The final Messiah will be a normal human being, born of human parents. It is thus possible that he is already born.
Similarly, the Messiah will be mortal. He will eventually die and bequeath his kingdom to his son or his successor.
Tradition states that he will be a direct descendant of King David, son of Jesse, as it its written, "A shoot will come forth from the stock of Jesse, and a branch will grow from his roots" (Isaiah 11:1). Likewise, in our prayers, we ask, "May the shoot of David flourish," and "May the memory of Mashiach ben David rise up… before You." There are numerous Jewish families today that can trace their ancestry directly back to King David.
The final Messiah will be the greatest leader and political genius that the world has ever seen. He will likewise be the wisest man ever to have lived. He will put these extraordinary talents to use to precipitate a worldwide revolution which will bring perfect social justice to humanity, and influence all people to serve God with a pure heart.
The Messiah will also achieve prophecy and become the greatest prophet in history, second only to Moses.
The prophet Isaiah described six qualities with which the Messiah will be blessed: "God's spirit will rest upon him, (1) the spirit of wisdom and (2) understanding, (3) the spirit of counsel and (4) might, (5) the spirit of knowledge and (6) fear of God" (Isaiah 11:2). In all these qualities, the Messiah will excel all other human beings.
The Messiah will see through the sham and hypocrisy of this world. He will have the power to sense a person's spirit, thereby knowing his entire spiritual record, and judging whether he is guilty or not. Regarding this power, it is further written, "He will be filled with the spirit of the fear of God; he will not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear" (Isaiah 11:3). This is one sign by which the Messiah will be recognized. However, similar to the gift of prophecy, this power will only develop gradually.
The Messiah will use this power to determine to which tribe every Jew belongs. He will then divide the Land of Israel into land inheritances with each tribe receiving its portion. He will begin with the tribe of Levi, determining the legitimacy of each Kohen and Levite. Regarding this the prophet said, "He will purify the children of Levi, and refine them like gold and silver, to become bearers of an offering to God in righteousness" (Malachi 3:3).
Goals and Mission
The mission of the Messiah is six-fold. His primary task is to cause all the world to return to God and His teachings.
He will also restore the royal dynasty to the descendants of David.
He will oversee the rebuilding of Jerusalem, including the Third Temple.
He will gather the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
He will reestablish the Sanhedrin, the religious supreme court and legislature of the Jewish people. This is a necessary condition for the rebuilding of the Third Temple, as it is written, "I will restore your judges as at first, and your counselors as in the beginning; afterward, you will be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those who return to her, with righteousness" (Isaiah 1:26-27). Such a Sanhedrin would also be able to formally recognize the Messiah as the king of Israel.
He will restore the sacrificial system as well as the practices of the Sabbatical Year (Shmitah) and the Jubilee Year (Yovel).
The Messiah will lead Israel back to the Torah and rebuild the Holy Temple.
Therefore, as Maimonides states, "If there arises a ruler from the family of David, immersed in the Torah and its commandments like David his ancestor, following both the Written and Oral Torah, who leads Israel back to the Torah, strengthening the observance of its laws and fighting God's battles, then we may assume that he is the Messiah. If he is further successful in rebuilding the Temple on its original site and gathering the dispersed of Israel, then his identity as Messiah is a certainty."
As the Messiah's powers develop, so will his fame. The world will begin to recognize his profound wisdom and come to seek his advice. He will then teach all mankind to live in peace and follow God's teachings. The prophets thus foretold, "It shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of God's house shall be set over all other mountains and lifted high above the hills; and all nations shall come streaming to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, let us go up to God's mountain, to the house of Israel's God. He (the Messiah) will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.' For Torah shall go forth out of Zion, and God's word from Jerusalem. And he (the Messiah) will judge between nations and decide between peoples. And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither will they practice war anymore." (Isaiah 2:2-4, Micah 4:1-3)
In the Messianic Era, many non-Jews will feel compelled to convert to Judaism as the prophet foretold, "I will then give all peoples a pure tongue, that they may call in the Name of God, and all serve Him in one manner" (Zephaniah 3:9). Once the Messiah has revealed himself, however, converts will no longer be accepted.
Still, Jerusalem will become the center of worship and instruction for all mankind. God thus told His prophet, "I will return to Zion and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth and the Mountain of the God of Hosts, the Holy Mountain" (Zechariah 8:3).
Jerusalem will become the spiritual capital of the world.
This will begin the period when the teachings of God will be supreme over all mankind, as it is written, "For the Lord of Hosts will be King in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem. [He will reveal His] Glory in the presence of His wise elders" (Isaiah 24:23). All peoples will then come to Jerusalem to seek God. The prophet Zechariah describes this graphically when he says, "Many people and mighty nations will come and seek the God of Hosts in Jerusalem… In those days, ten people out of all the nations will take hold of the corner of the garment of every Jew and say, 'We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (Zechariah 8:22-23).
In Jerusalem, the Jewish people will thus be established as the spiritual and moral teachers of all mankind. At that time, Jerusalem will become the spiritual capital of the world.
In the Messianic Era, all people will believe in God and proclaim His Unity. The prophet thus foretold, "God will be King over all the earth; on that day God will be One and His Name One: (Zechariah 14:9).
Peace and Harmony
In the Messianic Era, jealousy and competition will cease to exist, for all good things will be most plentiful and all sorts of delicacies will be as common as dust. Men will no longer wage or prepare for war, as the prophet foretold, "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither will they practice war any more" (Isaiah 2:4).
In the Messianic Era, all nations will live peacefully together. Similarly, people of all dispositions will live together in harmony. The prophet spoke of this allegorically when he said, "The wolf will dwell with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the kid; the calf, the young lion, and the fatling together, will be led by a young child. The cow will graze with the bear; their young will lie down together; the lion will eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 11:6-7).
Although the Messiah will influence and teach all mankind, his main mission will be to bring the Jewish people back to God. The prophet thus said, "For the children of Israel will remain for many days with no king and no prince… Afterward, the children of Israel will return and seek God their Lord and David their king; they will come in awe to God and His goodness, in the end of days" (Hosea 3:4-5). Similarly, "My servant David will be king over them; they will all have one shepherd; they will also follow My ordinances and observe My laws" (Ezekiel 37:24).
All mankind will attain the highest levels of Divine Inspiration without any difficulty whatsoever.
As society reaches toward perfection and the world becomes increasingly Godly, humanity's main occupation will only be to know God. The truth will be revealed and the entire world will acknowledge that the Torah is God's true teaching. This is what the prophet meant when he foretold, "The earth will be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). Similarly, all mankind will attain the highest levels of Divine Inspiration without any difficulty whatsoever. God thus promised through His prophet, "It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Joel 3:1).
Although man will still have free will in the Messianic Age, he will have every inducement to do good and follow God's teachings. It will be as if the power of evil were totally annihilated. This is what the prophet predicted, "I will place My Torah inside of them, and inscribe it upon their hearts… A person will no longer teach his friend and his brother saying, 'Know God!' For all of them will know Me, great and small alike" (Jeremiah 31:32-33).
The prophet likewise said in God's name, "I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). That is, the inclination toward good will be strengthened in man to such an extent that he will not be drawn after the physical at all. Rather, he will constantly strengthen himself spiritually and incline toward serving God and following His Torah. This is the meaning of the Torah's promise that, "God will circumcise the foreskins of your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love God your Lord with all your heart and soul" (Deut. 30:6).
The Messiah will not change our religion in any way. All the commandments will be binding in the Messianic Era. Nothing will be added to or subtracted from the Torah.
There is an opinion that the only books of the Bible which will be regularly studied in the Messianic Era will be the Five Books of Moses and the Scroll of Esther. The reason for this is that all the other teachings of the prophets can be derived from the Torah, and since the Messiah will reveal all the meanings of the Torah to perfection, the prophetic writings will no longer be needed.
The sacrificial system will be restored in the Messianic Era. However, the only private sacrifices which will be accepted will be the thanksgiving offering. Since man's heart will have been circumcised, the desire to sin will no longer exist, and the private sacrifices which are brought to atone for sins will no longer be needed. Similarly, the only prayers which will be necessary will be prayers of thanksgiving.
Our prophets and sages did not long for the Messianic Era in order that they might rule the world and dominate others. They did not desire that the nations should honor them, or that they should be able to eat, drink and be merry. They only wanted one thing, and that was to be free to involve themselves in the Torah and its wisdom. They wanted nothing to disturb or distract them, in order that they should be able to strive to become worthy of the life in the World to Come.
From The Handbook of Jewish Thought (Vol. 2), Maznaim Publishing. Reprinted with permission.