My friend Tyler recently posted on “messianic expectations” in the first century and it got me thinking of a description of what “messiah” means I’d put together for one of my leaders at Real Life. (Of course I’m describing the word through my Jesus-lens.) Here’s how I’d describe it:
“Messiah” (mashiach in Hebrew, christos in Greek) literally means “anointed one” and typically refers to prophets, priests, and especially kings. In Jesus’ day, many Jews hoped God would send a “messiah” – a kingly figure like David – to rescue Israel from her enemies, purify the Temple, and re-gather God’s people so that they might worship faithfully. They were looking for a new exodus with a new Moses – a deliverer to save them from oppression and lead them in the ways of God. They believed this Messiah’s victories would usher in a golden age of justice and peace. To call Jesus “Messiah” is to say that he is God’s appointed King who came to save the world (beginning with Israel) from sin and evil.
But he did so in a surprising way. For one thing, he didn’t mount an attack against the Romans; he staged a deeper confrontation with and defeat of Sin/Death itself. And for another, the coming of God’s golden age (or “kingdom”) didn’t happen all at once – Jesus the Messiah inaugurated this new world and called together a people to continue his work until a future day when he would bring it to full completion. The early Christians would never have made such ridiculous claims – crucified would-be messiahs were by definition failures – were it not for the fact that God raised him from the dead.
Whadd’ya think? Anything you expected to see but didn’t? Anything you didn’t expect to see but did? What would you have put differently?