“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5)
The End Times, for many Christians, brings to mind the Rapture, Tribulation, the Second Coming, and Judgement Day. But what do Jewish traditions teach about the End Times? And are those traditions coming true before our eyes?
The Jewish End Times
Jewish beliefs about the End Times are based on the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament, especially the books of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, and Malachi) as well as later rabbinic sources in the Talmud and Midrash.
These traditions discuss key events that include:
- – The Resurrection of the Dead
- – The Ingathering of the Exiles (including the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”)
- – The building of a Third Temple in Jerusalem
- – The reign of the Messiah-King descended from King David
The relationship between these events and their timing are unclear, but a number of other factors will play a role.
Elijah the Prophet, the “harbinger of the Messiah,” is to return to anoint the Messiah. The period immediately preceding the Messiah’s return will be a time of great uncertainty and suffering. These “birth pangs of the Messiah” will include social upheavals. A great war will rage between mighty nations as described by Ezekiel in his prophecy of Gog and Magog. (Ezekiel 38) The end result will be a period of world peace (“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb…”—Isaiah 11:6) and, perhaps, eternal life.
Maimonides: A Surprising Interpretation
The famed twelfth-century scholar and philosopher, Maimonides (Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon), adds a surprising twist to the views of the Final Days. Despite this forecast of seemingly miraculous events, the Messianic Era will not involve the suspension of the laws of nature!
The Messianic Era will introduce a time of peace and prosperity, which will free the righteous from mundane concerns allowing them to dedicate their time to study and reflection.
And how will we identify the Messiah? Simple. Any righteous king of the House of David who succeeds in returning the exiles to Israel and in building the Temple in Jerusalem is, retroactively, the true Messiah.
What is Missing?
The keen-eyed reader will have noticed that something is missing from the Jewish End Times–something besides open miracles.
In a word: Satan. These End Times include no final battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell.
This is because, although a “satan” appears briefly in the Hebrew Bible as Job’s “accuser,” Judaism does not believe in a Devil.
The Jewish End Times… Today?
We return to the question with which we started: Have the Jewish End Times already begun?
There is evidence to support an answer of “yes!” Over the past one hundred and forty years, Jews have returned to the Holy Land from all corners of the Diaspora. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the number of returning exiles has increased steadily and soon the majority of world Jewry will reside once again in Israel.
This trend has only accelerated since the onset of the recent coronavirus pandemic and social unrest. (The “birth pangs of the Messiah?”)
Secondly, the past fifty years have seen a significant drop in large-scale wars along with dramatic increases in global prosperity and health, thanks to the “miracles” of modern medicine and technology.
With Israel’s growing economic and political strength, we hope and pray that a time of peace and prosperity is near, a time when the righteous of all nations can devote more of their time and energy to spiritual pursuits. And who knows… perhaps a “cure” to death?
Of course, this article only scratches the surface. Jewish traditions of the End Times are far richer—and more colorful—than we have discussed here. Many fascinating questions remain. For example: Who will be resurrected and where? And how is the Messianic Era related to the World To Come and Heaven?
You are invited to read further
The Dry Bones Society series brings these traditions to life in modern-day Israel, along with healthy servings of mystery and humor, history and adventure. This award-winning and heartwarming tale of hope and second chances explores the Jewish End Times starting with the Resurrection in Jerusalem. As one reviewer put it: “If you liked the Left Behind series, you will love this!”