The “Hidden Messiah” in Judaism

Golden Gate, Jerusalem

Golden Gate, Jerusalem

The doctrine of the Messiah is, alongside those of God, Torah and Israel, a fundamental and essential teaching in Judaism. Hope for the Messiah’s appearance has been the major focus and driving force behind Jewish religious belief and behaviour over the millennia. Whilst this messianic expectation has helped to preserve the Jewish people throughout history, there have always been conflicting opinions about the messiah’s appearance, identity, and the implications of his coming.

Whilst the Messianic concept is fundamental to Judaism, and especially to that form of Messianic Judaism which believes in the Messianic claims of Jesus, it is no easy task to describe the development of this concept, not least the aspect of the ‘Hiddenness’ of the Messiah. What is helpful for our understanding is historical survey of the ‘Hidden Messiah’. This will highlight some of the theological and missiological questions that arise for those of us who proclaim that the hidden Messiah is now revealed, and that we have a responsibility and joy in sharing Him with the people of Israel today. The importance of the subject will be obvious – if the Messiah is already present, already hidden amongst his people, what need is there to proclaim him?

A venerable Jewish anecdote describes a man hired by his shtetl to sit at the out­skirts of town and alert his village should he see the Messiah coming. When asked why he had accepted such a monotonous form of employment the watchman would invariably reply: ‘The pay is not so good, but it’s a lifetime job.’ Judaism considers waiting for the redeemer a lifetime job, and Jewish people are obligated not only to believe in the coming of the Messiah but also to yearn for his coming (Soloveitchik 2004:1) But waiting and yearning are not enough. We are here today to put the watchman out of business by announcing that the Messiah is here, and is no longer hidden. We can recognise Him now, and know His presence with us. It may still be a lifetime job (unless He returns first), but the job has changed from being a watchman to being a herald of Good News. We need to change the job description, or we will be keeping the Messiah hidden from His people.

Most job descriptions begin with a list of attributes and competencies needed to do the job, and a listing of the functions involved. The successful applicant will be expected to carry out most of the requirements, or they will not get hired. But for the job description of the Messiah there is no unanimity in our tradition. Will the Messiah be a suffering servant, or a conquering king? Or a combination of both? Will he come once, twice, three times, once in every generation, or never? Is he, like a leper, already sitting at the gates of Rome, a beggar, pauper and despised one? Or is he coming in the clouds, sitting at the right hand of the Almighty, crowned and ready to judge the nations? Does his presence fill us with joy or fear? Does he bring good news of salvation or bad new of justice and the execution of the wrath of God?

The Messianic idea is not unique to Judaism, and Messianic movements of liberation and revolution have spread throughout history in various forms, secular, utopian and apocalyptic. Jewish disciples of Yeshua claim to have discovered something that the world is longing for – the truth message of the Messiah is found in a person, not a program. In a purpose for our own lives as disciples as much as in world redemption. In a relationship of love with our Father in heaven, through his divine, resurrected Son. The hidden Messiah is revealed in human flesh, from the tribe of Judah, from the line of David – the Jewish Messiah and Redeemer of all nations, Rabbi Yeshua ben David.

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