Compiled by Jonathan Sacks
Both scriptures, Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, establish that the Messiah would die. We are told that He would die as a kapporah, or atonement, for our sins. This leads to an important question. Does the Jewish Bible (Hebrew Scriptures or Tanakh) give any indication as to when He would die? It came as a surprise to this writer, as a Jew from 17 generations of rabbis, to learn that the Tanakh clearly identifies the time when this would occur.
When would the Messiah die?
Answer: Before 70 C.E.
This is perhaps the most dramatic passage concerning the time of Messiah’s coming. The passage uses the title “Messiah” twice and gives a specific chronology of events. When Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.E., the Jewish people were taken captive to Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that the captivity would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10). When these 70 years were nearly over, the prophet Daniel prayed for the restoration of the Jewish people and for the restoration of Jerusalem. The answer to Daniel’s prayer begins in Daniel 9:24.
24. Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sin, and forgive iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the most holy place.
25. Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto one anointed, a prince, shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks, it shall be built again, with broad place and moat, but in troublous times. (Emphasis added.)
26. And after the threescore and two weeks shall an anointed one be cut off, and be no more; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. (Emphasis added.)
The Hebrew word translated “weeks” is Sh’vuim, literally meaning “sevens” and not Sh’vuot, which means a normal week, a period of seven days. The word translated “an anointed one,” in verse 26, is the Hebrew word for Messiah. (Messiah literally means “anointed one.”) The great promises of verse 24 indicate that this passage could only refer to the ultimate anointed one—the Messiah.
Here we are told:
1. There would be a commandment to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem.
2. Then 7 “sevens” and 62 “sevens” would pass. This would bring us up to the time of the Messiah.
3. After the 62 “sevens” the Messiah would be cut off (i.e., die).
4. After that, Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed.
The order of events is crucial and clear. It is depicted in the following time line.
|Commandment to Restore & Rebuild Jerusalem||[—7—][———-62———-]Weeks||Messiah “Cut Off” (Dies)||70 C.E. 2nd Temple in Jerusalem Destroyed|
This passage makes it clear that the Messiah would die before the rebuilt Temple would be destroyed. When was the Second Temple destroyed?
It was in the year 70 C. E.
That the Messiah would have died before the destruction of the Temple makes complete sense for a number of reasons, including the following:
1. When the Temple was destroyed, the genealogical records that were kept there were also destroyed. It is no longer possible for one claiming to be the Messiah to demonstrate that He is a direct descendant of King David. It seems unlikely that the Almighty G-d would repeatedly tell us that the Messiah had to be a descendant of David, and then give us a Messiah Who could not prove that He met this critical requirement. (For more on Messiah’s genealogy, see Messiah’s Genealogy According to the Jewish Bible)
2. When the Temple was destroyed, the sacrifice system ended. This was the heart of Jewish worship before 70 C.E. This elaborate system is described in incredible detail through the Torah and dominated Jewish worship for centuries until its destruction in 70 C.E.
More importantly, the sacrificial system was necessary for atonement. (See, for example, Leviticus 16, describing Yom Kippur, and Leviticus 17:11.) It seems unlikely that the Almighty God would remove this system for nearly 2,000 years, unless He had already provided the ultimate atonement. (For more on the ultimate atonement, see What Rabbis Have Said About Isaiah 53 and Ten Reasons Why Isaiah 53 Cannot Refer to Israel)
3. The Jewish people were dispersed throughout the world in the first and second centuries. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 C. E., Jewish people were expelled from Jerusalem.
Jewish men were required to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem, the center of all required worship, three times a year–at Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks or Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). (See, for example, Deuteronomy 16:16 and 2 Chronicles 6:5-6). It seems unlikely that the Lord would require Jewish men to go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, and then make it impossible to do so for the better part of 19 centuries, unless the ultimate sacrifice, the death of the Messiah, had been made.