Understanding ‘The Anointing’ (1 John 2:20, 27)
Such expressions as, ‘the anointing was evidently upon her as she preached’ and ‘he was under the anointing as he prayed over those who were ill’, can sometimes feature in the vocabulary of Christians known as Pentecostal or charismatic. In Scripture there is quite a range of applications of the word ‘anointing’. Consider this technical detail: there are two main Greek words used in the New Testament and in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that signify ‘to anoint’. According to W.E.Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:-
‘1. ALEIPHO is a general term used for an anointing of any kind, whether of physical refreshment after washing (Ruth 3:3) . . . or of a dead body (Mark 16:1) . . . [with] oil or ointment, . . . [even of] anointing a pillar (Genesis 31:13), or captives (2 Chronicles 28:15) . . . or priests (Exodus 40:15).’
‘2. CHRIO is more limited in its use . . . confined to sacred and symbolic anointings . . . of kings (1 Samuel 10:1), and priests (Exodus 28:41), and prophets (1 Kings 19:16).’ The English title Christ [Greek christos] signifies Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed (Acts 4:26).
The believer’s basic birthright
Let’s start with one of the last biblical references to chrio – 1 John 2:20, 27, English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated:
‘. . . you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all . . . know the truth . . .’; and ‘the anointing that you have received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as [he] had taught you, abide in him.’
Now, we know from our Lord’s own teaching (in John’s Gospel 14:17 and 26) that it is ‘the Spirit of truth‘ who will ‘teach you all things’. From this we deduce that ‘the anointing’ is the person of the Holy Spirit, and not merely a subjective experience, that gives us spiritual discernment of what is genuine and what is suspect.
Paul confirmed these statements of John when he wrote to the church in Corinth: ‘. . . it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee‘ (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) – a guarantee, in fact, of the believers’ glorious immortal bodies that they will receive at the resurrection when Jesus returns (see 2 Corinthians 5:1-5). That ‘guarantee’ is variously translated as ‘a deposit’ (New International Version), or a ‘first instalment’ (New Living Translation), or a ‘down payment’ (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ESV margin) on that ultimate bodily transfiguration.
Some aspects of anointing
We will examine some aspects of Jesus’ anointing – both the symbolic and the spiritual – in his earthly and in his heavenly ministry; and some details of the anointing available to his followers.
- Anointed with Fresh Fragrance
On a couple of occasions, just a few days apart, while taking my customary walk in various parts of our locality my nostrils were alerted to an arresting aroma of expensive perfume as a woman crossed my path. And it dawned on me that our beloved Lord, during his long hours under arrest and on trial, must have had this very effect on those who held him captive – indeed, even while on the cross when stripped, beaten and bleeding – because Mary had ‘anointed . . . his feet [with] expensive ointment made from pure nard [so that] the fragrance of the perfume [filled] the house’ (John 12:3).
Years ago I had regular contact with a couple who apparently used no under arm fragrance so that their clothes always conveyed a lingering odour of sweat. If I do not wish to smell spiritually stale when near others I must stay in close fellowship with the Lord, so that I can testify like the psalmist: ‘you have anointed me with [NLT] fresh oil’ (Psalm 92:10 ESV). And now in my old age I daily expect Psalm 92:14 to hold true: ‘Lord (verse 8) . . . in your presence they will still overflow and be anointed. Even in their old age they will stay fresh, bearing luscious fruit and abiding faithfully’ (The Passion Translation). The key is that I must maintain the ‘love [for him that I had] at first’ (Revelation 2:4), like the young bride-to-be in The Song of Solomon (1:3, 12 and 4:10-11).
Some people will take notice when we maintain our fragrant freshness and enquire of us what is the secret, as Paul expressed it in his second letter to the church in Corinth, using the metaphor of a Roman army’s march of triumph as they paraded their prisoners of war: ‘. . . thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume’ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 NLT).
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews refers to Jesus’ ascension (1:3), ‘After making purification for sins (at Calvary), he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (where) ‘your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions’ (1:9) – quoting Psalm 45:7, which adds (verse 8) that ‘your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.’ Our Lord sits enthroned in glory, bathed in fragrance and gladness,
- Anointing with Ability and Authority
In his time here on earth, ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him’ (Acts 10:38). He himself testified in the synagogue there in Nazareth: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (namely, the Year of Jubilee, Luke 4:18-19).
It is his desire to equip his people to be united in order to continue his anointed ministry to the nations in their generation – as expressed in Psalm 133:1-3, ‘Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard of Aaron . . . on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountain of Zion! For there (where he finds such unity) the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.’
- Anointed for Curative Care
Dr. Luke must have enjoyed recording how the Samaritan treated the half dead victim by the roadside between Jerusalem and Jericho. ‘He . . . bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine’ (Luke10:34). Similarly, if a believer is unwell, James’s counsel is: ‘Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.’ And to prevent any reader attributing super-spiritual qualities to the oil, James added: ‘And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up’ (James 5:14-15; compare Mark 6:13).
- Anointed for Sharpened Sight
The exalted Christ sent this message to the lukewarm church members in Laodicea who were unaware of how spiritually ‘blind’ they were: ‘I counsel you to buy from me . . . salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see’ (Revelation 3:17-18). In other words, we must make the effort to appropriate this eye salve and apply this ‘anointing’ so that we see our own condition. Beware of all numbing routines!