International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
me-si'-a (mashiach; Aramaic meshicha'; Septuagint Christos, "anointed"; New Testament "Christ"):
1. Meaning and Use of the Term
2. The Messianic Hope
I. THE MESSIAH IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
1. The Messianic King
(2) Jeremiah and Ezekiel
(3) Later Prophets
2. Prophetic and Priestly Relations
3. Servant of Yahweh
4. Transformation of the Prophetic Hope into the Apocalyptic
II. THE MESSIAH IN THE PRE-CHRISTIAN AGE
1. Post-prophetic Age
2. Maccabean Times
3. Apocalyptic Literature
III. THE MESSIAH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
1. The Jewish Conception
(1) The Messiah as King
(2) His Prophetic Character
(3) The Title "Son of God"
2. Attitude of Jesus to the Messiahship
3. The Christian Transformation
4. New Elements Added
(1) Future Manifestation
(2) Divine Personality
(3) Heavenly Priesthood
5. Fulfillment in Jesus
1. Meaning and Use of the Term:
"Messias" (John 1:41; John 4:25 the King James Version) is a transcription of Messias, the Greek representation of the Aramaic. "Messiah" is thus a modification of the Greek form of the word, according to the Hebrew.
The term is used in the Old Testament of kings and priests, who were consecrated to office by the ceremony of anointing. It is applied to the priest only as an adjective-"the anointed priest" (Leviticus 4:3, 5, 16; Leviticus 6:22 (Hebrew 15)). Its substantive use is restricted to the king; he only is called "the Lord's anointed," e.g. Saul (1 Samuel 24:6, 10 (Hebrew 7, 11), etc.); David (2 Samuel 19:21 (Hebrew 22); 2 Samuel 23:1, "the anointed of the God of Jacob"); Zedekiah (Lamentations 4:20). Similarly in the Psalms the king is designated "mine," "thine," "his anointed." Thus also even Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), as being chosen and commissioned by Yahweh to carry out His purpose with Israel. Some think the singular "mine anointed" in Habakkuk 3:13 denotes the whole people; but the Hebrew text is somewhat obscure, and the reference may be to the king. The plural of the substantive is used of the patriarchs, who are called "mine anointed ones" (Psalm 105:15 1 Chronicles 16:22), as being Yahweh's chosen, consecrated servants, whose persons were inviolable.
It is to be noted that "Messiah" as a special title is never applied in the Old Testament to the unique king of the future, unless perhaps in Daniel 9:25 (mashiach naghidh, "Messiah-Prince"), a difficult passage, the interpretation of which is very uncertain. It was the later Jews of the post-prophetic period who, guided by a true instinct, first used the term in a technical sense.
2. The Messianic Hope:
The Messiah is the instrument by whom God's kingdom is to be established in Israel and in the world. The hope of a personal deliverer is thus inseparable from the wider hope that runs through the Old Testament. The Jews were a nation who lived in the future. In this respect they stand alone among the peoples of antiquity. No nation ever cherished such strong expectations of a good time coming, or clung more tenaciously amid defeat and disaster to the certainty of final triumph over all enemies and of entrance upon a state of perfect peace and happiness. The basis of this larger hope is Yahweh's covenant with Israel. "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God" (Exodus 6:7). On the ground of this promise the prophets, while declaring God's wrath against His people on account of their sin, looked beyond the Divine chastisements to the final era of perfect salvation and blessedness, which would be ushered in when the nation had returned to Yahweh.
The term "Messianic" is used in a double sense to describe the larger hope of a glorious future for the nation, as well as the narrower one of a personal Messiah who is to be the prominent figure in the perfected kingdom. It may be remarked that many writers, both prophetic and apocalyptic, who picture the final consummation, make no allusion whatever to a coming deliverer.
This article will treat of the personal Messianic hope as it is found in the Old Testament, in the pre-Christian age, and in the New Testament.
I. The Messiah in the Old Testament.
1. The Messianic King:
The chief element in the conception of the Messiah in the Old Testament is that of the king. Through him as head of the nation Yahweh could most readily work out His saving purposes. But the kingdom of Israel was a theocracy. In earlier times Moses, Joshua, and the judges, who were raised up by Yahweh to guide His people at different crises in their history, did not claim to exercise authority apart from their Divine commission. Nor was the relation of Yahweh to the nation as its real ruler in any way modified by the institution of the monarchy. It was by His Spirit that the king was qualified for the righteous government of the people, and by His power that he would become victorious over all enemies. The passage on which the idea of the Messianic king who would rule in righteousness and attain universal dominion was founded is Nathan's oracle to David in 2 Samuel 7:11;. In contrast to Saul, from whom the kingdom had passed away, David would never want a descendant to sit on the throne of Israel. How strong an impression this promise of the perpetuity of his royal house had made on David is seen in his last words (2 Samuel 23); and to this "everlasting covenant, and sure," the spiritual minds in Israel reverted in all after ages.
Isaiah is the first of the prophets to refer to an extraordinary king of the future. Amos (9:11) foretold the time when the shattered fortunes of Judah would be restored, while Hosea (3:5) looked forward to the reunion of the two kingdoms under David's line. But it is not till we reach the Assyrian age, when the personality of the king is brought into prominence against the great world-power, that we meet with any mention of a unique personal ruler who would bring special glory to David's house.
The kings of Syria and Israel having entered into a league to dethrone Ahaz and supplant him by an obscure adventurer, Isaiah 7:10-17 announces to the king of Judah that while, by the help of Assyria, he would survive the attack of the confederate kings, Yahweh would, for his disobedience, bring devastation upon his own land through the instrumentality of his ally. But the prophet's lofty vision, though limited as in the case of other seers to the horizon of his own time, reaches beyond Judah's distress to Judah's deliverance. To the spiritual mind of Isaiah the revelation is made of a true king, Immanuel, "God-with-us," who would arise out of the house of David, now so unworthily represented by the profligate Ahaz. While the passage is one of the hardest to interpret in all the Old Testament, perhaps too much has been made by some scholars of the difficulty connected with the word `almah, "virgin." It is the mysterious personality of the child to which prominence is given in the prophecy. The significance of the name and the pledge of victory it implies, the reference to Immanuel as ruler of the land in 8:8 (if the present rendering be correct), as well as the parallelism of the line of thought in the prophecy with that of Isaiah 9, would seem to point to the identity of Immanuel with the Prince of the four names, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace" (9:6 the Revised Version margin). These Divine titles do not necessarily imply that in the mind of the prophet the Messianic king is God in the metaphysical sense-the essence of the Divine nature is not a dogmatic conception in the Old Testament-but only that Yahweh is present in Him in perfect wisdom and power, so that He exercises over His people forever a fatherly and peaceful rule. In confirmation of this interpretation reference may be made to the last of the great trilogy of Isaianic prophecies concerning the Messiah of the house of David (11:2), where the attributes with which He is endowed by the Spirit are those which qualify for the perfect discharge of royal functions in the kingdom of God.
A similar description of the Messianic king is given by Isaiah's younger contemporary Micah (5:2;), who emphasizes the humble origin of the extraordinary ruler of the future, who shall spring from the Davidic house, while his reference to her who is to bear him confirms the interpretation which regards the virgin in Isaiah as the mother of the Messiah.
(2) Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
After the time of Isaiah and Micah the throne of David lost much of its power and influence, and the figure of the ideal king is never again portrayed with the same definiteness and color. Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk make no reference to him at all. By the great prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, however, the hope of a Davidic ruler is kept before the people. While there are passages in both of these writers which refer to a succession of pious rulers, this fact should not dominate our interpretation of other utterances of theirs which seem to point to a particular individual. By Jeremiah the Messiah is called the "righteous Branch" who is to be raised unto David and be called "Yahweh (is) our righteousness," that is, Yahweh as the one making righteous dwells in him (Jeremiah 23:5; compare 30:9). In Ezekiel he is alluded to as the coming one "whose right it is" (21:27), and as Yahweh's "servant David" who shall be "prince" or "king" forever over a reunited people (34:23; 37:24). It is difficult to resist the impression which the language of Ezekiel makes that it is the ideal Messianic ruler who is here predicted, notwithstanding the fact that afterward, in the prophet's vision of the ideal theocracy, not only does the prince play a subordinate part, but provision is made in the constitution for a possible abuse of his authority.
(3) Later Prophets.
After Ezekiel's time, during the remaining years of the exile, the hope of a preeminent king of David's house naturally disappears. But it is resuscitated at the restoration when Zerubbabel, a prince of the house of David and the civil head of the restored community, is made by Yahweh of hosts His signet-ring, inseparable from Himself and the symbol of His authority (Haggai 2:23). In the new theocracy, however the figure of the Messianic ruler falls into the background before that of the high priest, who is regarded as the sign of the coming Branch (Zechariah 3:8). Still we have the unique prophecy of the author Of Zechariah 9:9, who pictures the Messiah as coming not on a splendid charger like a warrior king, but upon the foal of an ass, righteous and victorious, yet lowly and peaceful, strong by the power of God to help and save. There is no mention of the Messianic king in Joel or Malachi; but references in the later, as in the earlier, Psalms to events in the lives of the kings or the history of the kingdom prove that the promise made to David was not forgotten, and point to one who would fulfill it in all its grandeur.
2. Prophetic and Priestly Relations:
The Messianic king is the central figure in the consummation of the kingdom. It is a royal son of David, not a prophet like unto Moses, or a priest of Aaron's line, whose personal features are portrayed in the picture of the future. The promise in Deuteronomy 18:15-20, as the context shows, refers to a succession of true prophets as opposed to the diviners of heathen nations. Though Moses passed away there would always be a prophet raised up by Yahweh to reveal His will to the people, so that they would never need to have recourse to heathen soothsayers. Yet while the prophet is not an ideal figure, being already fully inspired by the Spirit, prophetic functions are to this extent associated with the kingship, that the Messiah is qualified by the Spirit for the discharge of the duties of His royal office and makes known the will of God by His righteous decisions (Isaiah 11:2-5).
It is more difficult to define the relationship of the priesthood to the kingship in the final era. They are brought into connection by Jeremiah (30:9, 21) who represents the new "David" as possessing the priestly right of immediate access to Yahweh, while the Levitical priesthood, equally with the Davidic kingship, is assured of perpetuity on the ground of the covenant (Jeremiah 33:18). But after the restoration, when prominence is given to the high priest in the reconstitution of the kingdom, Joshua becomes the type of the coming "Branch" of the Davidic house (Zechariah 3:8), and, according to the usual interpretation, receives the crown-a symbol of the union of the kingly and priestly offices in the Messiah (Zechariah 6:11). Many scholars, however, holding that the words "and the counsel of peace shall be between them both" can only refer to two persons, would substitute "Zerubbabel" for "Joshua" in Zechariah 6:11, and read in 6:13, "there shall be a priest upon his right hand" (compare the Revised Version (British and American), Septuagint (Septuagint). The prophet's meaning would then be that the Messianic high priest would sit beside the Messianic king in the perfected kingdom, both working together as Zerubbabel and Joshua were then doing. There is no doubt, however, that the Messiah is both king and priest in Psalm 110.
3. Servant of Yahweh:
The bitter experiences of the nation during the exile originated a new conception, Messianic in the deepest sense, the Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 40-66; chiefly 41:8; 42:1-7, 19; 43:8, 10; 44:1, 21; 49:3-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53). As to whom the prophet refers in his splendid delineation of this mysterious being, scholars are hopelessly divided. The personification theory-that the Servant represents the ideal Israel, Israel as God meant it to be, as fulfilling its true vocation in the salvation of the world-is held by those who plead for a consistent use of the phrase throughout the prophecy. They regard it as inconceivable that the same title should be applied by the same prophet to two distinct subjects. Others admit that the chief difficulty in the way of this theory is to conceive it, but they maintain that it best explains the use of the title in the chief passages where it occurs. The other theory is that there is an expansion and contraction of the idea in the mind of the prophet. In some passages the title is used to denote the whole nation; in others it is limited to the pious kernel; and at last the conception culminates in an individual, the ideal yet real Israelite of the future, who shall fulfill the mission in which the nation failed.
What really divides expositors is the interpretation of Isaiah 52:13 -53. The question is not whether this passage was fulfilled in Jesus Christ-on this all Christian expositors are agreed-but whether the "Servant" is in the mind of the prophet merely the personification of the godly portion of the nation, or a person yet Isaiah 53:11; compare 42:1;; 49:02:00; 50:4); and as a reward for his sufferings he attains to a position of the highest royal splendor (Isaiah 52:15 b; 53:12a; compare 49:7).
SeeSERVANT OF JEHOVAH.
4. Transformation of the Prophetic Hope into the Apocalyptic:
In the Book of Daniel, written to encourage the Jewish people to steadfastness during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Messianic hope of the prophets assumes a new form. Here the apocalyptic idea of the Messiah appears for the first time in Jewish literature. The coming ruler is represented, not as a descendant of the house of David, but as a person in human form and of super-human character, through whom God is to establish His sovereignty upon the earth. In the prophet's vision (Daniel 7:13 f) one "like unto a son of man," kebhar 'enash (not, as in the King James Version, "like the son of man"), comes with the clouds of heaven, and is brought before the ancient of days, and receives an imperishable kingdom, that all peoples should serve him.
Scholars are by no means agreed in their interpretation of the prophecy. In support of the view that the "one like unto a son of man" is a symbol for the ideal Israel, appeal is made to the interpretation given of the vision in Daniel 7:18, 22, 27, according to which dominion is given to "the saints of the Most High." Further, as the four heathen kingdoms are represented by the brute creation, it would be natural for the higher power, which is to take their place, to be symbolized by the human form.
But strong reasons may be urged, on the other hand, for the personal Messianic interpretation of the passage. A distinction seems to be made between "one like unto a son of man" and the saints of the Most High in Daniel 7:21, the saints being there represented as the object of persecution from the little horn. The scene of the judgment is earth, where the saints already are, and to which the ancient of days and the "one like unto a son of man" descend (7:22, 13). And it is in accordance with the interpretation given of the vision in 7:17, where reference is made to the four kings of the bestial kingdoms, that the kingdom of the saints, which is to be established in their place, should also be represented by a royal head.
It may be noted that a new idea is suggested by this passage, the pre-existence of the Messiah before His manifestation.
II. The Messiah in the Pre-Christian Age.
1. Post-prophetic Age:
After prophetic inspiration ceased, there was little in the teaching of the scribes, or in the reconstitution of the kingdom under the rule of the high priests, to quicken the ancient hope of the nation. It would appear from the Apocrypha that while the elements of the general expectation were still cherished, the specific hope of a preeminent king of David's line had grown very dim in the consciousness of the people. In Ecclesiasticus (47:11) mention is made of a "covenant of kings and a throne of glory in Israel which the Lord gave unto David"; yet even this allusion to the everlasting duration of the Davidic dynasty is more of the nature of a historical statement than the expression of a confident hope.
2. Maccabean Times:
In the earlier stages of the Maccabean uprising, when the struggle was for religious freedom, the people looked for help to God alone, and would probably have been content to acknowledge the political supremacy of Syria after liberty had been granted them in 162 B.C. to worship God according to their own law and ceremonial. But the successful effort of the Maccabean leaders in achieving political independence, while it satisfied the aspirations of the people generally "until there should arise a faithful prophet" (1 Maccabees 14:41; compare 2:57), brought religious and national ideals into conflict. The "Pious" (chacidhim), under the new name of Pharisees, now became more than ever devoted to the Law, and repudiated the claim of a Maccabean to be high priest and his subsequent assumption of the royal title, while the Maccabees with their political ambitions took the side of the aristocracy and alienated the people. The national spirit, however, had been stirred into fresh life. Nor did the hope thus quickened lose any of its vitality when, amid the strife of factions and the quarrels of the ruling family, Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 B.C. The fall of the Hasmonean house, even more than its ascendancy, led the nation to set its hope more firmly on God and to look for a deliverer from the house of David.
3. Apocalyptic Literature:
The national sentiment evoked by the Maccabees finds expression in the Apocalyptic literature of the century and a half before Christ.
In the oldest parts of the Sibylline Oracles (3:652-56) there occurs a brief prediction of a king whom God shall send from the sun, who shall "cause the whole earth to cease from wicked war, killing some and exacting faithful oaths from others. And this he will do, not according to his own counsel, but in obedience to the beneficent decrees of God." And in a later part of the same book (3:49) there is an allusion to "a pure king who will wield the scepter over the whole earth forever." It may be the Messiah also who is represented in the earlier part of the Book of Enoch (90:37) as a glorified man under the symbol of a white bull with great horns, which is feared and worshipped by all the other animals (the rest of the religious community) and into whose likeness they are transformed.
But it is in the Psalms of Solomon, which were composed in the Pompeian period and reveal their Pharisaic origin by representing the Hasmoneans as a race of usurpers, that we have depicted in clear outline and glowing colors the portrait of the Davidic king (Psalm 17:18). The author looks for a personal Messiah who, as son of David and king of Israel, will purge Jerusalem of sinners, and gather together a holy people who will all be the "sons of their God." He shall not conquer with earthly weapons, for the Lord Himself is his King; he shall smite the earth with the breath of his mouth; and the heathen of their own accord shall come to see his glory, bringing the wearied children of Israel as gifts. His throne shall be established in wisdom and justice, while he himself shall be pure from sin and made strong in the Holy Spirit.
It is evident that in these descriptions of the coming one we have something more than a mere revival of the ancient hope of a preeminent king of David's house. The repeated disasters that overtook the Jews led to the transference of the national hope to a future world, and consequently to the transformation of the Messiah from a mere earthly king into a being with supernatural attributes. That this supernatural apocalyptic hope, which was at least coming to be cherished, exercised an influence on the national hope is seen in the Psalter of Solomon, where emphasis is laid on the striking individuality of this Davidic king, the moral grandeur of his person, and the Divine character of his rule.
We meet with the apocalyptic conception of the Messiah in the Similitudes of Enoch (chapters 37-71) and the later apocalypses. Reference may be made at this point to the Similitudes on account of their unique expression of Messianic doctrine, although their pre-Christian date, which Charles puts not later than 64 B.C., is much disputed. The Messiah who is called "the Anointed," "the Elect one" "the Righteous one" is represented, though in some sense man, as belonging to the heavenly world. His pre-existence is affirmed. He is the supernatural Son of Man, who will come forth from His concealment to sit as Judge of all on the throne of His glory, and dwell on a transformed earth with the righteous forever.
SeeAPOCALYPTIC LITERATURE (JEWISH); ESCHATOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
III. The Messiah in the New Testament.
To the prevalence of the Messianic hope among the Jews in the time of Christ the Gospel records bear ample testimony. We see from the question of the Baptist that "the coming one" was expected (Matthew 11:3 and parallel), while the people wondered whether John himself were the Christ (Luke 3:15).
1. The Jewish Conception:
(1) The Messiah as King.
In the popular conception the Messiah was chiefly the royal son of David who would bring victory and prosperity to the Jewish nation and set up His throne in Jerusalem. In this capacity the multitude hailed Jesus on His entry into the capital (Matthew 21:9 and parallel); to the Pharisees also the Messiah was the son of David (Matthew 22:42). It would seem that apocalyptic elements mingled with the national expectation, for it was supposed that the Messiah would come forth suddenly from concealment and attest Himself by miracles (John 7:27, 31).
But there were spiritual minds who interpreted the nation's hope, not in any conventional sense, but according to their own devout aspirations. Looking for "the consolation of Israel," "the redemption of Jerusalem," they seized upon the spiritual features of the Messianic king and recognized in Jesus the promised Saviour who would deliver the nation from its sin (Luke 2:25, 30, 38; compare 1:68-79).
(2) His Prophetic Character.
From the statements in the Gospels regarding the expectation of a prophet it is difficult to determine whether the prophetic function was regarded as belonging to the Messiah. We learn not only that one of the old prophets was expected to reappear (Matthew 14:2; Matthew 16:14 and parallel), but also that a preeminent prophet was looked for, distinct from the Messiah (John 1:21, 25; John 7:40 f). But the two conceptions of prophet and king seem to be identified in John 6:14, where we are told that the multitude, after recognizing in Jesus the expected prophet, wished to take Him by force and make Him a king. It would appear that while the masses were looking forward to a temporal king, the expectations of some were molded by the image and promise of Moses. And to the woman of Samaria, as to her people, the Messiah was simply a prophet, who would bring the full light of Divine knowledge into the world (John 4:25). On the other hand, from Philip's description of Jesus we would naturally infer that he saw in Him whom he had found the union of a prophet like unto Moses and the Messianic king of the prophetical books (John 1:45).
(3) The Title "Son of God."
It cannot be doubted that the "Son of God" was used as a Messianic title by the Jews in the time of our Lord. The high priest in presence of the Sanhedrin recognized it as such (Matthew 26:63). It was applied also in its official sense to Jesus by His disciples: John the Baptist (John 1:34), Nathaniel (John 1:49), Mary (John 11:27), Peter (Matthew 16:16, though not in parallel). This Messianic use was based on Psalm 2:7; compare 2 Samuel 7:14. The title as given to Jesus by Peter in his confession, "the Son of the living God," is suggestive of something higher than a mere official dignity, although its full significance in the unique sense in which Jesus claimed it could scarcely have been apprehended by the disciples till after His resurrection.
2. Attitude of Jesus to the Messiahship:
(1) His Claim.
The claim of Jesus to be the Messiah is written on the face of the evangelic history. But while He accepted the title, He stripped it of its political and national significance and filled it with an ethical and universal content. The Jewish expectation of a great king who would restore the throne of David and free the nation from a foreign yoke was interpreted by Jesus as of one who would deliver God's people from spiritual foes and found a universal kingdom of love and peace.
(2) His Delay in Making It.
To prepare the Jewish mind for His transformation of the national hope Jesus delayed putting forth His claim before the multitude till His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which, be it noted, He made in such a way as to justify His interpretation of the Messiah of the prophets, while He delayed emphasizing it to His disciples till the memorable scene at Caesarea Philippi when He drew forth Peter's confession.
(3) "The Son of Man."
But he sought chiefly to secure the acceptance of Himself in all His lowliness as the true Messianic king by His later use of His self-designation as the "Son of Man." While "Son of Man" in Aramaic, bar nasha', may mean simply "man," an examination of the chief passages in which the title occurs shows that Jesus applied it to Himself in a unique sense. That He had the passage in Daniel in His mind is evident from the phrases He employs in describing His future coming (Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26 and parallel; 14:62 and parallel). By this apocalyptic use of the title He put forward much more clearly His claim to be the Messiah of national expectation who would come in heavenly glory. But He used the title also to announce the tragic destiny that awaited Him (Mark 8:31). This He could do without any contradiction, as He regarded His death as the beginning of His Messianic reign. And those passages in which He refers to the Son of Man giving His life a ransom "for many" (Matthew 20:28 and parallel) and going "as it is written of him" (Matthew 26:24 and parallel), as well as Luke 22:37, indicate that He interpreted Isaiah 53 of Himself in His Messianic character. By His death He would complete His Messianic work and inaugurate the kingdom of God. Thus, by the help of the title "Son of Man" Jesus sought, toward the close of His ministry, to explain the seeming contradiction between His earthly life and the glory of His Messianic kingship.
It may be added that our Lord's use of the phrase implies what the Gospels suggest (John 12:34), that the "Son of Man," notwithstanding the references in Daniel and the Similitudes of Enoch (if the pre-Christian date be accepted), was not regarded by the Jews generally as a Messianic title. For He could not then have applied it, as He does, to Himself before Peter's confession, while maintaining His reserve in regard to His claims to be the Messiah.
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