03.05.19 50 B.C. Rabbi Nehumias Accurately Predicted the Messiah’s Coming
Rabbi Nehumias studied the book of Daniel and prophetic weeks, and amazingly, concluded that the Messiah would come within fifty years. While his words were not honored by the Jews, they were, however, recorded by the historian Grotius. The predictive date of Rabbi Nehumias may have been a coincidence, but his expectations were certainly in agreement with many other orthodox rabbis for reasons well established by former prophets.
The Jewish rabbis studied the prophecies intently, looking for a sign for a coming messiah. The prophet Micah (750-686 B.C.) gave the prophecy (5:3) that Israel would be abandoned by God until the “latter days,” a phrase which he described as the labor related to childbirth. Isaiah had said that the Jewish nation would be born in a single day (66:8) and another prophet, Ezekiel (38:8), at the beginning of the fifth century (B.C.), spoke of a Jewish return to their promised land. There was a messianic expectation throughout all the cultures of the ancient Middle East wherever the Jews had lived. That leads us to an interesting question –
03.05.19.Q1 What messianic prophecies were the rabbis studying at this time and why were they expecting the Messiah?
There were many Jewish sects, just as today there are many Christian denominations. And just as various denominations have many viewpoints of the return of Jesus, in the first century various Jewish sects had many viewpoints on the coming of their messiah. Following are several examples of expectations held by many Jewish people.
- They read Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17 and believed that God promised a unique ruler to govern His people who would come soon. This was underscored by the fact that Herod the Great’s domain was nearly the same size of King David’s.
- They had faith that God would fulfil His Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:12-17, Ps. 89, esp. 30-33). The Davidic Covenant meant that their expected “son of David” would destroy the Roman occupiers and re-establish Israel as an international superpower.
- They had faith that the many “branch” prophecies would be fulfilled.
- They expected the messianic psalms to be fulfilled (esp. Ps. 2)
- The prophecies of Daniel 2 and 4 outlined the succession of four world empires. They had experience the challenges of the third empire and knew that the messiah would they were in the 4th empire. Furthermore, they believed that Daniel 9:24-27 established a time table for the coming Messiah.
The pattern of reasoning that made so many Jews believed in the nearness of the Messiah is as follows:
- They believed in the literal interpretation of the prophetic words of their Hebrew Bible.
- They looked at their history and their social-political environment. The northern ten tribes were relocated with the Assyrians in 722/21 B.C., followed by Judah and Benjamin and the Babylonians about 135 years later. In the sixth century B.C., when the Jews were permitted to return, only a small portion chose to do so. There was however, after the Maccabean Revolt (160s B.C.) a free and politically independent nation, which led to a greater return of Jews. In fact, Galilee had been unpopulated by the Assyrians (Isa. 9:1; 8th Cent. B.C.), but regained a large Jewish population in the second century B.C. Hence, when Jesus ministered in Galilee it was primarily to the descendants of the Babylonian Jews. So to the rabbis it looked like all the prophecies had been fulfilled, although the prophecy of a nation being born in a single day (Isa. 66:8) was problematic because it obviously was not fulfilled. Therefore, the rabbis then assumed it to be a figure of speech.
- They connected the biblical prophecies with current events and concluded that their messiah was about to come.
- Their expectations were heightened by the fact that many other people groups were also expecting a messiah.
The difficulty the Jews had was attempting to reconcile the messiah as a king and as a suffering servant. This continued to plague them until Jesus was resurrected, and even then many refused to believe.
. See Appendix 15 concerning Daniel’s prophecy.
. Ankerberg and Waldan, 39; LaHaye, 196.
. See 12.03.01.Q1 “What ‘Messianic problems’ did the Jewish leaders have with Jesus?” and 12.03.01.A “Chart of Key Points of the Messianic Problems.” See also 02.03.09 “Messianic Expectations”; 05.04.02.Q1 “What were the Jewish expectations of the Messiah?” and Appendix 25: “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, and Rebellions that Impacted the First Century Jewish World.”
. 2 Sam. 23:1-7; Isa. 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5, 6; Zech. 3:8; 6:9-15. See also Mt. 2:23.
. In A.D. 135, the Jews were dispersed again and remained scattered throughout the world until the late 19th century when they began to return to their promised land. The return has not ceased to this day and the nation of Israel was born on May 14, 1948 — in a single day. From the time of the Assyrians until this date, the Jews had independence for merely a century (c. 164 – 63 B.C.). Furthermore, during twenty-seven centuries the land was occupied by some fourteen different people /governments. The prophecies led the Jews to look for the messiah at His first coming, while in fact, these point to His second coming (return).
. The term “messiah” is lower case because no one was expecting a messiah as God, but a divine figure “like a man” (Dan. 8:15-17) who would bring peace upon the earth.