In this time of Advent leading up to Christmas, many are asking questions about who Jesus is. This post is intended as an introduction to His title and mission as Messiah. This word can be quite mysterious to people, so a little unpacking and a few examples will be given to help shed light on the subject.

First of all, Mashiach (Messiah) comes from the verb mashach in Hebrew and means ‘anointed’; Christos is the Greek translation of this term. It is found in the ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh, known as the Septuagint (LXX), and in the New Testament, which was originally written in Greek. Anointing means to pour oil over someone or something and has very special significance in the Bible. Anointing in the Bible is an action that signifies the person or object has been chosen and dedicated for a special task.

This is what we mean by terms like ‘consecration’ or ‘hallowing’, in more old-fashioned language: it means to make something holy. Biblical holiness is complete devotion in love and obedience to God and His will. With this understanding we can see why Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One of God. He was chosen by God the Father before time began to be the Saviour of the world. He accepted this mission and fulfilled it according to His love of God and His love of man. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘Not my will, but Yours, be done’, indicates His holiness, His love: He was completely devoted to God, even to the point of death on a cross, to make atonement for the sins of mankind, so that man could come back to God. The Father’s will is that none should perish, but all come to repentance – in other words come home to him.

To see how all these points intersect, I suggest that the reader looks at a Gospel account from the Garden of Gethsemane through to the Crucifixion and Resurrection (e.g. Mark 14-16) and the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Crucifixion, where God calls Jesus His Servant, indicating Jesus’ complete devotion to His Father’s will (Isaiah 52-53); this complete submission by Jesus to the Father’s will is addressed again in Philippians 2. For God’s desire that we should not be estranged from Him, but be reconciled, any number of New Testament passages might be cited, but these are among the most popular: Luke 15, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Peter 3:18.

Now for some examples of anointed people in the Tanakh (the Law and the Prophets); three roles are signalled by anointing: Prophet, Priest, King. Jesus uniquely combines these roles and is the supreme example of all of them; He is THE Anointed One. He is the seal of the Prophets, the King of Kings, and our Great High Priest. God’s Word through His servants, the prophets and Apostles, testifies concerning Jesus’ fulfilment of this anointed roles.

First the Tanakh examples, and then the New Testament ones. At Exodus 40:9-11 God commands the prophet Moses to anoint the objects of worship and sacrifice associated with His Tabernacle (tent) that went with the Israelites in the wilderness. This signifies that these objects were devoted to God: they could not be used for ordinary purposes, but only in the true worship of God.

At 1 Kings 19:16 God commands the prophet Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor in the office of Prophet. The role of the prophet is to speak God’s word to the people, be they Jews (as in the case of Jeremiah) or Gentiles (as in the cases of Daniel and Jonah). In this sense the prophet is ‘chosen’ or ‘anointed’ by God to be His spokesman, and it is important that the prophet be dedicated to God: he must speak ALL of God’s word, not leaving anything unsaid, and he must say it and act it in the manner God commands.

At 1 Samuel 16:1-13 God commands Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel because Saul has gone astray. Samuel goes down to Bethlehem (where Jesus was born) and, under instruction from the Holy Spirit, anoints David King of Israel (David was an ancestor of Jesus). Saul was the people’s choice; David was God’s choice. The role of the king was to act as God’s viceroy over the people. As such, the king had to be a man after God’s own heart (as indeed David was): he had to have a true sense of justice and righteousness, as well as mercy, and a proper understanding of war. In fact, it was so important to God that His kings rule wisely and justly that He included a code of conduct for them in the Torah: Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The king, like a shepherd, was responsible for protecting, feeding, and guiding the people: they came to him as supreme judge, helper, and military leader.

At Exodus 29 God gives the prophet Moses instructions for anointing Aaron (Aharon, Haroon), the brother of Moses, as High Priest, and Aaron’s sons as priests. The role of the priest was to represent the people to God through sacrifices offered. Sacrifices were offered to make atonement for the sins of the people. This term ‘atonement’ is tricky, and doesn’t always help in conversation. It is in fact a combination of two English words ‘at’ and ‘one’ with ‘-ment’ added to make it into an abstract noun. The basic idea is reconciliation: two parties have become estranged and they must go through a process of reconciliation in order to share and enjoy each other’s company again – as if the mistake and its consequent guilt and shame that separated them had never happened. In Hebrew, the main original language of the Tanakh, there are several concepts that are linked in this theme. In terms of the priest’s function, ‘covering’ is the main one (caphar). Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is more literally the  ‘Day of Covering’: on this day the High Priest sprinkles blood on the Ark of the Covenant. The idea is that God sees the blood, and it covers the sin of the people so that the sin is seen no more. God in His Word declares, ‘The life of every living thing is in the blood, and that is why the Lord has commanded that all blood be poured out on the altar to take away the people’s sins. Blood, which is life, takes away sins.’ (Leviticus 17:11, Good News Translation).

Jesus is the fulfillment of all these roles. As the Prophet, the one Moses prophesied would come (“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear”, Deuteronomy 18:15) he brought the greatest revelation of God to mankind. He was not only the ‘Messenger of the Covenant’ (Malachi 3:1) but He was the Message itself; He is the Word of God come in the flesh (John 1:14-18; Revelation 19:11-16). As the King of Israel and King of Kings, He is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:1-17; Luke 22:26-33); there will come a day when He will sit upon the throne of His father, David, and rule the world with an iron sceptre from the Holy City in Israel. As our Great High Priest Jesus shed His blood to take away our guilt and shame and bring us back to God. The Epistle to the Hebrews, often knowns simply as ‘Hebrews’ discusses this idea at length, but it is beautifully expressed by the Apostle John (Yochanan, Yahya) at 1 John 4:10: ‘In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ (NKJV)

I invite those who want to know more about Jesus the Messiah to spend some time in prayer and reading the New Testament this Advent and Christmas season. Peace be with you and God bless.