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The Baffled Christian's HandbookThe Baffled Christian's Handbook

Jesus, The Messiah

Question: What does the word "Messiah" mean?

In the Hebrew language Messiah is mashiah, and literally means "a king or other consecrated person who has been anointed with oil." Interestingly, messiah in Greek (messias) means "the Christ." When the Sanhedrin asked Jesus, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" they were very pointedly asking Him if He was, in fact, the Messiah (Mk. 14:61). Whereas in previous encounters with the Jewish religious community, Jesus had avoided answering direct questions with equally direct answers (since those queries were invariably designed to trick Him into confessing violations of Oral Law), now, knowing His time had come and that He was mere hours from Calvary, Jesus answered their questions in the affirmative without hesitation:

"...I am; and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven." (Mk. 14:62; KJV)

While the word mashiah may be used in the context of an anointed high priest, it is almost exclusively reserved as a synonym for either a king or an anointed regent of God. The term is used less than 40 times in the Old Testament, primarily in 2 Samuel and Psalms. While the term is frequently used to describe a person of regal position (1 Sam. 2:10; 2 Sam 22:51), it is primary used to describe the divine agent of Yahweh in the poetic writing of the psalmist--particularly in the Messianic 72nd Psalm which promises the Earth, at the end of the age, would be the sole possession of the mashiah.

There is a threefold theological significance to the application of the word mashiah in its general sense. First and foremost, the anointed individual would be set apart from the world by the Holy Spirit to perform God's work. Second, the mashiah would be a deliverer. And finally, Divine power would accompany the mashiah. Moses, the perfect "type," was Divinely set apart from all people--Jews and Gentiles alike, to save God's people. He was their deliverer. Moses was, to the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt, the mashiah of his time; and as such, was a "type" of the Christ who was to come approximately 1,400 years later.

One important aspect of the word mashiah is clearly the anointing which must accompany it. The word literally means "a king or other consecrated person." Christ, or Christos, means one who is consecrated and anointed with oil. The Hebrew root of mashiah is mashach. The Greek root of Christos is chrio. Both root words mean "to smear, rub or anoint with oil." Clearly, Christ's anointing was Divine, as was the call of Moses; and, for that matter, so was David's, from which the physical seed of Jesus arose. However, under the Law, the anointing with oil was an important sign. It was a priestly ritual that acknowledged the Divine manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

The Spikenard of Oil

Question: What was so significant about the anointing of Jesus with a spikenard of costly oil that the woman who performed the act should be mentioned in all of the Gospels?

A variety of explanations to this question have been offered over the centuries. Some say Mary of Bethany (Jn. 12:3) anointed Jesus as an expression of agape love. No doubt she did. But, that does not appear to be reason enough for an eternal memorial of the act to appear in Scripture, nor was it the reason why Jesus said:

"...whenever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Mt. 26:13; NIV).

Many Christians feel Mary anointed Christ with the costly oil because He restored her brother Lazarus; and that she is remembered in Scripture because of the size of the gift, which was reputed to be the equivalent of a full year's wages (Jn. 12:5), about 300 denari.

There appears, however, to be a much more significant reason. As we examine Leviticus 8:6-12 we are instructed that before the high priest could perform a sacrifice of atonement for the people, he needed to be consecrated with oil. It should also be noted that the priest could not anoint himself. The anointing had to be performed by someone else, acting on behalf of the priest. In this instance, God chose a woman: Mary of Bethany.

Christ, who was both High Priest and Sacrifice, was consecrated for that which He was about to endure for mankind. Based on Levitical Law, Jesus could not have been sacrificed as a propitiation for our sins without the oblation of anointing oil. So, while there is no doubt the anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany was an expression of her love and devotion to the Messiah, the crucifixion could not have taken place without it. Therefore, the importance of the pre-sacrificial anointing of Jesus cannot be overlooked, nor could it be ignored by Scripture.

Jon Christian Ryter

Just Say No
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