Jesus is called “Jesus Christ” so often that many believe “Christ” to be a last name. But what does it mean for Jesus to be the Christ? Why is that so important? What does it mean to be “the Messiah,” or “the Christ”?
“Messiah” is an English way of making sense of the Hebrew word moshiach, and “Christ” the Greek word christos. They both mean “anointed,” thus, “covered with oil,” and being an “Anointed One” means a lot in the Old Testament.
There are two figures in the Old Testament who are anointed: the first was Aaron and his sons as the High Priest (Exodus 28:41, 29:7, 30:30, 40:12-15, Leviticus 8:12); by anointing their heads with oil, Moses sets them apart as holy for God’s service. Later Samuel will first anoint Saul and then later David as kings over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1, 16:12-13). “Anointed” people in the Old Testament are therefore priests or kings.
David and the prophets looked forward to the coming of God’s Anointed King, “the Messiah.” He would be a descendant of David, ruling with justice and righteousness, restoring the fortunes of Israel, and given an everlasting Kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16, Psalms 2:1-12, 110:1-7, Amos 9:11-15, Hosea 3:4-5, Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-10, Micah 5:2, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Ezekiel 34:23-24, 37:24-25, Daniel 2:44-45, 7:13-14, 27, 9:24-27).
Two thousand years ago Israelites fervently awaited the coming of this King. The Roman Empire was the fourth empire during which Daniel saw His coming (Daniel 2, 7). Suffering under Roman oppression, the Israelites expected the Messiah to become a king on David’s throne in Jerusalem, defeating the Roman power in war, restoring Israel’s empire, prestige, and prominence, all centered in Jerusalem. Thus, when first century Israelites spoke of the Messiah, or Christ, they spoke of the coming King who would defeat YHWH’s enemies and bring peace and prosperity.
Jesus of Nazareth proved to be the Messiah, but not the Messiah Israel wanted. He was born a descendant of David but to a peasant girl from the backwoods of Galilee (Matthew 1:18-25); He was raised a carpenter’s son without any formal education. When many wanted to make Him their king, He fled (John 6:15); He never led an army, never declared war on the Romans but instead expected people to pay relevant taxes (Matthew 22:15-22), He did not sit on a throne in Jerusalem; He did not defeat the Roman Empire militarily; the physical kingdom and territories of David were not restored to Israelite control. Such is why so many in Israel rejected Him; since He was not the Messiah they wanted, they referred to Him as King only to mock Him (Mark 15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26, 32).
Jesus would be arrested and then executed on a Roman cross publicly as an insurrectionist (Matthew 26:47-27:50). He was not the first so-called messiah to suffer that fate, and He would not be the last.
But Jesus’ death was not the end nor an accident but the fulfillment of God’s purposes so as to obtain victory over sin (Romans 8:1-4, Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9). On the third day Jesus rose again, gaining victory over death, the Evil One, and all nationalities and powers, never to die again (John 16:33, Colossians 2:13-15, Revelation 1:18). Forty days later Jesus ascended to Heaven, there obtaining the Kingdom over which He can rule eternally since He was raised to never die again (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 7:56), the Kingdom of which He had spoken and taught throughout His life and for which He had prepared twelve of His followers, the Apostles (Matthew 4:17, 23, 10:1-42, 12:22-28, 16:21-23, Mark 4:33-34).
Jesus was not only the King of the Jews, but King of all, and soon God made clear that in Jesus both Jew and non-Jew, the people of all the nations, called Gentiles, could be brought together into one Kingdom (Acts 10:1-11:18, Ephesians 2:1-21). Such is how God, through Jesus, fulfills all the promises He made, not only in Israel, but to Abraham and all the Patriarchs.
Jesus was not just King and Messiah but also Lord, the same claim Caesar made over the Roman Empire (Acts 2:36, 17:7). To say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not; for this Christians would be persecuted by Romans for hundreds of years. Despite this danger early Christians around the Mediterranean world proclaimed that Jesus was King and Lord of all, that all should serve Him, since all will be judged by Him (Acts 17:30-31).
Jesus as God’s King would not rule over one nation-state; He would rule over all of them. In Christ God would not just overcome the Roman Empire but defeated the evil powers behind every empire, allowing everyone everywhere to receive the blessings of serving King Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God and Son of Man; both are Messianic promises. As prophet, Jesus declares His own rule in God. As priest in the order of Melchizedek, He is not just priest but also king (Psalm 110:1-7, Hebrews 7:1-9:27).
Jesus’ victory and kingship are primary themes in Revelation: He is the one like a son of man clothed as the Ancient of Days, ruling over heaven now and who will overthrow both the Roman power and the spiritual forces of evil behind it (Revelation 1:12-18, 4:1-22:6). To the very end Jesus is the Root and Descendant of David, the Messiah (Revelation 22:16). Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16); let us honor and serve Him as such!
Ethan R. Longhenry