Prophecy and the Messiah
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. William Varner; ©1999|
|Dr. Varner follows the term Messiah through the Old and New Testaments to find out what was promised, and how the prophecies can be applied to Jesus.|
PROPHECY and the MESSIAH
The term Messiah is a translation of the Hebrew word mashiach, a verbal noun meaning “anointed one.” The Greek translation of the word, utilized in both the Septuagint and the New Testament, is christos, from which comes the English word, Christ. The Hebrew verb and noun are primarily applied to three types of individuals in the Old Testament period—priests (Ex. 28:41; Lev. 4:3), kings (I Sam. 16:13; I Sam. 12:3), and prophets (I Kings 19:16; Ps. 105:15). The idea is one of consecrating persons for sacred tasks, i.e., to perform a special function in the theocratic program.
Some critical scholars deny that mashiach is ever used in the Old Testament of a personal messiah. Of its thirty nine occurrences, however, there are at least nine times where it could describe some future anointed one in the line of David who would be Yahweh’s king: I Samuel 2:10, 35; Psalms 2:2; 20:6; 28:8; 84:9, Habakkuk 3:13; Daniel 9:25, 26.
The doctrine of a promised messiah, however, is not limited simply to the term itself. The Old Testament hope of a Deliverer who would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15) and be the means of blessing to all mankind (Gen. 12:3) is described by a variety of terms. Some of these are son (Psalm 2:7), branch (Zech. 6:12, 13), and servant (Isa. 41-53).
Regarding the specific number of promises about the Messiah, there is a wide divergence of opinion. Rabbinical writings refer to 456 separate Old Testament passages used to refer to the Messiah and messianic times. One Christian scholar lists 127 personal messianic prophecies (J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy , 667-68). The differences are due to the way in which the New Testament refers to the Old Testament promises. There are direct messianic prophecies (e.g., Micah 5:2; Zech. 9:9); typical messianic prophecies, utilizing an immediate referent in the prophets day to which pointed to the ultimate referent (e.g., the sacrificial levitical system); and applications of Old Testmanet concepts to the Messiah (e.g., the reference Matthew 2:23 makes to the prophets saying: “He will be called a Nazarene.”) If we limit ourselves to the direct messianic prophecies just mentioned, a conservative number would be around 65. The key to understanding the role of the promised Messiah, and also the main difference between traditional Jewish and Christian messianic views, is His dual role of suffering and reigning. While there are many passages that describe a glorious reign for the Messiah (Jer. 23:5,6; 30:1- 10; Zech. 14:3ff), there are others that describe His rejection and suffering (Psalm 22, Isa. 53, Zech. 9:9; 12:10; 13:5-7). The New Testament views the suffering and glory passages as fulfilled in Jesus’ first and second comings. (Luke 24:25-27; I Peter 1:10,11).
From a theological perspective, the unique role of the Messiah is that He combines in His person and work the roles of the three different messiahs of the Old Testament theocracy—the prophet, the priest, and the king. In this regard, it is interesting to note that there were individual Israelite examples of a priest and prophet (Ezekiel, Jeremiah), and a king and prophet (David), but no examples of a priest and king (apart from non-Israelite Melchizedek). This was because only the Messiah could combine these two functions (Zech. 6:12,13). Furthermore, the Old Testament expectation of an eschatological prophet (Deut. 18:15-19) found its fulfillment in the Messianic priest-king (see John 1:21 and Acts 3:22-26).
Therefore, the final Messiah would be the ideal prophet-priest-king. The relevance of the Messianic idea to premillennialism lies in Jesus’ fulfillment of these three offices. As the anointed one of the Lord, Jesus was, is, and shall be the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. Each of these roles, however, were emphasized at different times in His redemptive role. During His earthly ministry of teaching and preaching, His role as prophet was in the forefront (see John 6:14; 7:40). His sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension, and current session at His Father’s right hand brings His role as priest in view (Psalm 110:1,2; Hebrews 4:14; 10:11,12). Following His return to earth, during His Millennial reign, His role as king will be stressed (Rev. 19:16). The point is that He is always the anointed king, but He enters into His public office as king during the Millennium. An Old Testament example of this was the period of time between David’s anointing as King (I Sam. 16:13) and his eventual enthronement as Saul’s successor (II Sam. 5:3).
Only a premillennial framework of theology, therefore, can enable one to fully appreciate the role of Him who is the “Hope of Israel.”