The Lord's Anointed

It is amazing how many people who call themselves "Christian" don't actually know what the word means. A "Christian" is a follower of Christ, but like most people, I did not know what the word "Christ" meant for many years. Like some, I assumed that it was part of his name. Others know that it is a title, but don't know exactly what it means. The fact is, however, that the word Christ comes from the Greek word christos, which means "anointed one." It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, mashiyach from which we get our English word, Messiah. The titles Messiah and Christ mean exactly the same thing: an anointed one.

When the Hebrew Scriptures speak of someone being anointed, it stems from the practice of literally anointing them with oil. It represents marking them out, or consecrating them for a special purpose or function. Three main categories of people were anointed in the Old Testament: priests (Exodus 28:41; 40:15; Numbers 3:3), prophets (I Kings 19:16), and kings (I Samuel 9:16; 16:3; II Samuel 12:7). Although Jesus fulfilled all three functions, the English word Messiah only appears a couple of times in the Old Testament, mashiyach being most often translated as "anointed." How then did Messiah or Christ come to be the primary title for the Promised One?

From nearly the beginning, the Hebrew Scriptures speak of One who is to come, in various ways, with various functions. Genesis 3:15 refers to the Seed of the Woman who would crush the head of the Serpent. The seed line was preserved from that point forward, often in miraculous ways. This prophecy forms the foundation for all the prophecies of the One to Come. Most of these prophecies speak of someone whom God would send, but they don't specifically call him Messiah. The following, from Judaism 101, explains the Jewish viewpoint of the Messiah.

Modern scholars suggest that the messianic concept was introduced later in the history of Judaism, during the age of the prophets. They note that the messianic concept is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

However, traditional Judaism maintains that the messianic idea has always been a part of Judaism. The mashiach is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, because the Torah was written in terms that all people could understand, and the abstract concept of a distant, spiritual, future reward was beyond the comprehension of some people. However, the Torah contains several references to "the End of Days" (acharit ha-yamim), which is the time of the mashiach; thus, the concept of mashiach was known in the most ancient times.

When Israel was about to give his final blessing over his sons, he said, "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days [the end of days]" (Genesis 49:1). In his prophecy over Judah, he said the following.

Genesis 49:
8 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy fatherís children shall bow down before thee.
9 Judah is a lionís whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?
10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
[see NASB]

The name Shiloh in verse 10 literally means, "He to whom it belongs" (referring to the sceptre). The lawgiver to whom this ruling authority belongs would come out of the tribe of Judah. Another significant prophecy which also refers to the sceptre and to the latter days was spoken by Balaam.

Numbers 24:
14 And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days.
15 And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:
16 He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:
17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
18 And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly.
19 Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.
[see NASB]

These prophecies refer to One who is to come, who would be a great leader, and who would rule God's people. Psalm 2 refers to the kings of the earth rebelling "against the Lord and against His anointed." But God prophetically states that He has set His king upon His holy hill of Zion. This king would also be His Son (verse 7). The coming king would not only be of royal lineage, but also the Son of God ("I will be his father, and he shall be my son" - II Samuel 7:14). "Son of God" is a Messianic title, frequently linked with "The Christ" in the New Testament.  He would rule the nations mightily on his Father's behalf. As a result of his rule, Israel and then the other nations would finally learn to walk in God's ways. This vision is unfolded throughout the Scriptures, as we shall see.

When the nation of Israel was in the Promised Land, and God had chosen David to be king, we see the first of many references to a king as the Lord's anointed.

I Samuel 2:
10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.
35 And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever.
[see NASB]

God's plan involved raising up a king whom He would exalt and strengthen. The human kings of Israel, throughout the Old Testament, were referred to as the Lord's anointed. (Other individuals consecrated for a specific purpose were called "anointed" also, such as Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1. But by far the most common use of "anointed" was the king.) David refused to attack or harm Saul, even though he was being pursued by him, because he refused to hurt the Lord's anointed (I Samuel 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11, 16, 23; II Samuel 1:14, 16; 19:21).

Yet because Saul did not do what God had commanded, his kingdom was taken away and given to David, who is described as a man after God's heart (I Samuel 13:13-14). God was pleased with David's rule, because for the most part he kept God's commandments, and even when he didn't, he repented because his heart was ultimately to please God. So God told David that He would establish His people in the land, and also establish the throne of David to rule the people.

II Samuel 7:
10 Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime,
11 And as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house.
12 And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.
13 He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:
15 But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.
16 And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.
[see NASB]

Many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures have a dual fulfillment, that is, there is an immediate, more specific fulfillment, and a long-term, ultimate fulfillment as well. The specific and immediate fulfillment of these verses was in the person of David's son Solomon, who built a house for God's name, after David died. Solomon sat on the throne of Israel in David's place, and it is called the throne of the Lord in I Chronicles 29:23 ("Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king instead of David his father..."). The throne of Israel is called the throne of the Lord, because the king of Israel was intended to be God's representative on earth, who would rule on God's behalf. He would be a "vice-regent" or ruler second only to God Himself.

But Solomon did not remain faithful until the end, and by the time he died had turned to idolatry. The kingdom was divided after that, and descendants of David and Solomon continued to reign until the Babylonian captivity. Some ruled well, most did not. After the people returned from captivity in Babylon under the Persian empire, the promised kingdom of God on earth still did not materialize, and the nation of Israel continued to be under the rule of various Gentile kingdoms. Yet God had promised that He would establish David's throne for ever. How would He do this when David's descendants failed to adhere to God's commandments?

While the immediate fulfillment of II Samuel 7:12 was in David's son Solomon, like many prophecies there was also another, long-term fulfillment. The coming king's rule will involve putting down those rebellious kings, as described in Psalm 2. In Psalm 72 is a promise that the king's son would judge the people with righteousness, and their oppressors would fear him "as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations" (v. 5).  In addition, it says that he would have "dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth" (v. 8).   The immediate son of David was Solomon, but his dominion was neither to the ends of the earth nor throughout all generations. The ultimate fulfillment is referring to the ultimate descendant of David, which God had promised with a covenant (Psalm 89:3-4).

Psalm 132 also tells us that God would not turn from His promise to David, and that He had specifically chosen Zion to dwell in. "This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell" (v. 14).  Because of this He would bless the people and establish David's throne.

The coming ruler is also referred to in Psalm 110, the first verse of which is the most often quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament. The Messiah will sit at God's right hand until his enemies are defeated, and he will then rule in the midst of them.

Psalm 110:
1 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
2 The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.
[see NASB]

Isaiah tells us that in the last days the Lord's house shall be established and exalted, and all nations will acknowledge God and walk in His ways.

Isaiah 2:
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORDíS house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
[see NASB]

How will the house of the Lord and His rule be established? By means of His anointed king. The well-known passage from Isaiah quoted in Handel's Messiah perfectly describes the One to Come and his purpose.

Isaiah 9:
6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
[see NASB]

Isaiah further describes this coming ruler as the rod out of the stem of Jesse (David's father) in chapter 11. He would judge with righteousness and not by sight. This would happen in those latter days when the earth was restored to its former state and the wolf dwells with the lamb. The Lord will again restore His people a second time (see The Kingdom In The Prophets), and the root of Jesse would stand for a banner to even the Gentiles (see Romans 15:12).

The prophets speak of David reigning over God's people (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24-25; Hosea 3:5), but their prophecies were written after his death. Elsewhere it is clarified that the promise of Davidís reign would be fulfilled by his descendant, and that David would "never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel" (Jeremiah 33:17). This descendant is called The Branch in verse 15, and elsewhere.

Jeremiah 23:
5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.
6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Jeremiah 33:
14 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.
15 In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.
16 In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness.
17 For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;
[see NASB]

Several other well-known prophecies refer to the One to Come. The Ruler "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" would come out of Bethlehem Ephratah, according to Micah 5:2. The "Man whose name is The Branch" (Zechariah 3:8; 6:12) was immediately fulfilled in the person of Joshua the High Priest, but is also a type of Christ, who will ultimately "sit and rule upon his throne." It has been the hope of Israel all along, starting with the promise of land to Abraham, and the promise of a never-ending kingdom to David.

In Daniel, we read about a kingdom given by God to the Son of Man (the title Jesus used most frequently to refer to himself).

Daniel 7:
13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
[see NASB]

In the vision, there are four beasts preceding this, but they are clearly identified in the following verses.

Daniel 7:
17 These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.
18 But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.
[see NASB]

The earthly kingdoms represented by the beasts in the vision are replaced by the kingdom that is given to the Son of Man and the Saints. (See more about the nature of this kingdom in The Kingdom in the Prophets.)

As mentioned above, two other types of people were anointed in the Old Testament, in addition to kings. These were prophets and priests.

Moses spoke of a Prophet whom God would raise up from among the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). That Prophet would speak all that God would command him to speak, and the world would be judged according to how people received this ultimate Prophet (whom Peter identifies as Jesus Christ in Acts 3:22ff).

The first four occurrences of mashiyach in the Bible are referring to the priests, and are in the book of Leviticus. They were anointed to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. The Promised One we've been reading about is not referred to as a priest, nor is his sacrificial work a part of most of the prophecies, but Isaiah spoke of a Suffering Servant who would bear our punishment. This Servant would be despised and rejected of men. He would be wounded and bruised, oppressed and afflicted, yet it would please the Lord, because he would be an offering for sin. (The sacrificial system outlined in the Law was a foreshadow of this ultimate sacrifice.)

For many years, Rabbis did not know how to fit the Suffering Servant and the Davidic King together. In fact some even believed there would be two Messiahs, calling them Messiah ben Joseph (the one who would die for his people), and Messiah ben David (the one who would be the exalted king).

Still, to most Jews of Jesus' day, the title Messiah specifically referred to the promised Davidic King. When Jesus proclaimed that he was that Messiah, but then died on the cross rather than setting up the kingdom, many of the Jews rejected him. It is for the same reason that many reject him still. They never considered that the Mighty King would also be the sacrifice for sin. But to his disciples who desired to know the truth, Jesus taught what he called the Mysteries of the Kingdom.

Isaiah 52:
14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
[see NASB]

After proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand, Jesus taught that certain aspects would be different from what was expected. But he never changed the meaning of the Kingdom of God, nor his claim that he was the promised Messiah. (See more about the changes in Mysteries of the Kingdom.)

In all these prophecies, the One to Come is presented, and the various images portray him as king, as prophet, and as priest. Two verses in Daniel are the only ones in which mashiyach is translated "Messiah." Yet the person who was promised throughout the Hebrew Scriptures was to be a king, a priest, and a prophet, all of which were anointed. What better title to sum up all of his attributes than Messiah, the Anointed One, or in Greek, the Christ. This is the title that the Coming One came to be known by in anticipation by the time of Jesus, and which Jesus used to identify himself. He didn't have to explain it or define it, because it was well known among the Jews of his time.

The one thing that all the images of Messiah had in common was that they pictured a human being who served and/or represented God. Nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures is there any hint of God Himself coming to earth and/or becoming a man.  I cover this in more detail in the Closer Look article on Who is Messiah.

The first thing that is said about Jesus in Matthew 1:1 is that he was the Messiah, the son of Abraham and the son of David. The angel told his mother Mary (in Luke 1:32-33) that "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." The prophecies about who the Messiah would be and what he would do are summed up in these verses. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of God's promise to establish David's throne for ever. This is why throughout the New Testament he is called "The Christ, the Son of God." He is the ultimate Anointed One.

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Mark Clarke