“How have the Jewish people come to view their early expectation of a Messiah?” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 44–45
Avraham Gileadi, graduate student of ancient scripture and research assistant at Brigham Young University: The mission of Jesus on the earth in the meridian of time was to accomplish the way whereby mankind might be redeemed from death and from the other effects of the Fall. Even a Jewish rabbinical tradition, now contained in the Talmud, spoke of a man who would come and die on behalf of all mankind. This atonement was foreordained in a council held before the creation of the earth, according to the tradition.
But in Jesus’ time the quality of religious observance of the chosen people was perhaps at its lowest ever. The keepers of the spiritual well neither drank themselves nor let others drink. Nationally the Jews had enjoyed no lasting independence since before the Babylonian captivity, over 400 years earlier. It was at this time that Jesus performed his mission of effecting the atonement. Indeed, the atonement of Jesus perhaps could only have been accomplished in such a dark hour of the Jewish nation’s history.
At his death, Jesus became numbered among the false messiahs of his day who sought the political redemption of Israel. Nevertheless, many Jews did believe him to be the Messiah, in spite of his seeming failure. These included his personal disciples whose missions were to testify of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thousands of Jews, including many priests, were converted by their preaching.
Since the time of Christ, Christians have traditionally stressed the spiritual mission of the Messiah, while the Jews have always clung to the political and human aspects of the messianic role. Each side has tended to ignore the legitimate expectations of the other. Only since the restoration of the fulness of the gospel to the earth has a reconciliation of beliefs become feasible. The authority has been restored that will make possible Jewish messianic requirements within the framework of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Judaism, chiefly through Maimonides, has formulated three distinct missions that the Messiah will perform. In order of their occurrence, these are (1) the establishment of the political kingdom of God on earth, beginning in Israel, (2) the building of a temple on the original site in Jerusalem, and (3) the return of the ten lost tribes.
Latter-day prophecies foretell the rising up of a prophet among the Jews in the last days to prepare the way for the second coming of Christ, whose mission corresponds to the Jewish messianic concept. Joseph Smith predicted a change would come over Israel in the days of this prophet when he said, speaking of the Jews:
“… their unbelief has not rendered the promise of God [to make with them a new covenant] of none effect: no, for there was another day limited in David, which was the day of His power; [when a prophet of the lineage of David shall be raised up] and then His people, Israel, should be a willing people. …” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 313.)
Because the Jews rejected Christ, they were cast off from enjoying the rights of the priesthood and the gifts of the Spirit, enabling the Gentiles to receive the gospel and to be considered as people of the covenant. Paul, using the symbolism of the olive tree, indicated that the Jews would eventually be grafted back into the tree, while the Gentiles would be in danger of being broken off. Paul also said that receiving the Jews into the new covenant would be as “life from the dead.” (Rom. 11:15.) But, he said, “… blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” (Rom. 11:25.)
The Lord provided a means to dispel the partial spiritual blindness resting on the Jews when he commanded Latter-day Saints to “seek diligently to turn … the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews. …” (D&C 98:16–17.) As the mission of Ephraim unfolds, we may expect great things from Judah.