What is the Messiah?

By Israel Drazin

I think that the messianic age is not a miraculous
affair and the messiah is not a supernatural figure. There will be a gradual
evolutionary and educative process that will improve people and encourage everyone,
or nearly everyone, to live in harmony and work together to improve every
individual and society. I think that the prophets, when they spoke about the
“end of days,” which later people called “the messianic age,” had the same idea
in mind. When Isaiah spoke about lions lying with sheep and beating swords into
plowshares, he was speaking figuratively and poetically about men and women of
all countries and religions working together to improve themselves and society.

 

The Five Books of Moses does not speak about a messiah arriving miraculously to
change society. It speaks instead about people creating a better life for
themselves. It says repeatedly, in different ways, if you act well, all will be
well with you, but if you act improperly, you will suffer the consequences.

 

The word “messiah,” in the Torah means an anointed. It applied to two types of
leaders, the king and the high priest. The inauguration ceremony for these
officials contained a symbolic anointing with oil, a ceremony also practiced in
other cultures. Imagining that the leader of the people when they lived in
harmony would be anointed, the people called him the “anointed one,” or mesheach in Hebrew, transliterated as
messiah.

 

Maimonides says this clearly in his Laws of Kings:
The messiah will be a normal human, a man who will die in old age, just as all
humans. “Don’t think that the messianic king must perform miracles and wonders,
bring new things into being, revive the dead, or perform similar feats as
foolish people believe…. Don’t think that in the messianic age things will be
different or that the laws of nature will change. To the contrary, the world
will continue in its usual way…. The verses (from Isaiah) are parables…symbols
that stand for what they represent.” Maimonides goes on to say that the only
difference between the current era and the messianic age is that Jewish subjugation
to foreign rule will end. The messianic age will be a period of peace on earth.

 

Why should one believe in the coming of the messiah? Simply because it is a human
duty to use one’s intelligence and work to create such an age. (The Greek
philosopher Aristotle wrote that what distinguishes people from animals is
their intelligence; if they don’t use it they are like animals.) Why don’t Jews
accept Jesus as the messiah? Simply because the age of peace, which is the
hallmark of the messianic age, has not yet occurred.

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