Yeshua – Redeemer of the Captives

The problem: Exile – the state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons.

The solution: Mashiach

The question is, how does Mashiach affect the problem of exile?

The exile is foretold several places in the Tanakh. Here is but one passage that tells of the reason for the exile of Israel.

And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, `Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?’ then you shall say to them: `Because your fathers have forsaken me, says the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me; therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’ (Jeremiah 16:10-13, RSV)

In parashat Nitzavim, we see the promise to undo the effects of the exile once it has happened:

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you this day, with all your heart and with all your soul; then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes, and have compassion upon you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will fetch you; and the LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, that you may possess it; and he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)

But still, how does Mashiach fit into all of this? Keep reading…

The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, declares the LORD. (Isaiah 59:20)

And how will he come? We know that Eliyahu is prophesied to be the forerunner of Mashiach:

But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachai 4:2-6)

And indeed this does happen. Eliyahu prepares the way for Yeshua’s coming:

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him [Zechariah], standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:11-17)

It happened just as the malach (angel) stated:

Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:5-12)

The corresponds to the general consensus of sages and scholars that repentance precedes Kibbutz Galuyot (the ingathering of the exiles). “To make the Ingathering complete, it also has to be a restoration of the Community of Israel to God.” (The Messiah Texts, p. 181) In order for the Exile to be annulled, the hearts of Israel must be returned to Hashem. Repentance is the only ticket of return.

“R’ Chama bar Chanina said: Great is repentance, for it brings healing to the world.” (Yoma 86a-b)

“Rabbi Eliezer would say: Repent one day before your death.” (Avot 2:10)

There is a familiar story in the Talmud of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s encounter with the Messiah (b.Sanhedrin 98a). In this story, R. Yehoshua first has an encounter with Eliyahu HaNavi. Excited to see Eliyahu (knowing that Eliyahu is the forerunner of Mashiach), R. Yehoshua asks him, “When will Mashiach come?” Eliyahu reponds rather casually and tells him to go ask Mashiach for himself. Perplexed at how he can do such a thing, R. Yehoshua asks how he can find Mashiach. Eliyahu replies by telling R. Yehoshua where to go and how to identify the Messiah among the lepers at the gate of the city.

Quickly, R. Yehoshua makes his way to where the Messiah is supposed to be, and to his surprise indeed discovers him there. He asks Mashiach, “When will you come?” To which the Messiah merely responds, “today.”

The next day, R. Yehoshua appears before Eliyahu again and tells him of his encounter with the Messiah. Disillusioned, he tells Eliyahu that Mashiach had not told him the truth about his coming. Eliyahu asks about his encounter, and what the Messiah told him. R. Yehoshua recounts his encounter, and tells him that when he asked Mashiach when he would come, his answer was, “today.” Eliyahu responds by saying that what Mashiach meant was, “Today if you will but hear his voice.” This, of course, is an allusion to Psalm 95, in which it says,

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. (Psalm 95:7b-9)

Eliyahu was explaining to R. Yehoshua that the Messiah was doing a remez on this passage in order to tell him the requirement for his coming. We have the same perspective in the Apostolic Writings by the author of the book of Hebrews. The entire 3rd chapter (and part of the 4th) is devoted to a midrash on this passage warning us to not harden our hearts, but to heed the voice of Hashem and constantly walk in repentance.
This brings us back to a key text for this concept of Mashiach affecting redemption.

The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, declares the LORD. (Isaiah 59:20)

This explains why some received him and others did not. It also helps us to understand his role in his first appearance and how it all that he said and did was to accomplish his mission: To redeem the captives of Israel. What do we mean by “captives?” Young’s translation of the above passage is a key to helping us unlock this mystery:

And come to Zion hath a redeemer, Even to captives of transgression in Jacob…

Based on the term goel (גוֹאֵל), “redeemer”, this translation gives the full force of the passage, stating that in order for there to be a Redeemer (goel), there must be captivity of sorts. Although there are captives still in the Diaspora by way of assimilation from the Assyrian captivity, there are far more who are being held captive by the Adversary as slaves to transgressions (through sins of either knowledge or ignorance). Yeshua clearly stated his mission in Mark 2:17

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

His purpose was to bring the transgressor to repentance, to make them a Baal T’shuva (Master of Repentance)—to make the relationship with Hashem attainable, and not for just the yeshiva students. He was calling Reuven and Shmu’el, John and Joe to an intimate walk with their Creator, living The Life in public view, setting the course for those talmidim who would follow. He was bringing the holy to the common, not to degrade the holy, but to exalt the common to a level of holiness.

May we, by the merits of the Righteous Mashiach, live up to his call of ahavah uteshuvah (love and repentance) and be Fishers of Men in order to end the exile speedily in our days.

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