ACST 36: The Messiah

temptation-of-jesusWhen Jesus asked his disciples who he was, Peter answered “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[1] His answer not only covered the person and nature of Christ, but described his role and work as well. That one word “Christ” says it all. It is helpful to “unpack” that term, because it has a long history, and it reveals much about what Jesus was called to accomplish.

Anointed

The word Christos is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Mashiach, a noun related to the verb Mashach, meaning to spread or smear with oil. In ancient times, oil was used as a means of keeping the head clean of lice, and to preserve cleanliness. Those associated with worship were anointed for this purpose, in order to keep the process of ritual sacrifice pure and untainted.

Somewhere early on in history, other persons whose work was deemed as important as that of the priests were anointed as well. The symbol took on enhanced meaning. It came to be understood that an anointed priest, or ruler, or prophet has not only the ritual purity and holiness needed for the job, but special abilities as well. Therefore, to acknowledge someone as anointed is to acknowledge his or her divine calling and enablement.

The title suggested both the authority to function in accordance with one’s calling, and the responsibility to do such in a righteous and wise manner. Those who were anointed were considered under the special protection of God, and as having a divine mission that should not be interfered with.

The Coming Messiah

Very early in the Old Testament it became clear that all of these anointed individuals are but types of the one anointed one to come: the Messiah, who would appear in history and affect salvation for God’s people. The Bible weaves together many pictures of this coming leader, not all of which are directly connected to the term Messiah, but all of them accurately describe Christ and his work.

He will Give Himself for God’s Purpose

The earliest hint of the Messiah’s ministry is the LORD’s prediction to Satan that he would encounter a foe in battle from among the children of Eve. God tells the serpent “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”[2] The prophecy is obscure, but it is clear that some conflict will take place in the future in which both parties will suffer harm, but the serpent’s harm will be the most severe. Christians understand this to be a reference to the fact that Jesus came to give up his life by crucifixion in order to rescue us from Satan’s grasp.

Jesus affirmed that “the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many.”[3] He came not to find himself but to lose himself, to give himself so that others might live. His role was to be a sacrifice. As God’s anointed one, he was particularly qualified for that task. As the sinless Son of the Father, he had the holiness and sinlessness necessary for his life to serve as the ransom for ours. By his blood he “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”[4]

The night in which this great sacrifice happened, Jesus got together with his disciples and shared a special meal with them. It was the Passover meal, which celebrated God’s deliverance of the Israelites from God’s judgment through the death-angel. They were celebrating deliverance through the death of the sacrificed lamb. But Jesus added to the ritual. “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.””[5]

Suddenly, the Passover event itself becomes a symbol of a much greater event. The unleavened bread of the Passover was originally a symbol of the haste in which the Israelites would suddenly be delivered from their captivity. They would not even have time to properly leaven their bread and let it rise. It was to be eaten without yeast. Now, however, Jesus tells his disciples that this bread was a symbol of his own body, which he was going to give for them – and us. The absence of leaven in the bread is a symbol of the absence of sin in the savior. Here again is evidence that the Messiah would give his life for those that he rescues.

Another Old Testament story took on new significance as Jesus explained its meaning in relation to himself and his work:

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”[6]

Most modern readers find this discourse a little too creepy to handle. But they might take comfort in the fact that the ancients who heard Jesus say these things were just as troubled. Jesus was not encouraging cannibalism. He was trying to make a similar point to the one he had made about the Passover bread. The Manna in the wilderness was God’s gift to his people who had a need they could not fill by themselves. They needed God’s grace to sustain them. In the same way, Jesus body and blood would meet the human need for deliverance and eternal life.

Jesus was once again predicting his death on the cross. To feed upon Christ’s flesh and drink his blood was not to partake in communion. It was to believe in his death as an atonement for sin. The context of this passage is the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-15). Later, the people were pursuing Jesus because they wanted another meal. Jesus tells them “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”[7] They respond to this by asking what they should do to labor for that food. Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[8]

Central to the work of Jesus as the Messiah is that he would come down from heaven, just like the Manna did. His death on the cross was a gift of God’s grace. All anyone has to do to accept that free gift is to believe. Like the Manna, those who refuse to believe and receive what God freely provided would die, because there was no other option. The Messiah would freely give his life. But that sacrifice would only suffice to bring eternal life if it was believed and received.

The Good news tells us that Christ’s death is sufficient to pay the sin-debt owed by everyone. Paul tells us that Christ died for all.[9] He gave his life as a ransom for all.[10] That does not mean that everyone will be saved, but does mean that everyone could have been saved. If all had believed and received the gift of Christ’s death, then all would have received the promise of eternal life, along with the hope of the resurrection that would begin that eternal life.[11] As the Messiah, Jesus made the resurrection possible for all by giving of himself at Calvary.

The Messiah’s giving of himself began long before that fateful day when he was crucified. His entire life was an act of giving and a sign of his grace. He had all the riches of heaven, yet he chose to forsake them and come to earth to save us. When the apostle Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to be generous, he pointed out that they should imitate Christ “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”[12] Christ’s giving began with the incarnation, and culminated on the cross.

The Messiah had us in mind when he came to this world to die. He was the sacrificial lamb who “gave himself for our sins to deliver us.”[13] The lives we now live in the flesh we should live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.[14] We should “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”[15] Husbands should “love (their) wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”[16] Since “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, (then we should) die to sin and live to righteousness.”[17] Since “he laid down his life for us, (then) we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”[18]

The Messiah’s purpose was to deliver us from the consequences of sin. Paul says “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”[19] He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”[20] He “has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”[21]

He will Proclaim God’s Prophecies

Another function that the Messiah was to perform was to be God’s ultimate prophet. He would proclaim God’s word as no one had before, and no one would after. The LORD had promised Moses “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”[22] Out of that prediction there emerged an entire institution of the prophets who spoke for God for centuries. Some prophets were true prophets, and some were false prophets. Some merely spoke God’s words; others backed up what they said with miracles. But the people of God were always expecting the prophet to arrive. They expected the Messiah to speak for God in a way unlike any of the other prophets.

The Mosaic corpus ends with these words:

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.[23]

The people expected more than a spokesman for God. They looked for someone who knew God intimately like Moses did. They expected a man who could wield the staff of God in his hands, and separate the waters of the red sea. They longed for a prophet who could command the quail and Manna to appear to feed them. They expected power.

Yet, ironically, for the prophet to be like Moses, he must also be a man of peace. He must have possession of power, yet operate in humility. He must be a great leader, yet also be God’s servant. He must have the ability to lead skillfully, which means that he must endure the faithlessness and complaining of his followers. He must have the brilliance to know God’s thoughts, and yet be capable of communicating those thought on the people’s level.

Jesus communicated God’s prophecies to his generation with clarity and power. He had the advantage of being the one and only Son of the Father. He said “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”[24]

The prophet was to be a kind of person who would reveal how God felt in any given situation. He or she had to have a hand on God’s pulse. If God was angry, the prophet needed to express that anger. If God was compassionate, the prophet was to show that mercy and pity. The prophet’s job was to know God and to make him known.

John describes Jesus’ messianic ministry in this way: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”[25] Through the Messiah, God’s Word “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[26] Like no one else – not even Moses – Jesus revealed God to us.

Jesus described God as our Father who is in heaven.[27] The phrase signifies both intimacy and distance. It speaks of one with whom we can have a relationship, yet not as though among equals. The relationship he describes is son-ship. If we imitate the character of our heavenly Father, then we are acting like his sons. When our Father sees our acts of righteousness done merely to please him, then he will reward us. But if we do our acts of righteousness merely to please other humans, he knows and withholds his reward. We should fear our Father in heaven. Our relationship is such that his will is our first consideration. Even though Christ is sends us out like sheep among wolves, we should not fear the wolves. They can only kill us. The Father has power to destroy us in hell. So we should fear his displeasure above all other fears.[28]

Jesus’ words are to be the basis for our lives. He told us to make disciples of all nations by baptizing people into his name and teaching them all his commands. He fulfills the role of the ultimate prophet. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”[29] Now, at last, when know how God feels. He reacts to things just as his Son did.

He will Mediate God’s Provisions

The Messiah would not only be the ultimate prophet, but he would also be the ultimate priest. He is the only being ever capable of serving in that exalted position, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”[30] That personal relationship with God that allows us to call him our heavenly Father could never had happened if it were not for Christ’s mediation.

As our great high priest, the Messiah can empathize with us when we are tempted to fall short of God’s perfection, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”[31] He understands the thoughts that go through our minds. He does not just know those thoughts like someone who memorizes a song. He understands the thoughts and feelings like the original author of the song.

Jesus is appointed high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Like the high priest under Aaron’s priesthood, he could empathize with God’s people because he was one of them.[32] But unlike the ordinary priests, Jesus could mediate God’s position perfectly because he never sinned. He never stopped being God the Son. Since he now has resurrected eternal life, he is able to “save to the uttermost” all those who put their faith in him, since he is able to intercede for them continually.[33] He does so on the basis of new promises God has offered as part of his new covenant.[34]

The provisions of this new covenant speak to a new relationship with God in the present, and a new inheritance from God in the future. Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”[35] If Jesus had not died on the cross, the transgressions that kept us tied to the laws of the old covenant would still be hanging over all humanity, keeping us at enmity with God. Since Jesus has taken the guilt for those transgressions away, we are free to inherit eternal blessing instead of eternal shame and destruction.

Under the old covenant, the blood of the innocent cried out for retribution and seeks justice. That was the blood of Abel: the first person murdered. Under the new covenant, the blood of the innocent cries out for repentance and offers grace. That is the blood of Christ on the cross. Believers who claim to be under the new covenant of grace should be careful to live up to its provisions offered by Christ. Because…

you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.[36]

The most dangerous kind of life to live is that of a “Christian” who does not fear God. Such a person claims that Jesus is his Messiah, yet refuses to follow him. The author of Hebrews says that such a person is worse off than those who pretended to live under the provisions of the Old Covenant, mediated by Moses. Our mediator is the Son of God himself.

He will Lead God’s People

Another role expected of God’s Messiah is that of leadership and guidance. The One who was to come was to be the Good Shepherd, who leads, guides, protects and provides for God’s people. This aspect of Messiah’s leadership was clearly seen in the analysis of the shepherd texts in chapter 35.

The leadership role of the Messiah was also described in royal terms. Jeremiah prophesied: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”[37] Isaiah adds: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”[38]

Jesus admitted that he was the king that the Old Testament prophets had predicted. When Pilate asked him if he was the king of Israel, Jesus replied “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”[39] He was not evading the question. He was affirming that his was divinely ordained leadership, and that other leaders (like Herod, Caesar, and Pilate himself) were leading people away from the truth.

The wise men came to Jerusalem looking for the new “king of the Jews” who had been born.[40] Nathaniel’s reaction to Jesus was “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”[41] The Gentiles sought to have Christians brought to justice for treason against Caesar, because they were “all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.””[42]

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem for his triumphal entry, he chose a donkey’s colt, specifically because he was fulfilling a scripture about the Messiah as a king: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”[43] To ride into town on a humble animal was not only a sign of his humility, but it also had been done by ancient kings to demonstrate their strength. The idea was that a strong animal was not needed if the victory was already sure. This was exactly how he was received. John records “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, and “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!””[44]

But ultimately it will be known by all that Jesus is more than just king of one ethnic group. He will reign over all ethnic groups. When the song is sung praising Christ for his leadership, it will sound like this: “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”[45] He is king of kings and Lord of Lords.[46]

He will Fulfill God’s Plan

God had planned for his Son to be born on earth[47] to a virgin.[48] He would be from the lineage of Jesse,[49] and be a descendant of King David.[50] He would be born in the little town of Bethlehem, in Judah[51] but raised in Nazareth, a town in Galilee.[52] News of this birth would cause a massacre of infant boys in a town called Ramah, north of Jerusalem.[53] As a child, this son would go to Egypt, and then return from it.[54]

After growing up, this young man would take on a mission to both restore the tribes of Jacob and to be a light to the Gentile nations as well.[55] He would deliver people from physical ailments,[56] and also set them free from spiritual bondage.[57] He would then be rejected,[58] betrayed,[59] and killed for the transgressions of God’s people.[60]

After fulfilling God’s plan in all these (and many other) details, Jesus was raised from the dead, which was also part of God’s plan.[61] He commissioned his church to continue making disciples of all nations because he is not yet finished fulfilling God’s plan. One day Christ will suddenly return to this earth to claim his rightful place as king of the universe. This is Christ’s destiny. It is what he was anointed for.


[1] Matthew 16:16.

[2] Genesis 3:15.

[3] Matthew 20:28.

[4] Revelation 5:9.

[5] Luke 22:19.

[6] John 6:48-58.

[7] John 6:27.

[8] John 6:29 {emphasis mine}.

[9] 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.

[10] 1 Timothy 2:6.

[11] John 6:39.

[12] 2 Corinthians 8:9.

[13] Galatians 1:4.

[14] Galatians 2:20.

[15] Ephesians 5:2.

[16] Ephesians 5:25.

[17] 1 Peter 2:24.

[18] 1 John 3:16.

[19] 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10.

[20] Titus 2:14.

[21] Revelation 1:5-6.

[22] Deuteronomy 18:18 (see also 18:15).

[23] Deuteronomy 34:10-12.

[24] Matthew 11:27.

[25] John 1:18.

[26] John 1:14.

[27] Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:9, 14, 26, 32; 7:11; 23:9.

[28] Matthew 10:16-28.

[29] Hebrews 1:1-2.

[30] 1 Timothy 2:5-6.

[31] Hebrews 2:18.

[32] Hebrews 5:1-10.

[33] Hebrews 7:25.

[34] Hebrews 8:6.

[35] Hebrews 9:15.

[36] Hebrews 12:22-25.

[37] Jeremiah 23:5-6.

[38] Isaiah 9:7.

[39] John 18:37.

[40] Matthew 2:2.

[41] John 1:49.

[42] Acts 17:7.

[43] Zechariah 9:9.

[44] John 12:13.

[45] Revelation 15:3 {The word for nations is the same word often rendered Gentiles}.

[46] 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16.

[47] Isaiah 9:6-7; Mark 1:1; John 1:1-3, 14.

[48] Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:1-2, 16.

[49] Isaiah 11:1-5, 10; Romans 15:12; Matthew 1:6, 16.

[50] Isaiah 16:5; Matthew 1:1-2a, 6, 16.

[51] Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1.

[52] Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 2:22-23; 4:13-16.

[53] Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:16-18.

[54] Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:14-15.

[55] Isaiah 49:6; 42:1-4, 6; Matthew 12:14-21.

[56] Isaiah 29:18; 35:5-6a; Luke 7:20-22.

[57] Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:16-21.

[58]Psalms 69:8; Matthew 21:42.

[59] Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:14-15.

[60] Isaiah 53:8; 1 Peter 2:24.

[61] Isaiah 53:8, 11; Matthew 28:2, 5-7, 9.

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