Every year during Advent, we anticipate the return of Jesus at the end of time. On the Solemnity of Christ the King that we celebrate today, his ultimate sovereignty over the entire universe is recognized by Christians around the world. Centuries before he came to earth the first time 2,000 years ago, however, the Jewish people had been expecting a savior as well. The long-awaited Messiah would be a great king who would liberate them from foreign occupation and restore Israel to its former greatness.
For many Jews, Jesus turned out to be a failed Messiah. Having suffered a cruel and ignominious death by Roman crucifixion, then the most dreaded form of capital punishment, he ultimately did not fulfill their expectations of messianic glory through military strength. Though he was the first, there have been many claimed Messiahs since Jesus. In the end, all of them were disappointments.
About sixty-two years after a failed Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 A.D. that led to the utter destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a man named Simon Bar Kokhba (“Son of the Star”) tried again to bring down the Roman occupation. He was a legendary figure purportedly with superhuman strength, who liberated the Jews for two and a half years, until the Roman army returned with a massive onslaught so violent that the blood was said to flow forty miles to the sea.
Three hundred years later, a man calling himself Moses appeared on the Greek island of Crete, promising the Jews there that he was the Messiah who would lead them back to their homeland. Gathering a large following on the sandy shores, he instructed his disciples to follow him into the sea, reassuring them that God would part the waters as he had done thousands of years earlier. Needless to say, most drowned. Another failed Messiah.
A self-proclaimed Jewish savior also rose up in eighth century Syria. He promised to expel Omar II, the Muslim caliph ruling there and return the people to Israel. Like the others, however, “Serene,” as he was known, soon was captured and forced to recant his messianic status.
In twelfth century Iran, a man named David Alroi also claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah. He formed a makeshift militia by uniting local Jewish armies and revolted against Muslim rulers because of the taxes they had imposed on the Jews living there. After a flourish of success in capturing his hometown, the rebellion eventually was crushed.
Indeed, Messiah claimants have arisen in every age and corner of the world, including as recently as 1994. Islam and Christianity also have seen their fair share. That all have failed should lead us back to the beginning, to the original Messiah, a carpenter from Nazareth, whose ostensible lack of success touched off this future stream of copycats. But was he really a failure?
Join us this Sunday to learn why Jesus Christ is the only authentic Messiah and true King of the Universe.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson