by Dan Bergman
The idea of a coming Messiah is central to the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Within them, there are a plethora of prophecies describing all manner of specific details regarding the person of the Messiah, the Anointed One. In fact, we can find a prophecy about one known as “the Seed of the woman” as early as Genesis 3:15 – the one who would deal a fatal wound to Satan himself.
However, it is not He who is the focus of this article, but rather false messiahs – counterfeits from Satan to mislead God’s chosen people. The writers of the New Testament and Jesus Himself warned about these imposters. They are many. We will examine a few of them.
FALSE MESSIAHS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The apostles are brought before the Jewish council in Jerusalem after preaching and healing in Jesus’ name. The high priest is very upset. The apostles then preach the gospel to the council! The Bible says that “they were cut to the heart,” and “took council to slay them”!1 Gamaliel (a respected Pharisee, and doctor of the Law) stands up and tells the council that if this is of God it cannot be overthrown, but if not it will fade away. He continues, and gives the following two examples of first century false messiahs:
Theudas and Judah of Galilee
“For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.”2
These two men and their followers disappeared about as quickly as they came. If it were not for this recorded statement in the book of Acts and the first century Jewish historian Josephus, we’d probably never even hear of them.
FALSE MESSIAHS FROM 100 A.D. TO TODAY
Shimon Ben-Kosevah (Bar-Kokhba) – 135
Ben-Kosevah was the leader of the second Jewish revolt against Rome (132-135 A.D.). In Judaism, names mean a great deal. Note that the real name of “Bar-Kokhba” is Ben-Kosevah. This most likely signifies that his father’s name was Kosevah. He was called “Bar-Kokhba” by Rabbi Akiva, who proclaimed him as the Messiah. Akiva taught that Kosevah was the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17 “…there shall come a Star out of Jacob…”.”Bar-Kokhba” means “son of the star” in Aramaic. After creating an independent Jewish state and holding off the Romans for three years, he perished at their hand. His rebellion was crushed, and Israel was renamed Syria Palestina by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Moses of Crete – 440
In the 5th century, a man named Fiskis of Crete renamed himself Moses. He was able to convince many Jewish congregations on the Island that he was the Messiah. They were so ready to be delivered from Roman rule that they neglected their usual duties, awaiting the day when Moses would lead them through the sea back to Israel on dry ground. That day came, and Moses commanded the Jews to cast themselves into the sea, and that the waters would be divided. There was a great loss of life that day. Those that didn’t drown or find their death on the rocks below were rescued by mariners. Moses disappeared.3
David Alroy – 1160
Claiming that he had been sent by God to free the Jews from Muslim rule, David led two armies in an attempt to capture the Persian city, Amadia. He failed, and was possibly killed in his sleep by his own father-in-law.
Abraham Ben-Samuel Abulafia – 1279
Abulafia declared himself to be a prophet. In Sicily, it is said that he declared himself the Messiah and announced 1290 as the year for the Messianic era to begin. After leaving Sicily, he went to the island of Comino, near Malta, continuing his teachings. His end is unknown.
Shebbetai Zevi – 1676
At 22 years old, in Smyrna, Zevi (a mystic rabbi in-training) began declaring that he was the long awaited Jewish Messiah. He and his followers were eventually excommunicated from Judaism and exiled from Smyrna by the local rabbinical leadership, when his claims to messiahship became too bold.
Ten years later, in Constantinople, he met a false prophet named Abraham Yachini who verified Zevi as the Messiah. Yachini is said to have forged a manuscript in archaic characters which, he alleged, bore testimony to Shebbetai’s messiahship. It reads:
“I, Abraham, was confined in a cave for forty years, and I wondered greatly that the time of miracles did not arrive. Then was heard a voice proclaiming, ‘A son will be born in the Hebrew year 5386 [the year 1626 CE] to Mordecai Zevi; and he will be called Shabbethai. He will humble the great dragon; … he, the true Messiah, will sit upon My throne.”4
Zevi declared himself “the One Without End”. He met a man known as Nathan of Gaza. Nathan claimed to be the risen Elijah, in order to proclaim the arrival of the Messiah. In 1665, Nathan announced that the messianic age would begin the following year.
Samuel Primo, who became Shebbetai’s secretary, directed in the name of the Messiah the following circular to all of the Jews:
“The first-begotten Son of God, Shabbethai Tebi, Messiah and Redeemer of the people of Israel, to all the sons of Israel, Peace! Since ye have been deemed worthy to behold the great day and the fulfilment of God’s word by the Prophets, your lament and sorrow must be changed into joy, and your fasting into merriment; for ye shall weep no more. Rejoice with song and melody, and change the day formerly spent in sadness and sorrow into a day of jubilee, because I have appeared.”
In 1666, Shebbetai was taken from Abydos to Adrianople, where the sultan’s vizier gave him three choices: subject himself to a trial of his divinity in the form of a volley of arrows (in which should the archers miss, his divinity would be proven); be impaled; or he could convert to Islam. The next day, (September 16, 1666) Zevi came before the sultan, cast off his Jewish garb and put a Turkish turban on his head. Zevi’s conversion to Islam was completed. Zevi’s wife and approximately 300 families among his followers also converted to Islam.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson – 1994
Born in what is now the Ukraine in 1902, Schneerson was born into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family. He did much to advance Orthodox Judaism in the 20th century. The organization that he led is one of the biggest “anti-missionary” groups within Judaism. They despise evangelical Christianity. To remain concise, we will focus on his status as a false messiah.
Schneerson (known as the Rebbe) died in Brooklyn, NY in 1994. There were many during his life, who declared him to be the Messiah. Schneerson largely denied many of these claims. However, those that believed he was the Messiah (the Chabad messianists) continued to propagate the message of “the Rebbe King Messiah.” These declarations heightened in 1992 after Schneerson suffered a stroke and was left paralyzed and speechless. After his death in 1994, many of his followers still believed him to be the Messiah, and were awaiting his resurrection. Some even took to sleeping near the Rebbe’s grave in a Queens’ cemetery, hoping to be the first to see their Messiah rise from the dead.
Some Chassidim actually pronounce the sentence, “‘The Rebbe is the Creator,’ though the number is not as negligible as one might imagine.”5
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in 2001, Rabbi David Berger explained the view of many of these messianists:
“…the Rebbe is omniscient, omnipotent, and entirely without limits. He is ‘indistinguishable’ from God. Because he is a transparent window for pure divinity, a ‘man-God,’ ‘when you speak to him, you speak to God.’”
It should be noted that none of these false messiahs fulfill even the simplest of messianic prophecies, and yet many were accepted by large numbers within Judaism.
The True Messiah of Israel
As the prophets foretold, the Messiah did come! He was born of a virgin, Isaiah 7:14, of the lineage of David, Isaiah 9:6-7, and in Bethlehem, Micah 5:2. He came exactly at the specific time prophesied within the book of Daniel, Daniel 9:24-27. He was and is the Creator in human flesh, Isaiah 48:12-17. He lived a perfect sinless life and died a cruel death as a perfect substitute sacrifice for all of the sins of the entire human race, Isaiah 53. He rose again from the dead, Isaiah 53:10, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, Psalm 110:1-2. His name is Jesus. Don’t accept a counterfeit, when you can have the true Messiah. Trust Him today!
1. Acts 5:33
2. Acts 5:37
3. Socrates, “Historia Ecclesiastica,” vii. 38; Grätz, “Gesch.” 3d ed., iv. 354-355
4. Abraham Yachini, “The Great Wisdom of Solomon,” 1651
5. Rabbi David Berger, On the Spectrum of Messianic Belief in Contemporary Lubavitch Chassidism