Messianic Expectations:
Prepare the Way of the Lord
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the LORD:
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted.
And every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The crooked places shall be made straight,
And the rough places smooth;
The glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken"
Isaiah 40:3-5

      A scripture passage that is often puzzling to people occurs at the point in time when the imprisoned John the Baptist {Yochanan the Immerser) sent two of his disciples to Yeshua to ask the following question:

    "And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we Book for another?'"
(Matt. 11:2-3)

    The first question that must be asked about this passage is; why would Yochanan (Yoh-cah-nahn) even question whether or not Yeshua was the Messiah? After all, Yochanan had already testified to that fact when Yeshua came to be immersed. Did Yochanan suddenly nave doubts about Yeshua? Was there something that Yeshua was doing or teaching that made him wonder if he should look for a different Messiah?
    In order to answer this question, let us ponder for a few minutes, the conception, birth, and teachings of Yochanan the Immerser, to see if we can determine why he had this sudden need to question Yeshua in this manner.

~ The Parents of Yochanan ~

    "There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."
(Luke 1:5-6)

    Here we find a priest named Zacharias, who's wife is also a descendant of Aaron. The Torah does not require that the wife of an ordinary priest also be from the lineage of Aaron, or even from the tribe of Lev). However, it was considered a good deed (mitzvah) for a priest to marry within the tribe of Levi, and especially within the family of Aaron.

    "And the LORD said to Moses, 'Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ...
    "'They shall not take a wife who is a harlot or a defiled woman, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for the priest is holy to his God.'"
(Lev. 21:1,7)

    However, the marriage qualifications for the High Priest were more strict:

    "'And he who is the high priest among his brethren,...
    "'... shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow or a divorced woman or a defiled woman or a harlot—these he shall not marry; but he shall take a virgin of his own people as wife.'"
(Lev. 21:10,13-14)

    Not only was Zacharias a legal Temple priest, the scriptures tell us that both he and his wife, Elizabeth, were 'righteous' and 'blameless' before God. They were strict observers of the Torah instructions concerning their manner of living and their obligations as a priestly family. Luke tells us they walked "...in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord..."

    This is a significant fact, since the priesthood at this time was known to be corrupt, especially at the highest level. 'the office of High Priest, which was supposed to be hereditary — passing through the eldest son — was at that time purchased each year from the Romans, having been sold to the highest bidder. The Romans had seized the garments of the High Priest and they only allowed him to wear them on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), By this means, the Romans controlled both the High Priest, and through him. to some degree, the Temple itself. Because the High Priest could not wear the garments on a daily basis, the Apostle Paul did not know that he was standing before the High Priest when Paul took issue with him for having him (Paul) struck on the mouth. (See Acts 26:1-5).
    The High Priest during the year of Yeshua's crucifixion was Caiaphas. However, another High Priest, Annas, is also mentioned in the gospel accounts and in Jewish history. Who. then. was the functioning High Priest at that time? Indeed it was Caiaphas, who was the son-in-law of Annas. However, Annas had also sensed as High Priest at an earlier time. Even as past American presidents are still called Mr. President after they leave office; so Annas was still referred to as High Priest even though he was no longer in that position. Not only had Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas both held the office, Five of Annas' own sons also held the office of High Priest at one time or another. In other words, their family had a lock on the office of High Priest, for which they were required to pay a pretty penny to the Roman Procurator. However, they made far more money from the Temple treasury then they ever paid to Pilate.
    According to tradition, once the High Priest was in office he was supposed to remain in that position until death. As you can see from the practice of the time, this rule was no longer being followed, for they often had a different High Priest each year, depending on who had sufficient money, and/or political pull with the Romans, to purchase the office. Despite the corruption at the highest level there were many ordinary priests, like Zacharias, who were still obedient to God, conscientious about their calling, and not in the priesthood for the money.

    "But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years."
(Luke 1:7)

    How old were Zacharias and Elizabeth? Alfred Edersheim, in his classic nineteenth century work entitled; The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, makes the observation that according to the Talmud (Ahoth v. 21) a person was not considered to be 'aged' until attaining the age of sixty years. If this is true, then both Zacharias and Elizabeth could be expected to be above the age of sixty.
    According to the Torah, the Priests were allowed to minister as long as they were physically fit to do so. They were not limited by age as were the Levites. (See Num. 4:2-3)

   "And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to Aaron, saying: "No man of your descendants in succeeding generations, who has any defect, may approach to offer the bread of his God. For any man who has a defect shall not approach: a man blind or lame, who has a marred face or any limb too long, a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or is a hunchback or a dwarf, or a man who has a defect in his eye, or eczema or scab, or is a eunuch."'"
(Lev. 21:16-20)

    Priests suffering from these various afflictions were still allowed to partake of the food that was set aside for use by the priesthood, but they were not allowed to serve in the Temple rituals:

    "'"...lest he profane My sanctuaries; for I the LORD sanctify them"'"
(Lev. 21:23b)

~ The Incense Ritual ~

    The burning of incense during the Temple service was a very special event in the life of a Temple Priest. This honor was decided by lot each day. Once a priest had served in this capacity, his name was taken out of the lottery so that he could never bum incense a second time unless all of the officiating priests on any given day had already served in that capacity. This being the case, the burning of incense probably was the pinnacle of a Priest's entire career.

    "So it was, that while he (Zacharias) was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense."
(Luke 1:8-10)

    There were always many worshippers present at the Temple during the hours of sacrifice, However, there was said to have been a 'multitude' present the day the incense lot fell on Zacharias. The reason for the presence of so many worshippers may lie in the fact that many pilgrims were in Jerusalem for the Festival of Shavu'ot (Sha-voo'oat = Pentecost).
    According to E.W. Bullinger, in Appendix 179 of The Companion Bible, the course of Abijah (which was the eighth of twenty-four courses of priests) to which Zacharias belonged, would have been on duty during the week following the festival of Shavu'ot. Since all of the priests were required to be in attendance at the Temple for the three Pilgrimage Festivals, Zacharias would also have been on duty during the week of Shavu'ot. Thus, there is a possibility that Zacharias was actually burning incense in the Temple on the very day of Shavu'ot, though this can only be speculation.
    The burning of incense on the altar, constructed especially for that purpose, was the apex of the daily morning and afternoon sacrificial services. The sweet odor of smoke from the incense was considered to be, in both Jewish thought and New Testament scripture, symbolic of the prayers of God's people.

    "When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightning's, and an earthquake."
(Rev. 8:1-5)

    The parallels between the offering of incense in the earthly Temple and this depiction of what takes place in the Heavenly Temple are quite profound, not the least of which is the silence that prevails when the smoke of the incense, along with the prayers of the people are offered up.
    We should all have a deep sense of gratitude to tile Jewish Sages who preserved the knowledge of how the Incense Ritual was conducted. First came the casting of lots, which took place in the room known as the "Chamber of Hewn Stone." After the lot casting ceremony at which Zacharias was chosen for the honor, he had to choose two other priests as assistants to help him perform the ritual.
    Edersheim gives us a detailed account of this ritual:
    
"First, he had to choose two of his special friends or relatives, to assist in his sacred service. Their duties were comparatively simple. One reverently removed what had been left on the altar from the previous evening's service; then, worshipping, retired backwards. The second assistant now advanced, and, having spread to the utmost verge of the golden altar the live coals taken from that of burnt-offering, worshipped and retired. Meanwhile the sound of the 'organ' (the Megrephah*), heard to the most distant parts of the Temple, and, according to tradition, far beyond its precincts, had summoned priests, Levites, and people to prepare for whatever service or duty was before them. For, this was the innermost part of the worship of the day. But the celebrant Priest, bearing the golden censer, stood alone within the Holy Place, lit by the sheen of the seven-branched candlestick. Before him — somewhat farther away, towards the heavy Veil that hung before the Holy of Holies, was the golden altar of incense, on which the red coals glowed. To his right (the left of the altar-that is, on the north side) was the table of shewbread; to his left, on the right or south side of the altar, was the golden candlestick. And still he waited, as instructed to do, till a special signal indicated, that the moment had come to spread the incense on the altar, as near as possible to the Holy of Holies. Priests and people had reverently withdrawn from the neighbourhood of the altar, and were prostrate before the Lord, offering unspoken worship, in which record of past deliverance, longing for mercies promised in the future, and entreaty for present blessing and peace seemed the ingredients of the incense, that rose in a fragrant cloud of praise and prayer. Deep silence had fallen on the worshippers, as if they watched to heaven the prayers of Israel, ascending in the cloud of 'odours' that rose from the golden altar in the Holy Place. Zacharias waited, until he saw the incense kindling. Then he also would have 'bowed down in worship,' and reverently withdrawn, had not a wondrous sight arrested his steps."    (pp.137-138).
[* There is much disagreement, even among the ancient Jewish rabbis about the nature, or even the existence, of the Megrephah. Some said it was a type of organ with pipes which could produce one hundred different tones. Others thought it was like a gong. which, when struck or thrown on the floor, could be heard at a great distance. The supposed purpose of the Megrephah was so that everyone in the area would know when certain portions of the Temple service were about to occur, especially the burning of the incense. It is interesting to note that neither Josephus or Philo, both contemporaries of the late Second Temple times, mention such an instrument in any of their writings.]   

    Just what were the prayers which were being offered during the time of incense burning? The Jewish Sages have preserved this information as well, and once again Edersheim gives us a detailed account. This time from his book; The Temple; Its Ministry' and Services:

    'The prayers offered by priests and people at this part of the service are recorded by tradition as follows:

    'True it is that Thou art Jehovah our God, and the God of our fathers; our King and the King of our fathers; our Saviour and the Saviour of our fathers; our Maker and the Rock of our salvation; our Help and our Deliverer. Thy name is from everlasting and there is no God beside Thee. A new song did they that were delivered sing to thy name by the sea-shore, together did ail praise and own Thee as King, and say, Jehovah shall reign who saveth Israel." (p. 168).

    At this point, three more prayers were said, both by the officiating Priest and by the Priests, Levites and people assembled outside. Today these are know as the last three prayers of the Amidah or Eighteen Benedictions. Along with the Shema (see Issue 96-4), these prayers are a part of the most intimate part of the modem Synagogue service. (Many of the prayers used in the synagogue today were taken from the Temple service so they might be preserved until the day comes when the Temple is rebuilt.)

* The Last Three Prayers *

    "'Be graciously pleased, Jehovah our God, with Thy people Israel, and with their prayer. Restore the service to the oracle of Thy house: and the burnt-offerings of Israel and their prayer accept graciously and in love; and let the service of Thy people Israel be ever well-pleasing unto Thee.

    "'We praise Thee, who art Jehovah our God, and the God of our fathers, the God of all flesh, our Creator, and the Creator from the beginning! Blessing and praise be to Thy great and holy name, that Thou hast preserved us in life and kept us. So preserve us and keep us, and gather the scattered ones into Thy holy courts, to keep Thy statutes, and to do Thy good pleasure, and to serve Thee with our whole heart, as this day we confess unto Thee. Blessed be the Lord, unto whom belongeth praise.

    "'Appoint peace, goodness, and blessing; grace, mercy, and compassion for us, and for all Israel Thy people. Bless us, O our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Thy countenance. For in the fight of Thy countenance hast Thou, Jehovah, our God, given us the law of life, and loving mercy, and righteousness, and blessing, and compassion, and life, and peace. And may it please Thee to bless Thy people Israel at all times, and at every hour with Thy peace. [May we and all Thy people Israel be remembered and written before Thee in the book of life, with blessing and peace and support.] Blessed be Thou, Jehovah, who blessest Thy people Israel with peace"' (pp. 168-169).

~ The Vision ~

    It must have been at this very point when the angel of YHVH appeared between the Altar of Incense and the seven-branched Menorah in the first room of the Temple called The Holy Place. One can only imagine how startled and afraid Zacharias must have been at that moment. Here he was, at the apex of his life, burning incense before the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, when a most unexpected event took place:

    "Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense."
    "And when Zacharias saw
him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; ...'" (Luke 1:11-13)

    The prayer of Zacharias, that God had heard, was not a private prayer of his own making. Rather it was the prescribed prayers (just mentioned) which were normally offered during this ritual. 'The initial prayer (which the angel said had been heard) extolled God as being; 'our God, our King,' 'our Saviour,' 'our Maker,' 'the Rock of our salvation,' 'our Help and our Deliverer.' In addition, to this prayer, the last of the three 'benedictions' call for the people of Israel to experience "the light of Thy countenance, ..." Taken together, these prayers were an appeal for the Messiah to appear.
    Thus it was, that God withheld from Zacharias the most honored of Temple rituals until that time when He was ready to reveal the coming of the Messiah through a son born to this precious priestly family.

    "'...and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.'"
(Luke 1:13b)

    The Angel of the Lord continued his discourse to Zacharias:

    "'And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children," and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.'"
(Luke 1:14-17)

    This prophecy, which the angel of the LORD gave to Zacharias concerning the conception, birth and life of Yochanan the Immerser has a number of key elements:

    At the conclusion of these most beautiful and profound prayers the daily sacrificial offering was placed on the great outdoor altar to be burned. Then, all of the officiating priests (a total of four had been chosen by lot that morning to perform various functions) stood on the steps, which led down to the Court of the Priests, for the Aaronic Benediction. This benediction consisted of the priests holding up their hands and spreading their fingers in a special manner, while the priest who had officiated at the burning of the incense recited this scriptural blessing:

    "'The LORD bless you and
        keep you;
    The LORD make His face
        shine upon you,
    And be gracious to you;
    The LORD lift up His
        countenance upon you,
    And give you peace.'"
(Num. 6:24-26)

    However, Zacharias was unable to speak, and could not recite the blessing.

    "And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless."
(Luke 1:21-22)

    Undoubtedly, one of the other priests, specially selected for service on that day, stepped in and gave the required benediction so that the ceremony could be brought to its proper conclusion,

~ The Circumcision Prophecy ~

It was the custom to name a male child on the eighth day of his life, when his circumcision took place. So it was on this very occasion that God chose to loose the tongue of Zacharias. Inspired by the Ruach HaKodesh (Rue-ach Hah-Koh-desh = Holy Spirit), Zacharias gave utterance of a prophecy about his newborn son.

    "Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied saying:
    Blessed is the Lord God of
        Israel,
    For He has visited and
        redeemed His people,
    And has raised up a horn of
        salvation for us
    In the house of His servant
        David,...
    "'And you, child, will be called
        the prophet of the Highest;
    For you will go before the face
        of the Lord to prepare His
        ways,
    To give knowledge of salvation
        to His people
    By the remission of their sins,
    Through the tender mercy of
        our God,
    With which the Dayspring from
        on high has visited us;
    To give light to those who sit in
        darkness and the shadow
        of death,
    To guide our feet into the way
        of peace.'"
(Luke 1:67-70,76-79)

    The "horn of salvation" mentioned by Zacharias does not refer to Yochanan, but rather to Yeshua. For Yochanan was not of the lineage of King David, but rather descended from Aaron of the tribe of Levi.
    From these Scriptures we have a considerable amount of testimony that Yochanan the immerser's birth was both miraculous, and for a specific purpose; to precede and announce the coming of the Son of God, Yeshua the Messiah.

~ The Ministry of Yochanan ~

    It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar that Yochanan appeared on the scene in his prophesied role. During the intervening years, he had been residing in the deserts.

    "So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel."
(Luke 1:80)

    At about thirty years of age, the "word of God" came to Yochanan, and he began to preach in the area north of Jericho along the east side of the Jordan river.

    "...the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:

    'The voice of one crying in the
        wilderness:
    "Prepare the way of the LORD,
    Make His paths straight.
    Every valley shall be filled
    And every mountain and hill
        brought low;
    And the crooked places shall he
        made straight
    And the rough ways made
        smooth;
    And all flesh shall see the
        salvation of God."'"
                                (Luke 3:2b-6)

    Yochanan's message to the people was one of complete repentance and the turning away from sin toward a true Torah centered lifestyle. (See Luke 3:7-14). His teaching was so profound and so powerful that the people began to speculate among themselves whether or not he was the expected Messiah, for after all. the timing was right. (See previous article; Messianic Expectations: Looking for Messiah.)
    "Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ (Messiah) or not, John answered, saying to them all, 'I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.'
    "And with many other exhortations he preached to the people."         (Luke 3:15-18)

    It was at this point in Yochanan's ministry that a delegation of priests and Levites was sent forth from the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem to question him about his immersion activities, it must he remembered that the members of this delegation knew they were talking to a fellow priest when they asked Yochanan directly:
    "...'Who are you?'
    "He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ (Messiah).'

    "And they asked him, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not,' 'Are you the Prophet?' And he answered, 'No.'
    "Then they said to him, 'Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?'
    "He said: 'I am
    "The voice of one crying in the
        wilderness:
    Make straight the way of the
        LORD,"

    "as the prophet Isaiah said.'"
                             (John l:19b-23)

    Following this exchange, the delegation begins to question Yochanan about his immersing activities. Since he had already told them he was not tlie Messiah. Elijah, or 'The Prophet,' they now wanted to know by what authority he was performing immersions.* Yochanan's answer must have given them much food for thought, since they already were inquiring as to whether lie was the expected Messiah.
[* Please notice, the delegation did not ask Yochanan what he is doing. They knew all about immersion since that was a central ritual within Judaism, its origins going back to the time of Moses.  Baptism did not originate with John the Baptist. He was merely performing a ritual with which everyone was already familiar.]

    "John answered them, saying, 'I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.'"
(John 1:26-28)

    There is an implication in this verse that the members of the delegation already knew Yochanan, since he was a member of the Priesthood. However, they did not know Yeshua, for He was not of the Priesthood.

~ The Immersion of Yeshua ~

    Apparently Yochanan's teaching and immersing activities became widely known throughout Judea and Galilee. People had been locking to him for the immersion of repentance, vowing to turn away from the evil of their past lives and begin again to follow the clear commands of the Torah, in this manner, Yochanan was fulfilling a portion of the prophecy given by his father Zacharias at his circumcision.
    Into the midst of all this activity appears a relative of Yochanan's, the son ol Miriam, (the cousin of Elizabeth), none other than Yeshua Ben Yoseif (Jesus, son of Joseph) from Nazareth.

    "Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?'
    "But Jesus answered and said to him, 'Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he allowed Him,
    "Then Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, 'This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.'"
(Matt 3:13-17)

    The Apostle John Fills in a few more details in his account of this event.

    "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, "After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me." I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.'
    "And John bore witness, saying, 'I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."
(John 1:29-34)

Twice Yochanan makes the statement; "I did not know Him..." Does this mean that the cousins, Yochanan and Yeshua had never seen each other before this time? Since it was common practice for observant Jews to attend the Pilgrimage Festivals in Jerusalem three times a year, it seems probably that Yochanan and Yeshua must have met there as children on at least a few occasions.
What Yochanan is communicating by this expression, is that he would never have known Yeshua except for the fact that Yeshua had been specially sent to take away the sins of the world. After all, neither of these men would ever have been born if it had not been for the direct intervention of Almighty God, who knew them both from the wombs of their mothers. Both Yochanan and Yeshua were born into the world to fulfill a very special mission, to bring repentance and salvation to the world.

~ John's Testimonies ~

The teachings of Yochanan the Immerser were strong, and they produced much good fruit among the people. Like Yeshua who was to follow him, Yochanan did not mince words with those whom he saw as being sinners or hypocrites.

"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance. and do not think to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father." For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
"'I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but lie who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan
is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.'"
(Matt. 3:7-12)

~ Did Yochanan ~
~ Misunderstand? ~

After all of this testimony; beginning with the appearance of the angel to Zacharias, the prophecy that was made at his circumcision, and Yochanan's own vision of the Spirit of God coming to rest upon Yeshua, it is very difficult to understand how Yochanan could suddenly have begun to question whether or not Yeshua was the Messiah. Yet this seems to be the case, as quoted previously in Matt. 11:2-3. where Yochanan sends two of his own disciples to question Yeshua about His credentials for being the promised "Coming One."

Bible teachers have put forth any number of conjectures concerning this seeming inconsistency in Yochanan's behavior. Perhaps he was just suffering a temporary loss of faith due to his imprisonment; perhaps he had expected to continue being the lead man for Yeshua throughout His entire ministry, perhaps he really doubted his calling, etc. But it can all be explained very simply when one understands the kind and number of 'Messiahs' that were expected at that time.

~ The Two Messiahs ~

    There is a very simple explanation to this seeming dichotomy. During the First century, there was a great deal of speculation, but little agreement, concerning just how the Messiah would manifest Himself. A careful examination of the Scriptures by the rabbis of that time, seemed to indicate the possibility that more than one Messiah would need to be forthcoming in order to fulfill all of the widely divergent roles that He was prophesied to accomplish.
    For example, the primary Messianic figure spoken of in the Scriptures (and in the Apocalyptic Literature) was 'King Messiah,' who was to come in the power of a King to conquer His enemies, resurrect the dead and establish the Kingdom of God on earth with a restored Israel as the chief nation. This Messiah was expected to be a direct descendant of King David, and therefore from the tribe of Judah. However, other Scriptures pointed to the Messiah being a Priest, hence the idea found, in some quarters, that a second Messiah would come forth from the tribe of Levi.
    In addition, there were the various figures mentioned in the previous article, such us the 'Son of Man,' and 'The Prophet,' who was to come in the spirit and power of Moses, only greater. Further allusions existed concerning someone very great, who was to be called the "Son of the Most High."
    But there was yet one other figure that was expected to come prior to all the others. He was known as:

~ Messiah Ben Joseph ~

    All of the Rabbis of the first century clearly understood there was to be a Messiah (Anointed One) to come, who was to suffer for the sins of Israel. He was commonly called the "Suffering Servant." While today, the Rabbis claim this figure represents the people of Israel (through the suffering of the Jewish people over the last two thousand plus years), in the first century CE, the 'Suffering Servant' was clearly expected to be a Messiah (or 'Anointed One.')

    In order to reconcile the scriptures that depicted the Messiah as one who must 'suffer,' with those which portrayed Him as tlie conquering King Messiah descended from King David, the Sages developed a teaching that two Messiahs were to be expected. They taught that the first to appear would be Messiah Ben Joseph, who would come and suffer for the sins of his people, and would actually die for them. Then, following rather quickly (anywhere from forty days to seventy days) there would come a second messiah, a conquering King; Messiah Ben David. The first act that Messiah Ben David would perform upon His arrival would be the resurrection of Messiah Ben Joseph.

    The Sages came up with the name 'Joseph' (Yoseif), for the 'Suffering Messiah,' based on Ya'akov's (Jacob) prophecy about the endtime fate of the descendants of each of his twelve sons.

"'Joseph is a fruitful bough,
A fruitful bough by a well;
His branches run over the wall.
The archers have bitterly
 grieved him,
Shot
at him and hated him.
But his bow remained in
 strength,
And the arms of his hands were
 made strong
By the hands of the Mighty God
 of Jacob
(From there
is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
By the God of your father who
 will help you,
And by the Almighty who will
 bless you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that lies
 beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and of
 the womb.
The blessings of your father
Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors,
Up to the utmost bound of the
 everlasting hills.
They shall be on the head of
 Joseph,
And on the crown of the head of
 him who was separate from his brothers.'"
(Gen. 49:22-26)

    Because this passage speaks about Joseph being "bitterly grieved" and "hated," the Sages applied the name of Joseph to the 'Suffering Servant Messiah.'
    All of these various legends and myths concerning the two Messiahs are found in a book by Raphael Patai, entitled The Messiah Texts, published by Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1979. Let us examine some passages from tills most interesting book.
    "This great poet-prophet [Deutero-Isaiah*] spoke repeatedly about the 'Servant of the Lord,' describing the call, mission, sufferings, death, and resurrection of this mysterious individual (Isa. 42:1-4: 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). As to the identification of this 'Servant,' there is no scholarly consensus to this day. However, the Aggada, the Talmudic legend, unhesitatingly identifies him with the Messiah, and understands especially the descriptions of his sufferings as referring to Messiah ben Joseph." (p. xxiii, brackets are mine.)
[* Like most 'scholars,' Patai does not believe that the entire book of Isaiah was written by a single individual. Hence, the later portion of this book is supposedly written by a different person. This portion is known in scholarly circles as Deutero-Isaiah. The 'Suffering Servant' passages all fall into this later portion of the book.]
    Patai makes in clear in the above quote, that during the time just prior to the ministry of Yeshua, there was great expectation among the people that a "Messiah, Son of Joseph" would soon appear on the scene.
    "From the first century BCE, the Messiah was the central figure in the Jewish myth of the future." (Ibid., p. xxvii)

    Many first century Rabbis also saw a close connection between the historical figure of Moshe (Moses), and this future Messiah. Patai writes:
    "The great task both the Messiah and Moses are destined to fulfill is the redemption of their people from bondage-- ... Both lead their people back to the Promised Land... Both Moses and the Messiah spend an inordinately long time waiting for the divinely ordained moment when they can embark on their mission of salvation." (Ibid., p. xxx).

    However, according to Patai, the ancient expectations of the Messiah held that once He appeared, the people would still have to wait a period of time for the promised redemption to take place.
    "Nor does the Redemption follow immediately upon the appearance of the Redeemer. After he is revealed, he is hidden, and only upon his second appearance does the great global process of Redemption begin." (Ibid., p. xxxi).

    In the ancient understanding, the waiting or hiding period mentioned above would be relatively short, some said forty days, some forty-five, and others seventy days. The important thing to remember is that full redemption does not take place immediately upon the appearance of Messiah Ben Joseph.
    Another analogy that was used in the first century is taken from the life of Moshe. In this scenario, the Messiah, like Moses, would not be allowed to live to see the completion of the redemption of the children of Israel.
    "The Messiah, too, must die before his mission is completed, but he also must live in order to sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem. Therefore, two Messiahs must appear, one after the other. The first, Messiah son of Joseph, dies in the global wars of Gog and Magog in which he leads the modest forces of Israel against the Juggernaut of Armilus.* ... Messiah ben Joseph himself is killed by Armilus. and his body remains unburied in the streets of Jerusalem for forty days." (Ibid., p. xxxiii).
[* Satan the Devil.]

    It is interesting to note that Yeshua, after His resurrection, dwelt another forty days in Judea and the Galilee before being taken up into heaven to be with His Father.
    What then was supposed to happen to this dead Messiah Ben Joseph? Patai goes on:
    "But then he comes to life. The legend tells us that Messiah ben David appears, and as one of the first of his Messianic acts, he resuscitates him. Since nothing more is said about him after his revival, one suspects that what one must understand is that the request which was denied to Moses will be granted to the Messiah: he, as the Son of Joseph, will die on the threshold of the End of Days, but then will come back to life as the Son of David and complete the mission he began in his earlier incarnation." (Ibid., p. xxxiii).

    There is one other passage that is significant to quote at this time. It is from the Apocryphal** book, 4 Ezra 7:27-30, and it deals with the death of the Messiah, who is identified as the 'Son of God.'
[** A writing that is considered to be religious, but did not make it into the Scriptural canon.]
    "And whosoever is delivered from the predicted evil shall see My wonders. For My son, the Messiah, shall be revealed, together with those who are with him, and shall gladden the survivors four hundred years. And it shall be, after those years, that My son, the Messiah, shall die, and all in whom there is human breath. Then shall the world be turned into the primeval silence seven days, as it was at the first beginnings." (Ibid., p. 167).

    While this quote does not fit the Scriptural pattern of a one thousand year reign of Messiah on the earth, it is interesting to note how the writer of this book confirms that the Messiah will be known as "My son," to Almighty God. It must be remembered that none of the quotes given above are from the Scriptures. The purpose in quoting them is to point out the popular understanding of the Messiah in the days prior and during the time of Yeshua.

~ The Purpose Of ~
~ Yochanan's Question ~

    Without a doubt, Yochanan knew that he was announcing and preparing the way for Messiah Ben Joseph, This fact had been clear to him at least since the day of Yeshua's baptism. However. because of the Messianic understandings of the day, Yochanan was, no doubt, also looking for a second Messiah, Messiah Ben David, to appear. Yochanan must have begun to wonder about all of this when he heard reports coming back to him about the activities which Yeshua was performing.

    "And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ. ..."
(Matt. 11:2)

    It was because of these reports that Yochanan sent his disciples to ask:

    "...'Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?'"
(Matt. 11:3 and Luke 7:19)

~ Messiah Ben David ~

    Just what were these "works of Christ" about which Yochanan was hearing? They were the large number of miraculous events which Yeshua had been performing. These miracles led Yochanan to question, not if Yeshua was Messiah Ben Joseph {Yochanan already knew that), but whether He might also be Messiah Ben David. Note the following examples: Yeshua healed the servant of the Roman centurion, without even going to the house where the man lay ill. (See Matt. 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10).

    These were not acts that were expected to be performed by Messiah Ben Joseph. He was supposed to come and suffer for the sins of His people. It was Messiah Ben David who was supposed to heal people, cast out demons and resurrect the dead, not Messiah Ben Joseph. Certainly, Yochanan knew all of the beliefs and prophecies about two Messiahs far better than we do today. Slowly, he was beginning to get the picture that Yeshua was much more than just the promised Messiah Ben Joseph, he must also be the "Coming One" as well.
    What a marvelous discovery this must have been for Yochanan. However, since he was imprisoned and could not go and question his cousin Yeshua himself. He had to do the next best thing and send a delegation to confirm what he already believed to be true. And here is how Yeshua answered Yochanan's inquiry:

    "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: "The blind receive their sight and the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.'"
(Matt 11:4-5)

    All of these activities were expected to be the realm in which Messiah Ben David would operate. So by receiving this report, Yochanan was able to go to his grave knowing that Yeshua was not only Messiah Ben Joseph, but that He was indeed Messiah Ben David as well. What comfort that must have been to Yochanan when he was forced to face the executioners ax.

~ Be Not Offended ~

    Yeshua made one final comment to the disciples of Yochanan concerning their question about who He professed to be.

    "'And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.'"
(Matt. 11:6)

    Why would anyone be offended by learning that Yeshua was both Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David? The answer is complicated, but down deep it has to do with the giving up of long cherished beliefs, even if those beliefs are somewhat confused. The gospel accounts tell us that many believed Yeshua was the Messiah because He healed the sick and raised the dead, even though these miracles were supposed to be in the realm of the 'second' Messiah (Ben David). Yet others, like Yochanan, who were more astute in their understanding of the Scriptures and traditions, saw that fact as confusing, because they were expecting only a "Suffering" Messiah, called Messiah Ben Joseph, to come at that time. It is evident that many could not accept the idea that both Messiahs could be embodied in one individual.
    Later on, other misunderstandings grew, because some had accepted the idea that Yeshua was also Messiah Ben David, Those people expected Him to bring the Kingdom into effect immediately. When Yeshua Finally suffered an ignominious human death, it was a crushing blow and faith buster for many. For example, the disciple Judas attempted to force Yeshua into revealing Himself as Messiah Ben David so that He would raise an army in Israel and call down legions of angels to fight. When this did not happen, and Yeshua went to the grave instead, Judas found the blow so severe he committed suicide.
    Because Yeshua fit all of the expected patterns to a degree, but on the other hand did not fit any of them the way people expected the Messiah to fulfill them, many of the Jewish people rejected Him as their long awaited and promised Messiah.
    Then, as now, it had to be strictly a matter of faith. As Believers in Yeshua we must never forget that fact. For those who do not have that faith (i.e. trust or confidence that He is both Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David), Yeshua can become a stumbling stone. Many people have combed the Scriptures diligently in an effort to prove that Yeshua is not the Messiah by finding those prophecies about Him that have not yet been fulfilled. The only answer that can be given to those who make such searches is to agree that they are correct. But by FAITH we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prophecies that remain unfulfilled will be fulfilled when Yeshua returns to us as King of kings and Lord of lords.

    "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'"
(Rom. 1:16-17)

    The Apostle Paul had another comment about this matter, also found in his epistle to the Romans:

    "What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness' have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
    "Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written:
    "'Behold flay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense,
    And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.'"
(Rom. 9:30-33)

~ The Conquering King ~

    Finally, let us take a moment and view some of the expected exploits of the all powerful Messiah Ben David, the conquering King Messiah. Once again, the quotes are taken from The Messiah Texts, by Raphael Patai. First of all come the war victories.
    "The final confrontation takes place on two planes: in heaven, were God chastises and subdues the celestial princes of the nations of the world, thereby weakening the earthly armies under their protection; and down on earth where God intimidates and devastates those armies with fearsome portents. Thus the small nation of Israel, led by Messiah ben David, can overcome its enemies despite their vast superiority in numbers." (p. 171).

    One of the passages which Patai quotes in this chapter of his book, is from the works of Philo of Alexandria. Philo was a noted Jewish philosopher who lived from about 20 BCE to 50 CE, the very time when Yeshua was alive. In the passage quoted, De confusione linguarum 4:45, Philo takes the Messianic term 'Branch' and defines it as being the very 'Son of God.'

    "I have heard also an oracle from the lips of one of the disciples of Moses which runs thus: Behold a man whose name is the rising* (Zech. 6:12), strangest of titles, surely, if you suppose that a being composed of soul and body is here described. But if you suppose that it is that Incorporeal One, who differs not a whit from the divine image, you will agree that the name 'rising' assigned to him quite truly describes him. For that man is the eldest son,** whom the Father of all raised up, and elsewhere calls him his first-born, and indeed the Son thus begotten followed the ways of his Father, and shaped the different kinds, looking to the archetypal patterns which that Father supplied." (Ibid.,p. 172).
[* Patai here translates Philo's translation of Zech. 6:12 as "rising." In the original Hebrew the word is tzemach, which today is usually translated as "Branch" or "Shoot."]
[** For a Jewish sage of the first century to equate this term with the Father's firstborn Son is quite remarkable to say the least.]

    Along with Messiah Ben David's war and victory theme, comes another which speaks about the gathering of all the exiles of Israel. The Lost Ten Tribes are expected to be gathered into the land of Israel by Messiah Ben David, along with the exiles of Judah, the Jewish people.

    Not only is all of Israel to be gathered and 'saved,' they will once again have God dwelling with them through the presence of the Shekhina (Sh-khee-nah = "dwelling" or "presence"). The Sages also identified the Shekhina as being the Holy Spirit. They taught that when the children of Israel went into exile and the Temple was destroyed, the Shekhina also went into exile with them. Therefore, she (the Shekhina is always spoken of in the feminine form, thus the syllable "na" at the end of the word) will return to Jerusalem when the exiles are allowed to return because of the victories effected by Messiah Ben David.

    After all of this occurs, what remains is the complete triumph of the LORD. Once again, let us turn to the writings of Raphael Patai:
    "With the victory over Armilus and the defeat of Gog and Magog, followed by the ingathering of the exiles of Israel led by the divine Shekhina, the Messiah will have accomplished the greater part of the tasks for which he was created in the six days of the Beginning. Then comes the time of triumph, in which all the nations of the world recognize him as their spiritual leader and ruler, and he becomes a veritable pantocrator, world ruler-always, of course, in has capacity as the faithful servant of God.

    "Thus the victorious conclusion of the Messianic wars is a triumph, not so much of the Messiah who acts merely as an agent of the Lord, but of God Himself." (Ibid., p. 189).

    At this point, the final triumph of Messiah Ben David is complete. There is now only cleanup work that remains before the one thousand year Kingdom of God on earth can come into full bloom.

~ Summary ~

    We have quoted at length from Raphael Patai's book in order to show that many of the understandings of modern Messianic Believers about the person of Yeshua (who He was. what He did when He was here, and what He will do in the future), are also found to be similar, if not identical, with the understandings of the ancient Jewish Sages. Without a doubt, when the many writings from the period extending from the second century BCE through the Talmudic age (c. 600 CE) are examined, it is clear their understandings about who the Messiah would be and what He would do, are very consistent, and they do conform, to a very high degree, with the understandings that Messianic Believers have concerning these same matters today.

    It is our prayer that what has been set forth in this issue of Hebrew Roots will be a comfort and confirmation of the great hope that is in us for the ultimate return of Yeshua to this earth.

    "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying. The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ (Mashiach or Anointed One), and He shall reign forever and ever.'"
(Rev. 11:15)

    Praise be to the King of kings!

                                          DEW

~ Sources ~

Brown, David, D.D., A Commentary, Critical, Experimental and Practical,  Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1967.
Bullinger, E.W. The Companion Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1974.
Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1971.
____,The Temple its Ministry and Services,
 Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1990.
Green, Jay P., Sr., The Interlinear Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, 1985.
Frydland, Rachmiel, What the Rabbis Know About the Messiah, Messianic Literature Outreach, Columbus, OH, 1991.
The Open Bible, The New King James
 Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1985.
Patai, Raphael. The Messiah Texts,
 Wayne State University Press. Detroit, 1979.
Sendrey, Alfred, Music in Ancient Israel, Philosophical Library, New York, 1969.
Strong, James, S.T.D., L.L.D., Strong's New Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible,
 World Bible Publishers, Inc., Iowa Falls, 1986.
Wigram, George V., The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1980.

 

From the Sages
Accustom your tongue to say "I do not know."
(Berachos 4a) Iyar 6

"While no human being can know everything, some people cannot admit any ignorance about anything. For them, any admission of lack of knowledge threatens their fragile egos. Although they try to impress others with their omniscience, they accomplish the reverse, because the more they try to conceal their ignorance, the more prominent it becomes.
Furthermore, the only way we can acquire knowledge is by accepting that we do not have it. People who claim to know everything cannot learn. Therefore, many opportunities to learn pass them by, and their denying their ignorance actually increases their ignorance.
We do not have to know everything, and no one expects us to. Today, more than ever, with the unprecedented amount of information available, no one can be a
universal genius. The simple statement, I don't know,' is actually highly respected.
We should also open ourselves to acquiring knowledge from every source. Learning from someone whom we consider to be inferior to ourselves should not be demeaning. As the Psalmist says, 'I became wise by learning from all my teachers' (Psalms 119:99). A willingness to learn from everyone is a sign of greatness, while affecting omniscience actually betrays ignorance."
May we all admit that there are many things that we do not know, and may we all be willing to learn from anyone and everyone.
(From page 216 of;' Growing Each Day, by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., pub. Mesorah Publications, Ltd., New York, 1992.)

 


 

~ Cornerstone Publications ~

    Over the past two years we have had the privilege of coming into contact with a number of fine ministries. One that we would like to especially recognize is Jim and Rita Rector's Cornerstone Publications.
    Through the efforts of Cornerstone many have been strengthened, and thereby enabled, to leave authoritarian church organizations and begin to experience the joy of intimate fellowship with other like-minded Believers.
    In addition to their magazine, Jim provides weekly taped messages addressing the needs of these scattered brethren. He is currently focusing on our 'Wilderness Experience.'
    If you are not on their mailing list and would like to be, you may contact the Rector's by writing to:

Cornerstone Publications
3802 Olive Street
Texarkana, TX 75503

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