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Holman Bible Dictionary

Messiah

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(meh ssi' uh) Transliteration of Hebrew word meaning, “anointed one” that was translated into Greek as Christos . See Christ, Christology . Since apostolic times the name Christ has become the proper name of Jesus, the Person whom Christians recognize as the God-given Redeemer of Israel and the church's Lord. “Christ” or Messiah is therefore a name admirably suited to express both the church's link with Israel through the Old Testament and the faith that sees in Jesus Christ the worldwide scope of the salvation in Him.

The Old Testament and Early Jewish Background “Anointed” carries several senses in the Old Testament. All have to do with installing a person in an office in a way that the person will be regarded as accredited by Yahweh, Israel's God. Even a pagan king such as Cyrus was qualified as the Lord's anointed (Isaiah 45:1 ) to execute a divinely appointed task. The usual application of the term anointed was to God's representatives within the covenant people. Prophets such as Elisha were set apart in this way (1 Kings 19:16 ). Israel probably saw a close link between the anointed persons and God's spirit though the link is specifically mentioned only occasionally (2 Kings 2:9 ). Israelite kings were particularly hailed as Yahweh's anointed compare ( Judges 9:8 ), beginning with Saul (1 Samuel 9-10 NIV) and especially referring to David (1Samuel 16:6, 1 Samuel 16:13 ; see 2 Samuel 2:4 ; 2 Samuel 5:3 ) and Solomon (1 Kings 1:39 ). The royal family of David as being the line of Israelite kings are mentioned by the title of the “anointed ones” (2 Samuel 22:51 ; compare 2 Kings 11:12 ; 2 Kings 23:30 ; Psalm 2:2 ; Psalm 20:6 ; Psalm 28:8 ; Psalm 84:9 ). The king in Israel thus became a sacred person to whom loyalty and respect were to be accorded (1Samuel 24:6,1 Samuel 24:10 ; 1Samuel 26:9,1Samuel 26:11,1Samuel 26:16,1 Samuel 26:23 ; 2Samuel 1:14,2 Samuel 1:16 ). The oracle spoken by Nathan (2 Samuel 7:12-16 ) is important since it centers the hope of Israel on the dynasty of David for succeeding generations.

The king, especially in the Psalms, became idealized as a divine son (Psalm 2:2 ,Psalms 2:2,2:7 ; compare 2 Samuel 7:14 ) and enjoyed God's protecting favor (Psalm 18:50 ; Psalm 20:6 ; Psalm 28:8 ). His dynasty would not fail (Psalm 132:17 ), and the people were encouraged to pray to God on his behalf (Psalm 72:11-15 ; Psalm 84:9 ). The fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. led to great confusion especially when Yahweh's anointed was taken into Exile as a prisoner (Lamentations 4:20 ) and his authority as king rejected by the nations (Psalm 89:38 ,Psalms 89:38,89:51 ). This humiliation of the Davidic dynasty posed a set of problems to Israel's faith, even when the people were permitted to return to the land. No revival came for the Davidic kingship; yet that restoration became the pious longing of the Jews both in Babylonian Exile (Jeremiah 33:14-18 ) and in the later centuries. One of the clearest expressions of the continuing hope was in the Psalms of Solomon (17–18 (70-40 B.C.), a Jewish writing of the Messiah as the son of David. There Messiah was a warrior-prince who would expel the hated Romans from Israel and bring in a kingdom in which the Jews would be promoted to world dominion.

After the Exile the Israelite priesthood came into prominence. In the absence of a king, the high priest took on a central role in the community. The rite of anointing was the outward sign of his authority to function as God's representative. This authority was traced back to Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:7-9 ; Exodus 30:22-33 ; compare Psalm 133:2 ). The high priest was the anointed-priest (Leviticus 4:3 ,Leviticus 4:3,4:5 ,Leviticus 4:5,4:16 ) and even, in one place, a “messiah” (Zechariah 4:14 ; compare Zechariah 6:13 ; Daniel 9:25 ).

In the exilic and postexilic ages, the expectation of a coming Messiah came into sharper focus, commencing with Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's vision of a Messiah who would combine the traits of royalty and priestly dignity (Jeremiah 33:14-18 ; Ezekiel 46:1-8 ; see, too, Zechariah 4:1-14 ; Zechariah 6:13 ). The people in the Dead Sea scrolls were evidently able to combine a dual hope of two Messiahs, one priestly and the second a royal figure. The alternation between a kingly Messiah and a priestly figure is characteristic of the two centuries of early Judaism prior to the coming of Jesus.

Messiahship in Jesus' Ministry A question posed in John 4:29 ; compare John 7:40-43 is: “Is not this the Christ (Messiah).” It is evident that the issue of the Messiah's identity and role was one much debated among the Jews in the first century. In the Synoptic Gospels the way Jesus acted and spoke led naturally to the dialogue at Caesarea Philippi ( Mark 8:29 ). Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” a question to which Peter gave the reply, “Thou art the Christ (Messiah)” (Mark 8:29 ). Mark made clear that Jesus took an attitude of distinct reserve and caution to this title since it carried overtones of political power, especially in one strand of Jewish hope represented by the Psalms of Solomon. Jesus, therefore, accepted Peter's confession with great reluctance since with it went the disciple's objection that the Messiah cannot suffer (see Mark 9:32 ). For Peter, Messiah was a title of a glorious personage both nationalistic and victorious in battle. Jesus, on the other hand, saw His destiny in terms of a suffering Son of man and Servant of God (Mark 8:31-38 ; Mark 9:31 ; Mark 10:33-34 ). Hence He did not permit the demons to greet Him as Messiah (Luke 4:41 ) and downplayed all claims to privilege and overt majesty linked with the Jewish title.

The course of Jesus' ministry is one in which He sought to wean the disciples away from the traditional notion of a warrior Messiah. Instead, Jesus tried to instill in their minds the prospect that the road to His future glory was bound to run by way of the cross, with its experience of rejection, suffering, and humiliation. At the trial before His Jewish judges (Matthew 26:63-66 ) He once more reinterpreted the title Messiah (“Christ,” KJV) and gave it a content in terms of the Son of man figure, based on Daniel 7:13-14 . This confession secured His condemnation, and He went to the cross as a crucified Messiah because the Jewish leaders failed to perceive the nature of messiahship as Jesus understood it. Pilate sentenced Him as a messianic pretender who claimed (according to the false charges brought against Him) to be a rival to Caesar (Mark 15:9 ; Luke 23:2 ; John 19:14-15 ). It was only after the resurrection that the disciples were in a position to see how Jesus was truly a king Messiah and how Jesus then opened their minds to what true Messiahship meant (see Luke 24:45-46 ). The national title Messiah then took on a broader connotation, involving a kingly role which was to embrace all peoples ( Luke 24:46-47 ).

Messiah as a Title in the Early Church From the resurrection onward the first preachers announced that Jesus was the Messiah by divine appointment (Acts 2:36 ; Romans 1:3-4 ). Part of the reason for this forthright declaration is to be traced to apologetic reasons. In the mission to Israel the church had to show how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and came into the world as the “Son of David,” a title closely linked with the Messiah as a royal person. Matthew's Gospel is especially concerned to establish the identity (Matthew 1:1 ), but it is equally a theme common to Luke (Luke 1:32 ,Luke 1:32,1:69 ; Luke 2:4 ,Luke 2:4,2:11 ; Acts 2:29-36 ; Acts 13:22-23 ). Paul also saw in Jesus the fulfillment of the messianic hopes of the old covenant (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 ). Peter, too, sought to show how the sufferings of the Messiah were foretold (1Peter 1:11,1 Peter 1:20 ; 1 Peter 2:21 ; 1 Peter 3:18 ; 1Peter 4:1,1 Peter 4:13 ; 1 Peter 5:1 ). Luke stressed the link between Jesus as the One anointed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:16-22 ) in a way that looks back to Isaiah 61:1 , and he recorded Peter's statement (in Acts 10:38 NIV) that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The letter to the Hebrews is rich in this theme. See Hebrews 1:9 ; Hebrews 2:2-4 ; Hebrews 9:14-15 .

The final stage of development in regard to the title Messiah came in the way that Paul used the word more as a personal name than as an official designation (seen in Romans 9:5 , “Christ”). The reason for this shift lies in the intensely personal nature of Paul's faith which centered in Jesus Christ as the divine Lord (see Philippians 1:21 ; Colossians 3:4 ). Also, Paul taught his converts who were mainly converted to Christ from paganism that Jesus was the universal Lord whose mission was wider than any Jewish hope could embrace. In Pauline thought, “Christ” is a richer term than “Messiah” could ever be, and one pointer in this direction is the fact that the early followers of the Messiah called themselves not converted Jews but “Christians,” Christ's people (Acts 11:26 ; 1 Peter 4:16 ) as a sign of their universal faith in a sovereign Lord. See Christ; Jesus.

Ralph P. Martin


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Messiah'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/m/messiah.html. 1991.

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