There is a tradition that at the time of the Messianic Redemption, the Land of Israel will be cultivated after a long period of desolation. This is based on the prophecy, O mountains of Israel, let your branches sprout forth; yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are at hand to come (Ezekiel 36:8).
In the last article, we spoke about the tradition that the ingathering of the exiles will precede the coming of the Messiah. There is another important reason why this must be: the advent of the Messianic Era will mark the return of prophecy amongst the Jewish people. According to the final words ever spoken by a prophet (Malachi), Elijah will return as a prophet and announce the coming of the Messiah: Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of G-d (Mal. 3:23). This is necessary because the Messiah will be the king, and a king can only be anointed by a prophet. The Messiah himself will also be a prophet... the greatest of them all, second only to Moses (for the Torah teaches that Moses was the chief of all the prophets, both those who preceded him and those who follow him). In fact, the very fact of the appearance of the Messiah is in itself a sign that prophecy has been re-instated... for the term coming of the Messiah refers to the moment when the Messiah receives the spirit of prophecy and realizes his mission.
We see that the restoration of prophecy is an important factor in the progression of the revelation of the Messiah. But as we mentioned above, the ingathering of the exiles must precede this... for there are a number of conditions for prophecy to be resumed. First of all, prophecy can usually take place only in the Land of Israel, and not in any other land. But even the Land of Israel is not conducive to prophecy at all times. There is a rule that before the prophetic spirit can rest in the Land of Israel, it must be inhabited by the majority of the worlds Jews. Thus, before the Messianic Era commences, more than half of the Jewish people will have to live in the Land of Israel.
Another important event in the Messianic Era will be the building of the Holy Temple. If the Temple has not been rebuilt before the Messiah arrives, (for it is a distinct possibility that it will be rebuilt before he arrives), then it is this act which will establish the Messiahs identity beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Regarding the Land of Israel, the commandment which G-d gave the Jewish people regarding its conquest remains in full force today: Clear out the land and live in it (Numbers 33:53). While there is a tradition that the Land of Israel will only be regained through great suffering, this has already been fulfilled in order to obtain that part of the Land which we now possess. The complete ingathering of the exiles will only be accomplished by the Messiah. This is what the prophet meant when he stated, On that day, G-d will stretch forth His hand a second time to bring back the remnant of His people... He will hold up a banner for the nations, assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:11-12).
Tradition maintains that there will be great suffering right before the advent of the Messiah. The rabbis taught, One-third of all the worlds woes will come in the generation before the Messiah. There are also prophecies that there will be a War of Gog and Magog around Jerusalem. According to this tradition, when all the nations hear of the success of the Jewish people in rebuilding their Land, they will all gather to do battle against them near Jerusalem, led by Gog, the king of Magog. This battle is the final confrontation between good and evil. Its outcome: In Jerusalem, all evil will be vanquished forever.
The Messiah of whom we are speaking here is a direct descendant of King David, from the tribe of Judah. He is therefore known as Mashiach ben David, Messiah the son of David. However, there is also a tradition that prior to the appearance of the Davidic Messiah, there will be another Messiah. This Messiah is from the tribe of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, and is thus known as Mashiach ben Yosef or Mashiach ben Ephraim. These mashiachs are a very important concept in the Jewish understanding of the unfolding historical process of ultimate Messianic Redemption, and it is only by understanding how the two fit together that we can understand the hand of Hashem in history, as His plan continues to unfold before our eyes.