The Messiah

A question of fundamental interest to Christians, (and surely of no less interest to the candid Jew) is this: Was Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah? If He was the Messiah we shall know this to be so because He answered exactly to every one of the Scriptural marks of identity given by the prophets. That must be the test. If He fails in even the smallest of those marks, then, however great the cost to our hearts, He is not the Messiah.

   We must, therefore, go back to the OT and see for ourselves what is there unfolded concerning the Christ, and then test the claims of Jesus of Nazareth by that revelation. In doing so, we shall find it proceeds from the simple to the complex, for it is the divine method to begin with some outline truth, and then gradually, with stroke upon stroke of the brush, to put in the details until we have the fullness.

   Turn now to Genesis 3: 14–15: “And Jehovah Elohim said to the serpent … I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall crush thy head, and thou shalt crush his heel”. Here lies in germ all redemptive and messianic truth. It does not tell us much, and we will not read into it a word from subsequent revelation, but it does set us looking for a descendant of Eve who in suffering would be victorious over Satan.

   Go next to Genesis 12: 1–3 where God says to Abraham “I will make of thee a great nation ... and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”. Now let us not treat these words unfairly. They are luminous in the light of what is to follow, but they are not in themselves a promise that a Messiah should arise from the descendants of Abraham. So far we have only a nation in which all nations are to be blessed. Still, it is a significant text.

   Turn to Genesis 15: 1–4: “After these things the word of Jehovah came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram … he that will come forth out of thy body shall be thine heir”. Now we know that Abram already had a son born in his house named Ishmael—the ancestor of the Arab tribes. At that time, he was the only son and Abram pleaded with God that the promises might be fulfilled in him. It was not to be: “Sarah thy wife shall indeed bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac; and I will establish my covenant with him, for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him” (Gen. 17: 19). Here the principle of selection and limitation appears. Any Arab that claims to be the Messiah can be silenced by retorting that Messiah comes through Isaac and not Ishmael.

   Move on to the scene at Bethel where God addresses Jacob and enters into covenant with him: “And he said, I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac … and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28: 13, 14). Here again, the principle of exclusion is seen. As before, there was another son, Esau, but the Abrahamic covenant passes over him to Jacob. Thus no Edomite may claim the Messianic title.

   Next turn to Genesis 49: “Judah—[as to] thee, thy brethren will praise thee; Thy hand will be upon the neck of thine enemies; Thy father’s children will bow down to thee … The sceptre will not depart from Judah, Nor the lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh come, And to him will be the obedience of peoples” (vs 8–10). See how the slender line of promise here gains in definiteness. Out of the twelve tribes, one is chosen, the tribe of Judah. It is not enough that a claimant to the messiahship be merely an Israelite, he must be of Judaic descent. Here also we have the word “sceptre” for the first time—indicative of kingly power. We also have the word “Shiloh”, a mysterious reference to a person to come, to whom will be the obedience of the nations.

   These thoughts are developed by the Spirit of God in an extraordinary way through the prophecies of Balaam: “I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh: There cometh a star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and he shall cut in pieces the corners of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult. And Edom shall be a possession, and Seir a possession—they, his enemies; but Israel will do valiantly. And one out of Jacob shall have dominion, and will destroy out of the city what remaineth” (Num. 24: 17–19). Here we have the “Sceptre” again. When God adds a detail it is always carried on. Note, too, that in these passages, we not only get the idea of rule, but personality—‘I shall see him, but not now’, and ‘There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel’. It is the same with Moses’ testimony in Deuteronomy 18: “Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him shall ye hearken” (v15, my emphasis).

   Let us see now what the prophets have to say about the greatest prophet of all: “And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall be fruitful; and the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah … I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, who shall reign as king, and act wisely, and shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land … There shall never fail to David a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel … If ye can break my covenant [in respect] of the day, and my covenant [in respect] of the night, so that there should not be day and night in their season, [then] shall also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne” (Is. 11: 1–2; Jeremiah 23: 5; 33:17, 20, 21). Here the Messianic outlook is narrowed further. We began with a promise that might have been fulfilled in any man born of woman and now it would not do even for a Jew to say ‘I am the Messiah’ unless he could establish his Davidic ancestry.

   So far all has been quite within the limits of the natural. Now however, we come to something in this line of descent which is clearly miraculous. “Hear then, house of David: Is it a small matter for you to weary men, that ye weary also my God? Therefore will the Lord himself give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7: 13, 14). Observe that these words are addressed to the house of David. God promised to that house a sign by which it might know the long promised One when He should appear. The sign would be that, in that house and family, a virgin should conceive and bear a son—and, therefore, be supernaturally and miraculously conceived. The explanation of so strange an event is in the name—Immanuel—“which is, being interpreted ‘God with us’ (Matt. 1: 23).

   Isaiah 9 develops the theme: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and his name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with judgment and with righteousness, from henceforth even for ever” (vs 6, 7). But wait, if the Messiah must be of the seed of Eve and thus a man, how can He also be the Mighty God and the Father of Eternity? The Pharisees were confounded by a similar question from Psalm 110: “Jesus demanded of them, saying, What think ye concerning the Christ? Whose son is he? They say to him, David’s. He says to them, How then does David in Spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand until I put thine enemies under thy feet? If therefore David call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt. 22: 41-45). Clearly, the Messiah has a mystery attached to His person which is beyond the human mind to explain.

   Next we come to another condition which Messiah must meet. Scripture foretells the very place of his nativity: “And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall he come forth unto me [who is] to be Ruler in Israel: whose goings forth are from of old, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5: 2). Here we have the Divine again. These words are plain and simple enough. Who is this ruler? It is He whose goings forth have been from everlasting. Where is He to be born? He must have Bethlehem Ephratah for His birthplace. None but the divine could choose His own birthplace.

   Is there nothing in addition to this? No indication, for instance, as to the time when Messiah should appear—which, if revealed, is surely a very important mark of identification? If we look at the prophecy of Daniel, we shall find there a very clear revelation as to this: “Seventy weeks are apportioned out upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to close the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make expiation for iniquity, and to bring in the righteousness of the ages, and to seal the vision and prophet, and to anoint the holy of holies” (Dan. 9: 24)—that is, to finally bring in the time when a restored Israel, in full fellowship with the God of their fathers, shall be the channel of His blessings to the earth. The prophecy continues: “From the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah, the Prince, are seven weeks, and sixty–two weeks. The street and the moat shall be built again, even in troublous times. And after the sixty–two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (vs 25, 26). Now whatever the seventy weeks means, it is a period (except the last week) that must fall between Daniel’s time and AD70 for, since that year there has been no sanctuary in Jerusalem. Here then, is another vastly important condition: the Messiah must not only possess the unique personality which we have been considering, but He must also appear after the Jewish captivity and before the time when Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus.

   However, the very passage from Daniel which gave us the time–limit also appears to bring in a difficulty. Daniel tells us distinctly that after a certain time “shall Messiah be cut off” (Dan. 9: 26). What is this about this king of David’s line, even One who is the Mighty God, being cut off, and having nothing? Nor is this difficulty confined to Daniel for Isaiah speaks in the same vein: “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently; he shall be exalted and be lifted up, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee—his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the children of men” (Is. 52: 13, 14). This certainly seems mysterious: here is Jehovah’s Servant who is going to be exalted and very high, and yet his visage is to be more marred than any man! And the difficulty only deepens as we go on into Isaiah 53. Then we have the 22nd Psalm with its despairing cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (v1) and its tragic burden of pierced hands and feet (see v 16). Thus we have, on the one hand, a glorious king, in Himself Deity, and so having all power, and whose very name of Immanuel means ‘God with us’, and yet, on the other hand, having His visage marred more than any man, His bones out of joint, and dying in agonising thirst! How can this One be the great Davidic monarch restoring again the glory of Solomon’s house but also at the same time a sacrifice bearing the “iniquity of us all” (Is. 53: 6)? Clearly, destinies so strongly contrasted could not be accomplished simultaneously. There is only one answer possible, one word which can link the glorious reigning with the awful suffering and death, and that word is resurrection. Suppose Messiah came, and was ‘cut off’ as Daniel predicted, and suppose that His life came again, then all the other and glorious side of the picture is still possible! But man will not have this. As a matter of belief, professing Christians—the great mass of them—practically reject the voluminous testimony of the prophets concerning the earthly glory and power of the Messiah “upon the throne of David” (Isaiah 9: 7), while Jews—the great mass of them—will not receive the abundant testimony of their own prophets as to Messiah’s humiliation and death. Against both of them there is levelled the reproach of the Lord Himself: “O senseless and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24: 25, my emphasis). The truth is that resurrection is the bridge from Messiah’s death to Messiah’s glory, and that the second advent supplements and completes the first.

   Could it be that Christians simply invented the doctrine of the resurrection to bridge this very difficulty, and to reconcile the prediction of Messiah’s earthly greatness with the predictions of His humiliation and death? No, for resurrection is not a new doctrine: it is as old as Job (see Job 19: 25, 26), and was David’s fervent hope (see Ps. 17: 15). But there is more. Listen to Psalm 16: “I have set Jehovah continually before me; because [he is] at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart rejoiceth, and my glory exulteth; my flesh moreover shall dwell in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol, neither wilt thou allow thy Holy One to see corruption” (vs 8–10). Here is not only the doctrine of resurrection, but a definite promise that the Messiah Himself should be raised from the dead. Resurrection then is the word that reconciles the apparent contradiction of so many Scriptures. In other words, Messiah comes, Messiah accomplishes all that is predicted of Him concerning suffering, humiliation and death, then rises from the grave, and comes again to set up the kingdom, and to complete the fulfilment of prophecy.

   Even in so rapid a survey of Scripture, it is evident that the lines of proof and of identity converge on Jesus of Nazareth and no one else:

  1. He was a descendent of Eve—a Man, not an angel.

  2. He was the seed of Abraham, indeed, the very seed.

  3. He derived His Abrahamic ancestry through Isaac not Ishmael, and through Jacob, not Esau.

  4. He was of the Tribe of Judah.

  5. He was David’s Son, and heir of the Davidic covenant.

  6. He was miraculously conceived in the womb of a virgin and  was born, against all human probability, in Bethlehem Ephratah.

  7. He appeared at precisely the right time according to Daniel’s prophecy.He fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah concerning His vicarious sacrifice, and died in precisely the manner foretold in Psalm 22. 

    It is obvious that no one could bring these signs upon himself. God has given us this chain of evidence and has affixed to that one person, among all the sons of men, the marks of His anointed One. Will you not join with Peter and millions of others and cry with heartfelt conviction: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16: 16)?