Since Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension in Jerusalem two millennia ago, there have been fifty (yes, 50) Jewish messianic pretenders, e.g., false messiahs. The Hebrew Bible offers overt and covert testimony to substantiate Yeshua’s Messiahship. Failure to respond in faith to God’s radiant revelation in Yeshua has led to Jewish vulnerabilities to repeated messianic imposters over the centuries which led to multiplied catastrophes.
Proper identification of the Messiah is of critical importance in the Torah. Moses posts a messianic prophecy establishing the absolutely essential nature of Israel following the God-appointed Anointed Leader of Israel, “Adonai your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your midst—from your brothers. To him you must listen,” (Dt. 18:15, TLV).
The public anointings of kings, high priests, and even occasional prophets aided national recognition of God’s own selected person to lead Israel into the full flow of God’s blessings. The outpoured anointing oil upon the chosen head registered to the Jewish masses this very one was God’s deliberately selected agent of blessing for leadership, priestly service, or prophetic word. Group rejection of God’s sole agent for messianic blessing would prevent Israel from enjoying the fullness of blessing God longed to bestow upon His people.
This public anointing occurred for Yeshua at his mikveh (water immersion) when the anointing of God’s Spirit rested upon him and God spoke for all to hear, “You are My Son, whom I love—with You I am well pleased!” (Luke 3:22, TLV). Directly after demonstrating His messianic character in the wilderness, Yeshua openly announced His appointment as the Anointed One in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4). That Messianic Anointing rested heavily upon Him and later was shared with the Messianic (Spirit-anointed) Jewish community (Acts 2).
Missing the Brightest Light that ever shined, later rabbinic luminaries could not prevent Jewish masses from following messianic pretenders when political circumstances, periods of anti-Semitism, or natural causes plagued the Jewish world. Invariably, these false messiahs generated widespread but false hopes for an immediate worldwide Jewish return to Zion and the establishment of the Messianic reign in Jerusalem. Although fifty identifiable presumptives are historically documented, we can here offer a brief record of a few.
As early as the second century, when Roman Emperor Hadrian first pledged to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple and then reneged, the chemistry was right for an angry Jewish reaction and the rise of Bar Kochba (132-135 AD), who was heralded by Rabbi Akiva as the awaited messiah. Bar Kochba’s highly successful military campaigns against the humiliated Romans ultimately resulted in hundreds of thousands of lost Jewish lives, the loss of Jerusalem to pagan authorities, and the temporary abandonment of messianic aspirations or rabbinic thought for a revived Jewish state. In fact, the Mishnah, the compilation of Oral Law about 200 AD, includes no mention of either messiah or statehood.
The embracing of Replacement Theology became especially problematic for the rabbis when Christianity was adopted as the official state religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. The Roman theological dismissal of Israel or Jewish national aspirations compelled rabbinic authorities to resurrect messianic hopes in an effort to sustain Jewish religious legitimacy.
When the Roman Empire divided East and West in 395 AD, Crete’s Jews suffered new levels of Byzantine oppression. Oral tradition then indicated messiah would come during the 85th Jubilee, e.g., between years 440-490, and that the diaspora would not extend longer than 430 years, the length of sojourn in Egypt, and due to conclude by 468. Others held the Roman imperial domain would expire after 1200 years, e.g., by 447. All these “birth pangs” set the stage for the pretender, (a second) Moses of Crete in 440 AD.
Moses claimed (as Mohammed) he was the ultimate prophet and that he would lead “All Israel” back to Zion over the divided Mediterranean (like Moses) and dried sea-bed. After ordering his followers to jump into the sea off a designated cliff by faith, multitudes drowned. Moses then disappeared with their wealth while most Jewish survivors converted to Christianity.
One Syrian messiah, a sexual predator, was Serenus. In 720, casting off rabbinic codes, he offered to miraculously fly Jews to Zion. Growing confident that Islam was conquering the Roman world, Jews from as far as Spain and France flocked to his banner. After pocketing the wealth of his naïve followers and arrest by the Islamic Caliph, he admitted his criminal intents. He was executed by the Jewish community which was then received back into Judaism.
We cannot here discuss the Rambam’s condemnation of four Yemeni messiahs during the 12th century nor review the fiascos of 16th century Shabbetai Zvi (convert to Islam), 17th century Jakob Frank (convert to Roman Catholicism), or even 20th-century Menachem Schneerson (whose New York resurrection has been anticipated since 1994) or 40 others. Suffice it to say, the Jewish world would have been divinely blessed and avoided all these messianic catastrophes and humiliating escapades by embracing Yeshua two millennia ago.
The day is still coming when “All Israel” shall say, “Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the LORD” to welcome Yeshua to His God-intended Messianic throne in Zion. In this century of radical Islamic threat to Israel and Jews everywhere, and escalating worldwide anti-Semitism and social upheaval, we need to bring the true Messianic Light and God-directed faith to a still spiritually obscured “All Israel.”