The word "messiah" comes from the Hebrew verbal adjective māšîaḥ, designating a person anointed with oil. It is used most frequently of the king (1 Sm 12.3; 2 Sm 19.22; Ps 2.2, etc.), and refers to his coronation anointing. It is used also of priests (Lv 4.3, 5, 16; 6.15), who were anointed with oil at their installation.
Israel's idea of messianism, according to J. Wellhausen, originated only during and after the Exile through the influence of the Persian hope for a savior who would rid the world of evil. S. Mowinckel, for whom the Messiah is purely an eschatological figure, is convinced that Israel's messianism received its genuine form only after the Davidic dynasty fell in 587 b.c.
H. Gunkel and H. Gressmann propose an older origin but also seek it outside of Israel in the ancient Oriental myths about the primeval king who would return at the end of the world. This position lacks any evidence that the Egyptians or the Mesopotamians ever expected an eschatological savior, an element characteristic of the Israelite Messiah.
The Swedish school looks for messianism's origin in the Oriental ideology that regarded the king as son or incarnation of a god. Each year the king was ritually subjected to suffering and humiliation that evoked the conflict between the god and chaos and that through the king's ritual victory represented the renewal of nature's vital forces. This picture does not reflect the Jewish messianic concept. The constantly recurring cycle does not agree with the Israelite hope for a Messiah whose appearance would be unique, God's definitive intervention in history and the eschatological event.
Two basic facts underlie the development of the messianic idea—the originality of the Israelite concept of history and Israel's sense of its vocation.
Mankind has continually attempted to explain the problems of evil and suffering. The answers, though many, reduce themselves to two, one rejecting history, the other assuming it. The rejection of history leads to the attempt to annul its force by the ritual reenactment of the gods' or heroes' primordial acts. Man believed that by participating in these archetypes through religious ceremony he could regenerate time. This was the idea behind the Babylonian New Year feast.
The Israelite does not reject history. One of his fundamental beliefs is that God directs history by manifesting Himself in it. All setbacks in history are manifestations of God's displeasure. However, the God who punished was the same God who had elected Israel in the covenants with Abraham and Moses. These were vantage points from which Israel's aspirations looked to the future. Once it was elected, Israel believed that God would always take part in its history.
Such a confidence in God's continued support gave Israel a vital sense of its vocation as principal beneficiary of the messianic promises. Israel's maturing reflection on God's designs influenced its view of itself and convinced it of its historical continuity. In every trial, Israel knew that it could not completely perish because of God's fidelity to His promises. The Messiah, God's instrument of salvation, would eventually bring effective deliverance from the present trials.
During its history, Israel had different types of leaders: the patriarch (Abraham); the prophet-legislator and friend of God (Moses); the charismatic leader (the Judge); the religious seer and prophet (Samuel); the king chosen and anointed by God (David); a series of prophets who opposed the religious corruption of the kings (Elijah, Amos, Jeremiah, etc.); the priest-prophet, well versed in the oral and written traditions (Ezechiel, Second Isaiah); and finally the scribes, priests, and wisdom collectors (Ezra, the author of Chronicles, Ecclesiastes). These changes in leadership contributed to the complexity of Israel's concept of the Messiah. The roots of messianism, therefore, went back to Abraham and even to the interpretation by the Israelite prophets of the origins of man, who was made in the image and likeness of God.
Messianism Before the Monarchy
The ancient ideas that later coalesced into exilic and postexilic messianism may be considered under four headings: the Protoevangelium of the first three chapters of Genesis, the promises to the Patriarchs, the covenantalliance, and the oracles concerning the twelve tribes of Israel.
The Protoevangelium. Traditionally, the first proclamation of a future salvation has been attributed to the creation stories of Genesis, chapters 1 to 3, and specifically to Genesis 3.15. [see Rome and the Study of Scripture (5th ed. St. Meinrad, Ind. 1953) 121 para. 3.] In Genesis 3.15 God says,
I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.
Modern Biblical scholars have great difficulty in finding any messianic content in the Hebrew of this text. The "crush" and the "lie in wait for" are uncertain translations of the same Hebrew root šûp. It is possible that the two forms of šûp were intended to be a play on words, the first one meaning "trample upon" from the Akkadian šāpu, with that meaning, and the second from a parallel Hebrew root šā'ap meaning "snap at, gasp or pant after, set traps for." This is not at all certain, however, and modern translations are returning to the caution of the Greek translators of the Septuagint (LXX) who used τηρέω in both instances, with the meaning "give heed to, watch out for, or beware of"; these versions use some expression of hostility in both cases, e.g., "bruise," "attack," and "strike at." For modern scholars the messianic content of the text can only be a deeper meaning added to the text after the victory of Christ over Satan. They hold that constant and inescapable hostility between the woman's race and the serpent's is all that is certainly affirmed in Genesis 3.15.
That there is some vague hope of a future salvation to be found in Genesis chapters 1 to 3, however, is indicated by the continued concern of God for His creation, which He pronounced to be "very good" (Gn 1.31), and especially for man, whom He created in His image and likeness with the full deliberation of His heavenly court (1.26–27); whom He blessed with the power of increasing and dominating the rest of His creation (1.28); whom He did not immediately punish with death, after the only covenant law in Paradise was broken (cf. 2.16–17 with3.7, 17, "all the days of your life"); and finally, whom, even after the Fall, He continued to converse with, whom He clothed, and made the source of all human life (3.9–13, 16–21; 4.1). The salvation that the Israelites hoped for could come only from the God who had made all things "very good." After man broke the Paradise covenant, an infraction that should have led to his annihilation with the immediate death of the first couple, God remained mercifully and gratuitously faithful to the man He had formed from the earth. He punished, but He did not annihilate. Just as at the flood He saved Noah and his family, so always would He save the just remnant who were wary of the serpent's head (Isiah 4.2–3).
Promises to the Patriarchs. Patriarchal history tells of God's election of a people in whom all nations were to be blessed (Gn 12.1–3; 18.18; 22.18; 26.4; 28.14). This election was specifically related to the later Mosaic covenant between yahweh and Israel (Ex 3.15; Dt 6.10) and to Noah's election and salvation descending to Abraham through Noah's favored son, Shem (Gn 9.26–27; 10.10, 26–27). The election and promises to Abraham began to be realized in the miraculous birth of Isaac and the vocation of Jacob (Gn 21.1–3; 28.10–22;35.9–15), but during the long years in Egypt they seemed to be frustrated until a new beginning for them came forth from the burning bush that the flames did not consume (Ex 1.11–14;3.1–10).
Covenant Promises. The covenant story centers around God's intimate friend, spokesman, wonder-worker, and legislator, Moses. His work as God's instrument of salvation was the new beginning in the historical development of the chosen people, perfectly fulfilled in Christ and the new Israel, His Church. Moses was later held to be the ideal prophet and the basis for the expectation of a new Moses (Dt 18.15–19).
By the covenant, Yahweh claimed Israel as His own possession, His son and holy nation (Ex 4.22–23; 19.38), and His bride (Jer 2.2), not because of the nation's greatness but because He loved it and was faithful to His promises to Abraham and Jacob (Dt 7.7–8). In contrast, Israel was frequently unfaithful to its covenant obligations and the awareness of its vocation was kept alive only by the prophets and a few faithful kings. Its hope for a glorious future was thus maintained even during the direst trials. With the Northern Kingdom, Israel, already destroyed and with Judah on the verge of being engulfed by Babylonia, the editors of Deuteronomy, supported by trust in God's covenant loyalty, reaffirmed the alliance's unbreakable bond and demonstrated how deep was Israel's hope in the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises.
Oracles of the Twelve Tribes. The originally rather loose union between Israel's tribes was strengthened by joining together for holy wars (Jg ch. 4–5), or in a renewal of the covenant (Jos ch. 24), or in liturgical assemblies (1 Sm 2.12–17). Songs composed at these assemblies were probably the source of jacob's oracles (Gn 49.1–28), the amphictyonic blessings of Jacob. They are oracles rather than blessings as can be seen from the "in days to come" of verse 1. In their final form they are dated no later than David's reign but contain many elements anterior to the monarchy, although they are not as old as Deborah's canticle (Jg ch. 5) or recent as Moses' benedictions (Dt ch. 33). The oracle about Judah (Gn 49.8–12) is the most messianic and emphasizes Judah's importance in the fulfillment of the ancient promises.
After a metaphorical description of Judah's preeminence among the tribes in vv. 8–9, the oracle predicts that Jude's imperium will eventually be concentrated in a ruler to whom the scepter and ruler's staff most properly belong and to whom the nations will be obedient. Although there is doubt about the meaning "until he comes to whom it belongs," the image very likely describes King David's rule and empire. In vv. 11 and 12 the oracle seems to return to the tribe of Judah in general, describing the main products of its territory, the southern hill country, the land of the vine and the flocks—David himself was originally a shepherd (1 Sm 16.11–13). However, these two verses more probably refer to the ultimate ruler of v. 10 who will bring with him a new paradise. The paradisiacal abundance is poetically symbolized by the ruler carelessly tying his ass to the choicest vine, which, of course, would immediately afford his beast a wonderful feast, and by the extravagant washing of clothes in wine. The translation of the Revised Standard Version, "his eyes shall be red with wine and his teeth white with milk," is more appropriate in such a context than the "darker than wine,… whiter than milk" of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine translation. The messianic character of the poem is clarified by comparing it to the fertility brought by Yahweh's anointed in Isaiah 11.1–9; Ezekiel 34.23–31; Amos 9.11–15.
Balaam's oracles (Nm 24.3–9, 15–19) also are amphictyonic poems that look forward to a king issuing from Israel. In the second, more famous poem, the prophet in a mysterious vision points to Israel's royalty and describes its king as a mighty warrior. Late Judaism and the Targum Onkelos attributed messianic import to balaam's words.
These prophecies led to the belief that the promises would be realized in a king and more specifically, a descendant of David.
Messianism after the Monarchy
The king in Israel, as exemplified in David, was a charismatic leader, ruling vicariously for Israel's true monarch, Yahweh. As God's vicar, David had divine strength and wisdom since he had received Yahweh's spirit at his anointing (1 Sm 16.13). As he was the intermediary between Yahweh and the people, national prosperity depended upon his fidelity to God (2 Sm 24.1–25). In him the covenant promises were recapitulated, and with each successive king of the Davidic line a new symbol arose that Yahweh's favor still rested with His people.
Kingship originated in Israel because the Philistine threat could no longer be met by such occasional leaders as the Judges. Saul was at first only another charismatic leader but soon became by popular acclaim the anointed king. After God's rejection of Saul (1 Sm 13) and David's anointing (1 Sm 16.1–13), the monarchy became more closely connected with the messianic hopes.
Nathan's Prophecy. The most important text concerning royal messianism is the oracle of nathan in 2 Samuel 7.5–16 [see also Ps 88 (89); 1 Chr 17.7–14]. Its essential elements are: Yahweh refuses David's proffered house (temple); He reviews the benefits that He has showered upon David and his nation; He, instead, will build for David a permanent "house" (dynasty), which He will treat as His son and uphold with His covenant loyalty forever. Verse 13 referring to Solomon's building of the first Temple is a later interpolation, for it clashes with vv. 5–7. The gratuitous nature of the promise is underlined by David's humble thanksgiving (vv.18–29).
Psalm 88 (89) recalls the Davidic favors and promises (vv. 4–5, 20–38), contrasts them with the present miserable condition of David's dynasty (vv. 39–46), and concludes with a pathetic appeal to God's covenantal love and fidelity (vv. 47–52). The Psalm is obviously exilic, but despite the destruction of Jerusalem and the imprisonment of the last Davidic king, Yahweh's fidelity is not called into question; it is the basis for the psalmist's final prayer for deliverance and the establishment of the Messiah as the supreme emperor of the earth's kings (vv. 51, 28). Psalm 131 (132) expresses the same hope for the continuance of David's dynasty.
While the monarchy lasted, Israel's covenant with God was identified as the Davidic covenant. Nathan's oracle looked only to the continuation of Davidic rulers. But, Israel's hopes had forever been modified and henceforth would always include in some form the Anointed of Yahweh.
The Royal Psalms. Certain psalms were composed for court occasions during the monarchy and usually extolled the king's majesty, justice, piety, and the victories won for him by Yahweh. The king is not named (except for David and Melchisedec) but the psalms seem to come from the Southern Kingdom with the possible exception of Ps 44 (45) originally written for a king of Samaria and his Tyrenian bride. Their messianic content became more pronounced as they were used over and over again in the liturgy, when there was no longer a king in Israel. Besides Psalm 44 (45), Psalm 2, 71 (72), and 109 (110) will be examined for their messianic content.
Many modern exegetes interpret Psalm 2 as a messianic oracle describing the outcome of a rebellion of nations against Yahweh and His anointed King. God has set up His king in Sion, i.e., Jerusalem, ruled by the Davidic dynasty. The king then proclaims Yahweh's consecration of him as His royal son and describes his imperium on Yahweh's behalf over the nations. The Psalm concludes with a warning to all kings to serve Yahweh. Thus, in Ps 2, the king's reign is extended over all nations, going beyond the more limited horizons of Nathan's oracle. Although the Psalm's universal expressions may have been due originally to Oriental court style, the Psalm became for the postmonarchical Jews an expression of Israel's hope in Yahweh's fidelity to the messianic covenant. The world dominion expressed here must have appeared unattainable to the small remnant of Judeans living in an enclave around Jerusalem under Persian rule, except through the direct intervention of Yahweh from His heavenly throne.
In its final form and liturgical meaning, Psalm 71 (72) also may be directly messianic, although originally it seems to have been an exaggerated prayer for some king at his coronation. World dominion is more clearly indicated and a new element is injected: the just king's rule will bring with it paradisiacal fruitfulness, especially for the oppressed poor. Justice and judgment are the keys that open the gates to this paradise in whose benefits all the earth's peoples will share. The image goes beyond the expectation of a reinstated Davidic monarchy and describes the ultimate ruler who has many traits parallel to the prophet-king of Isiah 9.5; 11.1–5; and Zachariah9.9–17.
Psalm 109 (110) reintroduces from Psalm 2.7 the notion of an adoptive divine sonship pertaining to the Messiah (the Hebrew of volume 3 is obscure; the Greek is the source of the reading, "… before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you"). The king's position at God's right hand affirms a closer association with Yahweh's monarchy. The Messiah is also a priest of the type of Melchisedec who had no genealogy, a vague indication that he would be more than a mere historical figure, but a religious one incorporating in himself the prerogatives of both priest and king.
Psalm 44 (45) commemorates a royal wedding, beginning with praise of the king and his rule's glorious benefits (vv. 3–8); then the wedding procession is described and the bride is told of her responsibilities (vv.9–16); the Psalm concludes with a prophecy concerning the dynasty's permanence and glory (vv. 17–18). The epithalamium may have been written for a historical king who married a foreign princess, but, in a typical meaning, it refers to the King-Messiah to whom Israel (a figure of the Church) will be wedded, according to Jewish and Christian tradition. The king is described as endowed with Yahweh's characteristics [Ps 144 (145).4–7, 12–13] and those of Emmanuel (Is 9.5–6).
Royal Messianism in the Prophets. The Davidic promises came through the ministry of the prophet Nathan. It is not surprising that later prophets returned to this theme and expanded it. Two centuries after Nathan delivered God's covenant to David, another prophetadviser to ahaz, King of Judah, reaffirmed it and saw more deeply into its meaning. The times were somber. Assyria was on the march again; Damascus and Samaria were besieging Jerusalem to destroy the Davidic dynasty and to force Judah into a coalition against Assyria. Ahaz, a young man, may even have killed his only son as a sacrifice to the god Moloch as a means to lift the siege (2 Kgs 16.3). In this mortal threat to the House of David, Isaiah uttered the first emmanuel oracle (Is 7.10–25). In it he tells Achaz that the besieging kings will soon be destroyed and that he has nothing to fear if he trusts in God alone and does not ask for help from Tiglath-Pileser III, the Assyrian King (2 Kgs 16.7–9). Ahaz refuses the sign that Isaia has offered in order to prove Yahweh's fidelity, but Isaiah insists on giving a sign to the House of David, "the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel."
Some interpreters hold that the prophecy is directly messianic and refers to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. They argue that the term 'almâ (marriageable girl, young woman, until her first child's birth) should mean a virgin, for a virgin birth would be a supernatural sign, whereas the mere prediction of a son's birth for Ahaz and his young bride would not be. Thus, they say that 'almâ is synonymous here with the specific Hebrew word for virgin tûlâ (Lv 21.14; Jgs 21.12). Other scholars claim that the oracle is messianic only in a general way, or in a typical or deeper sense, and that it refers directly to the birth of Ahaz's son Hezekiah and through him to the Messiah. The form of address used by Isaiah in 7.13, "House of David" and the plural "you," recall Nathan's prophecy, although Isaiah is speaking to an unworthy and unbelieving descendant of David. This unworthiness does not destroy the promise, for Ahaz still embodies the prophet's hope for a Davidic king who will live up to the ideal expressed by the prophetic name given to him, Emmanuel, i.e., God is with us, He is on our side and we need no other help than His. The oracle, therefore, predicts the birth of a faithful king (realized in Hezekiah), the destruction of Samaria and Damascus, and the purifying devastation of Judah's lands by the Assyrians, a devastation that disrupts normal agriculture and reduces the land to pasturage (Is 7.15–25). Yet, the pasturage will produce an abundance of "curds and honey" (the idyllic food of faithful Israel) for the remnant purified by God's punishment and led by the faithful Davidic king, Emmanuel.
The second Emmanuel oracle (Is 8.23–9.6) again speaks of a son of David who will sum up in himself all the splendid attributes of Israel's ancient leaders and more recent heroes and will rule from David's throne with judgment and justice in contrast to the previous evil kings. His rule is placed against the background of the return from exile of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and predicts the union of the two kingdoms again as it was in David's and Solomon's days.
The third oracle concerning this mysterious successor of David (Is 11.1–9) describes the king as full of Yahweh's spirit that endows him with qualities of wise understanding, shrewd strength, and an intimate knowledge and reverence for the Lord, the qualities of Solomon, David, and the prophets, but most of all, of Moses, God's intimate friend. The ruler will not rule like earthly kings but like a friend and spokesman for God, judging for the poor and afflicted, because of his divinely aided intuition, and destroying the wicked not by arms and war but by his mouth's rod and his lips' breath. He will be clothed in justice and faithfulness, the true religion, and his efforts will bring a new paradise without violence or any destruction, for they will fill the earth with the true, intimate, and faithful awareness of and devotion to Yahweh.
Isaiah's oracles continue the theme of royal Davidic Messianism, but they also develop it to include the ultimate recreation of the universe through a leader who is more prophet than king, more of a dedicated executor of Yahweh's will than a sovereign who demands obeisance. The historical is less pronounced than the eschatological and a new era in Messianism has begun. The religious and political frustrations of Israel and Juda had conditioned this prophetic leap into the completely Yahweh-controlled future and end, and the figure of the king who would be the Lord's regent would never be erased from Israel's hopes.
In Micah 4.14–5.1–5 the doom destined for Israel is contrasted with the deliverance to come through a king of David's line whose greatness will reach the ends of the earth. The passage follows the same pattern as the Isaian oracles and reflects the prophet's strong hope in Yahweh's fidelity to the covenant that He made with King David.
A century later, when Babylonia has taken Assyria's place as the scourge of Palestine, Jeremia foresees that Yahweh will raise up a just shoot to David who will rule justly and wisely and who will bear the prophetic name "The Lord our justice" (Jer 23.5–6). Thus, even though Jeremia's main message had been the ruin of Jerusalem and its monarchy, he still trusted in Yahweh's royal covenant when he referred to this future ruler.
Four more allusions to the royal Messiah are found in Ezekiel, Jeremiah's young contemporary. In Ezekiel 17.121 the allegory of the two eagles and the cedar that becomes through its shoot a modest vine and aspires through the help of another eagle to grow into a grandiose vine, ends with a vague prophecy (17.22–24); this is that Yahweh will make it a great cedar again, to prove that He is the only one who makes the little great and the great little. The allegory pictures a restoration of the Davidic monarchy according to eschatological proportions that are used again in the Gospels (cf. Ez 17.23 with Mt 13.32). It also seems that Ezechiel refers to Gn 49.10, the oracle in favor of Judah, when he says in Ezekiel 21.31–32 that Israel will be turned topsy-turvy and "twisted" until one comes who has the claim (judgment) against the city (Jerusalem?) and to whom Yahweh will deliver it. Ezekiel also depicts a new David as the shepherd and sole ruler of God's revitalized people in a parallel doublet (Ez 34.23–24 and 37.24–25).
Zechariah also describes a just, victorious, and humble king of Jerusalem who will dominate the known world and proclaim peace for all nations (Zec 9.9–10). In Amos too, although it is found in an addition to the prophet's original work, the Davidic Messianism is apparent (Am 9.11–12). The theme was popular among the postexilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah as concretized in their glorification of the freed exile, who may have been of royal rank, Zerubbabel (Hg 2.21–23; Zec 4.7–10; cf Zec 3.8 with 6.11–13 where Zerubbabel is obviously in question rather than Joshua). Even after the long years of Exile, another generation kept alive the ideal that there would be a son of David who would bear the royal insignia.
The ultimate picture of royal messianism depicts a kingdom and a new era that is outside history's stream in any human sense and hopes for Yahweh's divine reign through justice and judgment as executed by His mysterious vicar, the Messiah.
Priestly Messianism. With the fall of the monarchy, the long Exile, and the emphasis given to the new Temple and its priesthood in the second part of Ezekiel (40.1–47.12), the priest's importance grew to an unprecedented level. In the reconstruction after the Exile, the high priest emerged as a leader on a par with the ethnic leader (Zec 6.13c). The Temple's rebuilding under Zerubbabel and the high priest Josue became the inspiration of the discouraged refugees (Hg 2.1–9). The priest-hood was restored in greater splendor and ritual than it had ever had before (Zec ch. 3). During this period most of the priestly laws found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers received their full development from the Mosaic nucleus. Henceforth, any ruler of Israel, whether foreign or from the people, would have to share his government of the people with the high priest and his clan. David's inheritance and his election were not forgotten, but he became more and more a figure favorable to the priesthood and eventually the priest's great legislator after Moses (1 Chr 22.2–29.30). The priest also became the learned man, the scribe who knew the law and expounded it to the people, and, after a long struggle, the winner over independent sages, making them admit that, after all, ultimate wisdom was the Law that Moses gave through Aaron (Sir 24.22–27). Ezra, priest and scribe, was the father of this period and expressed the three main ideas of Judaism, the chosen people, the Temple, and the Law. The Chronicler (the collector of the great work that includes 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemia) must have been a priest also (see chronicler, biblical). Nehemia, although he was more nationalistic than Ezra, followed the same inspiration as he, having been well molded by priestly tradition. Finally, the ethnic enclave around Jerusalem received as its sole ruler in its religio-political affairs the high priest, as exemplified by the splendid Simon of Sirach 50.1–21.
The priest's growth in importance influenced the messianic hopes of Judaism. A priestly clan led the rebellion against the Seleucids in the 2d century b.c. and by the end of that century had developed into the last Jewish kings, the Hasmonaean dynasty. The Maccabees were not of the highest order of priests, and by their domination they aroused the jealousy of the Sadocites, from whom the high priest by right was elected. This reaction against the hasmonaeans was one of the factors leading to the formation of the Qumran sect, which opposed the illegitimate Jerusalem cult and longed for two Messiahs, one royal and one of priestly rank. The author of Hebrews was familiar with this development and described Jesus as the fulfillment of priestly messianic hopes (Heb9.1–10.18).
Messianism in Deutero-Isaiah. Although the Isaian Book of Consolation (Is ch. 40 to 55, 60, and 62) calls Israel Yahweh's slave or servant, elected as a witness for Him among the nations, the same term has a different signification in the four "servant of the lord" oracles (Is 42.1–9; 49.1–6; 50.4–11; 52.13–53.12). The servant of the songs appears to designate a person rather than the collective Israel, although what is perhaps a gloss (49.3.) identifies the two servants. In 49.5–6 Yahwah's servant is clearly distinguished from Jacob's tribes and Israel's survivors. In the first oracle, he is Yahweh's elected, supported, and preferred slave, the bearer of His spirit, who quietly but surely brings God's justice, i.e., the true religion, to all nations by a teaching that will be a light for them and the blind, and a deliverance for captives. The same special election and universal mission is found in the second oracle, but in 49.4 the servant speaks as frustrated in his office, a development of the gentle quietness of the first oracle. A further elaboration of the servant's suffering is found in 50.5b–9 of the third oracle, which also emphasizes his discipleship and divine knowledge, the prerequisite for his teaching mission. Finally, in the most familiar and important fourth oracle, the ultimate glory and honor due to Yahweh's servant is contrasted with his unhappy history. In terms reminiscent of Jeremiah's suffering, the innocent servant's misery is described as unwarranted yet willed by God and freely accepted by the servant as an expiation for the faults of the multitudes and an intercession for sinners. He is submitted to humiliation and a dishonorable death like a lamb led to slaughter and accepts the punishment meant for "us" so that "we" might have peace. After his trials, he shall see the light and enter into his triumph; he shall prosper, he shall be raised high and be greatly exalted.
It is very difficult for a Christian to determine what these images and oracles meant to the sacred remnant of Israelites who returned from Babylon after the Exile, for he immediately transfers them to the Gospels and the preaching, suffering, and triumph of Jesus Christ and His new Israel, the Church. In their original impact the oracles must have evoked, however, the "worm Jacob," the "maggot Israel," who was and always will be, "Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham my friend," (Is 41.14, 8); they evoked Israel as a collectivity, therefore, but an Israel whose exilic experience was typified by that of the innocent yet suffering chosen prophets of God, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and later by Job, the innocent wise man and servant of God whose reason for suffering was hidden in the mystery of God's whirlwind. Whatever their original meaning may have been, the songs mixed into the messianic hopes, as did the whole Exile, the catalytic elements of suffering and death that were to hasten the movement toward the cross and the Resurrection.
The Son of Man in Daniel. The Book of Daniel, an apocalyptic literary form, written to console the Jews suffering from the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanus in the 2d century b.c., presents in Daniel 7.13–14, "one like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven." This mysterious, apocalyptic image is identified in Daniel7.18, 22 with the saints of the Most High, therefore a collectivity, but the apocryphal books, Enoch and 4 Esdras, as well as rabbinical tradition, understand the figure as a man who has divine qualities and is the final king of the ultimate Kingdom of God.
The idea of God's Kingdom that destroys and succeeds all other kingdoms is found also in the image of the rock detached mysteriously from the mountain to crush the statue that symbolizes the previous empires (Dn 2.34, 44–45; cf. Mt 21.42–44; Lk 20.17–18). Other prophecies in Daniel are messianic in tone and predict a future in expressions that go beyond the immediate hopes of freedom from the Antiochean persecutions (e.g., 9.24; 12.1–4).
A few more texts deserve at least passing mention. In Deuteronomy 18.15–22, Moses promises that Yahweh will raise up a prophet like himself to guide the people. Although the context indicates that the text refers to all the prophets, later Judaism understood it to envision a prophet-messiah. The New Testament writers also know of this interpretation (Jn 1.21; Mt 16.14; 13.57).
The suffering and finally triumphant just man of Psalm 21 (22) is considered by some to be in the tradition of Isaia's suffering servant of Yahweh, but there is no idea of vicarious suffering for others in the Psalm. However, the Psalm's images are applied to the suffering Jesus by the Gospels (Mt 27.35, 43, 46; Mk 15.34; Jn 19.24).
Messianism in the New Testament
The messianic story is completed in the New Testament, where the Old Testament prophecies' fulfillment is affirmed in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.
Use of Old Testament Prophecies. The New Testament writers never raised the question whether the Old Testament prophecies envisaged Christ's mystery literally and in every detail; they simply situated Christ's words and actions in the context of sacred history and thereby brought out the richest meanings of the ancient texts, which they then reapplied to the Christian mystery. Peter in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2.14–36), for example, repeatedly relates the events to which he bears witness to the appropriate places in the Prophets and Psalms and gains greater knowledge thereby of the objects of his witnessing.
This process of enlightenment is not merely a movement from the prophecies to the realized visions, so that the Apostles could then recognize the reality. The reality, rather, is observed first—Jesus on the cross, in the tomb, resurrected, on the road to Damascus. Only then did the Apostles turn back from the reality's clearness to the prophecy's obscurity to see in it a deeper meaning, which in turn they again related to their experience to discover in it a greater depth of mystery.
This type of elucidation was most valid and appealing to the early Jewish Christians who were steeped in the sacred themes of the Old Testament. It was not a well-controlled method of literal and historical analysis; its looseness and freedom are at times shocking to minds trained in the exact methods of scientific criticism. But one cannot legitimately demand that the norms of modern exegesis be applied to religious teachers who were men of God and not literary and historical critics. Thus, to give but one example, Luke's summary of Peter's sermon (Acts 2.27) is not to be considered at fault for using the Greek text of Psalm 15 (16).9–10 rather than its Hebrew original, which is much less meaningful for believers in the Resurrection.
The Apostles' message was living and organic; it grew and adapted itself to various needs under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in the secure awareness that they had been sent by Jesus to proclaim His mystery to the world. The validity of their use of prophecies rests not on an accurate and erudite knowledge of the Old Testament but on their divine commission as the new spokesmen for God and His Anointed; they were the new scribes,"instructed in the kingdom of heaven," who brought forth from their storeroom of memory and understanding, strengthened and enlightened by the risen Lord and His Spirit, things new and old (Mt 13.51–52; Lk 24.25–27).
Messianism in the Gospels. The four Gospels were the product of three sources that developed homogeneously and are still apparent in the final works. First, there was Jesus Himself, His words, deeds, and triumph as they were remembered by His disciples; then, the Apostles who, through the light of the Spirit and in the context of their post-Resurrection experiences as gospel preachers and founders of Christian churches, gradually came to a deeper understanding of what they had seen and heard of the Word of Life, and to a firmer grasp of the nature of the Kingdom that the Lord governed through them from heaven; and finally, the Gospel writers themselves who adapted the already developed message to their particular purposes. By keeping this development in mind, one may more accurately understand the Gospels' messianism.
Inaugural Proclamation of the Messiah. The accounts of the baptism, temptation, and hidden life of Christ are full of messianic allusions and affirmations that proclaim Jesus to be God's beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. He can cleanse man with the Holy Spirit that He received through the newly opened heavens because He has accepted His solidarity with sinful man, although He is innocent, by undergoing the penitential rite of John's baptism (Mk 1.8–11; Mt 3.13–15). The references to Isaiah's Suffering Servant are clear.
In the Fourth Gospel, in the context of His baptism, Jesus is heralded as the Lord for whom the Baptist prepares the way; God's Lamb or Servant, the Elect, who takes away the world's sin by baptizing with the Holy Spirit; the Teacher who is the source of all wisdom; the Messiah-Rock who has power to name His chief Apostle, the Rock; the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets; Israel's King and God's Son; and finally, the Son of Man whose divine glory is manifested for the first time by the changing of water into wine (John 1.23–2.11).
In the temptation narratives, Jesus is described as the true and faithful Israel who fulfills the ideals of Deuteronomy 8.3; 6.16, 13 in conquering the major temptations to which the old Israel succumbed in the desert, thus showing His filial obedience and confidence in God and manifesting Himself as the perfect human creature whom the angels serve. He is the new Adam who conquers Satan and remains faithful to the Creation covenant; He is the new Moses who leads mankind into a new paradise where man is at ease with wild beasts and angels (Mt 4.1–11; Lk 3.23, 38; 4.1–13; Mk 1.12–13). see temptations of jesus.
In Matthew's Infancy Gospel, clear messianic titles are given Him: Son of David and Abraham; the Christ; Jesus, the Savior of His people; Emmanuel, God with us; King of the Jews, honored by Gentiles who bring Him gifts; and Israel, God's Son called out of Egypt (Mt 1.1, 16, 21–22; 2.2–11, 15). In Luke's parallel Gospel the post-Resurrectional titles given Jesus are Son of God, the Lord, Savior, Christ the Lord, the Christ of the Lord, and a contradicted Sign (Lk 1.35, 43; 2.11, 26, 34).
These conceptions of Jesus stem from the reality of His Passion and victory over death, sin, and the Prince of This World, the devil. They proclaim more than just an historical Jesus who was a wise teacher of the best the Jews had to offer but who ran afoul of corrupt official Judaism and Roman power and, after His execution for rebellion, was remembered with such longing by His disciples that they accepted the revelation of His Resurrection. This Jesus is the end and meaning of all the long history of salvation and His total mystery is proclaimed at the very opening of the Gospels in a setting that evokes all of Yahweh's faithful promises to Israel. The inaugural message, therefore, stems in its fullness from the post-Resurrection period when the Holy Spirit was teaching Jesus' Apostles "all the truth" (Jn 16.13).
The Messianic Secret. The common people to whom Jesus proclaimed His preliminary gospel longed for a warrior king who would deliver Israel from foreign domination. Since Jesus knew His messiahship had a different purpose, He commanded the demons not to make known His messianic character (Mk 1.25, 34; 3.12). He also wanted the cured not to broadcast His miracles (Mk 1.44;5.43; 7.36; 8.26), and He even imposed silence about His messiahship on the Apostles until He had risen from the dead (Mk 8.30; 9.9).
His message was veiled of necessity because His audience could not have understood it and would have misinterpreted its meaning (Jn 6.15, 26; Mt 10.27), and because He had not completed His messianic office by the time of His death and Resurrection. He thus used enigmatic symbols that excited curiosity in the well disposed, but discouraged the enthusiasm of nationalists and disaffected the culpably indocile (Mt 13.13).
The messianic secret was not manufactured by the Evangelists; it corresponded to the historical reality but was emphasized by Mark to give force to the Christian confession of faith that he attributed to the Roman soldier at Jesus' death, "'Truly this man was the Son of God"' (Mk 15.39). Mark's words thereby also seem to indicate that the true evaluation of Jesus' messiahship will come only when the gospel has been preached to the Gentiles who will accept Him as their Savior (Mk 5.18–20; and note that according to Mk 16.7, the risen Jesus is to appear to the Disciples in Galilee, the "District of the Gentiles"; see also Jn 4.25–26, 39–42). The mysterious Messiah then is really God's Son, the Lord Jesus, enthroned at God's right hand, who confirms the Apostles' preaching of the Word in the whole world by acting in them and through them by the miracles they perform (Mk 16.19; although the verse is probably not from Mark, it is of Apostolic origin, an inspired part of Scripture, and an apt ending for the Gospel of the messianic secret).
The Suffering Servant of God. When Peter had acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah, and after Jesus had sternly commanded that the Disciples were not to reveal this secret, He then began to teach them openly and clearly that the Son of Man must suffer and be killed and arise again after three days. Peter reacted by rebuking Him for saying such a thing. In His turn, Jesus rebuked Peter for not understanding God's plan and for impeding its fulfillment by his human aspirations (Mk 8.27–33). Peter's misconception, coming immediately after his messianic confession, shows that even the closest followers did not understand the nature of Jesus' messiahship— that He was the Suffering Servant of God who would die for man's sin in order to enter into His glory. Despite the clear teaching (Mk 8.32a, 34–38; 9.9–13, 30–32;10.32–34; 12.1–12; 14.7–8), the disciples did not grasp the meaning of Jesus' words until after He had been crucified and had risen (Lk 24.2527). After the Resurrection, however, the expiatory death and consequent triumph of Jesus became the main theme of the Apostolic preaching and was especially emphasized by St. Paul (1 Cor1.17–25; Rom 3.25–26; 5.6–9).
The Son of Man. Jesus preferred to call Himself by this title, often using it in contexts of humiliation (Mt 8:20; 11.19; 17.22; 20.28) but also when He proclaimed His eschatological victory (Mt 17.9; 24.30; 25.31). It was used, therefore, to signify both His lowly, human condition and His transcendent nature as the king of God's final Kingdom (Mt 26.64). Jesus thus controlled the gradual revelation of His messianic character by the evolution of the title's meaning into the son of man at the right hand of God. This movement is parallel to the succinct but profound expression of Christ's mystery in Philippians 2.5–11 that terminates in the most transcendent title of all: Jesus is the Lord, i.e., Yahweh Himself.
Bibliography: l. dennefeld, Dictionnarie de théologie catholique 10.2:1404–1568. a. gelin, Dictionnaire de la Bible 5:1165–1212, Encycopaedic Dictionary of the Bible 1511–25, esp. bibliog. l. cerfaux et al., L'Attente du Messie (Paris 1954). p. f. ceuppens, De prophetiis Messianicis in A. T. (Rome 1935). p. ellis, The Men and Message of the Old Testament (Collegeville 1962). p. heinisch, Christ in Prophecy, tr. w. g. heidt (Collegeville 1956); Theology of the Old Testament, tr. w. g. heidt (Collegeville 1955) para. 49–53. m. j. lagrange, Le Messianisme chez les Juifs (Paris 1909); Le Judïisme avant Jesus-Christ (Paris 1931). e. massaux et al., La Venue du Messie (Paris 1962). s. mowinckel, He That Cometh, tr. g. w. anderson (Nashville 1956).
[m. j. cantley]