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Is the Messiah Alive Today?

April 5, 2019 | by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

People often say that the Era of the Messiah is close. Does this mean that the Messiah is alive today, already among us? Or will he magically descend from Heaven or something like that? Does anyone know when he is coming, or is there a tradition about it?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

The arrival of the Messiah is one of the great mysteries of Jewish history. The Talmud states that Jacob, when he was on his deathbed, wanted to reveal the date of the Messiah’s arrival to his children, but God took the knowledge away from him just at that moment (Pesachim 56a).

It is thus clear that God wanted the Messiah’s arrival to remain an enigma. Rather than knowing a specific date for it, we must have in mind that he may arrive at any time – and must always live our lives with this anticipation. In fact, the Talmud states that one of the first questions we will be asked after we die is if we awaited the redemption (Shabbat 31a). We should not dismiss the Messiah’s arrival as some distant hazy event, but we must see it as something which may occur at any time.

The Talmud states further that there is a deadline by which the Messiah must come, but if we are worthy he may come sooner (Sanhedrin 98a). This is based on the verse in Isaiah: “I am God; in its time I will hurry it (b’itah achishenah)” (60:22). The Talmud notes the seemingly contradictory phrases: “in its time” versus “I will hurry it,” and explains that there is a final time for the Messiah’s arrival, but God may “hurry it” if we are deserving.

Is the Messiah with us today? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) records the following incident (abridged and paraphrased):

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi once came across Elijah the Prophet. He asked him when the Messiah will come. Elijah told him to go ask him directly, and he told him where to find him. Rabbi Yehoshua did so, and the Messiah informed him he would be arriving that day! Needless to say, the day passed and the Messiah had not revealed himself. Rabbi Yehoshua reported the conversation to Elijah, and Elijah explained: His answer of “today” was actually a reference to Psalms 95:7: “Today if you will hearken to His voice.” All we have to do is listen to God – and then the Messiah will come immediately.

Based on this incident, it is clear not only that the Messiah may come at any time, but that he is among us today. It is only a matter of when the time is ripe for him to reveal himself and begin the process of redemption. And that depends almost entirely on our worthiness.

It is further clear that there is a person with the potential to be the Messiah in every generation. There was one who may have come as far back as R. Yehoshua’s time, and no doubt there were great people with such potential all throughout our history until today. (The Talmud states that the earliest time the Messiah might have arrived is in the year 4000 from Creation (=240 C.E.). Altogether, the world as we know it will last 6000 years, so the era of the Messiah will presumably occur sometime before that (see Sanhedrin 97a).)

Naturally, none of us know when the Messiah will actually arrive, especially since, as above, he may come before the deadline. Yet at the same time, many have noted that very many of signs of the Messiah’s arrival have come true in recent generations. See this article which discusses this at length.

Even so, we should never go overboard in anxious anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival. Although we must always hope for his arrival, we must live our lives responsibly, appropriately planning our futures, not expecting some miraculous event around the corner to rescue us from all our problems.

The Talmud states that the Messiah will arrive when we are not paying attention (Sanhedrin 97a). Very likely, the meaning is that we will all be involved in our own lives and our own problems, almost unaware of the great events God is orchestrating in world history, bringing the pieces together to bring the redemption. Over-anticipation of some cataclysmic event is only liable to lead us to terrible letdown – which unfortunately has occurred too many times in our history when people put their trust too greatly in false hopes and false Messiahs. We must rather always hope and pray the Messiah will arrive, but plan our lives from day to day as if our future is only up to us.

May the Messiah arrive speedily in our days!

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