It still amazes me when I read how the Jewish religious leaders of 2,000 years ago managed to completely miss Jesus’ first coming? These were highly educated men, especially in the signs that would indicate the emergence of Messiah. Yet they failed miserably at discerning the time of their own Messiah’s advent.
These were men who spent their entire lives, from early youth, memorizing and learning Scripture, especially the Torah. They were by any definition experts.
How then did they miss the significance of Jesus’ ministry, this remarkable preacher and miracle worker from Nazareth? The actions of the forthcoming Messiah were well known to all Jews, especially at that time. In fact, they were obsessed with the coming of the Messiah.
Isaiah and others described in detail who he would be and what he would do, that he would heal the sick, bring sight to the blind, heal the brokenhearted…raise the dead. The Bible told them that it would be through these signs that they should recognize Him.
This is why John the Baptist, in prison awaiting death, sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “…are you the coming one, or should we wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3).
Jesus responded, not by giving a straight “yes” or “no,” but by saying to John, “Go back and report what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5).
Jesus was telling John, “…don’t ask me! Judge for yourself by my works! By the signs you will know me!” And therefore, when we read the Gospels, we read accounts of one outstanding miracle after another. Each miracle, each healing, is a testimony to who Jesus is, that he is exactly who he says he is.
Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Messiah, and his works throughout his ministry validated that claim then, and still do today.
God loves us all deeply. He never does anything without revealing his ways to his prophets (Amos 3:7). That is why God gave, not general, but very specific details of what the Messiah would do and who he would be, so that those who were genuinely looking for him would be able to find him.
It was clearly written that the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12:3, 18:18, Matthew 1:1), be of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10, Luke 3:33), be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:4-7); and the time of his birth was also prophesied (Daniel 9:25, Luke 2:1).
It was written that there would be a slaughter of innocent children (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:16-18) accompanying his birth. It was written that their King would come to them in humility, riding a donkey (Zechariah 9:9, John 12:13-14), that he would enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate (Ezekiel 44:1-2, Mark 11:7-8), and that he would be betrayed by a friend for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12, Psalm 41:9, Mark 14:10, Matthew 26:14-15).
It was written that the money paid in exchange for his life would be returned for a potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13, Matthew 27:6-7), that he would be silent before his accusers (Isaiah 53:7, Matthew 26:62-63), that he would be spat upon and struck in the face (Isaiah 50:6, Matthew 26:67), and that he would be hated without reason (Psalms 69:4, 35:19, 109:3-5, John 15:24-25).
It was written that soldiers would divide his garments (Psalm 22:18, Matthew 27:35) and that he would be crucified (this prophecy, one thousand years before crucifixion was developed as a method of execution!) (Zechariah 12:10, Psalm22:16, Matthew 27:35, John 20: 27).
It was written that he would be crucified with malefactors and would agonize with thirst (Isaiah 53:12, Psalms 22:15, Mark 15:27-28, John 19:28), that in his thirst they would give him gall or vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21, John 19:19), that his side would be pierced but no bones would be broken (Zechariah 12:10, Psalm 34:20, John 19:32-36), and that he would be buried with the rich but deserted by his followers (Isaiah 53:9, Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 14:27).
The Bible tells us how the Messiah would be deserted and completely abandoned by God (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46) but that ultimately he would rise from the dead (Hosea 6:2, Psalms 16:10, 49:15, Luke 24:6-7, Mark 16).
And these are just some of the signs of his first coming, and the leaders of his time completely failed to recognize who this miracle worker from Galilee really was.
So how did they miss his coming?
The Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day were expecting a Messiah; they just weren’t expecting the one they got. In Jewish tradition, there were two Messiahs to come, each fulfilling very different roles. There was Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David.
Messiah ben Joseph is the suffering servant, the Messiah who had come to die. This is the Messiah who would come and take the place of sacrifice, and he is depicted in Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 has always been a very difficult chapter for the Jewish people to accept or understand. Even to this day, Jews do not know what to do with it and what to do with this man of tragedy, this “suffering servant.” Most observant Jews simply try to ignore Isaiah 53 altogether and pretend it doesn’t exist.
Yet this was the role that Jesus fulfilled during his first coming, the role of the suffering servant who took the sins of the world onto his shoulders. The Jewish leaders missed him because they were not waiting for Messiah ben Joseph; they were waiting for Messiah ben David, an awesome political and military leader – a dramatic deliverer.
This will be how Jesus will present himself at his Second Advent, as Messiah ben David, the conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. And in that day, as surely as the Lord lives, “every knee will bow” to the name of Jesus.
Two thousand years ago, they were looking for someone to come and free them from the yoke of Roman servitude, and that was not Jesus’ role in his first incarnation. His role was to free humanity from the yoke of sin and eternal death! He didn’t fit their ideology, so they ignored him. Ultimately they killed him for it.
Even the disciples after the resurrection asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They were still expecting Jesus to free them from Roman oppression and believed that now Jesus would finally fulfill the role of Messiah ben David and establish his kingdom.
The Jews knew that Messiah had two roles: a suffering servant – Ben Joseph, and a mighty warrior – Ben David. They were expecting two different Messiahs to fulfill two different roles. What they could not grasp, and still to this day fail to understand, was that one man would fulfill both roles, but at two separate times in human history, separated by thousands of years!
Two thousand years after the first coming of Messiah, it looks very much to me like many in this generation are repeating the mistakes of the leaders in Jesus’ day.
Jesus told us the signs which would indicate his second coming to this earth. He told us how to recognize the season of his return. How many of us are paying attention? If the hundreds of prophecies concerning his first coming were fulfilled, literally and to the letter, then surely those related to his second coming will be literally fulfilled too. To the letter. Why would it be any different?
There are approximately three hundred prophecies of the first coming of the Messiah in the Old Testament, but over five hundred of his second coming! George Heron, a French mathematician, worked out that the chances of 40 of those first-coming prophecies being fulfilled in one man were 1 in 10 to the power of 157!
Dr. Peter S. Ruckman calculated that the odds of 60 (not 300) being fulfilled in one man were 1 in 10 to the power of over 895. That’s a one with 895 zeros after it.
The prophecies related to the Second Advent of Jesus are coming to pass now, so why are so many in positions of “leadership” spending their time talking about Kingdom Now theology, talking about seeker-sensitive models of church growth, and about “Having Your Best Life Now.”
The signs Jesus told us to watch for that would indicate the end of the age are burgeoning. They are increasing in intensity and frequency.
There are false prophets everywhere; famines and diseases ravaging entire populations; earthquakes and tribulations; there is godlessness and apostasy; the Roman Empire is reforming before our eyes; Hebrew has returned as the spoken language of Israel; and preparation for the rebuilding of the temple is common talk, as is the news of Red Heifer births.
Knowledge has increased and we all travel to and fro! Ethiopian Jews have returned to Israel; Russia has risen and its Jews have returned “from the north country;” the technology for the mark of the beast is upon us; and the New World Order is common currency. Israel is fast becoming the pariah state of the world, and every nation is obsessed with dividing Jerusalem. And I personally think that the gospel has been preached to all the world.
Don’t make the same mistake the Pharisees and Sadducees made two thousand years ago. No one knows the day or the hour, but all the signs indicating the emergence of the Messiah are present now, and become more pronounced with each day that passes.
So take it upon yourself, this day, to make yourself ready so that you will be found to be at peace with him when he does come.
“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16: 2-3).
“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).