Three religions—Christianity, Islam and Judaism—look for a coming Messiah. Yet they differ in their view of who this will be and what he will do upon his return.
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The closing words of a recent speech by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left various impressions on those who heard it.
Many simply had no understanding of what was said or its implications. Some who heard and understood his words felt a growing uneasiness, mixed with trepidation and fear. But others welcomed them with eagerness and excitement, looking forward to the fulfillment of centuries-old prophecies.
What was said that could incite such a range of conflicting emotions?
It was an appeal to Allah to hasten the appearance of the Hidden Imam or Imam Mahdi, a prophesied leader who will help usher in the rule of Islam over the world.
It may come as a surprise to many that Christianity and Judaism are not alone in the belief of a soon-coming Messiah who will intervene in world affairs and establish a true religion. Though they may share this belief, there are vast differences concerning who this is, and what he will do upon returning.
Are there three separate Messiahs, or is there only one? And, if only one—then which?
Islam—with more than one billion adherents to its various forms—has become increasingly visible in recent years. Practitioners of this belief system, which is based on the Qu’ran, can be found in most nations of the world. The prophet Muhammad is a familiar personage to most outside of Islam and commands deep respect from those in it. He is said to have ascended into heaven from a rock on top of what Jews and Christians believe is Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, to receive special instructions from God.
The world is now becoming aware of the Islamic belief in a coming Messiah coupled with an apocalyptic aspect. The Iranian president’s petition to Allah offered a glimpse into one version of this belief, shared by millions within the Muslim religion.
The majority of Muslims are of the Sunni branch of Islam, while Shia makes up much of the minority belief. It must first be acknowledged that many in the Sunni majority do not subscribe to the belief in a Mahdi as viewed by the Iranian president and the Shiites. Many Sunnis view the Messiah as exclusively “Jesus the son of Mary.” It should be pointed out that some noted Sunni authorities have rejected belief in the Mahdi altogether. Of the portion of Sunni Muslims who do believe in this figure, they do not necessarily accept that he is the Twelfth Imam, as do the Shiites.
Yet it is beneficial to understand what the Iranian president, the minority Shiites and some Sunnis in particular countries believe in regard to the Imam Mahdi. Who is this Imam Mahdi and what is his significance? Is he regarded as the same as the promised Messiah? Or are they considered two different figures?
The term Mahdi is interpreted to mean “the Guided One.” Though (according to some Muslims) not specifically mentioned in the Qu’ran, the belief of a coming Mahdi is rooted in Islamic hadiths, or traditions, based on its teachings. According to these hadiths, the Mahdi is to be descended from the prophet Muhammad’s family (from Ishmael, of the Old Testament). At age 40, he is expected to appear on the scene suddenly at the time of the end, a period when the world will be filled with injustice and tyranny, and believers (of Islam) will be under oppression. Preceding his appearance will be various signs such as a great earthquake and green grass growing in desert lands. Receiving knowledge directly from Allah, the Mahdi will rule over the Muslim community for seven (some say nine) years, spreading brotherhood, equity and devotion among Muslims. It is also believed he will bring justice to the Earth, uniting Arabs and other peoples under Islam.
These events occur prior to a second physical coming of Hadhrat Isa bin Maryam (Jesus, son of Mary), who Islam believes was a prophet of God from the lineage of Abraham, and the prophesied Messiah. According to some hadiths, Jesus and the Mahdi will co-rule for a short time. At Jesus’ return, he will fight and overcome the Dijjal (the “antichrist”), will rule according to the laws of Islam, and cause the peoples of the world (Jews and Christians) to embrace Islam, heralding in a time of justice, peace and prosperity. During his 40 years on Earth, he will be married for 19 years, have children, and then die and be buried in a grave next to the holy prophet. He will also be victorious in a battle against Gog and Magog (nations also mentioned in the Old Testament).
These events are said to happen before all believers die prior to the Day of Judgment, during which a resurrection of the dead, involving judgment and punishment, occurs. It is after this that Allah establishes his kingdom on Earth, with Islam as the worldwide religion.
The Jewish belief in a Messiah (Hebrew: Mashiach—“the anointed”) predates Islam and traditional Christianity. This Messiah is not the Jesus known to professing Christians, who (according to the Jews) failed to fulfill primary Messianic prophecies, such as ushering in world peace. The Jewish Messiah is, however, to be a descendant of King David—under whose leadership the nation of Israel began to flourish, ultimately reaching its power and prestige during the reign of his son, Solomon. The Jewish people look forward to national greatness being restored with the first coming of the Messiah, a conquering king.
Born of ordinary physical parents, the Jewish Messiah is to come as a mortal human being. In time, he will rise in stature and prominence among the Jewish and gentile peoples through his charisma, wisdom and political prowess. This will establish his recognition as the “redeemer of Israel.”
His coming is expected to be preceded by the prophet Elijah, as referenced in the book of Malachi (4:5-6). He is expected to announce the Messiah’s coming by blowing a shofar (ram’s horn) from Mount Carmel. Preparing the way, tradition says Elijah will end mankind’s disputes and cause existing religious doubts and questions to cease. It is also believed that he will restore to Israel a flask of manna, which will provide the nation’s food; a flask of purifying water; and a flask of olive oil, from which he will anoint the Messiah at his appearance.
It is Jewish tradition to set an extra place at the Passover supper for Elijah in anticipation of his return.
Though the Messiah is born of ordinary parents, he must be a Jew—from the tribe of Judah—and a direct male descendant of King David and King Solomon. Coming in a time when the Jews are suffering oppression, he is to be a political/spiritual leader of his people, uniting them under Judaism and redeeming them to their God. The laws and rituals contained in the Torah will once again be in force. The Messiah will gather the exiled Jewish people from around the world, returning them to their homeland—Israel. The temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and Israel will return to national prominence among nations—becoming an example to the world.
The Jewish Messiah’s earthly reign will be one of unparalleled peace and prosperity; war and injustice will disappear. He will rule in the kingdom of the Almighty with justice and equity, and through this rule will bring all of the Earth’s inhabitants back to their Creator—with Judaism as the world’s religion—filling it with the knowledge of God.
The saying among Jews “next year in Jerusalem” points to this time.
To believers of traditional Christianity, Jesus Christ (Greek: Christos—“anointed”) is the Messiah, the One who is coming again. Though there are differences within Christianity’s view regarding Christ’s Second Coming, the following overall framework is generally agreed upon.
His First Coming was that of a baby born in a manger. Coming as a flesh-and-blood human being, yet still divine, Jesus had to die on the cross, taking on the role of a suffering servant and making mankind’s salvation possible. Having then risen and ascended into heaven, He, with the help of His earthly servants, is trying to save as many people as possible during the only “Day of Salvation”—the present age. Christmas and Easter are highly venerated among the world’s Christians since it is believed these two holidays picture Jesus’ birth and resurrection.
This “Day of Salvation” continues until just before the prophesied Great Tribulation, which is coming to punish an evil world.
It is believed that just prior to this event, Jesus’ Second Coming is imminent, and occurs in two stages. At His initial return, Jesus comes to “rapture away” the church (composed of all believers in Christ). He does not return completely, but only partially—to the clouds—to remove Christians from the Earth, protecting them from the Tribulation, which is believed to last seven years. Believers who are alive at that time (and those who are resurrected from the dead) are given glorified bodies and meet Jesus in the air, remaining with Him until this terrible Tribulation is over. This impending rapturing away of believers will happen secretly, and in an instant. Unbelievers will be caught unaware, left to suffer through this dreadful time of God’s wrath, which will result in worldwide devastation and millions dead. This is when the antichrist (“the beast”) will come to power, ruling the entire world.
In certain circles of Christian thought, there is also the expectation of “two witnesses” (Rev. 11:3-12) coming on the scene. These could be Elijah and Moses (or other Old Testament figures), and will be precursors to Jesus Christ’s return.
At the Tribulation’s end, Christ will now fully come as King (called the Second Coming), returning with those who had been raptured, to make war with the antichrist and the false prophet. He will defeat them, bind Satan, destroy all evil, and establish the millennial (1,000-year) rule of the kingdom of God on Earth. Inhabiting the kingdom will be two kinds of saints: (1) those with earthly bodies (Jew and gentile) who lived through the Tribulation and accepted Christ at His return (they apparently live and die, producing children to repopulate Earth); and (2) those who were raptured, and are the only ones given glorified bodies.
This is to be a time of peace and prosperity, and Jerusalem will be the center of rule—with traditional Christianity as the world’s religion. After the 1,000 years will come the judgment of all unsaved mankind.
Though these three messianic beliefs share some similarities, they are ultimately very different and conflict with one another. Can all of these views be right? Are any of them correct? Are there three Messiahs—or only one? And, if only one, which one? How can you know?
Will a coming Messiah usher in the kingdom of God on Earth? Will He put an end to war and all the other problems that plague humanity? Will He bring peace, happiness, prosperity, brotherhood and unity among nations, teaching mankind about the true God, under one true religion?
The Bible—both Old and New Testament—claims to be the inspired Word of God. It declares there is a coming Messiah, who will establish God’s kingdom—His government—on Earth: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isa. 9:6-7).
“And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2).
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (vs. 6-9)
The Messiah’s return and the establishment of God’s kingdom will happen—but at a time and in a way that will take the vast majority of humanity completely by surprise! To learn more, read our book Tomorrow’s Wonderful World – An Inside View!