From the Hebrew root verb ma·shachʹ, meaning “smear,” and so “anoint.” (Ex 29:2, 7) Messiah (ma·shiʹach) means “anointed” or “anointed one.” The Greek equivalent is Khri·stosʹ, or Christ.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the verbal adjective form ma·shiʹach is applied to many men. David was officially appointed to be king by being anointed with oil and so is spoken of as “anointed one” or, literally, “messiah.” (2Sa 19:21; 22:51; 23:1; Ps 18:50) Other kings, including Saul and Solomon, are termed “anointed one” or “the anointed of Jehovah.” (1Sa 2:10, 35; 12:3, 5; 24:6, 10; 2Sa 1:14, 16; 2Ch 6:42; La 4:20) The term is also applied to the high priest. (Le 4:3, 5, 16; 6:22) The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are called Jehovah’s “anointed ones.” (1Ch 16:16, 22, ftn) Persian King Cyrus is termed “anointed one,” in that he was appointed by God for a certain assignment.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures the transliterated form Mes·siʹas occurs in the Greek text at John 1:41, with the explanation, “which means, when translated, Christ.” (See also Joh 4:25.) Sometimes the word Khri·stosʹ is used alone with reference to the one who is or who claims to be the Messiah, or the Anointed One. (Mt 2:4; 22:42; Mr 13:21) In most of its appearances, though, Khri·stosʹ is accompanied by the personal name Jesus, as in the expressions “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus,” to designate him as the Messiah. At times the word is used alone but specifically referring to Jesus with the understanding that Jesus is The Christ, as in the statement, “Christ died for us.”
Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. At Daniel 9:25, 26 the word ma·shiʹach applies exclusively to the coming Messiah. (See SEVENTY WEEKS.) However, many other texts of the Hebrew Scriptures also point to this coming One, even if not exclusively so. For instance, Psalm 2:2 evidently had first application at the time when Philistine kings tried to unseat anointed King David. But a second application, to the foretold Messiah, is established by Acts 4:25-27, where the text is applied to Jesus Christ. Also, many of the men called “anointed” in various ways prefigured, or pictured, Jesus Christ and the work he would do; among these were David, the high priest of Israel, and Moses (spoken of as “Christ” at Heb 11:23-26).
Prophecies not using “Messiah.” Numerous other Hebrew Scripture texts that do not specifically mention “Messiah” were understood by the Jews as prophecies applying to that one. Alfred Edersheim located 456 passages to which the “ancient Synagogue referred as Messianic,” and there were 558 references in the most ancient rabbinic writings supporting such applications. (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1906, Vol. I, p. 163; Vol. II, pp. 710-737) As an example, Genesis 49:10 prophesied that the ruling scepter would belong to the tribe of Judah and that Shiloh would come through that line. The Targum of Onkelos, the Jerusalem Targums, and the Midrash all recognize the expression “Shiloh” as applying to the Messiah.
The Hebrew Scriptures contain many prophecies that provide details about the Messiah’s background, time of appearance, activities, treatment by others, and place in God’s arrangement. The various indications about the Messiah thus combined to form one grand picture that would help true worshipers to identify him. This would provide a basis for faith in him as the true Leader sent by Jehovah. Though the Jews did not recognize ahead of time all the prophecies that related to the Anointed One, the evidence in the Gospels shows that they had sufficient knowledge by which to recognize the Messiah when he did appear.
Understanding in the First Century C.E. The historical information available reveals a general picture of the extent of understanding about the Messiah prevalent among Jews in the first century of the Common Era. Primarily this information is gleaned from the Gospels.
King and son of David. It was commonly accepted among the Jews that the Messiah would be a king of the line of David. When the astrologers asked about “the one born king of the Jews,” Herod the Great knew that they were asking about “the Christ.” (Mt 2:2-4) Jesus questioned the Pharisees as to whose descendant the Christ, or Messiah, would be. Though those religious leaders did not believe in Jesus, they knew that the Messiah would be David’s son.
Born in Bethlehem. Micah 5:2, 4 had indicated that out of Bethlehem would come one to be “ruler in Israel” who would “be great as far as the ends of the earth.” This was understood to refer to the Messiah. When Herod the Great asked the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah was to be born, they answered, “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and quoted Micah 5:2. (Mt 2:3-6) And even some of the common people knew this.
A prophet who would perform many signs. Through Moses, God had foretold the coming of a great prophet. (De 18:18) In Jesus’ day Jews were waiting for this one. (Joh 6:14) The way in which the apostle Peter used Moses’ words, at Acts 3:22, 23, indicates he knew they would be accepted as Messianic in nature even by religious opposers, and this gives evidence of widespread understanding of Deuteronomy 18:18. The Samaritan woman by the well also thought the Messiah would be a prophet. (Joh 4:19, 25, 29) People expected the Messiah to perform signs.
Some variety in beliefs. It is evident that even though knowledge about the coming Messiah was common among the Jews, not all persons had the same knowledge or understanding about that one. For instance, though many knew that he would come from Bethlehem, some did not. (Mt 2:3-6; Joh 7:27) Some believed the Prophet to be separate from the Christ. (Joh 1:20, 21; 7:40, 41) Certain prophecies about the Messiah were not understood, even by Jesus’ disciples. This was particularly true about those prophecies dealing with the Messiah’s rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. (Isa 53:3, 5, 12; Ps 16:10; Mt 16:21-23; 17:22, 23; Lu 24:21; Joh 12:34; 20:9) Yet once these things had taken place and the prophecies had been explained, his disciples and even ones who were not yet disciples began to appreciate the prophetic nature of these texts in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Lu 24:45, 46; Ac 2:5, 27, 28, 31, 36, 37; 8:30-35) Since the fact that the Messiah had to suffer and die was not recognized by most Jews, this point was stressed by early Christians when preaching to Jews.
Wrong Expectations. Luke’s account indicates that many Jews were anxiously expecting the Messiah to appear at the particular time Jesus was on earth. Simeon and other Jews were “waiting for Israel’s consolation” and “Jerusalem’s deliverance” when the babe Jesus was brought to the temple. (Lu 2:25, 38) During the ministry of John the Baptizer, the people “were in expectation” about the Christ, or Messiah. (Lu 3:15) Many, though, expected the Messiah to meet their preconceived notions. The prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures showed the Messiah as coming in two different roles. One was “humble, and riding upon an ass,” whereas the other was “with the clouds of the heavens” to annihilate opposers and have all rulerships serve him. (Zec 9:9; Da 7:13) The Jews failed to appreciate the fact that these prophecies related to two distinct appearances of the Messiah, these appearances occurring at widely separated times.
Jewish sources agree with Luke 2:38 that the people at that time were waiting for Jerusalem’s deliverance. The Jewish Encyclopedia observes: “They yearned for the promised deliverer of the house of David, who would free them from the yoke of the hated foreign usurper, would put an end to the impious Roman rule, and would establish His own reign of peace.” (1976, Vol. VIII, p. 508) They tried to make him an earthly king. (Joh 6:15) When he would not fulfill their expectations, they rejected him.
Evidently the expectation that the Messiah would be an earthly king was shared by John the Baptizer and his disciples. John knew Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God, having seen him anointed with holy spirit and having heard God’s voice of approval. John did not lack faith. (Mt 11:11) So his question, “Are we to expect a different one?” may have meant, ‘Are we to expect yet another one who will fulfill all the hopes of the Jews?’ Christ in reply pointed to the works he was doing (which things had been foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures). He concluded: “And happy is he who has not stumbled over me.” This answer, while implying that faith and discernment would be needed, would satisfy and comfort John, assuring him that Jesus was the One who would fulfill God’s promises. (Mt 11:3; Lu 7:18-23) Also, prior to his ascension, Jesus’ disciples held the view that he would at that time deliver Israel from Gentile domination and set up the Kingdom (restore the reign of the Davidic line) on earth.
False Messiahs. After Jesus’ death, the Jews followed many false Messiahs, as Jesus had foretold. (Mt 24:5) “From Josephus it appears that in the first century before the destruction of the Temple [in 70 C.E.] a number of Messiahs arose promising relief from the Roman yoke, and finding ready followers.” (The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. X, p. 251) Then, in 132 C.E., Bar Kokhba (Bar Koziba), one of the most prominent of the pseudomessiahs, was hailed as Messiah-king. In crushing the revolt that he led, Roman soldiers killed thousands of Jews. While such false Messiahs illustrate that many Jews were primarily interested in a political Messiah, they also show that they properly expected a personal Messiah, not just a Messianic era or Messianic nation. Some believe Bar Kokhba was a descendant of David, which would have aided his Messianic claim. However, since the genealogical records evidently were destroyed in 70 C.E., later claimants to the office of Messiah could not establish proof that they were of David’s family. (The Messiah therefore had to appear before 70 C.E., as Jesus did, in order to prove his claim as the heir of David. This shows that persons still looking for the Messiah’s earthly appearance are in error.) Among such later false claimants to messiahship were Moses of Crete, who asserted he would divide the sea between Crete and Palestine, and Serenus, who misled many Jews in Spain. The Jewish Encyclopedia lists 28 false Messiahs between the years 132 C.E. and 1744 C.E.
Jesus Was Accepted as the Messiah. The historical evidence found in the Gospels demonstrates that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Persons in the first century, who were in position to question the witnesses and examine the evidence, accepted the historical information as authentic. They were so sure of its accuracy that they were willing to endure persecution and die on behalf of their faith based on that assured information. The historical Gospel records show that various individuals openly acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah. (Mt 16:16; Joh 1:41, 45, 49; 11:27) Jesus did not say they were incorrect, and on occasion he admitted being the Christ. (Mt 16:17; Joh 4:25, 26) Sometimes Jesus would not say pointedly that he was the Messiah; at times he directed others not to publicize it. (Mr 8:29, 30; 9:9; Joh 10:24, 25) Since Jesus was present where people could hear him and see his works, he wanted them to believe on the solid basis of this evidence, so that their faith would be founded on their own eyewitness view of the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. (Joh 5:36; 10:24, 25; compare Joh 4:41, 42.) Now the Gospel record of what Jesus was and did has been provided along with the Hebrew Scriptures, which supplied abundant information about what he would do, so that individuals may know and believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
[Chart on page 387]
OUTSTANDING PROPHECIES CONCERNING JESUS AND THEIR FULFILLMENT
Prophecy Event Fulfillment
of an ass; hailed Joh 12:12-15
as king and one
coming in Jehovah’s
Ps 69:8; cornerstone
act together against
anointed of Jehovah
standing with God
resurrected 1Co 15:3-8
and by resurrection