BiblicalTraining's mission is to lead disciples toward spiritual growth through deep biblical understanding and practice. We offer a comprehensive education covering all the basic fields of biblical and theological content at different academic levels.
Read More


Where the expressions “the Lord’s anointed,” “my anointed,” “your anointed,” etc., occur in the OT, the reference is not used as a technical designation of the Messiah, but refers to the king of the line of David, ruling in Jerusalem, and anointed by the Lord through the priest. Isaiah uses the term only once, and then of the Persian Cyrus (Isa.45.1). Later the expression “Son of David” was a synonym for “Messiah” (Matt.21.9; Mark.10.47-Mark.10.48). It is obvious that there must be some historical connection between the designations “the Lord’s anointed,” “my anointed,” “your anointed,” “the anointed one,” and the title “Messiah.” The latter term apparently is a later expression and is an abbreviation of the fuller title “the Lord’s anointed.” It shows that the Messiah of Israel’s messianic hope derived his name from the sacral title of the kings of David’s line. With the possible exception of Dan.9.25-Dan.9.26 the title “Messiah” as a reference to Israel’s eschatological king does not occur in the OT. It appears in this sense later in the NT and in the literature of Judaism. In the NT the Messiah is “the Christ,” the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew māshîah.

Closely related to the eschatological character of the Messiah is his political significance. He will destroy the world powers in an act of judgment, deliver Israel from her enemies, and restore her as a nation. The Messiah is the king of this future kingdom to whose political and religious domination the other nations will yield. His mission is the redemption of Israel and his dominion is universal. This is the clear picture of the Messiah in practically all of the OT passages that refer to him. The Messiah will put an end to war, for he is the Prince of Peace, and he will rule righteously over his people. He himself is righteous and is called the righteous Messiah or the Messiah of righteousness (Jer.23.6). But this implies more than just a judgment and government of his people. The term “righteousness” when used in connection with the Messiah is inseparably related to salvation. The Messiah will establish the right of his people against any foe from without or within. He will establish this salvation and maintain it in the face of all opposing forces. Righteousness and salvation are the same because the Messiah’s righteousness is declared in his saving acts. Jewish writers have made much of this with reference to Mal.4.2. At the same time it is often emphasized that by his righteousness the Messiah will establish justice and righteousness, in the ethical sense, in the land. Sin will be rooted out, and Israel will become a holy people.

Perhaps the most profound spiritual work of the Messiah is seen in his position as the intermediary between God and the people by interceding for them. This is the Targum’s interpretation of Isa.53.1-Isa.53.12, but this chapter is much more profound than the Jewish exegetes seemed to realize. It is true that the Targum on Isaiah identifies the Servant of the Lord with the Messiah and that it uses this expression as a title of the Messiah, but his suffering is interpreted merely as the danger and anxiety that are his lot in the war with the ungodly. There is no real distinction here between the suffering of the Servant and the suffering the prophets of Israel experienced in fulfilling their mission. But what Isaiah said of the suffering of the Servant of the Lord is infinitely more significant than this. In the Suffering Servant the Messiah is seen making vicarious atonement through his passion and death, which has a positive purpose in the plan of God for the salvation of sinful men. The Messiah as the Suffering Servant sums up the entire prophetic movement and constitutes a climax in OT prophecy.

The progress of prophetic revelation in history leads up to the idea of the innocent Suffering Servant of God, who in the redemptive purpose of his death reconciles men to God. In the Messiah’s sacrifice of himself as an expiation for sin his priestly office is revealed and combined with his work as prophet and king. The redemptive work of the Messiah includes the restoration of the paradise that existed in the beginning but was lost through the fall of Adam. Through the Messiah the kingdom of the end time will be established, the kingdom of God on earth, the restoration of Israel. As the Messiah was present from the first in the creation so he is also present as the central figure of the last events. He is declared to be the firstborn of creation and also the end and goal of creation (John.1.1; Col.1.15-Col.1.17; Rev.3.14).

The NT conception of the Messiah is developed directly from the teaching of the OT. The essential features of the OT picture of the Messiah are in the person of Jesus. The suffering, dying, and glorified Servant of the Lord of the OT is that same NT Son of Man who will return on the clouds of heaven. The Messiah, as the Son of Man, will suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, “according to the Scriptures.” But even though Jesus was victorious over death in his resurrection and ascension, he did not yet reign in his full messiahship in his righteous kingdom. His ultimate victory is revealed to be in the future, and consequently he must come again in power to establish his messianic throne and kingdom. Jesus often used the phrase “the Son of Man” to express his interpretation of his nature and his part in the coming of God’s kingdom. It seems that Jesus preferred this title in referring to himself. He did not use it primarily to express his humanity; on the contrary, it was a proclamation of the paradox that he, who appeared as an ordinary man, was at the same time the One in whom there are supernatural powers of the kingdom of God. He who took on himself the form of a man will some day be revealed as “the Son of Man” with power and glory. The title, then, is an expression for the triumphant Messiah who comes on the clouds in the majesty of his exaltation.

Bibliography: W. Manson, Jesus the Messiah, 1943; H. Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 1948; H. H. Rowley, The Servant of the Lord, 1952; T. W. Manson, The Servant Messiah, 1953; H. L. Ellison, The Centrality of the Messianic Idea for the Old Testament, 1953; H. Ringgren, The Messiah in the Old Testament, 1956; F. F. Bruce, This Is That, 1968; G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 1974; R. T. France, “Messiah,” IDB, pp. 763-72.——ACS

From the Hebrew word meaning “anointed” (cf. Gr. christos). Because kings, priests, and perhaps prophets (1 Kings 19:16) were anointed, the term came to be used of God's representatives (e.g., Ps. 89:38; Isa. 45:1). A fundamental tenet of Israel's religion was that God would set up His perfect rule on earth, through an act of decisive divine intervention, the Day of the Lord, a term first found in Amos 5:18 (if a late date is attributed to Joel), but clearly much older. Though in the majority of passages concerned with the setting up and continuance of the rule of God human agency is not mentioned, it is clearly presupposed, for the Mosaic-prophetic tradition throughout sees God working through human representatives, hence the divine attributes given to kings (Isa. 9:6; Ps. 45:6). Hence too, the frequently met distinction between prophetic pictures of the messianic age and of the Messiah has little practical validity.

It is questionable also whether anything is to be gained by the modern tendency to confine Messiah to the royal office. At Qumran two Messiahs were awaited, “the anointed ones of Aaron and Israel,” i.e., a priest and king, the former taking precedence. In 4Q Testimonia the promise of a prophet like Moses is linked with the hope of a king and priest. Thus it seems clear that at Qumran at least, and almost certainly in wider circles, the Jewish messianic expectation included all three offices, as in Christian interpretation, though normally the delivering king predominated.

The messianic hope is essentially eschatological, i.e., it emerges from despair at conditions as they are. So far as the king was concerned, it must have become a reality with the failure of Zerubbabel to reestablish the Davidic dynasty after the Exile, but prophetically it emerges with Isaiah's prophecy of the cutting down of the royal tree (11:1) and the implicit rejection of Ahaz and his descendants in the Immanuel prophecies, which become explicit in Jeremiah 22:30. The concept of a coming prophet will hardly have occupied the popular mind until the gift disappeared about the time of Ezra, and it may be seen in 1 Maccabees 4:46; 14:41. There was felt to be a lack in the priestly office as early as the return from exile (Ezra 2:63), but the question did not become acute until the ousting of the Zadokite high priests in the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and brought to a head by the recognition of Simon the Hasmonean as high priest in 142 b.c. (1 Macc. 14:41)-this was one of the basic causes of the Qumran movement. The messianic hope became a burning necessity with the Roman conquest and its imposition of either the Herodian dynasty or direct rule. The rise of the Zealots* with their doctrine that all authority belonged to God made the end of the second Jewish commonwealth inevitable.

The church's recognition of Jesus as Messiah (Christ) has always been central to its theology. It implies that He is the fulfiller of every promise and hope of the OT revelation and the basis of its interpretation. Indeed, without it, the Gentile Christians might well not have retained the OT as a sacred book.

A. Neubauer and S.R. Driver, The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, (1876/7); J. Drummond, The Jewish Messiah (1877); F. Delitzsch, Messianic Prophecies (1880); V.H. Stanton, The Jewish and Christian Messiah (1886); C.A. Briggs, Messianic Prophecy (1886); J.H. Greenstone, The Messiah Idea in Jewish History (1906); A.L. Williams, The Hebrew-Christian Messiah (1916); E. Koenig, Die messianischen Weissagungen des Alten Testaments (1923); A.G. Hebert, The Throne of David (1941); C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures (1952); H.L. Ellison, The Centrality of the Messianic Idea for the Old Testament (1953); A. Bentzen, King and Messiah (1955); J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (1956); S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh (1956); H. Ringgren, The Messiah in the Old Testament (1956); F.F. Bruce, This is That (1968); H.L. Ellison, The Corner Stone (1973).

MESSIAH. The verb מָשַׁח, H5417, means to smear, to anoint. When Jacob poured oil upon the stone at Bethel (Gen 28:18) this was explained as a sacral act (cf. 31:13). Such cultic acts were widely practiced in the ancient world (cf. J. G. Frazer, Adonis-Attis-Osiris [1907], 31f.).

The practice of anointing outside Israel.

Oil played an important part in the ancient world. It was used for lighting, cooking, washing (as a substitute for soap), for cosmetic purposes; also as a medicine and in religious rites. Sacred anointing was practiced on people as well as on objects: “To oil a cult object is one of the commonest acts of worship” (Oxford Classical Dict.). The anointing of the statues of the gods was a common practice in Egypt, Babylon, Rome and elsewhere. Such cultic acts served the purpose of cleansing, consecration and veneration at the same time.

From the Amarna tablets it would appear that Pharaoh’s viceroys received anointing on taking office (cf. tablet 51). Whether this applied to the pharaohs themselves cannot be established with any degree of certainty. That the pharaohs were anointed at certain solemn occasions is suggested by tablet 34: “I have sent...good oil, to pour upon thy (head) whilst thou sittest upon the throne of thy kingdom.” There is some indication that kings received anointing in their capacity as priests. Frazer has shown that priests used to be anointed at an installation ceremony (Taboo II, 14f.).

The ancient Heb. custom of the use of oil for purposes of consecration is a practice which has many analogies outside Israel.

The practice of anointing in Israel.

The act of consecration required the anointing of every object appertaining to worship: the tent of meeting, the ark of testimony, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and every utensil connected with these objects. All these items acquired a special sanctity by reason of anointing, so that “whatever touches them will become holy” (Exod 30:26-29).

What applied to objects applied also to persons: Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated to the priesthood by means of anointing (30:30f.). The recipe prescribed for cultic purposes was not to be repeated for any other use and was not to be “poured upon the bodies of ordinary men” (30:32).

The anointing of priests.

The anointing to the priesthood extended to all descendants of the house of Aaron (30:30). The consecration ceremony was performed by Moses. According to another tradition Moses consecrated Aaron and his sons with the oil of anointing and the blood of sacrifice (Lev 8:30). The question whether the rite of anointing to the priesthood was practiced from generation to generation and whether it applied to all priests cannot be answered with any certainty. According to rabbinic tradition only the high priest or the son of a high priest was anointed with the oil of unction (cf. Maimonides, Sefer Abodah, I, 7). This custom persisted only until the time of Josiah. After that time appointment to the high priesthood was by investiture of the appropriate garments: eight pieces for the high priest and four in the case of the common priests (cf. Yoma 7:5). The Mishnah seems to distinguish between the ordinary priests and the anointed priest (i.e., the high priest; cf. Shebuot 1:7; Megillah 1:9; Horayot 3:4). There may be a reliable tradition behind these views, though this was sometimes contradicted by Christian scholars (cf. David Jennings, Jewish Antiquities [1837], 125f.). Maimonides, on the basis of Jewish tradition, makes the definitive statement: “In the days of the Second Temple, when there was no anointing with oil, the High Priest would be consecrated only by putting on of vestments...” (ibid. 1:8). According to the same source it was the custom to anoint a priest who would lead into battle (cf. Sotah 8:1; Makkot 2:6). It is difficult to ascertain the historic accuracy of the tradition and may have been an exegetical conclusion based on Deuteronomy 20:2ff., which provides for a speech by a priest on the eve of war. Shields used to be anointed in preparation for war (cf. 2 Sam 1:21; Isa 21:5). The practice may be taken either as a cultic act or a warrior’s device to make the metal slippery, or if leather, more resistant. It is evident that the act of anointing was an ancient custom and carried definite cultic and sacral meaning. A person thus anointed was set apart and was consecrated for a special task, usually a sacred task. In the case of the priesthood such anointing carried perpetual validity (Exod 40:15).

The anointing of kings.

For the rite of anointing of kings there is ample OT evidence. Saul, David, Solomon, Joash, and others were consecrated to the kingship by anointing with oil. For this reason “the anointed of the Lord” (cf. 1 Sam 12:3, 5) was a phrase synonymous with king.

Anointing conveyed sanctity to the person who now stood under the special protection of the God of Israel (cf. 1 Sam 24:5f.). This rite of commissioning to high office was not only symbolic of the gifts requisite for that office but was regarded as a charismatic bestowal of such gifts (cf. 1 Sam 16:13; Isa 61:1).

There appears to have been a rival claim to the prerogative of performing the rite between prophet and priest. In the case of Saul and David it was Samuel the prophet who performed the act of anointing (1 Sam 10:1; 16:13). In the case of Solomon it was Zadok the priest who performed the rite, while Nathan was only one of the witnesses (cf. 1 Kings 1:39). In the case of Jehu it was a young prophet who acted on behalf of Elisha (2 Kings 9:1-10). This was clearly a case of emergency necessitated by the conspiracy against the house of Ahab. The circumstances of the crowning of Joash are equally complex. In this case it is again Jehoiada the priest who performs the rite (2 Kings 11:12). It would seem that with the establishment of the national cult the privilege of anointing became vested in the priesthood.

According to the rabbis only kings descended from the house of David received anointing. Even this was limited to an heir who was not in the direct line. “A king whose father had been a king was not anointed, for the kingdom was always his as an heir” (Maimonides, op. cit. I, 11). According to the same authority, anointing took place when there was a dispute concerning the legitimate heir in order to end the quarrel. It is always difficult to assess the historic value of rabbinic tradition but it frequently transmits data otherwise unknown.

The rabbis have also preserved the tradition concerning the manner of anointing: kings were anointed by pouring oil upon the head in a circle to form a crown. By contrast, the high priest was anointed by pouring oil upon his head and rubbing it upon his forehead crosswise like the Gr. letter X (Maimonides, ibid. I, 9). Originally this sign would have been a cross (Ezek 9:4, 6) where the mark + stands for the last letter in the ancient Heb. alphabet.

Charismatic kingship.

Some scholars work on the principle of direct correspondence between ancient Israel and the adjacent cultures. Canaanite culture esp. is regarded as the formative principle in the social and religious make-up of the Hebrews. There is no denying that the invading tribes assimilated some pagan features peculiar to the indigenous population. To assume complete similarity is to deny the peculiar genius of the Heb. people. For example, it is more than doubtful whether the position of kings in the ancient E was at any time acceptable among Israelites.

In Egypt kings were regarded as divine incarnations and were worshiped as gods. In Babylon kings were men divinized and thus constituted the link between the gods and ordinary mortals. In Canaan there was a close connection between the kings and the fertility cults. There is no evidence for anything like it in Israel.

The ideal king.

Ideally speaking, Israel’s kings were meant to be true shepherds of their people and to act in God’s stead (cf. Jer 23:2, 5, with Isa 40:11). In history ideals never quite materialize. The warning contained in Deuteronomy 17:16ff. served only too often as a reminder of the true state of affairs; kings who multiplied horses and wives, entered into selfish alliances with former enemies, lifted themselves above their brethren and turned aside from God’s commandments.

The Messianic hope was born from the recognition that no human king is able to fulfill the high ideal. The ideal king must be more than an ordinary mortal. Together with the eschatological hope there was the historic association with the covenantal promises made to David (cf. 1 Sam 7:1-17). The covenant relationship and the promises which go with it make the Messianic hope a sheer necessity. If God’s purpose is not to be defeated, the true Messiah (= King) as God’s authentic Servant is the only answer. In Heb. categories the remedy is centered upon a person and not upon an abstract doctrine or an ideal system. There can be no Messianic kingdom without God’s anointed King.

Messianic texts.

That the OT contains Messianic passages is accepted by most scholars. They differ, however, according to their age and significance. Mowinckel would allow only two texts as pre-exilic (Isa 7:10-17; 9:1-6). All other texts he puts down as belonging to a later time. Messianism is for him a purely national and political phenomenon, so that all these texts are concerned with the restoration of the Davidic line. The Scandinavian school makes much of the “royal psalms” which are used in support of the theory that kingship and divinity were closely related and that the king occupied a central position in the cult. The annual enthronement of the king as the viceroy of God was allegedly the main cultic festival and was closely connected with the fertility rites of the ancient E. Psalms 45; 72; and 2 Samuel 21:1-14 are singled out as chief evidence for a new year enthronement festival in which the king took the place of YHWH.

Some allowance has already been made for the influence of pagan customs upon the religious life of ancient Israel. The OT provides all the evidence for this fact; Ahaz, king of Judah, burned his son as an offering (2 Kings 16:3); Manasseh, another Judaean king, practiced all the abominations of the pagan cults and built altars to Baal and Asherah (2 Kings 21:3, 6f.). The question one must ask is this: do these practices constitute Israel’s faith or are these aberrations? The answer is obvious; the Pentateuch, the prophets, the historical books, the hagiographa, all unanimously condemn, deplore and execrate these lapses into paganism. This struggle between paganism and YHWH worship dominates the OT and constitutes a recurring theme. One must therefore work on the principle that whatever ancient material was used by the OT writers, their main concern was to put every document to the service of YHWH worship.

At least some of the Messianic texts come from pre-exilic times and point to the fact that the Messianic hope is older than the fall of the Davidic dynasty. This is an important point which must be given full weight.

OT Messianism is the logical result of the claim that YHWH is Lord of heaven and earth. Political and social distress were contributing factors, but the main reason for the Messianic hope derives from faith in YHWH as the covenant-keeping God. The tension between historic experience and faith in the omnipotence of the benevolent God of the patriarchs can find no solution except in Messianic fulfillment. There is certainly an unevenness in the Messianic vision; sometimes the Messiah is seen as the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6), at other times he is described as the slayer of the wicked (11:4), but at all times he is the One who acts in the power and under the guidance of the God of Israel.

There are occasions when the ideal King of the house of David recedes in the background and his place is taken by a supernatural being entering history from another realm (cf. Dan 7:13f.).

The Messianic interpretation of most texts the Church has inherited from Heb. tradition. A case in point is the passage in Genesis 49:10 where according to the Targum and the Talmud, Shiloh (שִׁילֹה, שִׁילֹ֔ו) is identified with the Messiah.

The twelve tribes of Israel are described as gathering around the golden bed of the dying patriarch Jacob who, with his last breath, prophesied the Messianic end. This is how the Targum renders the text: “Kings shall not cease, nor rulers from the house of Judah...till the time that the King, the Meshiḥa, shall come, the youngest of his sons; and on account of him shall the nations flow together. How beautiful is the King, the Meshiḥa, who will arise from the house of Judah!”

The Messianic exegesis of this text and endowment of the Messiah with the name of Shiloh as his nomen proprium (cf. SBK I, 65) must be much older than the Church, for the rabbis were not likely to play into the hands of the Christians.

Genesis 49:10 has been used by the Church as an example of fulfilled prophecy. Luther called it the “golden text” and chides the rabbis for failing to see its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Some scholars, however, understand the words שִׁילֹה, to be the Akkad. form of the pronoun “his” and to carry no further significance except as a typical proof of a vaticinium ex eventu in reference to King David. Genesis 3:15, traditionally known as the Protevangelium, Luther described as the first comfort, the source of all mercy and the fountainhead of all promises. This passage can be read on two levels; as the natural enmity between man and the serpent, or else typologically as Christ’s ultimate victory over evil; it depends on the perspective of the reader. A similar situation arises in respect to the tr. of the word עַלְמָ֗ה as “virgin” (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23).

The two testaments are interdependent and the one cannot be understood without the other. At the same time one must not seek a detailed blueprint in the OT which would pre-empt the Messianic event. The relation is rather between expectancy and fulfillment.

The extra-canonical literature.

The Apoc. and Pseudep. fill the gap of the Intertestamental period. The contribution of this lit. to the Messianic expectation may be variously assessed. Some scholars stress the apocalyptic features in the NT and see a close relationship between it and the Pseudep.; others hold that both depend upon OT material. Frequently the choice lies between the Book of Daniel and the Books of Enoch, esp. with regard to the Son of man concept. The difference, however, is not of great importance as Dan. belongs to the division of the canonical lit. indicated by the Heb. Bible among the Hagiographa and not among the prophets.

The Apoc. do not seem to show the same intense interest in the Messianic hope as do the Pseudep. It is widely held that certain turns of phrase in the NT reveal familiarity with some of the apoc. books (such as Tobit, Ecclus and Wisd of Sol).

The case with the Pseudep. is different. Messianic concepts are highly developed and play a vital part in the message these books try to convey. Especially 1 Enoch is infused with a great Messianic hope. It spells out judgment over Israel’s enemies; it foretells the founding of the New Jerusalem; it envisions the conversion of the Gentiles; it tells of the resurrection of the righteous, climaxing its vision with the advent of the Messiah. R. H. Charles regards this work as the most important in the history of theological development.

Functions assigned to the Messiah are even more striking than the titles. The Messiah is described as the Judge of the world, as the Revealer of all things, and as the Champion and Ruler of the righteous. Part of the Messiah’s task is to raise the righteous from the dead (cf. 51:1; 61:5). For the first time in Jewish lit. the Son of man is spoken of with the demonstrative “this” which Charles regards as significant for the Messianic title. Scholars regard the book of a composite nature and J. Klausner has shown how the material and spiritual understanding of the Messianic age are here placed side by side without any effort at reconciliation. The same observation applies to the person of the Messiah; sometimes He is presented as an equal among equals; at other times He is placed in a position of preeminence. Klausner’s assessment of Enoch matches that by Charles: “the messianic book par excellence of Judaism in the period of the Second Temple” (p. 301).

Other books of the Pseudep. are equally important. The Test XII Pat show remarkable universalist tendencies; 2 Baruch points to the Messianic kingdom and stresses the resurrection of the body; 4 Ezra envisions Messiah’s triumph over His enemies. That there is a connection between this lit. and the NT cannot be denied, but the connection seems to be more ideological than literary. The question of whether there was direct borrowing has been widely discussed. In spite of certain philological affinities the connection seems to be mainly of a theological nature peculiar to certain circles in Jewry. From the testimony of Suetonius about Jewish Messianic hopes (The Life of Vespasian, § 4) and Josephus’ veiled reference to the defenders of Jerusalem (War VI. 5. 2) one can gauge the deep-rooted Messianic expectations which inspired the nation. This finds corroboration in the Qumran documents, though the Messianic doctrine of the desert sect is not quite clear. We do not know the relationship of the two Messiahs of Aaron and Israel to each other (cf. IQS IX:11), nor do we know the Messianic significance of the Teacher of Righteousness. There are other Messianic allusions in the texts: it is surmised that the Man in IV:18 is identical with the Prophet in IX:11. Vermès identifies the Man with two passages in the Test XII Pat and Zechariah 12:7 and Lamentations 3:1 (cf G. Vermès, Discovery in the Judean Deser [1956], 221). A similar reference to the Man occurs in the hymns in an unmistakable Messianic context where He is described as “a marvellous Mighty Counsellor” (Hymn III:4 in Vermès tr.). Hymn VI with its reference to the “bud,” the “shoot” and the “everlasting Planting” which “shall cover the whole (earth) with its shadow” is equally suggestive of Messianic hope derived from the OT. Vermès points to the prophetic, sacerdotal and royal qualities of the Messiah which are exhibited in the Qumran scrolls bringing them close to the Jewish and Christian cycle of ideas (ibid. p. 222). This proves the pervasive Messianic hopes in ancient Israel. The NT was written in an atmosphere of widespread Messianic expectation, not only in Jewry but outside Israel as well. Klausner holds that Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue which speaks of the birth of the child who would bring peace to the world was written under the influence of the Jewish Sibyl, and reflects the influence of Heb. Messianism upon non-Jews. The question is not who borrowed from whom, but in what way did the diverse Messianic ideas influence the central Personality of the NT, namely Jesus Christ Himself?

Christ in the NT.

First Enoch concludes with the promise of God: “For I and my son will unite with them for ever in the paths of righteousness in their lives; and ye shall have peace: rejoice ye children of uprightness. Amen” (105:2).

This sounds remarkably like NT theology, yet it is not. Enoch’s message is salvation for the righteous whereas Jesus addressed Himself to sinners (cf. Matt 9:13). Further, Enoch’s reference to the “Son” is only an echo of Psalm 2 (cf. 4 Ezra 7:28; 13:32, 37, 52; 14:9). Above all Enoch’s Messiah knows no suffering: He occupies God’s throne (51:3), executes judgment in heaven and triumphs upon earth.

One may conclude that the NT owes to the intertestamental lit. some of the Messianic imagery and phraseology, but not the central christological features. These were formed upon reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in conjunction with His teaching.

The Son of man.

Scholars tend to regard the frequent references to the Son of man in the gospels as an honorific title which the Early Church gave to the Messiah. For the origin they go to the Pseudep. or to the Book of Daniel (Dan 7:13). This title for the Messiah is peculiar to the gospels where it occurs eighty-one times, and only four times in the rest of the NT (Acts 7:56; Heb 2:6; Rev 1:13; 14:14). It is noted that in the gospels “Son of man” is never used except by Jesus Himself and this always as a self-designation. There is therefore no need to ascribe the title to the Early Church except on the supposition of some radical scholars (Bousset, Bultmann and others) who deny to Jesus a Messianic consciousness. These scholars point to Mark 8:38 and Luke 12:8 as evidence that Jesus did not identify Himself with the Son of man but looked upon Himself as His messenger. His task was to announce the closeness of the coming of the Son of man. They therefore maintain that the identification of Jesus with the Son of man took place at a later stage as a result of the Easter experience. It is difficult to see why the gospels, which on their own premise, are typical church documents, should leave such a glaring discrepancy out of sheer reverence for an unwritten tradition, while at the same time distorting the facts of history.

It is much more natural to accept the Son of man title as the peculiar self-description on the part of Jesus as presented by the gospels (cf. Matt 8:20; Mark 2:10, 28). The question arises, what did Jesus mean by this description?

Some scholars hold that the Son of man passages resulted from a misunderstanding of the Aram. idiom which uses the expression בַּר נָשׁ (נָשָׁא) for “man” pure and simple. Only later when bar nash(a) had to be rendered in Gr. it was tr. lit. ὁ υἱὸς του̂ ἀνθρώπου instead of simply: ἄνθρωπος, G476. In this way Son of man became a Messianic title. Another suggestion which amounts to the same conclusion is that Jesus used “Son of Man” as a substitute for “I,” therefore that it carried no special significance. This would exclude any identification with the apocalyptic “Son of man” idea one meets in the Pseudep. and in the Book of Daniel. The corollary would seem to be that Jesus made no claim to Messiahship at all. This is corroborated from Jewish sources which blame Jesus for all sorts of crimes but never for claiming to be the Messiah (W. Kramer). The contention rests upon a misunderstanding; claim to Messiahship was never regarded a crime. That this is the case can be seen from the rabbinic attitude to Simeon surnamed Bar Kochba (“Son of a Star”) but after the failure of his revolt against Rome, he was nicknamed Bar Koziba, “the Son of Lies” (a title which sounded like his own patronymic, Bar Koseba, recently discovered in the Qumran documents). He became a “false Messiah” only after he had failed.

Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees was not because of the Messianic overtones in His message but because of His attitude to the law: a Messiah who treated the law lightly could be only a false Messiah. Tödt’s question concerning the reason for Jesus’ concealment behind a pseudonym raises no real difficulty. Messiahship was too explosive a concept to be bandied about freely. M. de Jonge’s contention that the term “anointed” had yet no fixed meaning and simply denoted divine appointment is contradicted by the documents already cited.

Son of God.

The question regarding the Messiah’s pedigree was obviously a matter of theological discussion; according to Mark 12:35-37 Jesus raises the question with the Scribes; according to Matthew 22:41-46 and Luke 20:41-44 the discussion is with the Pharisees. The reference to Psalm 110:1 is intended to indicate that the Messiah’s descent exceeds the dynastic claim. Christ is more than the Son of David.

In the Johannine lit. the title Son of God is widely used. In the First Epistle it recurs with frequent regularity and dominates the Christological perspective; to be a Christian means to have fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). To deny that Jesus is the Christ is tantamount to denying both Father and Son (2:22f.). To confess that Jesus is the Son of God is to abide in God (4:15). The last ch. of the first epistle makes every possible emphasis upon the principle that Sonship is the mark of Messiahship. The same is the case with the fourth gospel where Son of God is synonymous with Messiah and occurs more frequently than any other title. Haenchen maintains that the same equation; Messiah=Son of Man=Son of God applies to Mark’s gospel (cf. E. Haenchen, Der Weg Jesu [1966], 36, 133, 498). The same may be said of the rest of the NT. There is, however, a difference in the distribution of the use of the title determined by Christological emphasis.


Some have argued that this liturgical phrase does not necessarily prove Palestinian origin, but this position cannot be taken seriously. There is early proof for a Christological meaning of the title κύριος, G3261. Furthermore, there are good grounds for believing that Philippians 2:6ff. is a Christological hymn going back to an Aram. source (Lohmeyer). If this is the case there is added reason to accept a high pre-Pauline Christology. That the Messiah was given “the name which is above every name” (v. 9) brings Him close to the Tetragrammaton. That this is so can be seen from what follows: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 10f.). What Isaiah says of YHWH (Isa 45:23) is said of the Messiah.

The confession that Jesus is Lord, Cullmann regards as the most ancient Christian statement of faith. That God has made Jesus both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36) was a challenge not only to the Jewish people but to the whole order of the ancient world. The cryptic number “666” in Revelation 13:18 for the name of the beast is taken to mean Neron Caesar (נרון קסר = 666) or according to a variant text נרו קסר ( = 616). The purpose of Revelation is to challenge all other authority with the proclamation that Jesus Christ as the first-born of the dead is the only ruler of the kings on earth (1:5).

The Messiah’s lordship is not a matter of impersonal and autocratic rule to which the believer submits under duress. Jesus did not impose His lordship; He came not to rule but to serve and to give His life for others (Matt 20:28). His obedience to death, even the death on a cross (Phil 2:8) marks Him as the Servant first and foremost. That the Son of God should die for sinners is the startling discovery underlying the Gospel (cf. Rom 5:6-11; Heb 12:1, 2). The profession that Jesus is Lord is the disciples’ response to God’s love in Christ. The Pauline letters are dominated by the phrases: ἐν κυρίῳ, ἐν χριστῳ̂, ἐν χριστῳ̂, ̓Ιησου̂. To be “in” Christ means first the willing and joyful acceptance of His Lordship over the totality of a man’s own life: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me;...who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). The test of discipleship is in the possessive pronoun: Jesus Christ my Lord (Phil 3:8).


The etymological meaning of the name Jesus is noted in Matthew 1:21: “you shall call his name Jesus (יֵשׁ֣וּעַ) for he will save (יוֹשִֽׁיעַ) his people from their sins.” Other NT writers are equally aware that the name means Savior or Salvation (cf. John 1:29; Acts 7:45 [?]; 13:23; Heb 4:8, where an allusive comparison is made between Jesus and Joshua).

A. T. Hanson allows that both Stephen and Hebrews appear to identify Jesus with the theophanies of the OT (cf. Jesus Christ in the OT [1965], p. 164). The same would apply to John and Paul who see the eternal Logos operative in OT history. There can be no doubt that the pre-existence of the Messiah is an established NT doctrine (cf. John’s Prologue; Col 1:15ff.; Heb 1:3).

Some of the ἐγώ εἰμι passages, particularly John 8:58, appear to be a deliberate allusion to the name of YHWH. This conclusion is corroborated by the rabbinic practice of circumlocution for the Tetragrammaton. The Mishnah paraphrases ’anna YHWH: ani va-hu (אֲנִי וְהוּא), lit. “I and He” or “I like Him” (Sukk 4:5; cf. also Montefiore and Loewe, Rabb. Anthol. 13, 279). John’s gospel seems to be aware of the tradition and it uses the phrase in order to indicate the Messiah’s intimacy with YHWH (cf. C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [1953], pp. 93-96).

One is led to conclude that a high Christology is deeply embedded in the NT tradition and that titles like Son of man, Son of God, κύριος σωτήρ, etc. are intended to emphasize Messiah’s unique and representative position both with regard to mankind and to God. In the last resort, this is the Messianic secret; that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:27-30), but for the earliest believers this was tantamount to a position extraordinary in relation to God (cf. Matt 16:16).


G. Dalman, The Words of Jesus (1902); R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha I-II (1913); H. Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (1948), 337ff.; S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh (1956), ch. III; J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (1956), 283ff.; O. Cullmann, The Christology of the NT (1959), pt. III, 193ff.; W. L. Dulière, Le Nom Jesus dan l’histoire Juive écrite en Grec, Nov Test III (1959), 180ff.; K. H. Rengstorf, “Old Testament and New Testament traces of a formula of Judaean Royal Ritual,” Nov Test, V (1962), 229ff.; A. T. Hanson, Jesus Christ in the OT (1965); E. G. Jay, Son of Man—Son of God (1965); W. Kramer, Christ, Lord, Son of God (1966).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(mashiach; Aramaic meshicha’; Septuagint Christos, "anointed"; New Testament "Christ"):

1. Meaning and Use of the Term

2. The Messianic Hope


1. The Messianic King

(1) Isaiah

(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


1. Post-prophetic Age

2. Maccabean Times

3. Apocalyptic Literature


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" (Joh 1:41; 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.

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 Da 9:25 f (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" (Ex 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 2Sa 7:11 ff. 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 (2Sa 23); and to this "everlasting covenant, and sure," the spiritual minds in Israel reverted in all after ages.

(1) Isaiah.

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 Isa 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.

See Immanuel.

A similar description of the Messianic king is given by Isaiah’s younger contemporary Micah (5:2 ff), 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 (Jer 23:5 f; 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 f; 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 (Hag 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 (Zec 3:8). Still we have the unique prophecy of the author Of Zec 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 Joe 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 De 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 (Isa 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 (Jer 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 (Zec 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 (Zec 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 Zec 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 Ps 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 (Isa 40--66; chiefly 41:8; 42:1-7,19 f; 43:8,10; 44:1 f,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 Isa 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 to come.

May not the unity argument be pressed too hard? If the Messiah came to be conceived of as a specific king while the original promise spoke of a dynasty, is it so inconceivable that the title "Servant of Yahweh" should be used in an individual as well as in a collective sense? It is worthy of note, too, that not only in some parts of this prophecy, but all through it, the individuality of the sufferer is made prominent; the collective idea entirely disappears. The contrast is not between a faithful portion and the general body of the people, but between the "Servant" and every single member of the nation. Moreover, whatever objections may be urged against the individual interpretation, this view best explains the doctrine of substitution that runs through the whole passage. Israel was Yahweh’s elect people, His messenger of salvation to the Gentiles, and its faithful remnant suffered for the sins of the mass; even "Immanuel" shared in the sorrows of His people. But here the "Servant" makes atonement for the sins of individual Israelites; by his death they are justified and by his stripes they are healed. To this great spiritual conception only the prophet of the exile attains.

It may be added that in the Suffering Servant, who offers the sacrifice of himself as an expiation for the sins of the people, prophetic activity and kingly honor are associated with the priestly function. After he has been raised from the dead he becomes the great spiritual teacher of the world--by his knowledge of God and salvation which he communicates to others he makes many righteous (Isa 53:11; compare 42:1 ff; 49:2; 50:4); and as a reward for his sufferings he attains to a position of the highest royal splendor (Isa 52:15 b; 53:12a; compare 49:7).

See Servant 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 (Da 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 Da 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 Da 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 BC 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 Macc 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 BC. 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 f) 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 (Ps 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 BC, 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.


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 (Mt 11:3 and parallel), while the people wondered whether John himself were the Christ (Lu 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 (Mt 21:9 and parallel); to the Pharisees also the Messiah was the son of David (Mt 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 (Joh 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 (Lu 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 (Mt 14:2; 16:14 and parallel), but also that a preeminent prophet was looked for, distinct from the Messiah (Joh 1:21,25; 7:40 f). But the two conceptions of prophet and king seem to be identified in Joh 6:14 f, 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 (Joh 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 (Joh 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 (Mt 26:63). It was applied also in its official sense to Jesus by His disciples: John the Baptist (Joh 1:34), Nathaniel (Joh 1:49), Mary (Joh 11:27), Peter (Mt 16:16, though not in parallel). This Messianic use was based on Ps 2:7; compare 2Sa 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 (Mr 8:38; 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 (Mr 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" (Mt 20:28 and parallel) and going "as it is written of him" (Mt 26:24 and parallel), as well as Lu 22:37, indicate that He interpreted Isa 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 (Joh 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. Many scholars, however, hold that the "Son of Man" was already a Messianic title before our Lord employed it in His conversation with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, and regard the earlier passages in which it occurs as inserted out of chronological order, or the presence of the title in them either as a late insertion, or as due to the ambiguity of the Aramaic.

See Son of Man.

3. The Christian Transformation:

4. New Elements Added:

(1) Future manifestation.

New features were now added to the Messiah in accordance with Jesus’ own teaching. He had ascended to His Father and become the heavenly king. But all things were not yet put under Him. It was therefore seen that the full manifestation of His Messiahship was reserved for the future, that He would return in glory to fulfill His Messianic office and complete His Messianic reign.

(2) Divine Personality.

Higher views of His personality were now entertained. He is declared to be the Son of God, not in any official, but in a unique sense, as coequal with the Father (Joh 1:1; Ro 1:4,7; 1Co 1:3, etc.). His pre-existence is affirmed (Joh 1:1; 2Co 8:9); and when He comes again in his Messianic glory, He will exercise the Divine function of Universal Judge (Ac 10:42; 17:30 f, etc.).

(3) Heavenly Priesthood.

The Christian conception of the Messianic king who had entered into His glory through suffering and death carried with it the doctrine of the Messianic priesthood. But it took some time for early Christian thought to advance from the new discovery of the combination of humiliation and glory in the Messiah to concentrate upon His heavenly life. While the preaching of the first Christians was directed to show from the Scriptures that "Jesus is the Christ" and necessarily involved the ascription to Him of many functions characteristic of the true priest, it was reserved for the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews to set forth this aspect of His work with separate distinctness and to apply to Him the title of our "great high priest" (Heb 4:14). As the high priest on the Day of Atonement not only sprinkled the blood upon the altar, but offered the sacrifice, so it was now seen that by passing into the heavens and presenting to God the offering He had made of Himself on earth, Jesus had fulfilled the high-priestly office.

5. Fulfillment in Jesus:

Thus the ideal of the Hebrew prophets and poets is amply fulfilled in the person, teaching and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Apologists may often err in supporting the argument from prophecy by an extravagant symbolism and a false exegesis; but they are right in the contention that the essential elements in the Old Testament conception--the Messianic king who stands in a unique relation to Yahweh as His "Son," and who will exercise universal dominion; the supreme prophet who will never be superseded; the priest forever--are gathered up and transformed by Jesus in a way the ancient seers never dreamed of. As the last and greatest prophet, the suffering Son of Man, and the sinless Saviour of the world, He meets humanity’s deepest longings for Divine knowledge, human sympathy, and spiritual deliverance; and as the unique Son of God, who came to reveal the Father, He rules over the hearts of men by the might of eternal love. No wonder that the New Testament writers, like Jesus Himself, saw references to the Messiah in Old Testament passages which would not be conceded by a historical interpretation. While recognizing the place of the old covenant in the history of salvation, they sought to discover in the light of the fulfillment in Jesus the meaning of the Old Testament which the Spirit of God intended to convey, the Divine, saving thoughts which constitute its essence. And to us, as to the early Christians, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Re 19:10). To Him, hidden in the bosom of the ages, all the scattered rays of prophecy pointed; and from Him, in His revealed and risen splendor, shine forth upon the world the light and power of God’s love and truth. And through the history and experience of His people He is bringing to larger realization the glory and passion of Israel’s Messianic hope.


Drummond, The Jewish Messiah; Stanton, The Jewish and the Christian Messiah; Riehm, Messianic Prophecy; Delitzsch, Messianic Prophecies; von Orelli, Old Testament Prophecy; A. B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy; Schultz, Old Testament Theology; Schurer, HJP, div II, volume II, section 29, "The Messianic Hope"; Westcott, Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, chapter ii, "The Jewish Doctrine of Messiah"; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, book II, chapter v, "What Messiah Did the Jews Expect?"; E. F. Scott, The Kingdom and the Messiah; Fairweather, The Background of the Gospels; articles in DB, HDB, EB, DCG. For further list see Riehm and Schurer.