One of the objections often raced against Yeshua being the Messiah of Israel is that he didn’t fulfill some important prophecies concerning the Messiah. The Tanakh, i.e. the Old Testament, teaches that the Messiah will gather all of Israel back into the land, bring about an era of world peace and spread universal knowledge of God to all the nations. It is argued that Yeshua did not fulfill these messianic prophecies. Therefore he cannot be the Messiah of Israel. As followers of Yeshua, how do we respond to this objection? The standard Christian and Messianic response is that Yeshua will bring these prophecies to their complete fulfillment at his second coming. The Brit Hadashah, i.e. is the New Testament, clearly teaches this and while that’s true, some consider this response to be a cop-out. After all, if Yeshua didn’t do what the Messiah was supposed to do, then why should we accept that he’s the Messiah on the basis that he’ll eventually do it when he comes back? The question we need to consider is this: Is the doctrine of a second coming just a New Testament invention or do we have any basis for this idea in the Tanakh? We can explore this question by looking at some other prophecies in the Tanakh and determining if this pattern is evident in other places.
To begin, let’s look at some passages in Jeremiah. Much of Jeremiah’s ministry took place right at the time when the Jewish people were being taken into Babylonian captivity. Many of the prophecies Jeremiah gave were concerning what was expected to happen when God regathered the exiles from Babylon. Jeremiah 24:
4 Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
5 Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.
6 For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up.
7 And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
36 And now therefore thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city, whereof ye say, It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence;
37 Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely:
38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God:
39 And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them:
40 And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.
These, among other passages in Jeremiah, tell us that God would bring the exiles back from Babylon, that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and most notably that there would be a national turning to the Lord among the Jewish people. So the question is: Were these prophecies fulfilled? They were but they also weren’t. The exiles did return from Babylon, the city was rebuilt and many of the Jews did turn back to the Lord just as Jeremiah said, but the fulfillment of these prophecies was only in part. For instance, while it was prophesied that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and never be destroyed again, it was later destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. While it was prophesied that the Jewish people would return to the land and never again be uprooted, they were later driven out of their land by the Romans. Concerning the prophecy that the entire nation would serve God with one heart and never turned from him, well when we look at Ezra and Nehemiah, which are the accounts of the Jewish people’s return to Israel from Babylon, we see that a remnant of the people did turn back to the Lord but it certainly wasn’t a national turning as was prophesied. And only a century after the return from Babylonian exile, we see in the book of Malachi that God is once again calling for his people to repent. That clearly doesn’t fit the picture we would expect to see of a restored nation of God-fearing people. On the other hand, Jeremiah prophesied many other things that came to pass exactly as he said they would. He was the one who has said Jerusalem would be destroyed and it was. He also said that the Jewish people would be exiled to Babylon for 70 years and they were.
Jeremiah 29:10 For thus says Yahweh: When the seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
So clearly Jeremiah is not a false prophet he’s been tested and proven true over and over. But what do we do about all these prophecies that appear to have only been partly fulfilled? Was Jeremiah just exaggerating or is this perhaps a pattern that we see with Biblical prophecy? Let’s look at another biblical prophet to see the same thing.
The prophet Ezekiel was a captive in Babylon when God spoke to him also about the re-gathering of the exiles back to Israel. Ezekiel said that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and that people would dwell in peace and safety. In Ezekiel 40 through 48, the prophet speaks of an amazing new temple and a river that brings healing flowing from the temple. The prophet Ezekiel was a captive in Babylon when God spoke to him also about the re-gathering of the exiles back to Israel. Ezekiel said that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and that people would dwell in peace and safety. In Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48, the prophet speaks of an amazing new temple and a river that brings healing flowing from the temple. And in chapter 36 of Ezekiel, it is prophesied again that there would be a national turning of the people of Israel. That they would be given a new heart and would fully serve the Lord and obey Him.
24 For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.
So again we ask the question: Were these prophecies fulfilled? Yes but only in part. The Jewish people did return to the land, Jerusalem was rebuilt along with a new temple, many of the Jews turned back to Yahweh. And yet much of what was prophesied has not been fully realized. The second temple was not built according to the specifications outlined in Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48 and it was even destroyed again in 70 AD. While the remnant did turn to Yahweh, not all of Israel was given a new heart to fully obey Him and Israel to this day faces constant violence and terrorism. Thus they are not dwelling in peace. Christians and Jews are in agreement that the Messiah will someday come and bring all these prophecies to complete fulfillment. But Jeremiah and Ezekiel didn’t think all this would eventually take place thousands of years in the future? Why would they? Jeremiah gave his prophecies at the beginning of the Babylonian exile and Ezekiel gave his prophecies as a captive in Babylon. So when God gave them these words, that the exiles would be brought back, that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, that the nation would turn to the Lord and dwell in peace, they were expecting everything to be fulfilled when the Jewish people return from Babylon after their 70 year exile was over.
You might recall the disciples of Yeshua having similar sentiments. After Yeshua had opened up their minds in understanding the scriptures concerning his death and resurrection and they began to see prophecy unfolding before their eyes, naturally they assumed that all the other prophecies about the Messiah were right around the corner. That’s why just prior to Yeshua’s ascension in Acts 1, they asked him this question.
So when they had come together they asked him, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Of course Yeshua’s response was probably not what they expected. He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) In other words, it will happen but not right now. So how exactly is this relevant to the question of whether the Tanakh speaks of a second coming of the Messiah? Well it shows us that there is a biblical basis for prophecy being fulfilled in phases rather than all at once. Indeed while these prophecies from Jeremiah and Ezekiel were inaugurated after the Jewish people returned from Babylonian exile, we are still awaiting their complete fulfillment. In the same way, Christians and Messianics believe that the Messiah’s work has two phases. The first phase was Messiah’s priestly work. The Messiah was prophesied to come as a suffering servant whose death makes atonement for our sins. This was fulfilled by Yeshua at his first coming. The second phase which includes ushering in an era of world peace for example will be fulfilled by Yeshua at his second coming. And it will be at that time that these prophecies from Jeremiah and Ezekiel will also be fully realized.