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What is a Messiah?

What is the real meaning of messiah in the original Hebrew?

They were not a happy folk. Decades of military occupation by a procession of foreign powers came at a time when their holy men had been strangely silent, as if their God had gone on vacation to another planet. For the Jews this period had lasted for around 400 years and it was no joke. For a people who had experienced the glories of the days of the former Kings, the current indignancies of the Roman cosh were hard to bear. They dreamt of better days. They dreamt of a Messiah, a charismatic leader, who was going to free them from the shackles of the Roman occupation, perhaps another Joshua or David. But who would be this Messiah and how would he go about his master plan for ejecting those unwanted tourists?

So the impression seems to be that Jesus was a most unexpected candidate for the vacancy of a macho-liberating-freedom-fighter-type-of-messiah that the Jews under savage Roman occupation longed for. They wanted a Barabbas, (whose name curiously translates as "son of the father"). They yearned for a lion but received a lamb. Expectations were high when Jesus appeared on the scene, on account of Daniel's pin-point prediction, as explained in an earlier article. The Magi from the East, who would have access to the book of Daniel, written as it was in eastern lands during the exile in Babylon, could read the signs of the times. Why else would they have embarked on that hazardous journey to a country ruled by that meshuggenah king, Herod? The atmosphere was so rich in Messianic hope, you could feel it in every pore of your body.

As we have already discussed, a good way of building an authentic story of Jesus is to find out which Bible verses cause the most controversy to Jewish critics. We are going to start to examine Jesus' claims to be the Messiah of the Jews, so it's worth now looking through the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and read the script first.

If you do a computer word search on the word "messiah" you are going to be disappointed and puzzled. You will not find any mentions of it at all in the Old Testament and only two inclusions in the New Testament. Because these two are not self-proclamations from Jesus himself, but rather from the disciple Andrew and the Samaritan woman, Jewish critics exclaim, "Hey, he didn't even call himself the Messiah!" This is a bogus remark as you can use the same argument to declare that as the word "messiah" doesn’t appear at all in the Old Testament, the whole concept is non-biblical!

Instead, we need to get back to basics. In the Old Testament what you should have done a search on was "anointed one". You'll find over forty mentions here and you'll find that, in most cases, a named individual is being referred to. Usually it is a King of Israel, in most cases King David, but also Saul, Solomon, Joash, Jehoahaz and Jehu. This makes sense as a Jewish king would be anointed with oil for service, making him an anointed one.

"Then the men of Judah came to Hebron and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah." (2 Samuel 2:4)

Then there are a couple of mentions of prophets, a foreign king, Cyrus of Persia and even an allusion to Satan in Ezekiel 28:14.

But there are four mentions of "anointed one" that refer to an individual who is not named.

"I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always." (1 Samuel 2:35)

"The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One." (Psalm 2:2)

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners". (Isaiah 61:1)

"Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble". (Daniel 9:25).

If you now look up these verses in the original Hebrew (as you do), you will find that the word translated as "anointed one" is the word mashiach, transliterated into English as Messiah.

So, in terms of a wait for a special person, an unnamed "anointed one" or Messiah, there are only four relevant verses. I found this amazing because, when we look at the above verses, only two of them are specific. The first, the Daniel verse examined in an earlier article, indicates when this Messiah is to arrive on the Earth and the second, the Isaiah verse, gives an insight into his character. There are no other instances in the Old Testament where the Messiah (anointed one) is specifically spoken of. This is mind blowing.

More about the Messiah next week ...

Steve Maltz
August 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book 'Jesus Man of Many Names')

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