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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Signifies anointed, the title given by way of eminence to our Savior; meaning the same in Hebrew as Christ in Greek, and alludes to the authority he had to assume the characters of prophet, priest, and king, and that of Savior of the world. The ancient Jews had just notions of the Messiah, which came gradually to be corrupted, by expecting a temporal monarch and conqueror; and finding Jesus Christ to be poor, humble, and of an unpromising appearance, they rejected him. Most of the modern rabbis, according to Buxtorf, believe that the Messiah is come, but that he lies concealed because of the sins of the Jews. Others believe he is not yet come, fixing different times for his appearance, many of which are elapsed; and, being thus baffled, have pronounced an anathema against those who shall pretend to calculate the time of his coming. To reconcile the prophecies concerning the Messiah that seemed to be contradictory, some have had recourse to a twofold Messiah; one in a state of poverty and suffering, the other of splendor and glory.

The first, they say, is to proceed from the tribe of Ephraim, who is to fight against Gog, and to be slain by Annillus, Zechariah 12:10; the second is to be of the tribe of Judah and lineage of David, who is to conquer and kill Annillus; to bring the first Messiah to life again, to assemble all Israel, and rule over the whole world. That Jesus Christ is the true Messiah, and actually come in the flesh is evident, if we consider (as Mr. Fuller observes) that it is intimated that whenever he should come, the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Mosaic law were to be superseded by him, Psalms 40:6-8; 1 Samuel 15:22; Daniel 9:27; Jeremiah 31:31; Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:13 . Now sacrifice and oblation have ceased. They virtually ceased when Jesus offered himself a sacrifice, and in a few years after, they actually ceased. A few of the ancient ceremonies are indeed adhered to, but as one of the Jewish writers acknowledges. "The sacrifices of the Holy Temple have ceased." Let every Jew therefore, ask himself this question. Should Messiah the Prince come at some future period, how are the sacrifice and oblation to cease on his appearance, when they have already ceased near 1800 years. Again, it is suggested in the Scripture, that the great body of sacred prophecy should be accomplished in him; Genesis 3:16; Genesis 22:18; Is. 49:10; 53:1-13

1. The time when he was to come is clearly marked out in prophecy: Is. 49: 10; Haggai 2:6-9; Daniel 9:24 . He actually came according to that time.

2. The place where Messiah should be born, and where he should principally impart his doctrine is determined; Micah 5:2; Is. 9: 2; and was literally fulfilled in Jesus.

3. The house or family from whom he should descend is clearly ascertained. So much is said of his descending from David, that we need not refer to particular proofs; and the rather as no Jew will deny it. The genealogies of Matthew and Luke, whatever varieties there are between them, agree in tracing his pedigree to David. And though, in both it is traced in the name of Joseph, yet this appears to be only in conformity to the Jewish custom of tracing no pedigree in the name of a female. The father of Joseph, as mentioned by Luke, seems to have been his father by marriage only; so that it was, in reality, Mary's pedigree that is traced by Luke, though under her husband's name; and this being the natural line of descent, and that of Matthew the legal one, by which, as a king he would have inherited the crown, there is no inconsistency between them.

4. The kind of miracles that Messiah should perform is specified; Is. 35: 5, 6. He actually performed the miracles there predicted, his enemies themselves being judges.

5. It was prophesied that he should as a King be distinguished by his lowliness; entering into Jerusalem, not in a chariot of state, but in a much humbler style; Zechariah 9:9; this was really the case, Matthew 21:1-46

6. It was predicted that he should suffer and die by the hands of wicked men; Is. 49: 7; 53: 9; Daniel 9:26 . Nothing could be a more striking fulfillment of prophecy than the treatment the Messiah met with in almost every particular circumstance.

7. It was foretold that he should rise from the dead; Is. 53: 11. Psalms 68:18; Psalms 16:10 , his resurrection is proved by indubitable evidence.

8. It was foretold that the great body of the Jewish nation would not believe in him, and that he would set up his kingdom among the Gentiles; Is. 53: 1. 49: 4-6. 6: 9-12. Never was a prophecy more completely fulfilled than this, as facts evidently prove.

9. it is declared that when the Messiah should come, the will of God would be perfectly fulfilled by him, Isa 42: 1, 49. Is. 3-5. And what was his whole life but perfect conformity to him? He finished the work the Father gave him to do: never was there such a character seen among men. Well therefore may we say, Truly this was the Son of God.


There have been numerous false Messiahs which have arisen at different times. Of these the Savior predicted, Matthew 24:14 . Some have reckoned as many as twenty-four, of whom we shall here give an account.

1. Caziba was the first of any note who made a noise in the world. Being dissatisfied with the state of things under Adrian, he set himself up at the head of the Jewish nation, and proclaimed himself their long expected Messiah. He was one of those banditti that infested Judea, and committed all kinds of violence against the Romans; and had become so powerful, that he was chosen king of the Jews, and by them acknowledged their Messiah. However, to facilitate the success of this bold enterprise, he changed his name from Caziba, which it was at first, to that of Barchocheba, alluding to the star foretold by Balaam; for he pretended to be the star sent from heaven to restore his nation to its ancient liberty and glory. He chose a forerunner, raised an army, was anointed king, coined money inscribed with his own name, and proclaimed himself Messiah and prince of the Jewish nation. Adrian raised an army, and sent it against him. He retired into a town called Bither, where he was besieged. Barchocheba was killed in the siege, the city was taken, and a dreadful havoc succeeded. The Jews themselves allow, that, during this short war against the Romans, in defense of this false Messiah, they lost five or six hundred thousand souls. This was in the former part of the second century.

2. In the reign of Theodosius the younger, in the year of our Lord 434, another impostor arose, called Moses Cretensis. He pretended to be a second Moses, sent to deliver the Jews who dwelt in Crete, and promised to divide the sea, and give them a safe passage through it. Their delusion proved so strong and universal, that they neglected their lands, houses, and all other concerns, and took only so much with them as they could conveniently carry. And on the day appointed, this false Moses, having led them to the top of a rock, men, women, and children, threw themselves headlong down into the sea, without the least hesitation or reluctance, till so great a number of them were drowned, as opened the eyes of the rest, and made them sensible of the cheat. They then began to look out for their pretended leader, but he disappeared, and escaped out of their hand.

3. In the reign of Justin, about 520, another impostor appeared, who called himself the son of Moses. His name was Dunaan. He entered into a city of Arabia Felix, and there he greatly oppressed the Christians; but he was taken prisoner, and put to death by Elesban, and AEthiopian general.

4. In the year 529 the Jews and Samaritans rebelled against the emperor Justinian, and set up one Julian for their king; and accounted him the Messiah. The emperor sent an army against them, killed great numbers of them, took their pretended Messiah prisoner, and immediately put him to death.

5. In the year 571 was born Mahomet, in Arabia. At first he professed himself to be the Messiah who was promised to the Jews. By this means he drew many of that unhappy people after him. In some sense, therefore, he may be considered in the number of false Messiahs.


7. About the year 721, in the time of Leo Isaurus, arose another false Messiah in Spain; his name was Serenus. He drew great numbers after him, to their no small loss and disappointment, but all his pretensions came to nothing.

8. The twelfth century was fruitful in false Messiahs: for about the year 1137, there appeared one in France, who was put to death, and many of those who followed him.

9. In the year 1138 the Persians were disturbed with a Jew, who called himself the Messiah. He collected together a vast army. But he, too, was put to death, and his followers treated with great inhumanity. 9. In the year 1157, a false Messiah stirred up the Jews at Corduba, in Spain. The wiser and better sort looked upon him as a madman, but the great body of the Jews in that nation believed in him. On this occasion almost all the Jews in Spain were destroyed.

10. In the year 1167, another false Messiah rose in the kingdom of Fez, which brought great trouble and persecution upon the Jews that were scattered through that country.

11. In the same year an Arabian set up there for the Messiah, and pretended to work miracles. When search was made for him, his followers fled, and he was brought before the Arabian king. Being questioned by him, he replied, that he was a prophet sent from God. The king then asked him what sign he could show to confirm his mission. Cut off my head, said he, and I will return to life again. The king took him at his word, promising to believe him if his prediction came to pass. The poor wretch, however, never returned to life again, and the cheat was sufficiently discovered. Those who had been deluded by him were grievously punished and the nation condemned to a very heavy fine.

12. Not long after this, a Jew who dwelt beyond Euphrates, called himself the Messiah, and drew vast multitudes of people after him. He gave this for a sign of it, that he had been leprous, and was cured in the course of one night. He, like the rest, perished in the attempt, and brought great persecution on his countrymen.

13. In the year 1174, a magician and false Christ arose in Persia, who was called David Almusser. He pretended that he could make himself invisible; but he was soon taken and put to death, and a heavy fine laid upon his brethren the Jews.

14. In the year 1176, another of these impostors arose in Moravia, who was called David Almusser. He pretended that he could make himself invisible; but he was soon taken and put to death and a heavy fine laid upon his brethren the Jews.

15. Int he year 1199, a famous cheat and rebel exerted himself in Persia, called David el David. He was a man of learning, a great magician, and pretended to be the Messiah. He raised an army against the king, but was taken and imprisoned; and, having made his escape, was afterwards seized again, and beheaded. Vast numbers of the Jews were butchered for taking part with this impostor.

16. We are told of another false Christ in this same century by Maimonides and Solomon: but they take no notice either of his name, country, or good or ill success. Here we may observe, that no less than ten false Christs arose in the twelfth century, and brought prodigious calamities and destruction upon the Jews in various quarters of the world.

17. In the year 1497, we find another false Christ, whose name was Ismael Sophus, who deluded the Jews in Spain. He also perished, and as many as believed in him were dispersed.

18. In the year 1500, Rabbi Lemlem, a German Jew of Austria, declared himself a forerunner of the Messiah, and pulled down his own oven, promising his brethren that they should bake their bread in the Holy Land next year.

19. In the year 1509, one whose name was Plefferkorn, a Jew of Cologne, pretended to be the Messiah. He afterwards affected, however, to turn Christian.

20. In the year 1534, Rabbi Salomo Malcho, giving out that he was the Messiah, was burnt to death by Charles the Fifth of Spain.

21. In the year 1615, a false Christ arose in the East Indies, and was greatly followed by the Portuguese Jews, who were scattered over that country.

22. In the year 1624, another in the Low Countries pretended to be the Messiah of the Family of David, and of the line of Nathan. He promised to destroy Rome, and to overthrow the kingdom of Antichrist, and the Turkish empire.

23. In the year 1666, appeared the false Messiah Sabatai Sevi, who made so great a noise, and gained such a number of proselytes. He was born at Aleppo, imposed on the Jews for a considerable time; but afterwards, with a view of saving his life, turned Mahometan, and was at last beheaded. As the history of this impostor is more entertaining than that of those we have already mentioned, I will give it at some length. The year 1666 was a year of great expectation, and some wonderful thing was looked for by many. This was a fit time for an impostor to set up; and, accordingly, lying reports were carried about. It was said, that great multitudes marched from unknown parts to the remote deserts of Arabia, and they were supposed to be the ten tribes of Israel, who had been dispersed for many ages; that a ship was arrived in the north part of Scotland with sails and cordage of silk: that the mariners spake nothing but Hebrew; that on the sails was this motto, The twelve tribes of Israel. Thus were credulous men possessed at that time.

Then it was that Sabatai Sevi appeared at Smyrna, and professed himself to be the Messias. He promised the Jews deliverance and a prosperous kingdom. This which he promised they firmly believed. The Jews now attended to no business, discoursed of nothing but their return, and believed Sabatai to be the Messias as firmly as we Christians believe any article of faith. A right reverend person, then in Turkey, meeting with a Jew of his acquaintance at Aleppo, he asked him what he thought of Sabatai. The Jew replied, that he believed him to be the Messias; and that he was so far of that belief, that, if he should prove an impostor, he would then turn Christian. It is fit we should be particular in this relation, because the history is so very surprising and remarkable; and we have the account of it from those who were in Turkey. Sabatai Sevi was the son of Moredecai Sevi, a mean Jew of Smyrna. Sabatai was very bookish, and arrived to great skill in the Hebrew learning. He was the author of a new doctrine, and for it was expelled the city. He went thence to Salonichi, of old called Thessalonica, where he married a very handsome woman, and was divorced from her. Then he travelled into the Morea, then to Tripoli, Gaza, and Jerusalem. By the way he picked up a third wife.

At Jerusalem he began to reform the Jews' constitutions, and abolish one of their solemn fasts, and communicated his designs of professing himself tha Messias to one Nathan. He was pleased with it, and set up for his Elias, or forerunner, and took upon him to abolish all the Jewish fasts, as not beseeming, when the bridegroom was not come. Nathan prophesied that the Messias should appear before the Grand Seignior in less than two years, and take from him his crown, and lead him in chains. At Gaza, Sabatai preached repentance, together with a faith in himself, so effectually, that the people gave themselves up to their devotions and alms. The noise of this Messias began to fill all places. Sabatai now resolves for Smyrna, and then for Constantinople, Nathan writes to him from Damascus, and thus he begins his letter; "To the king, our king, lord of lords, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, who redeems our captivity, the man elevated to the height of all sublimity the Messias of the God of Jacob, the true Messias, the celestial Lion, Sabatai Sevi." And now, throughout Turkey, the Jews were in great expectation of glorious times. They now were devout and penitent, that they might not obstruct the good which they hoped for. Some fasted so long that they were famished to death; others buried themselves in the earth till their limbs grew stiff; some would endure melting wax dropped on their flesh; some rolled in snow; others, in a cold season, would put themselves into cold water; and many buried themselves.

Business was laid aside; superfluities of household utensils were sold; the poor were provided for by immense contributions. Sabatai comes to Smyrna, where he was adored by the people, though the Chacham contradicted him, for which he was removed from his office. There he in writing styles himself the only and first-born Son of God, the Messias, the Saviour of Israel. And though he met with some opposition, yet he prevailed there at last to that degree, that some of his followers prophesied, and fell into strange ecstacies: four hundred men and women prophesied of his growing kingdom; and young infants, who could hardly speak, would plainly pronounce Sabatai, Messias, and Son of God. The people were for a time possessed, and voices heard from their bowels: some fell into trances, foamed at the mouth, recounted their future prosperity, their visions of the Lion of Judah, and the triumphs of Sabatai. All which, says the relator, were certainly true, being effects of diabolical delusions, as the Jews themselves have since confessed. Now the impostor swells and assumes. Whereas the Jews, in their synagogues, were wont to pray for the Grand Seignior, he orders those prayers to be forborne for the future, thinking it an indecent thing to pray for him who was shortly to be his captive; and, instead of praying for the Turkish emperor, he appoints prayers for himself. He also elected princes to govern the Jews in their march towards the Holy Land, and to minister justice to them when they should be possessed of it. These princes were men well known in the sity of Smyrna at that time. The people were now pressing to see some miracle to confirm their faith, and to convince the Gentiles.

Here the impostor was puzzled, though any juggling trick would have served their turn. But the credulous people supplied this defect. When Sabatai was before the Cadi (or justice of peace, ) some affirmed they saw a pillar of fire between him and the Cadi; and after some had affirmed it, others were ready to swear it, and did swear it also; and this was presently believed by the Jews of that city. He that did not now believe him to be the Messias was to be shunned as an excommunicated person. The inpostor now declares that he was called of God to see Constantinople, where he had much to do. He ships himself, to that end, in a Turkish saick, in January, 1666. He had a long and troublesome voyage; he had not power over the sea and winds. The Visier, upon the news, sends for him, and confines him in a loathsome prison. The Jews pay him their visits; and they of this city are as infatuated as those in Smyrna. They forbid traffic and refuse to pay their debts. Some of our English merchants not knowing how to recover their debts from the Jews, took this occasion to visit Sabatai, and make their complaints to him against his subjects; whereupon he wrote the following letter to the Jews. "To you of the nation of the Jews, who expect the appearance of the Messias, and the salvation of Israel, peace without end. Whereas we are informed that you are indebted to several of the English nation, it seemeth right unto us to order you to make satisfaction to these your just debts, which if you refuse to do, and not obey us herein, know you that then you are not to enter with us into our joys and dominions." Sabatai remained a prisoner in Constantinople for the space of two months.

The Grand Visier, designing for Candia, thought it not safe to leave him in the city during the Grand Seignior's absence and his own. He, therefore, removed him to the Dardanelli, a better air indeed, but yet out of the way, and consequently importing less danger to the city; which occasioned the Jews to conclude that the Turks could not, or durst not, take away his life; which had, they concluded, been the surest way to have removed all jealousy. The Jews flocked in great numbers to the castle where he was a prisoner; not only those that were near, but from Poland, Germany, Leghorn, Venice, and other places: they received Sabatai's blessing, and promises of advancement. The Turks made use of this confluence; they raised the price of their lodgings and provisions, and put their price upon those who desired to see Sabatai for their admittance. This profit stopped their mouths, and no complaints were for this cause sent to Adrianople. Sabatai, in his confinement, appoints the manner of his own nativity. He commands the Jews to keep it on the ninth day of the month Ab, and to make it a day of great joy, to celebrate it with pleasing meats and drinks, with illuminations and music. He obligeth them to acknowledge the love of God, in giving them that day of consolation for the birth of their king Messias, Sabatai Servi, his servant and first-born Son in love. We may observe, by the way, the insolence of this impostor. This day was a solemn day of fasting among the Jews, formerly in memory of the burning of the temple by the Chaldees: several other sad things happened in this month, as the Jews observe; that then, and upon the same day, the second temple was destroyed; and that in this month it was decreed in the wilderness that the Israelites should not enter into Canaan, &c.

Sabatai was born on this day; and, therefore, the fast must be turned to a feast; whereas, in truth, it had been well for the Jews had he not been born at all; and much better for himself, as will appear from what follows. The Jews of that city paid Sabatai Sevi great respect. They decked their synagogues with S.S. in letters of gold, and made for him in the wall a crown: they attributed the same titles and prophecies to him which we apply to our Saviour. He was also, during this imprisonment, visited by pilgrims from all parts, that had heard his story. Among whom Nehemiah Cohen, from Poland, was one, a man of great learning in the Kabbala and eastern tongues; who desired a conference with Sabatai, and at the conference maintained, that according to the Scripture, there ought to be a two-fold Messias; one the son of Ephraim, a poor and despised teacher of the law; the other the son of David, to be a conqueror. Nehemiah was content to be the former, the son of Ephraim, and to leave the glory and dignity of the latter to Sabatai. Sabatai, for what appears, did not dislike this. But here lay the ground of the quarrel: Nehemiah taught that the son of Ephraim ought to be the forerunner of the son of David, and to usher him in; and Nehemiah accused Sabatai of too great forwardness in appearing as the son of David, before the son of Ephraim had led him the way. Sabatai could not brook this doctrine; for he might fear that the son of Ephraim, who was to lead the way, might pretend to be the son of David, and so leave him in the lurch; and, therefore, he excluded him from any part or share in this matter; which was the occasion of the ruin of Sabatai, and all his glorious designs.

Nehemiah, being disappointed, goes to Adrianople, and informs the great ministers of state against Sabatai, as a lewd and dangerous person to the government, and that it was necessary to take him out of the way. The Grand Seignior, being informed of this, sends for Sabatai, who, much dejected, appears before him. The Grand Seignior requires a miracle, and chooses one himself; and it was this: that Sabatai should be stripped naked, and set as a mark for his archers to shoot at; and, if the arrows did not pierce his flesh, he would own him to be the Messias. Sabatai had not faith enough to bear up under so great a trial. The Grand Seignior let him know that he would forthwith impale him, and that the stake was prepared for him, unless he would turn Turk. Upon which he consented to turn Mahometan, to the great confusion of the Jews. And yet some of the Jews were so vain as to affirm that it was not Sabatai himself, but his shadow, that professed the religion, and was seen in the habit of a Turk; so great was their obstinacy and infidelity, as if it were a thing impossible to convince these deluded and infatuated wretches. After all this, several of the Jews continued to use the forms, in their public worship prescribed by this Mahometan Messias, which obliged the principal Jews of Constantinople to send to the synagogue of Smyrna to forbid this practice. During these things, the Jews, instead of minding their trade and traffic, filled their letters with news of Sabatai their Messias, and his wonderful works.

They reported, that, when the Grand Seignior sent to take him, he caused all the messengers that were sent to die; and when other Janizaries were sent, they all fell dead by a word from his mouth; and being requested to do it, he caused them to revive again. They added, that, though the prison where Sabatai lay was barred and fastened with strong iron locks, yet he was seen to walk through the streets with a numerous train; that the shackles which were upon his neck and feet did not fall off, but were turned into gold, with which Sabatai gratified his followers. Upon the fame of these things the Jews of Italy sent legates to Smyrna, to enquire into the truth of these matters. When the legates arrived at Smyrna, they heard of the news that Sabatai was turned Turk, to their very great confusion; but, going to visit the brother of Sabatai, he endeavoured to persuade them that Sabatai was still the true Messias; that it was not Sabatai that went about in the habit of a Turk, but his angel, or spirit; that his body was taken into heaven, and should be sent down again when God should think it a fit season. He added, that Nathan, his forerunner, who had wrought many miracles, would soon be at Smyrna; that he would reveal hidden things to them, and confirm them. But this Elias was not suffered to come into Smyrna, and though the legates saw him elsewhere, they received no satisfaction at all. 24. The last falst Christ that had made any considerable number of converts was one Rabbi Mordecai, a Jew of Germany: he appeared in the year 1632. It was not long before he was found out to be an impostor, and was obliged to fly from Italy to Poland to save his life. What became of him afterwards does not seem to be recorded. This may be considered as true and exact an account of the false Christs that have arisen since the crucifixion of our blessed Saviour, as can well be given.

See Johannes a Lent's Hist. of False Messiahs; Jortin's Rem. on Eccl. Hist. vol. 3: p. 330; Kidder's Demonstration of the Messias; Harris's Sermons on the Messiah; The Eleventh Volume of the Modern Part of the Universal History; Simpson's Key to the Prophecies, sec. 9; Maclaurin on the Prophecies relating to the Messiah; Fuller's Jesus the true Messiah.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Messiah'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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