Are we really poor miserable sinners?
The promised one expected by the rabbis is called the Messiah ben David (Messiah, son of David), because he is expected to be descended from King David, as God promised the king through the words of Nathan the prophet:
"When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever." (1 Chronicles 17:11-14)
This would be the Messiah's earthly calling card, his necessary pedigree. This is why the genealogies feature so strongly in the Gospels - if Jesus couldn't prove his royal lineage then his whole ministry and calling would be invalid. So this Messiah who the Jews are waiting for must also be able to show his pedigree.
Problem. How on earth can anyone show a genealogy that stretches back around 3000 years? Even our Royal Family can't go that far, let alone a people who have rarely stayed in one place for more than two or three generations! Another problem is that, as all family records were kept in the Jerusalem Temple, then, when the Temple was destroyed and razed to the ground by the Romans in AD70, no-one coming after that event would ever be able to prove his ancestry without a shadow of a doubt. Unless, of course, the Messiah came before AD70!
So the Messiah, Son of David, the Jews are still waiting for should really be the Messiah, possibly-but-could-never-be-absolutely-sure son of David. Nevertheless they still wait. And, as we already have discovered, there is a curious slant to this waiting.
There are two possible ways that the Messiah can come. Either the Messiah will come when he is ordained to come, or his coming can be speeded up if the Jewish people voluntarily repent. So there are two paths to the Messiah. If the Jewish people repent, then the coming of the Messiah will be a miraculous and wonderful event, otherwise the coming will be "mundane" and a natural historic process.
To remind you, these two "comings" are their way of explaining whether the Messiah will come as the "Son of Joseph" (Messiah ben Joseph) or the "Son of David" (Messiah ben David). The "mundane" coming, that will kick in if there is no Jewish repentance, will be the "Son of Joseph". So, what they are saying is that, if the Jews do not repent, they are going to get the "Son of Joseph" first. It's almost as if there is an implied threat here to the Jewish people that, unless they get their act together, they are going to get the inferior Messiah and not the "all conquering King", who is going to bang heads together and sort out the Nations. Get on your knees and let's usher in the Arnie Schwarzemessiah!
So, if they don't repent first, they will get this one ...
"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9)
And if they do repent first, they will get this one ...
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence." (Daniel 7:13)
What about the Holy Temple? If they don't repent first, the Messiah will organize the rebuilding of the Temple, but if they do repent first, the Temple will drop from Heaven, fully built!
If, when visiting New York, a van pulls up and, to the accompaniment of oriental melodies blaring out through huge speakers on the roof, you are accosted by wiry curly haired men in black, you are not being mugged or abducted into the mother ship. No, you have met some Lubavitcher Jews and their Mitzvah Tank. You are spared embarrassment if you answer in the negative to the first question, "are you Jewish?" Otherwise you are coaxed into the van to put on tefillin. You will roll up your left sleeve, bind the ceremonial paraphernalia to your arm and recite a prayer. At least it is less painful than giving blood! You will then be given a small kit to instruct you on how to light Sabbath candles and further literature as their way of saying thanks for the mitzvah you have made, doing your little bit to usher in the Mashiach (Messiah). The mitzvah, the divine instruction, is your good deed, not quite the fully blown repentance that would have been preferred, but not to be sneezed at. This concept of public good deeds was dreamt up by their Rabbi, the now deceased Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, who, until he died in 1994, was the odds-on favourite Messiah candidate of his generation. He said:
"a mitzvah is a deed of cosmic significance, a deed of infinite value unto itself".
His belief was that just one person performing a single mitzvah, could be performing the very deed that tips the scales, ushers in the Messiah and brings redemption to the world. Yes, in the words of the Lottery operators, it could be you!
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Jesus Man of Many Names)