The two roles of Messiah

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look toward me about him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
Zech. 12:10

What is the cause of the mourning? […] One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph. […] It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse.
Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Excerpt of Sukkah 52a6

Jewish tradition sometimes refers to two Messiah (מָשִׁיחַ, Mashiach) figures. Both are involved in delivering God’s people from exile (which is a result of sin) and ushering in the long-awaited Messianic era. Typically, when the term Messiah is used on its own, it is thought to refer to the Messiah coming as a redeemer who would bring the millennium of the Messianic Age and reign as king. However, when the teaching of the death of Messiah (מָשִׁיחַ, Mashiach) became established in Judaism as a result of several biblical teachings and prophecies, this did not fit in with the Messiah coming as a king.
This king is called Mashiach ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד, Messiah son of David), to show that he is a descendant of king David and that he will reign like David.
To solve the dilemma between the king and the one who dies as a redeemer, Messiah was given two roles:

The dilemma was solved by splitting the person of the Messiah in two: one of them, called Messiah ben Joseph (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף), was to raise the armies of Israel against their enemies, and, after many victories and miracles, would fall victim to Gog and Magog. The other, Messiah ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד), will come after him (in some legends will bring him back to life, which psychologically hints at the identity of the two), and will lead Israel to the ultimate victory, the triumph, and the Messianic era of bliss.1

This view is overly specific, since the prophet Isaiah adds a new implication to this theory of two separate messiahs: It becomes clear that he will bring himself back to life, and as such there are no two separate messiahs, but only one, who has two roles:

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.
Isaiah 59:16

Messiah would come as the son of Joseph, according to the Talmud, if people were not righteous. On the other hand, Messiah would come as the son of David, the righteous king, if they are:

Rabbi Alexandri said: Rabbi Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13) while [elsewhere] it is written, [Behold, your king comes to you…] lowly, and riding on a donkey! (Zech. 9:7, in some translations v.9) — If they are righteous, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven; if not, lowly and riding on a donkey.
Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Excerpt of Sanhedrin 98a4

With this revelation, let us look more closely at the two roles of Messiah, to deepen our understanding of him.

Messiah Ben Joseph

Messiah son of Joseph (משיח בן יוסף) is also called Messiah son of Ephraim (משיח בן אפרים, Messiah the descendant of Ephraim) or Ephrayim Mashiach Tzidki (Ephraim, My righteous Messiah).
The term Ephraim in this case is used collectively for Israel, thus referring to Messiah ben David.footnote 2 in 5 This, again, shows that there is one Messiah with two roles.

[Messiah ben Joseph is alluded to] already in the very birth of Joseph when his mother Rachel exclaimed, “God has taken away my disgrace” (Gen. 30:23): With prophetic vision she foresaw that an “anointed savior” will descend from Joseph and that he will remove the disgrace of Israel (analogy to Is. 4:1). In this context she called his name “Joseph, saying ‘yossef Hashem – may God add to me ben acher (lit., another son), i.e., ben acharono shel olam – one who will be at the end of the world’s time (analogy to Gen. 4:25, interpreted as messianic in meaning).
Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet5

Rachel dies during Benjamin’s birth and is buried in Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16-20). But her call for another son being Messiah is fulfilled – not literally through the blood-line – but in the way announced by the prophet Micah:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Micah 5:2 (5:1 in some translations)

Messiah son of Joseph is therefore from the tribe of Judah, but he is born as the son of Rachel, and therefore the son of Joseph, by being born in the city where Rachel was buried. She died giving birth to the son she called Ben-Oni (son of my suffering), which announces that the birth of Messiah son of Joseph will not be without suffering.

Thus says the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
Jeremiah 31:15

Therefore, in my opinion, the name Ben-Oni alludes to Messiah’s birth during a time of Israel’s suffering, and to Messiah’s ultimate suffering for his people. But just like Jacob, who calls this newborn son of suffering the son of his right hand (meaning of the name Benjamin), the Lord gives the son of His right hand in Bethlehem. And although Messiah, the son of Yahweh’s right hand, had to suffer, by doing so he takes away the suffering and brings redemption. And soon he will be the king (announced in Micah’s prophecies).

The essential task of Moshiach ben Yossef is to act as precursor to Moshiach ben David: he will prepare the world for the coming of the final redeemer. Different sources attribute to him different functions, some even charging him with tasks traditionally associated with Mashiach ben David (such as the ingathering of the exiles, the rebuilding of the [temple], and so forth).5

Rabbinic tradition states that Messiah ben Joseph will fight in an God’s wars against the descendants of Esau (a symbolic image of the ennemies of God)7 in a time preceding the fulfillment of the Messianic Kingdom.8 The rabbis teach (following Sukkah 52a6) that he will then be killed during the war against evil, which is what Zechariah describes in his prophecy (Zech. 12).

His death would be followed by a period of great calamities and tribulations for Israel, and shortly after this Mashiach ben David would appear to avenge his death and inaugurate the Messianic kingdom on earth (yemot hamashiach).8

Rabbi Saadiah Gaon (among others) notes, however, that this sequence is not definite: If the people of God simply repent, they can be redeemed immediately, even before the appearance of Mashiach ben David. But if they do not repent, a time of great suffering (sometimes translated as great tribulation) will come upon them.

Rabbi Eliezer said: “If Israel repent, they will be redeemed (Jer. 3:22); if not, they will not be redeemed.”
Rabbi Joshua said to him: “If they do not repent, will they not be redeemed! But the Holy One, blessed be He, will set up a king over them, whose decrees shall be as cruel as Haman’s, whereby Israel shall engage in repentance, and he will thus bring them back to the right path.”
Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Sanhedrin 97b

As this clearly shows, the appearance of Messiah ben Joseph depends on the spiritual condition of the people. If are unrighteous, he will come to redeem them and die as a result of it. If they still do not repent, a time of suffering will be the result (the great tribulation), ended only by the arrival of Messiah ben David.

The death of Messiah ben Joseph is a sacrifice for his people, needed to redeem them. He is the one who the people mourn for (Zech. 12). This sacrifice is not to be mistaken for a human sacrifice, which God abhors, but it much rather resembles the death of a fireman while he is saving someone, or the captain who does not leave his sinking ship before everyone is safe, eventually dying in the process. This concept can be understood as the death of a righteous saviour (called a Tsadik in Judaism, topic of a future post).

And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart [Zech. 12:12]… What is the cause of the mourning? – Rabbi Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained: The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.
It is well with him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have [pierce], and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep?
Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Excerpt of Sukka 52a6

The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted. (Is. 53:4)
Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Excerpt from Sanhedrin 98b2

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
Is. 53:3-4

One question remains

One question remains: Who kills Messiah ben Joseph?

When they look towards me about him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child.
Part of Zech. 12:10

Messiah ben Joseph comes to redeem us, his unrighteous people, and to fight evil. So, according to the simplest interpretation of the verse (Peshat), it seems like the people who are mourning are the same as the ones who have killed him. We are so blinded by the evil – which Messiah ben Joseph came to fight and destroy – that we, the people of God, have killed him. And it is only through his death that we are now able to see the horror of our actions, and we are now able to be redeemed. This horrific act was bound to happen so that our blindness could be taken away.

Most christian translations have this translation for Zechariah 12:10:

[Thus declares the Lord, Yahweh:] And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him […].

The Lord is speaking, and it seems like they have pierced him (Yahweh). Then, it suddenly speaks about another person (called him). This is because of a translation mistake. The translators of the English Standard Version (ESV) try to solve the problem:

[…] when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, […]

This is still confusing, because it seems as if the Lord changes his speech from I to he. In Hebrew, this is not the case, and a more accurate translation would state:

[…] when they look towards me about him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, […]10

Messiah Ben David

Messiah the son of David will come at the end of times to reign (Ps. 89:27). In this psalm, Messiah is referred to as my servant David (see also The names of Messiah).

On the actual level of the physical world’s reality, Moshiach is a human being: Moshiach is a human being, born in normal fashion of human parents. The only qualification about his origins is that he is a descendant of King David (Is. 11:1-5, 2 Sam. 7:12, etc.), through the lineage of his son Solomon. From his birth onwards his righteousness will increase continually, and by virtue of his deeds he will merit sublime levels of spiritual perfection.
Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet9

Messiah will not only reign, but he will come to save his people.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
Jer. 23:5-6, parallels Jer. 33:14-16

The traditional Jewish view of Messiah says that he will, among other things, restore the Temple (Isa. 2:2, Micah 4:1, Zech. 6:13, Ezek. 37:26-28), regather the exiles of Israel (Isa. 11:12 & 43:5-6), cause all nations of the earth to be subjected or united in peace (Isa. 2:4), and put an end to sin and evil. ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ (Hab. 2:14).

Many more things could be said about Messiah and his reign, but we will see him and everything fulfilled when he comes in glory.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be One and his name One.
Zech. 14:9 (referring to Deut. 6:4)

Parallels with Yeshua (Jesus)

While many orthodox Jews like to remind us that Yeshua (Jesus) never fulfilled all of the messianic prophecies, is it possible that he did fulfilled the role of Messiah ben Joseph?
When he came, the first clue is his name: Yeshua or Yehoshua means Yahweh is my salvation. And his adoptive father was Joseph, so he would have been known as Yeshua ben Joseph, i.e. God is my salvation in the form of the son of Joseph.

There is one key event where Yeshua claims to be the Messiah, and it is retold by Luke. Yeshua reads a passage from Isaiah, after which the people want to kill him:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Is. 61:1-2a)” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” […]
When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with anger. And they […] brought him to the top of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.
Luke 4:16-19,28-30

Remember that the Jews were, in those days, under the oppression of the Romans. They were hoping for the oppression to end, for Messiah ben David to come as king. They were hoping for revenge. But Yeshua reads only half the sentence from verse 2. The full verse says:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
Is. 61:1-2

Not only were they surprised because Yeshua called himself the anointed one (i.e. Messiah), but also because he had not read the entire verse. Moreover, the passage goes on to explain what the reign of Messiah ben David will look like for God’s people. This is what they wanted to hear:

Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.
Is. 61:5-7

So when Yeshua only read part of the passage, they got angry. They did not want anyone who would tell them that he did not come as the king. They wanted the reign of Messiah to start. But in their cultural understanding, he is telling them that he came as Messiah son of Joseph, to redeem them. They knew that Messiah son of Joseph would come if they were not righteous, lowly, riding on a donkey (fulfilled when he went to Jerusalem right before his crucifixion). And who likes to be exposed?


There is only one Messiah, but there are two comings and two aspects of his ministry. The Messiah came the first time to provide atonement for sin. He is now expanding his kingdom and conquering the Gentiles, not by the sword, but by preaching. […] One day he will return to judge the earth and to bring in his Kingdom in all its fullness. 3


1 Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts, Wayne State University Texts, Detroit 1979, p. 166. Link on Google Books
2 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Excerpt of Sanhedrin 98b (p. 432 of the pdf)
3 Article on, retrieved 2012-11-26.
4 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Excerpt of Sanhedrin 98a (p. 430 of the pdf)
5 Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet; Moshiach Ben Yossef, article on
6 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Sukkah 52a
7 “[Rabbi Samuel ben Nahmani said:] Jacob our father saw that Esau’s seed would be delivered only into the hands of Joseph’s seed for it is said, And the house of Jacob shall be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble etc.” (Ob. 1:18) from: Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Baba Bathra 123b
8 Parsons, John J.; Mashiach ben Yosef – Joseph as a type of the Messiah; Article on
9 Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet; The Personality of Moshiach, article on
10 Jeff A. Benner (the Ancient Hebrew Research Centre); Zechariah 12:10 – “Pierced him” or “Pierced me?” , video on Youtube