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