Jesus of Nazareth asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" and Simon Peter answered, “...'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (Matthew 16:15-16). The high priest also demanded that Jesus tell them if he was “...the Christ, the Son of God" and Jesus said He was (Matthew 26:63-64).
The term ‘Christ’ is an English derivative of the New Testament Greek word christos, which means "anointed." The equivalent Hebrew word in the Old Testament is mashiach, transliterated in the King James New Testament as messias (John 1:41; 4:25). This word has come down into modern English as "messiah" and both Christ and Messiah mean "anointed" or "anointed one."
The Oxford Companion to the Bible states anointing, "was widely practiced in the ancient Near East” ("Anoint," p. 30). Not only kings were anointed, but Israel's high priests (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 4:3-5,16) and some prophets were also anointed (1 Kings 19:16). In biblical usage, anointing is an act of consecration, setting someone apart for the holy work of God. It was symbolic of the pouring out of God's Spirit (Isaiah 61:1; Romans 5:5) representing God's power and help to that person in performing their duties.
God set Jesus apart to be king, and when Pontius Pilate asked Him if He were a king, Jesus answered: "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world" (John 18:37). Jesus also fulfilled the roles of prophet and priest. He was the anointed prophet of Isaiah 61, bringing the Gospel message and shocking listeners by announcing, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:17-21).
Contrary to a view of the time that the Prophet and kingly Messiah were two different individuals, these two titles applied to Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, who was to be priest, prophet and king. Yet, when He was on earth Jesus did not serve as priest or king, and He did not restore Israel. When people actually tried to "take Him by force to make Him king," Jesus slipped away (John 6:15). He was later hailed as "King of the Jews," but this label was meant to mock Him while He was brutalized and crucified.
Many of Jesus' contemporaries failed to comprehend how He could have been the Messiah, because some of the prophecies seemed to contradict each other. How could the Messiah be a conquering king (Psalm 2) and, at the same time, a suffering, despised servant who would die (Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:1-12). Many therefore rejected the prophecies of the suffering servant as applying to the Messiah, seeing them as figurative of Israel.
Others believed two messiahs must come and that, "The Davidic messiah would be preceded by a secondary figure ... [who] would be killed" ((John Bowker, editor, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, 1997, "Messiah," p. 637). They did not understand that the Messiah would serve as the sacrifice for sin (Isaiah 53).
This anticipation of two messiahs may explain why John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus while he was in prison to ask, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3) prompting Jesus to send him a reassuring message that He really was the one destined to fulfill all the prophecies about the Messiah (Matthew 11:4-6).
To add to the confusion various would-be messiahs had emerged in opposition to the Roman occupation, such as Judas the Galilean and Theudas, a Jew from Egypt (Acts 5:36-37). These were all killed, but Jesus, unlike these false messianic claimants, rose from the dead after three days and nights and later offered this fact as specific proof of His messiahship (Matthew 12:39-40).
Jesus' own disciples did not fully understand who He was even after He explained it to them (Luke 9:22,44-45). But after His resurrection He appeared to two of the disciples and, "'... expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27). Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, came to this earth, lived as a human being, died by crucifixion and was raised by God from the grave, and He will come again to rule the world, restore Israel and usher in everlasting peace.
The Good News Magazine