When Messiah was a mystery

  1. Coded references in the Old Testament

The name Messiah is based on the Hebrew adjective mashiah (‘anointed’, pronounced ma-she-ach, ending with a guttural letter spoken as we Scots would clear the throat saying ‘loch’). It was used for kings (‘the Lord’s anointed’, 1 Samuel 24:6; and Lamentations 4:2 = 2 Kings 25:5-6), including Gentile kings who served the Lord’s purposes (such as Cyrus the Persian, Isaiah 45:1), and priests (‘the anointed priest’, Leviticus 4:3, 5, 16; Numbers 3:3).

Since Handel’s oratorio ‘The Messiah’ contains a wide selection of Old Testament quotations, it may come as a surprise to be told that the term mashiah is never used to refer to Jesus directly. Indeed, the subject in Hebrew Scripture is an Enigma Code of pictorial symbols (e.g. the ‘Star … of Jacob’ who ‘shall exercise dominion’, Numbers 24:17-19), poetic songs (e.g. God’s ‘begotten … Son’, Psalm 2:6-7), and performed signs (e.g. Zechariah’s pastoral ‘wages’ that he threw ‘to the potter’, Zechariah 11:7-13).

  1. Decoded in the New Testament

The Greek title ho Christos (‘the Christ/the anointed’) is regularly applied to Jesus. For example:

[] the angel’s advent announcement: ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11);

[] ‘Andrew’ told ‘his … brother Simon, … “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ)’ (John 1:41);

[] Peter’s confession: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29);

[] when challenged by unpersuaded Jews: ‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly,’ Jesus reminded them that he had already demonstrated this to be so by his miraculous signs which they were determined to ignore (John 10:24-26);

[] ‘Paul was … testifying’ in the synagogue in Corinth ‘… that the Christ was Jesus’ (Acts 18:5). 

  1. And a further surprise

Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth: ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are on body, so it is with Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12 – literally the Christ). The title ‘the anointed’ has here been expanded in application to a community of believers in Jesus who ‘in one Spirit … were all baptized into one body’ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

In another of his letters Paul also uses the theme of ‘the anointed’ from Isaiah 11:1-5 in a corporate sense. Isaiah foretold: ‘There shall come a shoot from the stump of Jesse … And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him’ [that is, as ‘the Christ’], adding: ‘righteousness shall be the belt of his waist and faithfulness [troth] the belt of his loins’ (Isaiah 11:1-5). The fulfilment in Ephesians 6:14 (‘the belt of truth, and … the breastplate of righteousness’) comes in a corporate context (Ephesians 6:10-20 with its plural pronouns ‘we’ and ‘you’ throughout).

            * In the light of such revelation, we should not slip in and out of Christ-ian            community life. Together let us ‘stand against the schemes of the devil … and          having    done all, … stand firm’ (Ephesians 6:11, 13).

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