The Messiah Keeps Coming

by Robert Brow   August 1999  (web site -

The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew -mashiakh- which means anointed one.

In the Old Testament three classes of person were anointed with oil to symbolize their empowerment by the Spirit of God. Prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Leviticus 4:3), and kings were anointed to perform their functions and so were viewed as -mashiakh-. This is why David viewed Saul as "the Lord's anointed" (1 Samuel 24:6, see Daniel 9 9:25,26). Even the Persian king Cyrus was called Messiah (Isaiah 45:1). In Psalm 2 the rulers of the earth take counsel " against the Lord and his Messiah" (Psalm 2:2)

The Greek word for "anointed' was -Christos-. Tansliterated, it gave us the English word 'Christ.' And this was used in the King James Version, the Revised Version, and the Revised Standard Versions of the New Testament.

There was an important change of perception when the New Revised Standard Version (1989) began using the Hebrew word Messiah instead of the Greek Christ. As a result the New Testament now begins with "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1-17). So here we have the Jewish author of Matthew's Gospel listing the Messiah's Davidic royal line.

A turning point in the Gospel was when it finally dawned on Peter that their teacher was the one spoken of again and again as Lord-Shepherd-King in the the Old Testament. "You are the Messiah" (the first half of Matthew 16:16). But what did this mean?

Unfortunately Christians soon began looking for texts in the Old Testament to prove that Jesus' coming had been foretold by the prophets. And Jews used the same texts to prove that their Messiah had not yet come. As a result both missed the point that throughout the prophetic writings their Lord-Shepherd-King was described as continuously reigning among the nations.

Speaking of the Assyrians, Isaiah said "Look, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, will lop the boughs with terrifying power" (Isaiah 10:33). And the Assyrian empire was toppled in that generation. When an empire like Babylon became proudly corrupt the Lord assigned wrath consequences to overthrow it (Isaiah 13:1, 6-13). Similarly Isaiah speaks of the interventions of the reigning Lord-Shepherd-King in Moab, Syrian Damascus, the Jewish northern kingdom, Ethiopia, Egypt, Tyre, and other nations (Isaiah 15:1-23:18). Nor did the Lord spare the people of Jerusalem when they were taken into seventy years of exile by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 7:20-9:26 and throughout that book).

When the Old Testament Lord-Shepherd-King intervened in wrath, or restoration and blessing, it was described by active metaphorical terms such as taking away, shaving, whipping, cutting off, healing (Isaiah 3:1, 18, 7:20, 10:16, 14:22) It was also called a coming. "See, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt" (Isaiah 19:1, 31:4, 40:10, ).

And these times of divine intervention were called a "day of the Lord" (Isaiah 3:18, 7:18-23, 13:6,9, 19:16-24).

The book of Daniel expected these blessing and wrath interventions to continue throughout the history of succeeding empires (Daniel 7:1-8:22).  But with Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, this present reminder of the interventions of the heavenly Lord-Shepherd-King ended.

For four hundred years prophets ceased to prophesy. People got the idea that the Lord was impassive in heaven. Even his name was too sacred to pronounce. All that remained was the need to gather in synagogues to study the Torah. But in the confusion of finding themselves under Greek and then Roman rule ordinary people longed for someone like David, their ideal king, to lead them. Instead of seeing the Lord-Shepherd-King as currently reigning among the nations, they fashioned him into a Messiah who would come some time in the future.

As the Gospel continues Matthew makes the connection between Jesus and the Lord-Shepherd-King whom the prophets had described as coming and intervening in their day. Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of Heaven (e.g. Matthew 3:1, 4:17, 7:11, 11:20-24, 19:28, 21:43,23:35-39). The same Lord who toppled Babylon would topple the religious establishment of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:29 is an exact quote from the metaphorical portents of the fall of Babylon in Isaiah 13:9-13, see Joel 2:30-3). And as Jesus said, that would take place in the generation of his hearers (Matthew 23:36, 24:34). And that happened within forty years in AD 70 exactly as he had predicted.

What difference does this model shift make to the dialogue between Jewish and Christian students of the Bible.? As in Jesus' day, Jews are still expecting the Messiah to come. We should remind them that our Lord-Shepherd-King was coming and intervening throughout the Old Testament period (Genesis 3:8, 11:5, 12:7, 15:1,5,17:1,18:1, 33, Exodus 3:4, 8:1, 12:51, 13:21, 15:17,18, Psalms 2:4, 8:9, 9:7,10:16, 18:7-19, 29:10, etc., and as described by the prophets).

Surely the Lord-Shepherd-King who reigned then among the nations did not stop reigning with Malachi the last of the Old Testament prophets. And if he was reigning among the nations then, he must be reigning now. The events in and around Jerusalem since 1948 were by not by chance. They were what the prophets would have called a "day of the Lord." So was the sudden unexpected tearing down of the iron curtain in 1969.

In spite of this obvious fact many Christian students of prophecy easily slip into thinking that the Lord will not intervene in our world until his second coming. They forget that our Lord-Shepherd-King is the one who reigned in the Old Testament period, and is now reigning among all nations "till he has put all enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Having adopted this model of the reigning anointed one (Messiah) the one thing Jews and Christians should be focusing on is the meaning and relevance of the picture Matthew the Jew gave of Jesus. His Gospel begins with a genealogy to prove that as man Jesus was the rightful heir to the throne of David. There are no other genealogies of the Messiah.

John the Baptist was the first prophet after the four hundred years of silence since Malachi. He announced that "the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matthew 3:2). This tells us that the King who reigned from heaven in the Old Testament period had now come near to live for a few years among his people. In Jesus' baptism he was also recognized as the eternal Son of God (Matthew 3:17). In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew then gives the Messiah's explanation of the heart intent of the moral law of the ten commandments. The parables of the Kingdom outline the principles of his reign. And the resurrection announces the Messiah's victory over the dreaded -sheol- (abode of the dead) in the Old Testament.

Luke is recognized to be a careful historian, and his Book of Acts records how many Jewish people of that day accepted these astonishing claims. In addition to the 3,000 Jews who were added to Jesus' disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 3:41-42), others accepted Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 2:47), then another 5,000 were added (Acts 4:4), and "The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). For the first forty years till the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 the leadership of the Messianic movement was obviously Jewish.

Paul for example was a Rabbi trained from childhood in the Pharisee tradition (Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:4-6). After his conversion he became the most active apostle and Christian church planter in the Mediterranean world. The New Testament has thirteen of his letters to churches and individuals. Every one of these letters refers to Jesus as the Messiah at least two or three times in the opening verses.

In his major theological epistle Paul devotes three chapters to the relationship of the Messiah to his own Jewish people. Unaccountably in these chapters the New Revised Standard Version shifts back to the Greek word Christos instead of the Hebrew word Messiah. This obscures the fact that Paul connects the word Messiah with the Lord-Shepherd-King spoken of by the Old Testament prophets (see Romans 9:1,3,28-29,33, 10:4,6, 11:26).

Paul explains that throughout history the Lord as anointed Messiah King deals with one continuing olive tree of faith. Speaking to the new Gentile believers he says "If some of the branches were broken off, and you a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. . . They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith (Romans 11:17- 20). This indicates that Old Testament Jewish faith in the Lord-Shepherd-King is no different from Christian faith in the Lord who intervened by coming personally into our world, dying, and rising again from the dead. Paul had earlier made it clear that Christian faith was the same kind of faith as Abraham's faith (Romans 4:12-24).

What cuts off anyone from the olive tree of faith, whether a Jew or someone of another nation is confidence in the ability to save oneself "based on works" (Romans 9:32). "For being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God's righteousness. For the Messiah (wrongly translated Christ in NRSV) is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (Romans 10:3-4).

What has always excluded unbelieving Jews and Christians from a personal relationship with the Messiah is imagining we can be saved by our own good works. Paul knew that, together with many Jews in the first century, he had moved from confidence in his ability to save himself to personal faith in the Messiah. He also believed that a day would come when the Jewish nation as a whole would come back to faith in their reigning Lord-Shepherd-King. "I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of nations (NRSV has "the Gentiles) has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, out of Zion will come the Deliverer" (another name for the Messiah, Romans 11:25-26)

Paul's point is that faith for both Jews and Christians has always been looking to the Lord-Shepherd-King-Messiah as He currently intervenes in wrath and love among the nations and in the lives of individuals. When that becomes clear a Christian-Jewish dialogue becomes very much easier.

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