Messiah [N] [E] [H] [S]

The term "messiah" is the translation of the Hebrew term masiah [jyiv'm], which is derived from the verb masah, meaning to smear or anoint. When objects such as wafers and shields were smeared with grease or oil they were said to be anointed; hence the commonly used term was "anoint" when grease or oil was applied to objects by Israelites and non-Israelites. The term "messiah" is not used to refer to "anointed" objects that were designated and consecrated for specific cultic purposes but to persons only. Persons who were anointed had been elected, designated, appointed, given authority, qualified, and equipped for specific offices and tasks related to these.

When the concept of messiah is considered from a specifically biblical-theological perspective, various questions come to the fore. The first concerns the origin of the concept. Various critically inclined scholars have searched Near Eastern documents for possible references or incipient thoughts that biblical writers borrowed and developed. A careful study of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hittite, and Canaanite texts reveals various factors that could be related indirectly to the biblical concept. The Egyptian texts, for example, speak of a divine king who would bring deliverance and prosperity but this god-king and his work were totally different from the biblical concept of the messiah. The Mesopotamian, Hittite, and Canaanite texts also exhibit a common literary and historical background with the Scriptures, but the views concerning kingship and priesthood, the interrelationships between these, and their relationship to gods are radically different from the biblical explanations. Thus, while some formal similarities are present the messianic concept presented in the Bible is radically different. There is no possibility of considering the Near Eastern views to be the sources from which the biblical concept is lineally developed.

The biblical idea of the messiah and his work is divinely revealed. It did not originate in human thought. While the act of anointing was not foreign to non-Israelites, the intent and consequences of the act are not found in nonbiblical documents. God made his intent and the consequences of the anointing act progressively known in the course of his self-revelation to humanity.

A second question concerns the specific objects that were anointed and therefore had messianic significance. Not all anointing Acts had direct messianic significance. For example, anointing a shield (smearing it with oil) ( 2 Sam 1:21 ; Isa 21:5 ), while preparing and qualifying it for effective service, did not have messianic intentions; nor did men and women who anointed themselves for cleansing, beautifying, or preparing for participation in worship have messianic significance. Nor did the smearing or pouring of oil on wafers and cultic objects indicate a specific messianic purpose. What must be kept in mind, however, is that this anointing of shields, cultic objects, and men and women did convey ideas, such as qualification, beautification, and consecration, which are inherent in the anointing Acts and purposes that do have messianic significance. A further qualification to be kept in mind is that not all objects that had a messianic significance, for example, types of Jesus Christ the Messiah, his person and work, were anointed. Classic examples of this are the tabernacle, temple, and sacrifices.

A third question concerns the messianic concept as it is expressed most adequately and fully in an anointed person. The anointed person was chosen, designated, qualified, and consecrated to a position with correlated tasks. Some scholars have insisted that only an actual reigning king could be considered as the messiah. This view, however, is not consistent with the biblical revelation concerning the messiah. True, the messiah was to be considered as a royal person. This personal aspect has been referred to as the narrower view of the messianic idea. But the personal is not to be limited to royalty because the biblical messianic idea includes the priestly and the prophetic offices also.

The messianic concept also has a wider dimension than the royal, priestly, and/or prophetic person. Included in this wider view are the characteristics, tasks, goals, means, and consequences of the messianic person. Thus, a passage in Scripture should be considered to be referring to the messiah when reference is made, for example, to the character, task, and influences of the messiah even though there is no direct mention of the personal messiah himself.

The fourth question concerns the actual position and task of the messiah. The Near Eastern texts presented a divine-royal personage who would fight, kill, and plunder; this was especially true of the gods represented by the divine kings to gain advantage and thus set up their political organization, be it thought of in terms of a kingdom or empire. The biblical messiah, who was symbolized and typified, as explained below, was a divine-human being, ordained by God the Father to be the mediator of the covenant and as such to be the administrator of the kingdom of God.

What is the biblical portrait of the messiah?

Adam and Eve, created in God's image, were placed in a living, loving, lasting relationship, a covenant bond, with the Creator God. These human beings were given authority, ability, and responsibility to mirror, represent, and serve the sovereign Creator and King of the entire created cosmos. Adam and Eve were to believe, obey, and serve God in the living, loving, covenantal relationship. The account of Adam and Eve's deviation, under Satan's influence, from the will, purposes, and goals of God is well known.

God immediately intervened. He cursed the serpent/Satan and all his followers. He promised that the covenantal relationship would be restored through the victory that the seed of the woman would have over Satan. Yet, God did not remove or permit Adam and Eve to abdicate their creational covenantal position and responsibilities. Rather, God assured Adam and Eve that redemption and restoration would become realities in the lives and history of their seed ( Gen 3:14-20 ). The seed of the woman would restore, continue, and bring to full fruition God's kingdom plans and goals.

Satanic efforts to render the redemptive/restorative covenant ineffective are recorded throughout the Scriptures. The murder of Abel ( Gen 4:8 ) and the violence that saturated society before and during the first part of Noah's life, bear testimony to Satan's efforts (Gen. 4-5; 6:1-8 ). But God kept covenant with righteous, blameless, obedient, believing, and serving Noah. Noah stands as a prefigurement of the promised Messiah who, in the midst of judgment, would effect a complete and final redemption. Noah, late in life, prophesied that Shem would be the messianic seedline bearer ( Gen 9:25-27 ).

Abraham, descendant of Shem, was called and appointed to be the covenant agent. He was to leave country, clan, and family to become the channel of messianic blessings to all nations ( Gen 12:1-3 ). God covenanted in a special manner with Abraham, assuring him that via his seed God would carry out his redemptive/restorative work. That Abraham and his seed would be able to do this was confirmed by God's assuring covenantal affirmation: "I am God Almighty I will make you very fruitful be your God and of your descendants" ( Gen 17:1-7 ). Two important messianic factors stand out: (1) the covenant Lord would continue the seedline; and (2) Abraham was called to believe, obey, and serve as the father of all believers who would receive the benefits of the Messiah.

The messianic seedline continued through Isaac and Jacob; Jacob prophesied that that line would continue through Judah ( Gen 49:8-12 ); the line continued through Boaz and Ruth ( Ruth 4:16-22 ); and David was told that his son's throne would be established forever ( 2 Sam 7:11b-16 ). The royal descendants of David were not all believing, obeying, serving covenant messianic forbears of Jesus the Messiah/Christ. God, however, maintained the seedline from Abraham, through David, through Zerubbabel, through Mary and Joseph. This seedline referred especially to the royal dimension of the messianic office and task. Other dimensions were also included to reveal the inclusive position, tasks, and influence of the Messiah. The royal aspect was central, pervasive, and supportive of all the other dimensions. This dominating royal aspect led many in Old Testament, intertestamentary, and New Testament times to think of the Messiah strictly in terms of his kingship and his setting up and ruling an earthly political entity in which Hebrew/Jewish people would be the kingdom people.

Whereas the narrower view of the messianic idea is central, the wider dimension was clearly present at all times also. Adam and Eve had a wider task to perform than strictly royal. Noah, an ancestor of the Messiah personally, while not a royal person, performed a redemptive messianic function. The redemptive task pertained not only to the saving of eight people but also included the animal world.

The wider dimension of the messianic concept is evident in Abraham's life of faith, intercession on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah ( Gen 18 ), and offering of the ram substituted for his son Isaac ( Gen 22 ). Abraham's grandson Joseph, serving as a type of the Messiah, performed in a royal capacity but before he was lifted to that capacity he suffered humiliation. Once in a royal position, he became the savior of the seedline by functioning in the creational covenantal setting, collecting, preserving, and distributing food during years of famine.

Moses, another type of the Messiah, functioned in a royal capacity as lawgiver but he also served as a prophet. He was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets and the model of all faithful prophets who spoke God's word. In addition, through Moses, God ordained the priesthood, ordered the building of the tabernacle, and prescribed the sacrifices. These were symbols and types of the messianic task, giving expression to the priestly mediatorial office, the God with you (Immanuel) principle, and the substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. Another messianic representation in the days of the patriarchs and Moses was the angel of the Lord, who appeared in theophanic form as the preincarnate Christ. The angel of the Lord phenomenon particularly gave emphasis to the divine character of the Messiah. Still more expressions of the messianic task were given in the time of Moses; consider the pillar of fire (Christ is the light), manna (Christ is the living bread), the water from the rock (Christ is living water and the rock), and the lifted-up bronze serpent (Christ is the lifted-up One who gives life).

The psalmists and prophets gave further explication of the Penteteuchal presentations of the Messiah. The psalms gave expression to the royal character of the Messiah. The suffering, priestly dimension is spoken of as well. This dimension includes references to death and resurrection. According to the psalmists, it is the royal One (the narrower view) who also carries out the priestly and prophetic tasks, that is, bringing in salvation and giving instruction in the truth.

The prophets especially brought together the wider and narrower views concerning the Messiah. Consider Isaiah's proclamation of the birth by a virgin ( 7:14 ), the wise, all-knowing ruling son of David ( 9:1-6 ), the fruitful branch who would bring redemption, restoration, and blessings in life (chap. 11). It was Isaiah who proclaimed that the Messiah was to be the light to the Gentiles ( 49:6 ), the suffering, exalted One (52:13-53:12). The Messiah was to be the great comforting preacher of freedom, the healer and bringer of joy ( 61:1-3 ). Micah prophesied that the Messiah was to come through the royal Davidic seedline to shepherd his people and bring them security ( 5:1-4 ). Amos likewise proclaimed that the Messiah of Davidic lineage would fulfill Yahweh's covenant promises to the nations ( 9:11-15 ). Jeremiah prophesied of the Messiah, the one of Davidic lineage who was to be the king of righteousness ( 23:5-6 ). Ezekiel called the exiles' attention to the Son of Man, the covenant mediator who would restore and shepherd his people (chaps. 34; 36). Postexilic prophets spoke of the Messiah as the royal, redeeming, restoring One to come ( Hag 2:20-22 ; Zech 4:1-14 ; 6:9-15 ; 9:9-10 ), Malachi spoke of the Messiah as a cleansing agent who, as messenger of the covenant, would bring healing in his wings ( 3:1-4 ; 4:1-3 ).

The New Testament writers, evangelists, and apostles give no reason to doubt that Jesus is the Messiah, or in New Testament language, the Christ. He came, born of Abrahamic and Davidic lineage ( Matt 1:2-16 ; Luke 2:4-15 ). John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Messiah by referring to the wider dimension: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" ( John 1:29 ). Jesus was the One who would bring judgment as well as life by the Spirit of God ( Matt 3:1-12 ). The evangelists record that Jesus was anointed by the Spirit when he was baptized. Jesus proclaimed himself as the Messiah in Nazareth ( Luke 4:16-22 ) and at Jacob's well to the Samaritan woman ( John 4:24-25 ).

Gerard Van Groningen

See also Jesus Christ, Name and Titles of

Bibliography. C. A. Briggs, The Messiah of the Gospels; N. L. Geisler, To Understand the Bible — Look for Jesus; E. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary on the Messianic Predictions; J. Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ; H. Lockyer, All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible; W. Manson, Jesus the Messiah; S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh; E. Riehm, Messianic Prophecy: Its Origin, Historical Growth, and Relation to New Testament Fulfillment; G. A. Riggan, Messianic Theology and Christian Faith; O. P. Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants; G. Stibitz, Messianic Prophecy; G. Van Groningen, Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament; M. Wyngaarden, The Future of the Kingdom in Prophecy and Fulfillment.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Messiah'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.
Messiah [N] [B] [H] [S]

(Heb. mashiah), in all the thirty-nine instances of its occurring in the Old Testament, is rendered by the LXX. "Christos." It means anointed. Thus priests ( Exodus 28:41 ; 40:15 ; Numbers 3:3 ), prophets ( 1 Kings 19:16 ), and kings ( 1 Samuel 9:16 ; 16:3 ; 2 Sam 12:7 ) were anointed with oil, and so consecrated to their respective offices. The great Messiah is anointed "above his fellows" ( Psalms 45:7 ); i.e., he embraces in himself all the three offices. The Greek form "Messias" is only twice used in the New Testament, in John 1:41 and 4:25 (RSV, "Messiah"), and in the Old Testament the word Messiah, as the rendering of the Hebrew, occurs only twice ( Daniel 9:25 Daniel 9:26 ; RSV, "the anointed one").

The first great promise ( Genesis 3:15 ) contains in it the germ of all the prophecies recorded in the Old Testament regarding the coming of the Messiah and the great work he was to accomplish on earth. The prophecies became more definite and fuller as the ages rolled on; the light shone more and more unto the perfect day. Different periods of prophetic revelation have been pointed out, (1) the patriarchal; (2) the Mosaic; (3) the period of David; (4) the period of prophetism, i.e., of those prophets whose works form a part of the Old Testament canon. The expectations of the Jews were thus kept alive from generation to generation, till the "fulness of the times," when Messiah came, "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." In him all these ancient prophecies have their fulfilment. Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the great Deliverer who was to come. (Compare Matthew 26:54 ; Mark 9:12 ; Luke 18:31 ; 22:37 ; John 5:39 ; Acts 2 ; 16:31 ; Acts 26:22 Acts 26:23 .)

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Messiah". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .
Messiah [N] [B] [E] [S]

Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names. Public Domain. Copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Hitchcock, Roswell D. "Entry for 'Messiah'". "An Interpreting Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names". . New York, N.Y., 1869.
Messiah [N] [B] [E] [H]

(anointed ). This word (Mashiach ) answers to the word Christ (Christos ) in the New Testament, and is applicable in its first sense to any one anointed with the holy oil. The kings of Israel were called anointed , from the mode of their consecration. ( 1 Samuel 2:10 1 Samuel 2:35 ; 1 Samuel 12:3 1 Samuel 12:5 ) etc. This word also refers to the expected Prince of the chosen people who was to complete Gods purposes for them and to redeem them, and of whose coming the prophets of the old covenant in all time spoke. He was the Messiah, the Anointed, i.e. consecrated as the king and prophet by Gods appointment. The word is twice used in the New Testament of Jesus. ( John 1:41 ; 4:25 ) Authorized Version "Messias." The earliest gleam of the gospel is found in the account of the fall. ( Genesis 3:15 ) the blessings in store for the children of Shem are remarkable indicated int he words of Noah. ( Genesis 9:26 ) Next follows the promise to Abraham. ( Genesis 12:2 Genesis 12:3 ) A great step is made in ( Genesis 49:10 ) This is the first case in which the promises distinctly centre in one person. The next passage usually quoted is the prophecy of Balaam. ( Numbers 24:17-19 ) The prophecy of Moses, ( 18:18 ) claims attention. Passages in the Psalms are numerous which are applied to the Messiah in the New Testament; such as Psal 2,16,22,40,110. The advance in clearness in this period is great. The name of Anointed, i.e. King, comes in, and the Messiah is to come of the Lineage of David. He is described in his exaltation, with his great kingdom that shall be spiritual rather than temporal. Psal 2,21,40,110. In other places he is seen in suffering and humiliation. Psal 16,22,40. Later on the prophets show the Messiah as a king and ruler of Davids house, who should come to reform and restore the Jewish nation and purify the Church, as in Isai 11,40-66 The blessings of the restoration, however, will not be confined to Jews; the heathen are made to share them fully. ( Isaiah 2:66 ) The passage of ( Micah 5:2 ) (comp. Matt 2:6 ) left no doubt in the mind of the Sanhedrin as to the birthplace of the Messiah. The lineage of David is again alluded to in ( Zechariah 12:1-14 ) The coming of the Forerunner and of the Anointed is clearly revealed in ( Malachi 3:1 ; Malachi 4:5 Malachi 4:6 ) The Pharisees and those of the Jews who expected Messiah at all looked for a temporal prince only. The apostles themselves were infected with this opinion till after the resurrection. ( Matthew 20:20 Matthew 20:21 ; Luke 24:21 ; Acts 1:6 ) Gleams of a purer faith appear in ( Luke 2:30 ; 23:42 ; John 4:25 )

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Messiah'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.


me-si'-a (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" (John 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.

The term is used in the Old Testament of kings and priests, who were consecrated to office by the ceremony of anointing. It is applied to the priest only as an adjective--"the anointed priest" (Leviticus 4:3,5,16; 6:22 (Hebrew 15)). Its substantive use is restricted to the king; he only is called "the Lord's anointed," e.g. Saul (1 Samuel 24:6,10), etc.); David (2 Samuel 19:21 (Hebrew 22); 2 Samuel 23:1, "the anointed of the God of Jacob"); Zedekiah (Lamentations 4:20). Similarly in the Psalms the king is designated "mine," "thine," "his anointed." Thus also even Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), as being chosen and commissioned by Yahweh to carry out His purpose with Israel. Some think the singular "mine anointed" in Habakkuk 3:13 denotes the whole people; but the Hebrew text is somewhat obscure, and the reference may be to the king. The plural of the substantive is used of the patriarchs, who are called "mine anointed ones" (Psalms 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22), as being Yahweh's chosen, consecrated servants, whose persons were inviolable.

It is to be noted that "Messiah" as a special title is never applied in the Old Testament to the unique king of the future, unless perhaps in Daniel 9:25 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" (Exodus 6:7). On the ground of this promise the prophets, while declaring God's wrath against His people on account of their sin, looked beyond the Divine chastisements to the final era of perfect salvation and blessedness, which would be ushered in when the nation had returned to Yahweh.

The term "Messianic" is used in a double sense to describe the larger hope of a glorious future for the nation, as well as the narrower one of a personal Messiah who is to be the prominent figure in the perfected kingdom. It may be remarked that many writers, both prophetic and apocalyptic, who picture the final consummation, make no allusion whatever to a coming deliverer.

This article will treat of the personal Messianic hope as it is found in the Old Testament, in the pre-Christian age, and in the New Testament.

I. The Messiah in the Old Testament.

1. The Messianic King:

The chief element in the conception of the Messiah in the Old Testament is that of the king. Through him as head of the nation Yahweh could most readily work out His saving purposes. But the kingdom of Israel was a theocracy. In earlier times Moses, Joshua, and the judges, who were raised up by Yahweh to guide His people at different crises in their history, did not claim to exercise authority apart from their Divine commission. Nor was the relation of Yahweh to the nation as its real ruler in any way modified by the institution of the monarchy. It was by His Spirit that the king was qualified for the righteous government of the people, and by His power that he would become victorious over all enemies. The passage on which the idea of the Messianic king who would rule in righteousness and attain universal dominion was founded is Nathan's oracle to David in 2 Samuel 7:11. In contrast to Saul, from whom the kingdom had passed away, David would never want a descendant to sit on the throne of Israel. How strong an impression this promise of the perpetuity of his royal house had made on David is seen in his last words (2 Samuel 23); and to this "everlasting covenant, and sure," the spiritual minds in Israel reverted in all after ages.

(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 Isaiah 9, would seem to point to the identity of Immanuel with the Prince of the four names, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace" (9:6 the Revised Version margin). These Divine titles do not necessarily imply that in the mind of the prophet the Messianic king is God in the metaphysical sense--the essence of the Divine nature is not a dogmatic conception in the Old Testament--but only that Yahweh is present in Him in perfect wisdom and power, so that He exercises over His people forever a fatherly and peaceful rule. In confirmation of this interpretation reference may be made to the last of the great trilogy of Isaianic prophecies concerning the Messiah of the house of David (11:2), where the attributes with which He is endowed by the Spirit are those which qualify for the perfect discharge of royal functions in the kingdom of God.


A similar description of the Messianic king is given by Isaiah's younger contemporary Micah (5:2), who emphasizes the humble origin of the extraordinary ruler of the future, who shall spring from the Davidic house, while his reference to her who is to bear him confirms the interpretation which regards the virgin in Isaiah as the mother of the Messiah.

(2) Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

After the time of Isaiah and Micah the throne of David lost much of its power and influence, and the figure of the ideal king is never again portrayed with the same definiteness and color. Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk make no reference to him at all. By the great prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, however, the hope of a Davidic ruler is kept before the people. While there are passages in both of these writers which refer to a succession of pious rulers, this fact should not dominate our interpretation of other utterances of theirs which seem to point to a particular individual. By Jeremiah the Messiah is called the "righteous Branch" who is to be raised unto David and be called "Yahweh (is) our righteousness," that is, Yahweh as the one making righteous dwells in him (Jeremiah 23:5; compare 30:9). In Ezekiel he is alluded to as the coming one "whose right it is" (21:27), and as Yahweh's "servant David" who shall be "prince" or "king" forever over a reunited people (34:23; 37:24). It is difficult to resist the impression which the language of Ezekiel makes that it is the ideal Messianic ruler who is here predicted, notwithstanding the fact that afterward, in the prophet's vision of the ideal theocracy, not only does the prince play a subordinate part, but provision is made in the constitution for a possible abuse of his authority.

(3) Later Prophets.

After Ezekiel's time, during the remaining years of the exile, the hope of a preeminent king of David's house naturally disappears. But it is resuscitated at the restoration when Zerubbabel, a prince of the house of David and the civil head of the restored community, is made by Yahweh of hosts His signet-ring, inseparable from Himself and the symbol of His authority (Haggai 2:23). In the new theocracy, however the figure of the Messianic ruler falls into the background before that of the high priest, who is regarded as the sign of the coming Branch (Zechariah 3:8). Still we have the unique prophecy of the author Of Zechariah 9:9, who pictures the Messiah as coming not on a splendid charger like a warrior king, but upon the foal of an ass, righteous and victorious, yet lowly and peaceful, strong by the power of God to help and save. There is no mention of the Messianic king in 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 Deuteronomy 18:15-20, as the context shows, refers to a succession of true prophets as opposed to the diviners of heathen nations. Though Moses passed away there would always be a prophet raised up by Yahweh to reveal His will to the people, so that they would never need to have recourse to heathen soothsayers. Yet while the prophet is not an ideal figure, being already fully inspired by the Spirit, prophetic functions are to this extent associated with the kingship, that the Messiah is qualified by the Spirit for the discharge of the duties of His royal office and makes known the will of God by His righteous decisions (Isaiah 11:2-5).

It is more difficult to define the relationship of the priesthood to the kingship in the final era. They are brought into connection by Jeremiah (30:9,21) who represents the new "David" as possessing the priestly right of immediate access to Yahweh, while the Levitical priesthood, equally with the Davidic kingship, is assured of perpetuity on the ground of the covenant (Jeremiah 33:18). But after the restoration, when prominence is given to the high priest in the reconstitution of the kingdom, Joshua becomes the type of the coming "Branch" of the Davidic house (Zechariah 3:8), and, according to the usual interpretation, receives the crown--a symbol of the union of the kingly and priestly offices in the Messiah (Zechariah 6:11). Many scholars, however, holding that the words "and the counsel of peace shall be between them both" can only refer to two persons, would substitute "Zerubbabel" for "Joshua" in Zechariah 6:11, and read in 6:13, "there shall be a priest upon his right hand" (compare the Revised Version (British and American), Septuagint (Septuagint). The prophet's meaning would then be that the Messianic high priest would sit beside the Messianic king in the perfected kingdom, both working together as Zerubbabel and Joshua were then doing. There is no doubt, however, that the Messiah is both king and priest in Psalms 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; 43:8,10; 44:1,21; 49:3-6; 50:4-9; 52:13--53). As to whom the prophet refers in his splendid delineation of this mysterious being, scholars are hopelessly divided. The personification theory--that the Servant represents the ideal Israel, Israel as God meant it to be, as fulfilling its true vocation in the salvation of the world--is held by those who plead for a consistent use of the phrase throughout the prophecy. They regard it as inconceivable that the same title should be applied by the same prophet to two distinct subjects. Others admit that the chief difficulty in the way of this theory is to conceive it, but they maintain that it best explains the use of the title in the chief passages where it occurs. The other theory is that there is an expansion and contraction of the idea in the mind of the prophet. In some passages the title is used to denote the whole nation; in others it is limited to the pious kernel; and at last the conception culminates in an individual, the ideal yet real Israelite of the future, who shall fulfill the mission in which the nation failed.

What really divides expositors is the interpretation of Isaiah 52:13--53. The question is not whether this passage was fulfilled in Jesus Christ--on this all Christian expositors are agreed--but whether the "Servant" is in the mind of the prophet merely the personification of the godly portion of the nation, or a person yet 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 (Isaiah 53:11; compare 42:1; 49:2; 50:4); and as a reward for his sufferings he attains to a position of the highest royal splendor (Isaiah 52:15 b; 53:12a; compare 49:7).


4. Transformation of the Prophetic Hope into the Apocalyptic:

In the Book of Daniel, written to encourage the Jewish people to steadfastness during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Messianic hope of the prophets assumes a new form. Here the apocalyptic idea of the Messiah appears for the first time in Jewish literature. The coming ruler is represented, not as a descendant of the house of David, but as a person in human form and of super-human character, through whom God is to establish His sovereignty upon the earth. In the prophet's vision (Daniel 7:13) one "like unto a son of man," kebhar 'enash (not, as in the King James Version, "like the son of man"), comes with the clouds of heaven, and is brought before the ancient of days, and receives an imperishable kingdom, that all peoples should serve him.

Scholars are by no means agreed in their interpretation of the prophecy. In support of the view that the "one like unto a son of man" is a symbol for the ideal Israel, appeal is made to the interpretation given of the vision in Daniel 7:18,22,27, according to which dominion is given to "the saints of the Most High." Further, as the four heathen kingdoms are represented by the brute creation, it would be natural for the higher power, which is to take their place, to be symbolized by the human form.

But strong reasons may be urged, on the other hand, for the personal Messianic interpretation of the passage. A distinction seems to be made between "one like unto a son of man" and the saints of the Most High in Daniel 7:21, the saints being there represented as the object of persecution from the little horn. The scene of the judgment is earth, where the saints already are, and to which the ancient of days and the "one like unto a son of man" descend (7:22,13). And it is in accordance with the interpretation given of the vision in 7:17, where reference is made to the four kings of the bestial kingdoms, that the kingdom of the saints, which is to be established in their place, should also be represented by a royal head.

It may be noted that a new idea is suggested by this passage, the pre-existence of the Messiah before His manifestation.

II. The Messiah in the Pre-Christian Age.

1. Post-prophetic Age:

After prophetic inspiration ceased, there was little in the teaching of the scribes, or in the reconstitution of the kingdom under the rule of the high priests, to quicken the ancient hope of the nation. It would appear from the Apocrypha that while the elements of the general expectation were still cherished, the specific hope of a preeminent king of David's line had grown very dim in the consciousness of the people. In Ecclesiasticus (47:11) mention is made of a "covenant of kings and a throne of glory in Israel which the Lord gave unto David"; yet even this allusion to the everlasting duration of the Davidic dynasty is more of the nature of a historical statement than the expression of a confident hope.

2. Maccabean Times:

In the earlier stages of the Maccabean uprising, when the struggle was for religious freedom, the people looked for help to God alone, and would probably have been content to acknowledge the political supremacy of Syria after liberty had been granted them in 162 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 (Matthew 11:3 and parallel), while the people wondered whether John himself were the Christ (Luke 3:15).

1. The Jewish Conception:

(1) The Messiah as King.

In the popular conception the Messiah was chiefly the royal son of David who would bring victory and prosperity to the Jewish nation and set up His throne in Jerusalem. In this capacity the multitude hailed Jesus on His entry into the capital (Matthew 21:9 and parallel); to the Pharisees also the Messiah was the son of David (Matthew 22:42). It would seem that apocalyptic elements mingled with the national expectation, for it was supposed that the Messiah would come forth suddenly from concealment and attest Himself by miracles (John 7:27,31).

But there were spiritual minds who interpreted the nation's hope, not in any conventional sense, but according to their own devout aspirations. Looking for "the consolation of Israel," "the redemption of Jerusalem," they seized upon the spiritual features of the Messianic king and recognized in Jesus the promised Saviour who would deliver the nation from its sin (Luke 2:25,30,38; compare 1:68-79).

(2) His Prophetic Character.

From the statements in the Gospels regarding the expectation of a prophet it is difficult to determine whether the prophetic function was regarded as belonging to the Messiah. We learn not only that one of the old prophets was expected to reappear (Matthew 14:2; 16:14 and parallel), but also that a preeminent prophet was looked for, distinct from the Messiah (John 1:21,25; 7:40). But the two conceptions of prophet and king seem to be identified in John 6:14, where we are told that the multitude, after recognizing in Jesus the expected prophet, wished to take Him by force and make Him a king. It would appear that while the masses were looking forward to a temporal king, the expectations of some were molded by the image and promise of Moses. And to the woman of Samaria, as to her people, the Messiah was simply a prophet, who would bring the full light of Divine knowledge into the world (John 4:25). On the other hand, from Philip's description of Jesus we would naturally infer that he saw in Him whom he had found the union of a prophet like unto Moses and the Messianic king of the prophetical books (John 1:45).

(3) The Title "Son of God."

It cannot be doubted that the "Son of God" was used as a Messianic title by the Jews in the time of our Lord. The high priest in presence of the Sanhedrin recognized it as such (Matthew 26:63). It was applied also in its official sense to Jesus by His disciples:

John the Baptist (John 1:34), Nathaniel (John 1:49), Mary (John 11:27), Peter (Matthew 16:16, though not in parallel). This Messianic use was based on Psalms 2:7; compare 2 Samuel 7:14. The title as given to Jesus by Peter in his confession, "the Son of the living God," is suggestive of something higher than a mere official dignity, although its full significance in the unique sense in which Jesus claimed it could scarcely have been apprehended by the disciples till after His resurrection.

2. Attitude of Jesus to the Messiahship:

(1) His Claim.

The claim of Jesus to be the Messiah is written on the face of the evangelic history. But while He accepted the title, He stripped it of its political and national significance and filled it with an ethical and universal content. The Jewish expectation of a great king who would restore the throne of David and free the nation from a foreign yoke was interpreted by Jesus as of one who would deliver God's people from spiritual foes and found a universal kingdom of love and peace.

(2) His Delay in Making It.

To prepare the Jewish mind for His transformation of the national hope Jesus delayed putting forth His claim before the multitude till His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which, be it noted, He made in such a way as to justify His interpretation of the Messiah of the prophets, while He delayed emphasizing it to His disciples till the memorable scene at Caesarea Philippi when He drew forth Peter's confession.

(3) "The Son of Man."

But he sought chiefly to secure the acceptance of Himself in all His lowliness as the true Messianic king by His later use of His self-designation as the "Son of Man." While "Son of Man" in Aramaic, bar nasha', may mean simply "man," an examination of the chief passages in which the title occurs shows that Jesus applied it to Himself in a unique sense. That He had the passage in Daniel in His mind is evident from the phrases He employs in describing His future coming (Mark 8:38; 13:26 and parallel; 14:62 and parallel). By this apocalyptic use of the title He put forward much more clearly His claim to be the Messiah of national expectation who would come in heavenly glory. But He used the title also to announce the tragic destiny that awaited Him (Mark 8:31). This He could do without any contradiction, as He regarded His death as the beginning of His Messianic reign. And those passages in which He refers to the Son of Man giving His life a ransom "for many" (Matthew 20:28 and parallel) and going "as it is written of him" (Matthew 26:24 and parallel), as well as Luke 22:37, indicate that He interpreted Isaiah 53 of Himself in His Messianic character. By His death He would complete His Messianic work and inaugurate the kingdom of God. Thus, by the help of the title "Son of Man" Jesus sought, toward the close of His ministry, to explain the seeming contradiction between His earthly life and the glory of His Messianic kingship.

It may be added that our Lord's use of the phrase implies what the Gospels suggest (John 12:34), that the "Son of Man," notwithstanding the references in Daniel and the Similitudes of Enoch (if the pre-Christian date be accepted), was not regarded by the Jews generally as a Messianic title. For He could not then have applied it, as He does, to Himself before Peter's confession, while maintaining His reserve in regard to His claims to be the Messiah. 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.


3. The Christian Transformation:

The thought of a suffering Messiah who would atone for sin was alien to the Jewish mind. This is evident from the conduct, not only of the opponents, but of the followers of Jesus (Matthew 16:22; 17:23). While His disciples believed Him to be the Messiah, they could not understand His allusions to His sufferings, and regarded His death as the extinction of all their hopes (Luke 18:34; 24:21). But after His resurrection and ascension they were led, by the impression His personality and teaching had made upon them, to see how entirely they had misconceived His Messiahship and the nature and extent of His Messianic kingdom (Luke 24:31; Acts 2:36,38). They were confirmed, too, in their spiritual conceptions when they searched into the ancient prophecies in the light of the cross. In the mysterious form of the Suffering Servant they beheld the Messianic king on His way to His heavenly throne, conquering by the power of His atoning sacrifice and bestowing all spiritual blessings (Acts 3:13,18-21,26; 4:27,30; 8:35; 10:36-43).

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 (John 1:1; Romans 1:4,7; 1 Corinthians 1:3, etc.). His pre-existence is affirmed (John 1:1; 2 Corinthians 8:9); and when He comes again in his Messianic glory, He will exercise the Divine function of Universal Judge (Acts 10:42; 17:30, 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" (Hebrews 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" (Revelation 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.


James Crichton

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'MESSIAH'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.