius of Caesarea in the most essential history of the early Christian churches that we have:
The same writer also gives other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten tradition, certain strange parables and teachings of the savior, and some other more mythical things. To these belong his statement that there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth. I suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures.Ecclesiastical History 39:11-12
So Papias was from the good old days when Christians were getting fed to lions and evicted from synagogues. He actually spoke to an apostle and author of a New Testament book – THE book for end of the world stuff as far as Christians are concerned. And he spoke of a specific earthly messianic kingdom. Yet this historian Eusebius comes along a couple of hundred years later, after the edict of Milan, and after the Christian Church became a political force of empire. From the days when the Christians fed others to lions, or put them into ghettos. And this guy is going to come along and say that Papias had to be wrong because if a particular “apostolic account” contains meaning presented “mystically in figures,” it can’t be a literal occurrence. This fallacy I will discuss at the end of the essay.
Finally, the concept of a sort of penultimate eschatological stage, the final one of our current world, as a state where Adonai’s glory is completely radiated through the messianic kingdom but where humanity will still have shortcomings that need to be addressed somehow, as distinguished from a subsequent world of absolute perfection, begs one to contemplate what sort of purpose this sort of kingdom could have. I’ll hold off on talking about this until the end of the essay as well.
From there, the next thing to consider is the obtuse nature of the prophecy of the Tanach. There are great numbers of prophecies concerning the final victory of Israel, though these are often vague. They often refer to events in history that have already happened, leaving room for metaphorical and typological interpretations of the texts that indicate that they could be referring to more. That is, for example, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and virtually all of Israel’s enemies have already been defeated, though many passages of scripture indicate that these victories over Babylon or Assyria point to some kind of final and grand victory far greater than simply an end to conflict between the countries of Israel and Assyria. Some of these prophecies contain wild depictions of lambs playing with lions and other such things far beyond the scope of simply one nation defeating another militarily, but they aren’t exactly clear about whether they are talking about some glorious end of our world defined by a perfect kingdom, or if they take place in the world that comes after this one.
This makes analyzing the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible fairly easy to describe as eschatological, but they are not as a rule easy to identify as being a part of the messianic age. However, there is one prophecy that sheds a tremendous amount of information on the subject. Zechariah 14. This prophecy will have to be analyzed at depth, so I am going to have to just print the whole thing.
Behold, a day of ADONAI is coming when your plunder will be divided in your midst.I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war. The city shall be captured, the houses ransacked and the women ravished. Half of the city will be exiled but the remainder of the people will not be cut off from the city.Then ADONAI will go forth and fight against those nations as He fights in a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a huge valley. Half of the mountain will move toward the north and half of it toward the south.Then you will flee through My mountain valley because the mountain valley will reach to Azel. Yes, you will flee like you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then ADONAI my God will come and all the kedoshim with Him. In that day there will be no light, cold or frost.It will be a day known only to ADONAI, neither day nor night—even in the evening time there will be light. Moreover, in that day living waters will flow from Jerusalem, half toward the eastern sea and half toward the western sea, both in the summer and in the winter. ADONAI will then be King over all the earth. In that day ADONAI will be Echad and His Name Echad. The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah. Jerusalem will be raised up and occupy her place, from the Benjamin Gate to the place of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses. People will dwell in her, and no longer will there be a ban of destruction—Jerusalem will live in security. Now this is the plague with which ADONAI will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are standing on their feet; their eyes will rot in their sockets; and their tongues will rot in their mouths. It will happen in that day that a great panic from ADONAI will be among them. Each person will seize the hand of his neighbor and they will attack each other. Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the surrounding peoples will be gathered together—an abundance of gold, silver and apparel.A similar plague will strike the horse, the mule, the camel, the donkey and all the animals in that camp. Then all the survivors from all the nations that attacked Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, ADONAI-Tzva’ot, and to celebrate Sukkot. Furthermore, if any of the nations on earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, ADONAI-Tzva’ot, they will have no rain. If the Egyptians do not go up and celebrate, they will have no rain. Instead, there will be the plague that ADONAI will inflict on the nations that do not go up to celebrate Sukkot. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate Sukkot.In that day “Holy to ADONAI” will be inscribed on the bells of the horses and the pots in House of ADONAI will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. In fact every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be Holy to ADONAI-Tzva’ot, so that everyone who comes to sacrifice will take them, and cook in them. In that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the House of ADONAI-Tzva’ot.Zechariah 14
This is a pretty spectacular statement about the end of things that has a number of details that you don’t find in a lot of places. Yes, it describes the final exaltation of Jerusalem after some sort of titanic battle against the enemies of Israel. This doesn’t bode well for the idea of a peaceful arrival of the Messiah. To be clear, the text itself doesn’t mention the Messiah. It says that “Adonai” will fight. However, it also says Adonai has feet. There are two ways that anthropomorphic descriptions of Adonai are normally dealt with. The first way is to say the description is not literal. This is a common way to treat the description of Adonai walking around the Garden of Eden in Genesis, for example. The other way is to acknowledge that the Tanach refers to the representatives of Adonai as Adonai when their representations directly depict divine action. This is the method frequently used by Jews describing Jacob’s wrestling with Adonai, for example. The standard explanation of that wrestling match was that Jacob wrestled with an angel who was acting in the place of Adonai. For Christians, naturally, anthropomorphic descriptions of Adonai are understood to be the Messiah.
The physicality of the text is stark throughout. The Mount of Olives will be split in half. Jerusalem will be raised aloft. Perhaps one of the most interesting depictions is the description of the enemies of Jerusalem will rot (מָקַק) on their feet. It’s almost like a description from Raider’s of the Lost Ark or something.
The chapter doesn’t just say the enemies of Jerusalem will rot, which would tempt one to interpret the sentence metaphorically, but it says they will rot, or melt, on their feet, as if they were struck by some science fiction weapon or some superpowers from heaven just like in the Indiana Jones movie. This imagery squares well with sentences about fleeing Jerusalem. The whole chapter is markedly physical and local, centering around an actual scene at Jerusalem.
How do we know that the chapter is a description of the Messianic appearance or not? While it isn’t written in the Tanach, a very common, majority opinion among Jews is that the Messiah must be as “one of the fathers.” This means that the Messiah must be a regular guy, a sage or a warrior or a politician or someone who will be the king of Israel, but who will not be fundamentally supernatural. This generally precludes Jesus from being an accepted candidate, as he came with miracles and tales of angels, and is said to be set to return from the clouds with an army of supernatural beings. It would also potentially eliminate a popular modern Jewish messianic candidate, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, from being the Messiah in some people’s eyes, as during his life he was not known for supernatural characteristics, but he has now died and is said by some to be scheduled to return as the Messiah under supernatural conditions. However, the Rebbe’s normal life as a rabbi before he died may be considered sufficient to meet this requirement. Conversely, though, one could even say that Jesus growing up as any given Galilean carpenter could also fill this requirement. I suppose it’s a matter of how strict one interprets “as one of the fathers.” I am bringing this “as the fathers” concept up because the passage above can only to be interpreted as the messianic arrival if the “Adonai” mentioned in the chapter is actually the Messiah acting in the role of “Adonai.” I’m really challenged to think that this chapter could be interpreted differently, however, as I will explain below.
Messianic candidates such as this being contrary to the standard Jewish interpretation of the Messiah as not supernatural makes Zechariah 14 hard to interpret as a description of the arrival of the Messiah because “Adonai” in this passage (with feet!) is raising cities, creating valleys, and melting his enemies where they stand. However, there are some features of the text that make us think we are talking about the beginning of the messianic kingdom here, and not simply some reference to heaven/paradise or the coming world.
For example, after this battle, nations will come to Jerusalem to do Sukkot year after year according to the text. Nations who do not participate will suffer drought, apparently. If this is talking about the next world, there must be nations such as Egypt in that world. There will be rain in that world, and there will be drought for those who do not participate in Sukkot. So there will still be people who will need to be convinced to do Sukkot. This doesn’t ring like the description of the end of things in Jeremiah above where no one needs to know anything about Adonai, does it? If you think a situation of a grand kingdom in which people need to be convinced to do Sukkot as being akin to the situation in Zechariah 8 where people need to take hold of a Jew to figure out what is going on, well, you’d be in agreement with me, and you’d be envisioning a messianic kingdom as I see these descriptions as being the last age of this world, and the second to last age of everything, with the last age of everything actually being a perfect world to come later.
Images of superbeings descending from the clouds notwithstanding, the situation described in Zechariah 14 seems like a pretty common political situation on this earth. It doesn’t sound like a world in which evil and disobedience do not exist at all, as would be the case with heaven or with a completely new and perfect world. It sounds like human fallibility is not completely eliminated in this new kingdom, but rather is just completely under control, with evil organizations and aspirations vanquished. One can only speculate as to the details of human anthropology that would be present under conditions described in this chapter. There does seem to be an incredible aspect of divine presence and power during this time, such that disobeying Adonai results in drought. However, we must concede that even under these spectacular conditions, it must be possible to disobey Adonai and thereby earn drought as a punishment. That is saying something in and of itself, as in the coming world or any subsequent completely different world or universe that is absolutely perfect and absolutely defined by total divine divinity would not include nations disobeying Adonai and refusing to do Sukkot.
Yet here is where things get interesting. So then in this future age of man, after this “Adonai with Feet” has defeated the enemies of Jerusalem, if one does disobey Adonai with Feet, the Adonai with Feet doesn’t send police or armies after anybody or come after the rogue nation with violence. Rather, it just doesn’t rain. This speaks a lot to the position of my friend who touted the messianic age according to Jewish understanding as one of peaceful demonstration of divine ways.
Given this understanding, Zechariah 14 seems to be a description of the end of the current world order involving some horrible circumstance in Jerusalem involving a great battle of supernatural proportions and the establishment of the supremacy of Jerusalem over all the earth as the capital of a great kingdom. I think I would obviously be missing something if I didn’t connect this chapter to the beginning of the messianic age. Yet, it is not an advent of peace. It’s a bloody battle. I think this poses some challenges to the idea of a peaceful advent of the Messiah, but it doesn’t exactly destroy the idea, and it certainly does not diminish the concept of a peaceful messianic kingdom.
I also notice here that while the passage speaks of ruling all the nations of the earth, it’s centered on Israel and Jerusalem. It doesn’t talk about the enemies of Adonai melting on their feet in London or New York, of course, but nor does it in Assyria or Egypt. Both Judaism and Christianity talk of tough times before the arrival of the Messiah, and there is much literature about the משיח שקר (antichrist) to read all around. It seems Zechariah is talking about a violent defeat a of great hostile army at Jerusalem, but he isn’t exactly talking about a world-wide slaughter. Yet the complaint that spawned this essay is the common Christian doctrine that when the Messiah comes, everyone in the world who is not in good with Adonai (via service to Jesus) will be eliminated on the spot. While there are many comments in the Tanach about a total vanquishing of evil, there really isn’t anything explicitly attached to the arrival of the Messiah about a complete annihilation of everyone except the righteous. Again, it seems like a local annihilation of a specific force attacking Jerusalem.
As a final note about the issue of whether the Messiah has anything to do with Zechariah 14, we should continue exploring the concept of whether the Messiah in Judaism is a savior at all. Many Jews don’t think he is. However, there are verses in the Tanach that do describe the Messiah as a savior. For example:
Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, a righteous one bringing salvation. He is lowly, riding on a donkey—on a colt, the foal of a donkey.Zechariah 9:9
Above is a famous verse argued between Jews and Christians, universally seen as a messianic verse by Christians because the New Testament describes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The verse is very commonly recognized as referring to the Messiah by Jews as well. Putting aside the donkey aspect, the verse does say that the coming king is bringing salvation. I really don’t think it’s tenable to completely disconnect the Messiah from the general concept of salvation altogether. The true difference between the more common concepts of Messiah in Judaism and Christianity is rather that in Judaism the Messiah is a political, national, and social savior only, while Jesus is seen as a savior of individual souls from sin and death and godlessness. In fact, due to the overarching nature of the Messiah as savior of souls in Christianity, as well as the spiritualization of all passages relating to the salvation of Israel, and finally the common belief that the return of the Messiah will simply result in his snapping his fingers to remove all those who do not worship him, causes much of Christianity to completely ignore the national and political salvation that the Messiah brings to Israel.
I think this particular Christian interpretation of the Messianic arrival, that of complete, worldwide annihilation of evil on the day of the Messiah’s arrival, may be Christians running wild with some depictions in the New Testament. Therefore, I will display here a huge chapter from the New Testament Gospel of Matthew about the arrival of the Messiah, and we can take a look at what it says and how it squares with the Zechariah chapter and the Tanach as a whole.
Now when Yeshua went out and was going away from the Temple, His disciples came up to point out to Him the Temple buildings. “Don’t you see all these?” He responded to them. “Amen, I tell you, not one stone will be left here on top of another—every one will be torn down!” As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” Yeshua answered them, “Be careful that no one leads you astray! For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will lead many astray. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must happen but it is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are only the beginning of birth pains. “Then they will hand you over to persecution and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of My name. And then many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one other. Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. This Good News of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. “So when you see ‘the abomination of desolation,’ which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one on the roof must not go down to take what is in his house, and the one in the field must not turn back to get his coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! Pray that your escape will not happen in winter, or on Shabbat. For then there will be great trouble, such as has not happened since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. And unless those days were cut short, no one would be delivered. But for the sake of the chosen, those days will be cut short. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here’s the Messiah,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and show great signs and wonders so as to lead astray, if possible, even the chosen. See, I have told you beforehand. “So if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. Or, ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For just as lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man. For wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather. “But immediately after the trouble of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light and the stars will fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. He will send out His angels with a great shofar, and they will gather together His chosen from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”Matthew 24:1-31
So there aren’t many chapters like this in the New Testament. This one is pretty much the central description about the return of Jesus. Immediately one sees some parallels to Zechariah. Matthew 24:15-17 describes a situation where those in Judea need to flee to the mountains. Zechariah 14:5 talks about the need to flee through a mountain valley. Again, this type of description is not going to apply to someone sitting in Lisbon when everything happens. Not everyone in the world will need to flee their immediate location. Not every location in the world is going to be experiencing an invasion. We have again a description of a local catastrophe in Israel, centered at Jerusalem. Readers are instructed to flee when they see the “abomination of desolation” (שיקוץ משומם from Daniel 11:31) in the temple (קודש הקדשים – the holy of holies).
Returning to our discussion above about the Messiah as a national savior in Judaism vs. a personal savior in Christianity, I cannot help but point out that there is no trace of forgiveness of sins or personal absolution in the above New Testament chapter. I am not trying to say that these concepts are not in the New Testament. It is positively dripping with such ideas. It’s just not in this massive chapter that that describes the day of the coming of Jesus. Therefore, I think we should say that the New Testament views the Messiah as a national, political, and personal savior.
So the flight from terror is in common between Matthew 24 and Zechariah 14. Parallels are quite strong between the two texts, actually. Both contain reference to a day with no light and a night that is mysteriously lit. One would be pressed to think the two texts were not describing the same event. Obviously, according to the New Testament, this event pertains to the arrival of the Messiah.
A comparison of the two texts does show consistency between the New Testament and the Hebrew prophets. The New Testament expressly describes these phenomena as pertaining to the appearance of the Messiah, and I think Zechariah’s chapter has to be admitted being the same. Nevertheless, these texts describe a particularly violent arrival. However, as noted above, everything is a local battle scene. It doesn’t describe the elimination of everyone on earth who was just sitting on the sidelines watching on TV.
Obviously if the Messiah is going to make good on his promises, he is going to have to have complete control of the governments of the world, and those political entities who maintain allegiance to the False Messiah and persist in hostility to the Messianic kingdom would be dealt with, so certainly some violence would extend past that local Jerusalem scene, however, with the government of the False Messiah devastated and the messianic kingdom established from Jerusalem, we seem set for a delightful end to history.
And so having looked at a scripture from the Hebrew Bible and from the New Testament plus a few assorted verses to determine that the messianic arrival is a local, political salvation, of Jerusalem, there remains to close out this essay with some commentary about the purpose of a distinct messianic kingdom. Remember, the majority of Christians and more than a few Jews don’t distinguish between the two. The reign of Messiah on earth before the end of all things is an ancient Jewish idea, however.
The world is destined to exist for six thousand years. For two thousand years the world was waste, as the Torah had not yet been given. The next set of two thousand years are the time period of the Torah. The last set of two thousand years are the period of designated for the MessiahAvodah Zarah 9a
Above is not the only quote from the Talmud that talks about the Messiah having two thousand years. Christians should be drooling over this verse, and I am sure a number of them are, as Jesus appeared 2,000 years ago, so something must be ripe to happen soon according to this reckoning! However, most would rather eliminate any literal outworking of prophecy so that they speak only of the Christian churches in a metaphorical sense without application to the nation of Israel at all.
All in all we have an unusual picture from the Bible of the Messiah showing up that surprisingly seems to evince a great amount of concord between the New Testament and the Tanach that seems to agree largely with Judaism against the lion’s share of Christianity. One merely need admit that there is some shred of literal history underlying the metaphorical meanings one may derive from reading these esoteric passages. In the picture painted by these passages, there can be no denying some amount of tribulation with the Messianic arrival, but from there we see that an exuberance of divine wisdom, beauty, and power influences the population of the world to know, respect, and love Adonai without the need dispatch armies of winged angels to obliterate all opposition.
So finally then, we have to address the issue of the purpose of a distinction between the messianic kingdom and the coming world at all? The Christian post-millennialist position as well as that of many Jews is that positive human achievement (or specifically following Torah commandments) improves the condition of the world as such that it will improve until we are ready for the Messiah to appear. However, ancient sources paint a different picture.
It is taught in a Baraita that Rabbi Yehuda says: During the generation that the son of David comes, the hall of assembly of the sages will be designated for prostitution, and the Galilee will be destroyed, and the Gavlan, i.e. Bashan, will be desolate, and the residents of the border who will flee the neighboring gentiles will circulate from city to city and will receive no sympathy. The wisdom of scholars will diminish, and sin-fearing people will be despised. And the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog in its impudence and shamelessness.Sanhedrin 97a
This bleak picture of human godlessness is echoed in the New Testament, actually.
But understand this, that in the last days hard times will come—for people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, hardhearted, unforgiving, backbiting, without self-control, brutal, hating what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to an outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!2 Timothy 3:1-5
Here I do not seek to disparage the idea that personal piety improves the world, or that it can do so in ways far beyond typically assumed means. However, there is an obvious sentiment in the above quotes that things aren’t going to be that great overall when the Messiah comes. This is consistent with the passages that describe the Messiah’s coming as a violent battle, though none of this contradict the idea of a subsequent messianic age of peace. That said, the messianic kingdom seems to be distinguished from the coming world via a purpose of outreach to a world still looking for Adonai, even after the Messiah has come. If there is no outreach, if Israel during the messianic era is not fulfilling its charge to be a light to the world, then there really is no need to distinguish the messianic kingdom from the coming world at all. This would likely delight untold numbers of Christians to no end, as it would comport rather well with their idea that all godlessness is completely eliminated upon the messianic advent. The cost of this understanding is obedience to the notion that all of the scriptures and ancient writings above have no literal basis in actual historical events whatsoever. I cannot abide by this understanding.
To state that a story with meaning must be fiction assumes as the nature of Adonai that he cannot write history as a story with meaning. Hermeneutically, we find ourselves in a slippery slope. The Exodus is a story rich with meaning about being enslaved in a world of distractions and freed to a tumultuous journey of freedom in Adonai. Does this metaphorical meaning demand that the Exodus not have happened? The presence of metaphorical meaning is not sufficient justification for the position that prophecies do not forecast actual events. The Tanach forecast that Babylon would fall. Babylon fell. What reason is there to read Zechariah 14 with a different hermeneutic than any given prophecy about Babylon or Assyria?
If we acknowledge that a historical event described in the Bible actually occurred, or that a prophecy of the Bible describes an event forecast to occur, and then that these events have spiritual meaning hidden as metaphors in those events, then we acknowledge that history is actually written to have meaning. Certainly, the story of the Messiah rescuing a beleaguered Jerusalem and establishing a kingdom through which Israel radiates light to the world via the wisdom and character of Adonai is sure to be pregnant with meaning. It is the fullest depiction of Adonai’s love for all humanity imaginable. Contemplation of this is sure to heal the breach between Adonai and many, many humans the world over. Therefore, it can be said that the story of the Messiah’s salvation of Jerusalem is representative of Adonai’s salvation of humanity. On the one hand, this does not require the story of the Messiah’s salvation of Jerusalem to not literally take place. And on another, this story with its meaning does something to bridge the gulf between the concept of the Messiah as a national savior to and the idea of the Messiah as a personal savior.
You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.John 4:22
Lots of interesting thoughts. Thank you, Jonathan.