Archive for the 'Yahrzeit' Category

The Yahrzeit of John Nelson Darby


John Nelson DarbyUpcoming Shabbat, the 10th of Iyyar, is the (131st) Yahrzeit of John Nelson Darby, the founder of the movement of the Plymouth Brethren, who died on April 29th, 1882. Darby was an Irish clergyman who became the intellectual father of what is known as theological Dispensationalism.

Although as Torah submissive Messianics we cannot accept all aspects of dispensationalist theology — at least not in its “classical” form, which demands the seperation of “Law” and “Grace” and of “Israel” and the “Church” — yet we have to consider that Dispensationalism was in many ways an important preparatory step for the development of Messianic Jewish theology, and that some dispensational distinctions are theologically expedient, and even necessary. [1]

Darby was born on the 18th of November, 1800 (1st of Kislev 5561). He was educated to become a lawyer, but after a conscious conversion to Christianity during his studies, he chose ordination and became a deacon in 1825, and a priest in 1826, of the Established Church of Ireland. Already soon after entering the priesthood his views began to depart from the accepted cadres of traditional Christianity. Darby particularly rejected any interweaving of Church and State, and he started questioning the hierarchical and political structure of the Established Church.

Darby was to become very disappointed in the Established Church. He had been successful in preaching the Gospel to Roman Catholics, and converted many of them to the Church of Ireland. But he ran into a conflict with his superior, Archbisshop William Magee, who demanded that converts to the Established Church had to take an additional oath of allegiance to the king, George IV, to be accepted. Darby protested by a letter to the Archbishop, and eventually resigned. [2] He became convinced that the Christianity of the Established Church was a serious deviation from the teachings of the Apostles. [2] His own view of the Church gradually moved into the direction of a wholly spiritual community, governed by the Holy Spirit, and detached from all earthly power structures. He taught that established Christianity was worldly, entrenched in politics and potentially apostate, and that true believers were called to separate themselves from it and simply gather as brothers and sisters in the Lord. [3] He soon discovered that there were others with a similar vision and he joined them. One of the first of their communities was formed in Plymouth (1832). Hence the name “Plymouth Brethren”. [4]

If this had been all, Darby would probably have been no more than a typical spiritual preacher who, as so many, tried to return to a pure and undiluted form of Christianity, based exclusively on the instructions of the NT. But his spiritual concerns about the Church led him to deeper theological reflections on the biblical differences between the Christian Church and the nation of Israel.

Darby sharply distinguished the Church as the mystical Body of Christ from the nation of Israel. He saw the principles of unity of the Assembly of Israel and the Assembly of Messiah as being hugely different, and indeed incompatible. The principle of Israel’s unity was its national election, the defining characteristics and limits whereof were given and explained in the Law. The Church’s principle of unity was personal saving faith in Jesus Christ.

According to Darby there is thus a distinction always to be upheld between Israel as a nation on the one hand, and the Body or Assembly of Messiah on the other. The two are never formally the same collection. From its inception, in the second chapter of Acts, the Assembly of Messiah was a distinct body within Israel (cf. Acts 2:13). It was the body of the believers, and the outward ritual sign by which they were distinguished was water immersion (Baptism) in Jesus’ name.

This essential distinction between the Church and Israel is the hermeneutical key for understanding Darby’s theology of Dispensationalism. From this distinction Darby draw the conclusion that traditional Replacement Theology was a serious failure. For Replacement Theology not only claims that the Christian Church is the legitimate successor of Israel, it also claims that the Church is the inheritor of Israel’s election and of the blessings connected to it. It says that the Christian Church is now the chosen people of G-d, the “true Israel” and that the unfulfilled biblical prophecies concerning Israel are to be fulfilled in the history and eschatological future of the Church.

Darby rejected this usurpation of Israel’s position by the Christian Church because his understanding of the essential differences between the two elections. In his view the one is a national election to a special place and function in the temporal life in this world; the other is a supranational election of individuals to the eternal life of the World to Come.

Messianics shouldn’t deduce from this that Darby denied that the Body of Messiah comprizes the believing remnant of Israel. Darby didn’t deny this obvious truth. The important point which he emphasized, however, is that once the Jewish believers were organized by the spiritual principles flowing from the resurrected Messiah, they had entered a framework which differed vastly from the framework of the Jewish nation and its Law.

Darby’s point was that in biblical history before Yeshua there existed no distinct body of believers. There was no distinct Assembly of which one could become a member and that was (supposed to be) composed exclusively of believers and thus was based on faith principles. No such thing existed before. In the situation before Messiah those in Israel who had a true saving faith and those who had not were not separated from each other or relegated to different communities. They lived together in one national community, within the context of the Sinai Covenant.

The Sinai Covenant doesn’t separate believers from unbelievers but only Israelites from non-Israelites. It is characterized by legal distinctions and demands, dealing with people groups on the basis of their natural descent and with respect to obedience and transgression. Although the Torah certainly encourages and demands faith and love (cf. Dt. 6:4), it doesn’t effectuate faith and love, nor does it deal with spiritual distinctions. It cannot make a distinction between the true faithful and the others as long as both comply with its legal demands.

Before Messiah believers from the Gentiles had not a community context at all, but were scattered individuals in a sea of apostate and idolatrous nations.

To Darby, the new thing introduced by the First Coming of Messiah is the formation of a congregation of those belonging to him, which congregation one enters by an explicit (confession of) faith accompanied by water immersion in Messiah’s name. That’s why this congregation is called Messiah’s Assembly or Body. This Body is always entered by a decision of faith and thus by free will. Nobody enters this Body by natural birth (as natural Israelites), by a legal conversion procedure (as proselytes), or by the use of force (as in the case of the forced conversion of Idumea under Jochanan Hyrcanus).

This Body or Assembly of Messiah, or the congregation of the faithful, is in Darby’s eyes not simply the collection of all true believers from all times. Only between the great events of the Resurrection and Second Coming this Assembly takes on public and outward existence and has an institutional life of its own, signified and manifested by a profession of faith, by water immersion (Baptism) in the name of Messiah, and by the celebration of the Sacrifice of Messiah in what is called the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. The Supper expresses the unity of the Assembly in the most excellent way, namely as being the Body of Messiah (Christ) (cf. I Cor. 10:16-17). The unity of the Assembly is both signified and effectuated by the sharing of the bread and cup of the Supper. For that reason according to Darby the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is the very heartbeat of the life of the Assembly. This celebration gives it its own and proper mode of communal worship. The Lord’s Supper is also of central importance for maintaining the internal discipline of the Assembly. Blatant sinners are to be excommunicated.

It is not difficult to see how Darby’s idea of a fundamental distinction between Israel and the Christian Church led him to reject the traditional interpretations of much biblical prophecy. He concluded that the prophecies which had the nation of Israel as their subject-matter had still to be applied to that nation. To apply them to the Christian Church was simply out of the question if the Church weren’t Israel. [5]

The consequences of this train of thought were revolutionary. The sharp distinction made by Darby between national Israel and the Christian Church made it possible to return to a literal interpretation of the prophecies. This led him to accept a literal restoration of Israel in a future Kingdom Age under the rule of the returned Messiah. The Plymouth Brethren, following Darby’s teachings, thus became the first Christian community which, as a community, fully believed in the future national restoration of the Jewish people. To them this was not something additional to the Christian faith, it was intimately connected to its very core. Darby’s theology of the spiritual nature of the Christian election and of the Church as strictly a faith-based community facilitated their appreciation of the different nature of the national election of the Jews.

If the Jewish nation were to be restored and a literal millennial Kingdom Age under the rule of Jesus Christ had to be accepted, then, Darby taught, the nature of this Kingdom had to be in accordance with the national nature of the election of Israel. The future Kingdom of Messiah and his present mystical Body had thus to be accepted as distinct and separate realities.

According to Darby, when the Kingdom will be set up, the dispensing of the household rules of G-d (i.e. the dispensation) will change, just as these rules changed — in the opposite direction — when the Jewish dispensation temporarily ceased after the national rejection of Messiah and gave way to the Christian Church.

The Kingdom cannot be called the Body of Messiah, since those who will be living in the Kingdom Age don’t formally enter it by an act of faith, followed by a public confession and by Baptism in Messiah’s name. In most cases those living in the Kingdom will enter the Kingdom by natural birth, by being born during the Millennium, wthin the realm of Messiah. Therefore they’ll have no choice but to obey the Reign of Messiah. So they don’t belong to this Kingdom by an act of faith.

For that reason there will no longer exist a distinct body which can be called the congregation of the faithful in the Kingdom Age. The ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper will cease. That the Supper will cease is clear from what is said in I Cor. 11:26. If Baptism were continued during the Kingdom, this would imply a forced Baptism, without spiritual value. For who would have any real choice of rejecting it? Such a rejection would equalize a blatant and public rejection of the reigning King, an offense of laesio majestatis against Messiah, which would result in the death penalty. Those living in the Kingdom Age will collectively be presumed to be faithful and loyal subjects of Messiah — until of course the goods prove to be unequal to sample. In that case punishment will follow.

Since Darby felt unable to reconcile the different divine elections of Israel and the Christian Church in one dispensation, i.e. in one set of divine household rules, he had to make sure that these dispensations only accidently ran simultaneously. The apparent problem he faced here was how the principle of grace which in his theory ruled the Christian dispensation was to be combined with the principle of Law which he viewed as the ruling principle of the Jewish dispensation.

This problem could be overcome with relative ease for the historical period of the emergent Christian Church. The continuation of the Jewish dispensation and the coming of the Kingdom were dependent on the national acceptance of the mission of Messiah. When Messiah and his Apostles were rejected, the coming of the Kingdom was post-poned to a later time (the Second Coming). The Jewish dispensation and the fulfilment of the prophecies connected to it were interrupted. Now the specific nature of the Body of Messiah, which was already formed on the Pentecost day mentioned in the second chapter of Acts, could be fully displayed, freed from the limits of the legal framework that in Darby’s eyes were foreign to it.

It was more difficult to cope with a similar problem at the other end of the history of the Christian Church. The Kingdom Age is preceded by the final ‘week’ or final seven years of Daniel’s prophecy, in the second half of which the Great Tribulation occurs. These seven years are a time of crisis leading up to the Second Coming and the establishment of the Kingdom. Darby says this time will be characterized by the complete apostasy of the Christian Church and her destruction through the hand of the infidel nations. While the Church has already gone through long periods of decline after the apostolic era and has corrupted herself by her aligning with the worldly powers and by allowing her to be infiltrated by unbelievers, yet her final definitive apostasy from the truth of the Gospel is to take place in the future, in the time leading up to the appearance of the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation.

At that time a Jewish remnant will emerge and become the official bearer of the witness of Jesus Christ. Darby affirmed that these Jewish believers in Messiah will be in covenant with G-d and will live according to the commandments of the Law. He denied, however, their membership of the Body of Messiah. He saw this group as forerunners of the Kingdom Age, leading Israel to its public recognition of Jesus Christ, at the Second Coming.

To assign to this role to a future Jewish remnant, Darby had to admit that at that time the Jewish dispensation, which stopped when Israel rejected its Messiah and his Apostles, would be running again. The Church-dispensation was to be viewed as a parenthesis, which filled the gap between the rejection and restoration of Israel.

In order to ensure that this Jewish remnant remained part of the Jewish nation which would inherit the Kingdom, and did not by their faith in Jesus Christ face the obligation to join the Christian Church, Darby had the Church — or better the born again believers in it — removed from the scene before the Great Tribulation by what he called the Rapture of the Saints. He taught that the Second Coming was to happen in two phases: a secret appearance of Jesus Christ, before the Tribulation, by which the faithful of the Christian Church would receive immortality and be translated to heaven, and a public appearance of Jesus Christ on earth, after the Tribulation, in glory and majesty, to judge Israel and the nations.

Darby’s thought must have been that the fulfilment of the biblical prophecies was impossible during the Church dispensation. As I said, in his perspective the Body of Messiah emerged only after the rejection of Israel. The re-election of Israel thus demanded its disappearance. If the Christian Church were to remain on earth until the Second Coming, its unity would be gone, since it would be split up into two disparate groups: A group of Law-free Gentiles and a Jewish remnant living under the Law. And there would be no sufficient reason why the timeline of biblical prophecy, more specifically the continuity of the year-weeks of Daniel’s prophecy, would be broken if it were not for Israel’s rejection.

An additional argument in favour of the Rapture was that the continuing existence of the Church until the Second Coming would create theological difficulties for the position that the Jewish remnant would enter the Kingdom in their mortal bodies. It goes without saying that this position was essential for any theological theory favouring a national restoration of Israel. If all believers belonged to the Body, and all members of the Body were to receive resurrection life at the Second Coming, then there would be no-one left to fill the earthly Kingdom in a mortal body, because the only ones still in their mortal bodies would all be unbelievers.

Although this doctrine of a secret Rapture of the Saints was a serious mistake — in the Scriptures the Second Coming is a single and undivided event — it followed naturally from Darby’s combined premises of the necessities of a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church, and the literal reading of the biblical prophecies.

Darby’s Dispensationalism and his doctrine of the Rapture can be interpreted as a first attempt to deal with the nagging questions of the relevance of the Torah and the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, from a perspective not bound to Replacement Theology. In nuce, we already see here the unfolding of the whole field of our present discussions on “One Law” and “Bilateral Ecclesiology”. Despite the fact that his solutions to these questions were not altogether tenable, Darby’s efforts have led to a greater Christian awareness of the literal fulfilment of the biblical prophecies and the literal future restoration of the nation of Israel.

Darby travelled a lot in Britain, the European continent, and the United States, to found Brethren communities and to spread his vision that the faithful should separate themselves from the traditional churches, which he considered to be ripening to apostasy, and gather simply as Christians on the basis of the unity of the mystical Body. His successes were limited, and oftentimes the Plymouth Brethren were considered oddballs and extremists.

Darby’s influence in the United States was historically enormous, however. He visited the US more than once on his missionary travels, but considered himself quite unsuccessfull. Ironically, ultimately he got vastly influential because the Americans didn’t in big numbers accept his admonition that true Christians should separate themselves from the traditional churches and join the Brethren community. His American followers to a large degree preferred the option of being a faithful minority within the traditional framework as a better way in witnessing for the truth. And although Darby deplored this attachment of American Christians to their churches, his Dispensationalism and his interpretation of the biblical prophecies gained wider acceptance exactly because the Americans who absorbed his teachings remained in their churches. Dispensationalism thus developed into an interdenominational theology, and Darby’s teachings on the future restoration of Israel were gradually accepted in more mainstream evangelical churches because they were no longer connected to “Darbyism” or the “sect” of the Plymouth Brethren. Their acceptance contributed to the Jewish- and Israel-friendly atmosphere of large sections of American Christianity.

Darby and the Dispensationalism of the Plymouth Brethren represent an important transitional historical stage between traditional Replacement Theology and the development of a messianic Jewish theological perspective. Darby was a great and creative theologian, in many respects unknowingly a precursor of Messianic Judaism, whose explorations remain largely relevant up to this day. In some matters he erred greatly, as in his Secret Rapture doctrine. In other matters he grasped the truth with stumbling, as in his ecclesiology and Dispensationalism. In yet other things he was simply right, as in his uncompromising affirmation that the nation of Israel will gloriously be restored and is destined to become the head of all the nations in the Kingdom of Messiah.

Since we are recommended to remember them “who have spoken unto you the word of G-d” and to follow their faith, “considering the end of their conversation” (Hebr. 13:7), I think it proper for Messianics, especially those of a Plymouth Brethren background, to honour the Yahrzeit of John Nelson Darby.


[1] Especially the distinctions involved in the Kingdom Offer to Israel, by the ministries of the forerunner, John the Baptist, Messiah and his Apostles. There are various dispensational hypothesis as to when the Kingdom Offer expired. In our opinion the Kingdom is offered to Israel until the end of the Acts of the Apostles. It expired in Acts 28:28.

[2] The letter is included in Darby’s Collected Writings and entitled: Considerations Addressed to the Archbishop of Dublin and the Clergy who Signed the Petition to the House of Commons for Protection (Dublin 1827)

[3] View for example his articles: “Considerations on the Nature and Unity of the Church of Christ” (Dublin 1828), and: “Separation from Evil God’s Principle of Unity”.

[4] In a letter of April 13th, 1832, Darby wrote: “Plymouth, I assure you, has altered the face of Christianity to me, from finding brethren, and they acting together.” [Cf. Darby, Letters Vol. III, Appendix, p. 230 — Heijkoop Edition 1971.] For the early history of the Plymouth Brethren, view: Peter L. Embley, The Origins and Early Development of the Plymouth Brethren, St. Paul’s College — Cheltenham 1966.

[5] This view is expressed in Darby’s article: “The Hopes of the Church of God in Connection with the Destiny of the Jews and the Nations as Revealed in Prophecy” (Eleven Lectures delivered in Geneva, 1840)


The Yahrzeit of Rachel Imeinu



Tomb of Rachel

Tomb of Rachel

Today, the 11th day of the month Cheshvan, is the Yahrzeit, the annual remembrance day of Rachel Imeinu (i.e. the Matriarch Rachel). Many in Israel travel to Bethlehem on that occasion and say prayers at her tomb. There is a story connected to this practice, which attempts to give a deeper motive why Rachel was buried there and not in Hebron, where all the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried. The story tells us that this happened with a purpose. When in their later history the Israelites were led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, they would pass Rachel’s tomb and have the opportunity to say prayers there. Rachel would hear her children praying at her gravesite and she would cry and plead to G-d on their behalf [1].

A disturbing thing about this story is the mentioning of a dead person pleading to G-d on behalf of the living. This is not a concept found in Scripture. It is wholly contradictory to the teachings of Scripture. The Bible tells us again and again that the dead are really dead and not alive [2]. They cannot intercede for us with G-d or help us in any way. Only living people can help others or intercede for them in prayer. Accepting the concept of the dead pleading for the living easily leads to the acceptance of the closely related concept of the living praying to dead saints as intermediaries with G-d. This last mentioned concept is expressly and definitely prohibited in the Torah (Dt. 18:11).

Praying at a gravesite of a dead saint with the intention that these prayers should be heard by him in order to gain his intercession is dangerously close to transgression of the prohibition of praying to the dead, even if one directs these prayers to HaShem. The first error, that the dead are somehow alive and can help the living through intercessory prayers, naturally leads to the second, that it is proper to seek the intercession of the dead and ask them to act as intermediaries with HaShem [3].

If one wants to avoid the error of praying to the dead, one should first avoid the misconception that the dead are somehow alive, having knowledge and being able to interfere in the affairs of the living. The biblical teaching is that the dead have no knowledge or power at all. Death according to Scripture is simply the end of existence. For that reason, all practices that suggest otherwise or that can lead to misunderstanding and confusion should be avoided.

At this point it is perhaps good to remind ourselves that, from a Torah viewpoint, a gravesite is an unclean place and a major source of uncleanness. One can ask oneself what sense it does make to perform the ritual of handwashing (Netilat Yadayim), required before prayer, and then to say one’s prayers at a place of unclean contamination. [4].

It is certainly proper to honour the memory of the faithful departed, and to remember the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Israel is a way of fulfilling the commandment to honour one’s parents (Ex. 20:12). It is also proper to honour the memory of the deceased of one’s family or nation. There is nothing wrong with observing their Yahrzeit and marking this day by burning a Yahrzeit candle. But one should avoid erroneous or confusing practices. One should not pray for the deceased. This is senseless, since the deceased are no longer in existence. For the same reason, and because of the prohibition found in the Torah, one should not pray to the dead. One should also avoid all prayers which seek the intercession of the deceased.

A proper prayer for the occasion of a Yahrzeit consists in thanksgiving for the lives of the deceased persons and for their contributions to the life of later generations.

It is by no means excluded by the foregoing that HaShem grants us blessings because of the faithfulness, piety and righteousness of saints who lived in earlier generations. And accordingly, HaShem may still answer prayers which they in their time offered on our behalf. But these things are secrets of which we cannot have accurate knowledge. It is sufficiently certain, however, that we can no longer actively seek the assistence and intercession of the departed. Their earthly tasks and responsibilities have ended. They have gone out of existence and will not be restored to life again before the resurrection [5].

The only person who can now intercede for us is Messiah Yeshua, our living High Priest in heaven, who is always prepared to pray to the Father on our behalf. That’s why we should offer our prayers to G-d the Father in his name.

Rachel the Matriarch is connected to Yeshua’s life through the terrible event of the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem by the cruel king Herod. In his account of this Mattityahu quotes the prophet Yirmeyahu (31:15):

Mt. 2:17-18: Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Yirmeyahu the prophet, saying, In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Rachel is introduced here in a figure of speech, as a personification of the nation of Israel, because she is a mother of Israel and because her tomb is situated in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, in Ramah. Israel is the intended mother of this personification, bereft of her children through exile and slaughter. Rachel died in giving birth to Benyamin, and thus she literally gave her life for one of her children. Her self-sacrificing care for her children would grow utterly bitter and without purpose, if these children, or their posterity, should be murdered or sent into exile.

About the time of the Maccabean revolt and the rise of Pharisaism, belief in the immortality of the human soul was introduced in Judaism. And thus it became possible to interpret Yirmeyahu’s words, cited above, in a literal manner and to understand them as speaking of the immortal soul of Rachel. This interpretation afforded the foundation for making the person of Rachel into a kind of national mediatrix with G-d for Israel. This was a wrong spiritual development in Judaism, which shows uncanny analogies to the excesses of later Catholicism as to the status and position of Miryam, the virgin mother of the Messiah.

We should avoid all these excesses, and honour the memorial of our ancestors on a biblical basis and within the limits provided by the Torah. This we can do by not only giving due attention to their Yahrzeit days, but above all by following their walk and example of faithfulness. We believe that the following Yahrzeit Prayer is in accord with this duty.


Yahrzeit Prayer:

O G-d, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy Holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed Virgin Miryam, the Mother of our Lord; for the holy Patriarchs and Matriarchs, for Rachel the Matriarch; for the Apostles and Martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants known to us and unknown;  and we beseech thee that, encouraged and inspired by their examples we may with them be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in light, in that great Day of the Appearing of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua the Messiah, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Ruach HaKodesh, world without end. Amen. [6]


[1] “11 Cheshvan – Rachel Imeinu Passes Away” at: Orthodox Union.

[2] View the article:  “The dead are dead until the Rapture or Resurrection” at: Truth or Tradition.

[3] That the intercession of Rachel is actually sought is clear from the following quote from the Kever Rachel Imeinu website: “Since the time of her burial- more then 3000 years ago,  the Tomb of Rachel has always been a special place for prayer.  To this very day, men and women go to Rachel’s Tomb to shed tears and beg “Mother Rachel” to intercede with G-d on their behalf — for the health of a loved one or for Divine Intervention for those in need.”  “Rachel’s Tomb. The Jewish Second Holiest Site.” at: Kever Rachel Imeinu.

[4] Cf. Rav David Brovsky, “Washing Hands upon Waking and before Prayer” at: The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash.

[5] View footnote [2].

[6] An adapted version of the prayer found on page 489 of The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, Edition 1979, The Seabury Press.

The 7th of Tammuz: The Yahrzeit of Manuel Lacunza (5561)


There are not many Roman Catholic theologians who could make a legitimate claim of being worthy of having their Yahrzeit remembered by Messianic Jews and their co-religionists. And one would certainly not expect a priest of the Jesuit order to be an exception to this. However, if there is a Roman clergyman deserving to be an exception it is Manuel Lacunza (1731-1801), who can be regarded as the founder of modern Christian Zionism and Millenarianism. [1]

Manuel Lacunza Y Diaz was born in Santiago (Chile) as the son of Charles and Josefa Diaz. His father was a wealthy merchant in colonial trade between Lima and Chile. Manuel entered the religious life and joined the Jesuit order in 1747. He was ordained a priest in 1766. His daily profession was being a teacher in grammar at a school in Santiago. He seems to have enjoyed some fame as a pulpit preacher.

In 1767 Lacunza had to face the misfortune of the expulsion of the Jesuit order from the Spanish Americas by king Charles III. The specific reasons for this expulsion are still shrouded in an air of mystery. All we know with certainty is that the European monarchs felt threatened by Jesuit political power and were under the influence of Enlightenment secularism. The expulsion from Latin America was not an isolated phenomenon. In 1759 the Jesuits had been expelled from Portugal, and in 1762 from France.

The expulsion forced Lacunza and his fellow Jesuits into exile in Europe, first to Cadiz in Andalusia, and later to Imola, within the surroundings of Bologna. When in 1799 the Spanish Crown lifted the restrictions against the Jesuits, Lacunza did not return to Chile. He lived in Imola until his death in 1801. [2]

In 1773 Pope Clement XIV for political reasons dissolved the Jesuit order altogether. Against his will, and without any possibility of appeal, Lacunza thus found himself secularized by papal decree.

These events seem to have caused severe spiritual blows to Lacunza, who, to regain his peace of mind and to find consolation in the midst of the troubles of life, devoted himself to religious studies, especially of holy Scripture. He became gradually fascinated by the subject of prophecy. The main result of his studies was a book in three volumes, entitled La Venida del Mesías en Gloria y Majestad — which later (in 1826 or 27) was published in a two volume English translation by the Rev. Edward Irving (1792-1834) as: The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty. [3]

Lacunza’s work was completed in 1790 but the first Spanish edition was not printed until 1810 or 1811, about ten years after his death. The remarkable thing about the book is that it defends the idea of a future glorious restoration of the Jewish nation in a millennial Kingdom Age to be inaugurated by the return of Messiah Yeshua. It contains a fundamental criticism of the traditional doctrine of the Church on the Jewish people.

One of the famous passages deserving our attention is the following (Vol I, p. 326 of Irving’s edition):

The Jews may be considered in three states infinitely different: the first, is that which they were in before Messiah; the second, is that which they have held, and still hold, since the death of Messiah, in consequence of having  rejected him, and much more, of having obstinately persisted in their unbelief; the third is yet future, nor is it known when it shall be. In these three states are they frequently regarded and spoken of in scripture; and in each it regards them under four principal aspects.

In the first state, before Messiah, the scriptures regard them; First, as the owners and legitimate masters of all that portion of the earth which God himself gave to their fathers in solemn and perpetual gift: “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever,” Gen. xv. 18. and xiii. 15. Secondly; it considers them as the only people of God, or which is the same as his church. Thirdly; as a true and lawful spouse of God himself, whose espousals were solemnly celebrated in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, Exod. xix. and Ezek. xxiii. Fourthly; it considers them as endued with another kind of life infinitely more valuable than natural life.

In the second state, after Messiah, it considers them; First, as disinherited of their native land, scattered to every wind, and abandoned to the contempt and derision, and hatred, and barbarity of all nations. Secondly; as deprived of the honour and dignity of the people of God, as if God himself were no longer their God. Thirdly; as a faithless and most ungrateful spouse, ignominiously cast forth from the house  of her husband, despoiled of all her attire and precious jewels, which had been heaped upon her with such profusion, and enduring the greatest hardships and miseries in her solitude, in her dishonour, in her total abandonment of heaven and earth. Fourthly; it regards them as deprived of that life which so highly distinguished them from all the living.

In the third state still future, but infallibly believed and expected, Divine Scripture regards them; First, as gathered again, by  the omnipotent arm of the living God, from among all the peoples and nations of the world, as restored to their own land, and reestablished in it, not to be removed for ever. “And I will plant them and not pluck them up,” Jer. xxiv. 6. “And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them,” Amos ix. 15. Secondly; it regards them as restored with the highest honour, and with the greatest advantages, to the dignity of the people of God, yea, even under another and an everlasting covenant. “And I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God…And I will make an everlasting covenant with them,” Jer. xxxii. 37,38,40. Thirdly; it considers them as a spouse  of God, so much beloved in other times, whose desolation, trouble, affliction, and lamentation, do at length move the heart of her husband; who, forgetting his wrongs and reconciled, recalls her to  her ancient dignity, receives her with the warmest welcome, forgets all the past, restores her to all her honours, and, opening his treasures, heaps upon her new and greater gifts; clothes her with new attire, adorns her with new and inestimable jewels, incomparably more precious than those which she had lost; Isa. xl. 49. Hos. ii. 18. Micah vii. Fourthly and finally; the scriptures consider them as resuscitated and reanimated with that spirit of life, of which, for so many ages, they have been deprived. These three estates of the Jews perfectly correspond to the three states of the life of holy Job, which we may regard as a figure, or as a history written in cypher of the three mighty revolutions of the people of God.

Lacunza adopted the Jewish pen-name Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, and posed himself in the work as a Jew converted to Christianity.  This was a tactical move to raise the curiosity of the Jews and to get the book accepted and read by them. [4]

In the Dedication of the work — which is “To the Messiah Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Son of David, and Son of Abraham” (ibid., p. 135) — Lacunza mentions three motives for its composition. First, he says that he wanted the Roman priesthood “to shake off the dust from their Bibles, inviting them to a new study and examination, a new and more attentive consideration of that Divine Book” (ibid.). Second, he wanted to prevent as many people as he could reach from slipping “towards the horrible gulf of infidelity” (ibid, p. 136). His third motive is that he wanted give the Jews “knowledge of their true Messiah whom they love, and for whom they sigh night and day without knowing Him” (ibid.).

I understand the first motive to mean that in the midst of the perils and revolutionary upheavels of his times Lacunza wanted improve the level of knowledge of the holy Scriptures of the priesthood in general and more specifically about the subject of biblical prophecy, with the purpose of strengthening the Church. This at least seems to be implied by the following passage: “What advantages might we not expect from this new study, were it possible to re-establish it among the priests, in themselves qualified, and by the church set apart for masters and teachers of the christian community!” (ibid., p. 136).

The second motive is tightly connected to the first. It seems that Lacunza thought that a genuine knowledge of biblical prophecy would give Catholic Christians a perspective that would be able to strenghten their faith and give them the consolation that the tumultuous course of world history was not something outside the scope of the divine purpose — or irrelevant to it — but was part of the very process by which the destination of all things in Messiah’s Kingdom was to realized. By knowing the outline of biblical prophecy, Lacunza hoped, Catholics would be withheld from adopting secular views and from the dangers of apostasy. Essentially, Lacunza thus held his work to be an answer to the devastating influences of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

The third motive is again tightly connected to the first and the second, and is essentially to give the Jewish people an opportunity to proper and scriptural knowledge of their Messiah, in preparation for the Second Coming.

Although these motives were in Lacunza’s mind related to efforts to maintain the Roman Church system, it is not difficult to discover in them a latent criticism of Catholicism. In fact his interpretation of biblical prophecy can be called the remote starting point of a dispensational type of eschatology. With some caution Lacunza can be considered as the father of modern dispensationalist millennialism. He offered an explanation for the recently diminished authority of the Church to traditional Christians and equipped them for the apocalyptic events which were to happen sooner or later and would lead to the return of Jesus Christ. The messianic kingdom couldn’t come without a temporary rise of evil, culminating in an anti-Christian regime, which in its turn would be destroyed by Christ at his Second Advent.

Despite its latent — and at times not so latent — criticism of Catholicism, Lacunza’s work was received by the Church’s authorities with a certain benevolency. Although it didn’t reflect the traditional Catholic teachings about the Second Coming and the end of the world, Rome found nothing wrong or heretical with Lacunza’s approach, as Ovid E. Need remarks in his Death of the Church Victorious (p. 48). [5] And it must be admitted that in a manner Lacunza continued and expanded an existing Catholic and Jesuit tradition of interpretation. When the Reformers accused the Papacy to be the Antichrist, and began to interpret the Book of the Apocalypse accordingly, the theologians of the Counter Reformation, particularly the Jesuits, tried to answer the Protestant charges by adopting futurist interpretations. It was a Jesuit, Francisco Ribiera (1537-1591), who took the position that the events described in John’s Revelation had nothing to do with the course of Church history but belonged to the distant future and were to happen immediately before the end of the world.

The new element in Lacunza’s interpretations was that he combined a futurist prophetic model with a literal interpretation of the texts of Scripture, and in this way he was led to the idea of a future restoration of the Jewish nation. He not only expanded the dynamics of the futurist interpretation model, but he also shattered the limits imposed upon it by the inherent constraints of Roman Catholicism.

The person who was asked to inspect Lacunza’s book and give advice to the ecclesiastical censor was a certain Fr. Paul, who gave his judgment not until after a long period of study and meditation. He confessed his great admiration for the author and his work:

[…] every time that I have read it over, my admiration has been redoubled in witnessing the profound study which the author had made of the Holy Scriptures; the method, order, and exactness which adorn his work; and, above all, the light which it casts upon the most deep mysteries and obscure passages of the sacred books.

The truth, the abundance, and  natural application of the  passages which he adduces from the sacred Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testaments, incline me in such a way to the understanding and reception of his system, that I dare take upon me to affirm, that, if what he says be false, never has falsehood  presented itself so attired in the simple and beautiful garb of truth, as this author hath set it forth in:  for the tone of ingenuousness and candour, the very simplicity of the style, the invitation which he always gives to read the whole of the chapter, or chapters he quotes from, as well as those which precede and follow the quotation, the exact correspondence, not only with the quotations, but with that sense of the sacred text which first strikes the mind; all this, I say, gives such strong presumption of truth, that it seems impossible to refuse one’s assent, unless through obstinate prepossession in favour of the contrary system. (Vol I, p.131)

Fr. Paul added that Lacunza’s system of interpreting prophecy was not new, but had firm roots in the ancient Church. He uttered only a single reservation:

Nevertheless, when I take into consideration the number of ages which have elapsed in the church, without even the mention of this system, otherwise than as a fabulous opinion; and advert to certain fathers and doctors, as Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, and to all the theologians since their day, who treat it with aversion, and some of them as positive error; I cannot help quaking and trembling, under the impression that there is less risk in erring with so many learned and very holy masters, than in venturing to aim at the mark by one’s own inclination and judgment. (ibid.)

His final conclusion was favourable, and he recommended the work should receive a permission to be printed:

[…] my judgement is; That in this work there is not contained any thing repugnant to our holy faith, but that it may be of good service in making known, and publishing abroad, many truths, whereof the knowledge, though not absolutely necessary in the first ages of the church, is become indispensable in the times in which we now live.

And with respect to customs, not only does it contain nothing contrary thereto, but on the other hand tends much to reform them by the motives which it brings forward; as will appear from what I shall slightly point out, First; by the magnificent idea which he gives of our Lord Jesus Christ, clothed with glory and majesty, and of his immense empire and power, he stimulates the soul to that fear and love of him, which is the fountain of all righteousness. He infuses, moreover, into the mind a profound feeling of the truth of the holy scriptures, and draws to the perusal of them all believers, and especially the priests, to whom above others belong the exact understanding and explanation of them. The hearts of true christians he fills with fear and trembling, by showing them how they themselves through the looseness of discipline, are threatened with that most fearful calamity which the Jews endure at present, of being cast out from the marriage chamber, which is the holy church, into the outer darkness of infidelity in which they shall perish, for ever lost to Christ Jesus the Saviour. Before the unbelievers and ungodly, who have renounced the profession of their faith, he sets forth with energy and truth, the horrible  lot to which they are reserved, if they renounce not with detestation their blasphemies and errors, and cease not to fight against the Lord, and his Christ. To all classes of men it may be profitable; because it turns their eyes inwards upon themselves, and leads them to consider their eternal destiny, and so to shun their own ruin, and the desolation of the whole earth, when, as God hath told us by the mouth of his prophet, “desolations, &c”. (ibid., pp. 133-134)

This verdict did not prevent the later prohibition of Lacunza’s book by the Roman Holy Office in 1824. The prohibition was repeated in a condemnation of Lacunza’s type of Millennialism in 1941. [6]

Meanwhile Lacunza’s work had drawn wider attention, and already in 1816 it appeared in London. Irving was so impressed by it that he translated it into English. His translation was published in 1827, with a critical introduction of more than a hundred pages, since Irving’s opinions differed in important respects from Lacunza’s. Although Irving believed in a future Millennium, he took a historicist position in many issues of prophetic hermeneutics. However, Irving was a preacher who was famous for his rhetorical skills and he enjoyed great popularity among the higher classes. The fact that his name was attached to Lacunza’s book did its work and within no time The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty obtained the status of a Christian cult book. [7] Prophetic conferences were organized to study and discuss its implications.[8]

The founder of the Plymouth Brethren, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) developed Lacunza’s thought definitely into the direction of a systematic dispensationalist theology. Darby separated the Church and Israel through the introduction of the (unbiblical) doctrine of a Secret, pre-tribulational Rapture of the Church. [9]

Notwithstanding Darby’s additions — or even perhaps because of them — it was through the enormous influence of the Brethren movement that large parts of orthodox Christianity, in particular in the US, were converted to Millennialism and accepted the idea of a restoration of the Jewish nation in a future messianic Kingdom.

We cannot agree to the theoretical framework and the presuppositions of Darby’s dispensationalist theology with its opposition between Law and Grace and its separation between Israel and the Assembly of Messiah, and certainly not to his introduction of a Secret Rapture. Yet we must acknowledge that it was through Darby and his followers that the idea of a future restoration of Israel, which is fundamental for all branches of Messianic Judaism, has spread over all the earth.

One of the implications of this idea, once it is detached from its dispensationalist limitations and errors and brought back to the framework of a covenantal theology, is nothing less than the necessity of a return to a Torah observant lifestyle for the whole Body of Messiah. There are thus enough reasons to honour the memory of an important initiator of it, Manuel Lacunza.

Lacunza was a great and creative theological thinker and a person of great spirituality, as is confirmed by his admirers and his opponents. He did not fall into despair because of the humiliations of his exile and his undeserved secularization. He led a life of prayer and study and served his Lord day and night. He saw his suffering as a means of sharing in the suffering of Messiah.

We may perhaps add that Lacunza’s sufferings have contributed to return to a biblical perspective on that time when Yeshua shall arrive “in glory and majesty” to accept his reign as the King-Messiah of all Israel.

During his exile in Italy Lacunza used to undertake solitary walks during which he thought and meditated. It is assumed that he died of natural causes during one of these. On June 18, 1801, he was found dead in a pit beside a road not far from Imola. On the Jewish calendar this was the 7th of Tammuz of the year 5561. Upcoming Shabbat is his 210th Yahrzeit. May his memory continue to be a blessing.

I think it is proper for messianic congregations and individuals to keep in remembrance Manuel Lacunza and to pay attention to his Yahrzeit, especially those with historical roots in Catholicism, the Plymouth Brethren, or the Irvingites.

Yahrzeit Prayer:

O G-d, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy Holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed virgin Miryam; for the holy patriarchs, apostles and martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants known to us and unknown; and also for our teacher — in thee and for thee — Manuel Lacunza Y Diaz; and we beseech thee that, encouraged and inspired by their examples, and strengthened by their fellowship, we may with them be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, in that great Day of the Appearing of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua the Messiah, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.


In case one wants to burn a Yahrzeit light during Shabbat care should be taken to kindle the Yahrzeit light before the Shabbat candles are lit. After Shabbat the Yahrzeit light can be used to kindle the Havdalah candle.


[1] For an historical study of XIXth century Millennarianism, Christian Zionism, and Prophetic Futurism view: Sandeen, Ernest R., The Roots of Fundamentalism. British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930, The University of Chicago Press — Chicago & London 1970.

[2] For some biographical facts on Lacunza, view the Wikipedia article about him, at: Wikipedia: Manuel Lacunza. There is also a good article on Lacunza on an Adventist website, which gives a basic summary of his book, by Sergio Olivares, “Manuel Lacunza: The Adventist Connection”, at: College and University Dialogue.

[3] Ben-Ezra, Juan Josafat, The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, translated from the Spanish, with a preliminary discourse by the Rev. Edward Irving, A.M. Published by L.B. Seeley & Son, Fleet Street — London 1827 (J.G. Tillin, England 2000). This edition is in two volumes and is currently available as a web publication at the Birthpangs website: Volume I & Volume II.

[4] Others say that Lacunza adopted this pseudonym to hide himself before the authorities. Both possibilities are not mutually exclusive.  Sandeen remarks (p. 17-18): “His treatise, completed about 1791, was not published during his lifetime for fear of condemnation by the authorities, but manuscript copies circulated and some printed editions appeared in Spain and Latin America beginning about 1812. Shortly before Irving’s translation appeared, the work was placed on the Index, which was not surprising since Lacunza had concluded that the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood were the Antichrist”. Sandeen is not entirely correct here. Lacunza’s position was that the Catholic hierarchy would in the prophetic future develop into an anti-Christian power. Notwithstanding this nuance, there was obviously enough reason to fear the Inquisition.

[5] Need, Ovid E., Death of the Church Victorious. Tracing the Roots and Implications of Modern Dispensationalism, Sovereign Grace Publishers — Lafayette, Indiana 2002.

[6] For some details and for references to official Church documents on this condemnation, view Denzigers Enchiridion: The Lacunza case can be found under Denz. no. 3839 (ed. XXXVI).

[7] According to Sandeen (p. 17) “Irving spent the whole of the summer of 1826 on leave from his parish duties, translating a millenarian treatise by a Chilean Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza. The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty was a ponderous two-volume work, seldom cited by later British millenarians; in fact, many of Lacunza’s positions were rejected by the British school and by Irving himself. Yet the aura of mystery and providential intervention surrounding the book drew Irving into the labor of translation and seems to have stimulated a short period of popularity for its name if not for its substance”. The “providential intervention” mentioned by Sandeen refers to the coincidence that Irving had just learned Spanish when he received the work (ibid., p. 18): “Irving had not known any Spanish until a few months before he was sent a copy of Lacunza’s book. That he had begun learning Spanish (while trying to assist some Spanish refugees) just at the moment this startling work from the Catholic “underground” appeared at his door convinced him that he was being providentially prepared to present the work to the British public. Even though Lacunza’s prophetic interpretations often varied from the customary British views, he did make a strong case for the premillennial advent of Christ, and this was the aspect of his work that Irving and the British millenarians emphasized. Lacunza might have been confused on some points (so the defense ran), but notice the manner in which testimony from this Roman Catholic scholar reinforces our heralding of the imminent return of Christ”. Sandeen’s account suggests that Irving already held millenarian views before he got acquainted with Lacunza’s work. This is controversial. There are many voices insisting that Lacunza was influenced by Ribiera, Irving by Lacunza, and Darby by Irving. It is difficult, however, to find reliable sources about the actual historic development of movements like Millenarianism and Dispensationalism. According to Mark Patterson and Andrew Walker (p. 107) “the influence of Lacunza (and fellow Jesuits Alcazar and Reberia) upon nineteenth century millennianism may prove profound” [Mark Patterson & Andrew Walker, “‘Our Unspeakable Comfort’ Irving, Albury, and the Origins of the Pre-tribulation Rapture” In: Stephen Hunt (ed.), Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, Indiana University Press — Bloomington and Indianapolis 2001.]

[8] For example the Albury and Powerscourt conferences. Cf. Sandeen, pp. 18-22 & 34-38.

[9] It is disputed whether Darby can be called the originator of the concept of the Secret Rapture, or that others had preceded him. In any case, Darby systematized it by adopting a consequent dispensationalist hermeneutics, and in this form the concept became a part of the highly influential theology of the Plymouth Brethren.

The Yahrzeit of Samuele Bacchiocchi

Last year (5769), on the 23rd of Kislev (20 december 2008) Samuele Bacchiocchi died. Bacchiocchi was a Seventh-Day Adventist theologian who was of great significance for the Torah observant branch of modern Messianic Judaism. In his famous dissertation: From Sabbath to Sunday, he clearly demonstrated that Christian Sunday keeping has no biblical or NT roots whatsoever. Moreover, Bacchiocchi went further in his pro-Torah leanings than many of the adherents his own denomination. In his publications he shows an acute understanding of the continuing relevance of all the Appointed Times of HASHEM.

Another doctrine that has received additional light by Bacchiocchi’s research and lucid style of writing is that of the bodily resurrection. Bacchiocchi made it abundantly clear that the tradional doctrine of the immortality of the soul is thoroughly contrary to Scripture and cannot be sustained from a biblical, resurrection based point of view.

Bacchiocchi did also some fine scholarly work in his articles on the chronology of the passion and resurrection of Messiah Yeshua, in the well-known and complex controversies about a 14th or 15th Nisan crucifixion, a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday crucifixion, and a Sunday or Sabbath resurrection. Although in some points of his teachings he was not without error — note especially his complete rejection of alcohol consumption — yet on the whole he was a reliable scholar on many subjects of biblical doctrine and practice. [1]

Above that Bacchiocchi was a shining light for many in his devoted walk of faithfulness to HASHEM, and in his relentless service to his Lord and Saviour Messiah Yeshua, both in his scholarly work and his lifestyle, which was one of simplicity and conscientiousness. His death, two days before Chanukah, may symbolize his nearness to the Light of the world.

As Messianics we should be thankful for the life and works of this fellow believer and servant of G-d. We can express our thankfulness by studying Bacchiocchi’s works and by honouring his Yahrzeit.

May his remembrance be a blessing to the Messianic Community and inspire us all to give ourselves fully to the service of our Master. May the season of Chanukah remind us that the spiritual core of this festival is the message to have a dedicated heart.

Yahrzeit Prayer:

O G-d, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy Holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed virgin Miryam; for the holy patriarchs, apostles and martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants known to us and unknown; and also for our teacher — in thee and for thee — Samuele Bacchiocchi; and we beseech thee that, encouraged and inspired by their examples, and strengthened by their fellowship here on earth, we may with them be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, in that great Day of the Appearing of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua the Messiah, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen. [2]


[1] For further information on Bacchiocchi’s life and works, view the website Biblical Perspectives, At:

[2] Based on a prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, 1979 edition, p. 489.

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