Messiah, Christ, Jesus

The Hebrew word for Messiah means ‘The Anointed One'. For orthodox Jews, it refers to the one who has yet to come, sent by God to bring ultimate peace on earth. In the New Testament, it is translated by the Greek word ‘Christos' (Christ), a name given to Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that, by his life and death, Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, and is the promised Messiah. (see Big ideas: Anointing; Jews, Hebrews, Children of Israel)

Jesus as Messiah

Jesus as saviour

There was keen expectation of the coming of Messiah at the time when Jesus was born. The Angel Gabriel told Mary that her son would be called Jesus, which means Saviour. ‘He will be … called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and … his kingdom will never end' (Luke 1:30-33). Because King David's reign was seen as a high point in the history of the Jews, the promised Messiah was seen as continuing that glory. (See Big ideas: Redemption, salvation.)

To some who met Jesus when he began his public teaching, it seemed obvious who he was:

‘The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon (Peter) and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah' (that is the Christ) and he brought him to Jesus' (John 1:40-42).

Later, when Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter affirmed, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Matthew 16:16). But because the Jews were hoping for a Messiah to overthrow the pagan Roman occupation under which they were suffering, many such as Judas Iscariot, who was a ‘zealot' (revolutionary), became disillusioned when Jesus made it plain that military resistance was not his way forward.

Jesus the ‘Son of Man'

Jesus often referred to himself as the Son of Man, adopting a name for Messiah used by the prophet Daniel. He quoted Daniel's prophecy (Daniel 7:13-14) during his first trial:

‘The high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Blessed One?' ‘I am,' said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven' (Mark 14:60-64, Luke 22:66-70).

Jesus was foretelling his Second Coming, the time when, according to Christian belief, the messianic prophecies of God's kingly rule and judgement will finally be fulfilled. To the Jews, this explicit claim to be the Son of God, was blasphemy. (See Big ideas: Apocalypse, Revelation, the End Times,Second Coming.)

Jesus the King of the Jews

Crown of thornsThe Jews did not have the power to execute Jesus, and so they told the Roman governor Pilate, that Jesus claimed to be Messiah and king. When interrogated, Jesus did not deny this, but made it clear his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:33-37, John 19:12). To the Pharisees' fury, Pilate had the inscription 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews' placed over Jesus' head when he was put to death on the cross (John 19:19-22).

Jesus as ‘High Priest'

Prophecies of the Messiah envisioned him combining the role of priest with royal functions (e.g. Zechariah 6:12-13). The New Testament letter to the Hebrews explains how Christ as the ‘Great High Priest' fulfilled all the roles and functions of the Old Testament system of sacrifice and atonement (e.g. Hebrews 9:11-14). (See Big ideas: Atonement and sacrifice.)

Jesus, the ‘suffering servant'

Since the Israelites sacrificed lambs to God, Christ is also sometimes described as the sacrifice, ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). Thus he is seen to fulfil the messianic prophecy of Isaiah, which foretells the sufferings of God's servant to win forgiveness for many:

‘He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all' (Isaiah 53:4-6).

(See Big ideas: Forgiveness, mercy and grace; Peace; Sheep, shepherd, lamb).

The role of the Messiah

Luke tells how Jesus appeared, unrecognised, after his resurrection, to two disciples who were bemoaning that their hopes that Jesus was the Messiah had been dashed. (See Big ideas: Redemption, salvation.)

‘We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.' Jesus said, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself' (Luke 24:17-27).

In the Roman world of the early church, extra support for Jesus' identity as the promised Messiah was found in the Fourth Eclogue of the first century BC Roman poet Virgil. He foretold the birth of a child, ‘the offspring of Jove', who would end the rule of evil in men's hearts. Virgil's prophecy has similarities with that of Isaiah:

‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace' (Isaiah 9:6).

He also links this child with restored harmony in the world of nature, as is also found in Isaiah 11:6-9.

Messiah in the arts

Handel's Messiah

The eighteenth-century composer George Frederick Handel was inspired to compose his Oratorio, The Messiah, setting to music a sequence of Old Testament prophecies, followed by the story of Christ's death and resurrection, and looking ahead to his Second Coming and the glories of heaven.

Related topics

Big ideas: Anointing; Apocalypse, Revelation,End Times,Second Coming; Atonement and sacrifice; Forgiveness, mercy and grace; Jews, Hebrews, Children of Israel; Peace; Redemption, salvation; Sheep, shepherd, lamb

Other cultural references

Handel's Messiah

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