Who is the Messiah?

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We just celebrated the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter. Here is the Gospel reading from that day:

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."[1]

The confession of St. Peter, that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” is a turning point in Matthew’s Gospel. Peter’s confession is so significant that Jesus underscores it as an insight given by God the Father.

So why is the disciple’s understanding of Jesus as the Messiah so pivotal?

Messiah is a title rooted in the Old Testament meaning one anointed with holy oil. The Kings of Israel were often referred to as anointed, such as Saul (1 Sam. 12:3), David (2 Sam. 19:22), Solomon (2 Chron. 6:42), Zedekiah (Lam. 4:20), and even the Babylonian king Cyrus (Isa. 45:1). Though the word is not used, the expectation for a Messiah is established in God’s Covenant with David:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.[2]

Through the words of the prophets, an expectation is set for the Messiah to be born in the Davidic line to reform and restore the Jewish nation (cf. Isaiah 11, 40-66).

     The Gospel writings bear witness that Jesus is the long-awaited king. Matthew and Luke offer the lineage of Jesus as a descendent of David (Matthew 1, Luke 3). They also refer to as the Christ (cf. Matthew 1:16), a Greek equivalent to Messiah from which we derive words such as chrismation. Andrew went with haste to get his brother Simon (who will be called Peter) when he met Jesus, proclaiming, “We have found the Messiah.”[3]

     The conception of Jesus as Messiah to the disciples was a worldly outlook. It was beyond Peter’s imagining that Jesus should go to Jerusalem only to suffer at the hands of the chief priests and the scribes, be killed, and on the third day be raised.[4] The eternal, spiritual nature of the Kingdom of Jesus does not seem to be understood until after his crucifixion and resurrection, when Jesus points his followers back to this teaching.[5]

     In Paul’s writings, Jesus is so closely understood as the Messiah that the title is held in close association with his given name as Christ Jesus. In his For Everyone series, Tom Wright translates this as King Jesus to bring out the meaning of Christ as a proper title and convey it’s meaning. An image of Jesus as God’s Messiah is painted by Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[6]

[1] Matthew 16:13-19. Quotations from the Bible are from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA.

[2] 2 Samuel 7:12-13. The New Revised Standard Version Bible.

[3] John 1:41.

[4] Matthew 16:21.

[5] Luke 24:25.

[6] Philippians 2:5-11.

Posted by The Rev. Bob Corley with

What is Meant by Messiah?

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These days, messiahs are everywhere. Athletes have been called “messiahs” for their various sports teams and cities. Candidates have been considered “messiahs” for their political parties. Numerous religious figures have even proclaimed themselves to be messiahs. And they were, at least under the broad definition allowed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary that anyone who is “a professed or accepted leader of some hope or cause” is a messiah. Do you want to be a messiah? Just declare yourself the leader of some (presumably hopeless) cause and there you go…instant messiah!

However, to use the term in this way is to cheapen its historical meaning. Messiah isn’t a synonym for savior, and both of those terms have loftier origins in our religious heritage. To re-discover what is meant by messiah, and ultimately Messiah with a capital M, requires some word study of the Hebrew mashiach in the First Testament and some discussion on the development of that idea in Judeo-Christian thought.

A mashiach can be anything or anyone that is smeared by the applying of oil or, in some cases, with a dye or paint. This is the noun form related to the verb mashach, which is the act of applying, or anointing, of something with the liquid. The earliest usage of mashiach in Scripture is found in Genesis 31:13 where God refers to the pillar that Jacob had anointed following his vision of the ladder (28:18). As with Jacob’s pillar (altar?), most objects that were anointed were used in worship, including grain offerings, the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle, and the altar itself.[1] Exceptions to this are rare, but include shields and homes.[2] All of the people mentioned as having been anointed were either a prophet, priest, or king.[3] Notably, each of those positions has a unique relationship between God and the people to communicate God’s word, to intercede between God and his people, and to be the ruler to be the exemplar of living a Godly life.

The idea of a future mashiach for Israel was rooted in the anointing of the kings, especially David, and the promises made to Israel regarding the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. This hope is based most strongly on the promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7 that God would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (vv. 13, 16). However, the term messiah itself is little used after the Psalms, with the notable exceptions in Daniel 9, Habakkuk 3, and Isaiah 61. Isaiah describes the anointed one as bringing restoration in many ways and of being clothed with salvation, but none of them directly link mashiach to the expected Davidic king. The attachment of Messiah to this future Davidic king is one of extension through the practice of anointing kings as recorded in Kings and Chronicles.

Isaiah and Jeremiah point to the root/branch/shoot of David as a future king who will be filled with God’s spirit, reign justly, save Israel, kill the wicked, and bring peace to the whole earth. Isaiah further describes this bringer of justice as God’s servant (42:1). However, through linking Isaiah’s servant passages, we also see this servant as the one who brings salvation to the entire world (49:6), and yet one who suffers and is killed, bearing the sins of the people (52:13-53:12).

So what is meant by Messiah? An anointed one…the hope of not only Israel, but of the entire world. A king who will bring justice and yet someone who will be outcast and slain. Our normal conceptions of a man descended from David cannot bear such a dichotomy, so the Messiah must be no mere man. So who is the Messiah? That is the question for next week.

           

 

[1] Ex. 29:2, 36; 30:26; 40:9.

[2] Is. 21:5; Jer. 22:14

[3] The only prophet recorded as being anointed is Elisha in 1 Kings 19:16, but it is reasonable to think that other prophets may have been anointed. Jehu is the only Israelite king of the divided kingdom that is mentioned as being anointed, however, Cyrus of the Balylonian captivity is also called God’s anointed one (Is 45:1)

Posted by The Rev. Andy Johnson with

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