[stained glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany: the baptism of Jesus by John]
In our Sunday Bible study class we are going through the Gospel according to Mark. I asked the question, “What does the name ‘Messiah’ mean?” We got some good answers for a basic start. Here’s a little more.
Why am I offering you further explanation of the title ‘Messiah.’? It’s important, very important to who Jesus is. Also, understanding the significance of the title is important to answering another question we worked through in Sunday Bible study – more about that second question in a few moments.
Why is the title Messiah important? Jesus is referred to as the Messiah more than 500 times within the space of the last 27 books of the Bible. After Jesus arrives in History this important title is offered to no one else. We are warned about following ‘false messiahs,’ but He is the One the Scripture sets forward as the Messiah.
500 plus times the NT refers to Jesus by the title Messiah. If we evenly distributed this title across the NT, then the title Messiah would appear at least once on every page of the NT. In fact, the messianic role Jesus fills is indeed referred to on nearly every page of the New Covenant portion of Scripture (the NT).
The opening sentence serves as a title to the whole work – “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…” Mark is not working on the premise that he must prove that Jesus is the Messiah. Mark approaches the biography of Jesus’ life more along the lines of showing how amazingly and how beautifully Jesus fills the role of Messiah. He states the purpose for his short book in the first sentence – to see who Jesus is – the Messiah.
So then, what is the basic meaning of the title Messiah? It simple means “Anointed.” What is the significance of that? In the centuries before Jesus arrived there had been a long practice of anointing with oil the head of someone being installed in an important leadership role. That’s the significance of the anointing and that’s the significance of the title Messiah – leadership, leadership under God’s approving authority.
In the OT a priest, a prophet or a king might be anointed at their initiation ceremony. The anointing ceremony was an external way of showing that as they entered their leadership role they placed themselves under God’s authority and under His Spirit’s empowerment. We see this anointing with water at the Baptism of Jesus by John.
Thus, the title Messiah is explicitly connected with the idea of leadership, especially that of regal leadership. The Jewish Talmud uses the title this way: “Melech Mesiach” which means King Messiah.
Simply put, Jesus takes on the role of King, not like an earthly king who sweeps across his Kingdom with blunt force or a controlling hierarchy. Jesus comes into History as a King, a leader, who rules with such a persuasive power that He offers those in His Kingdom a way to live under His leadership with grace. He rules with grace. Sounds like an oxymoron, a contradiction? Could this possibly work – ruling with grace?
Jesus, we see is not at this time, a warrior-king, but a priestly king who prophesies Good News. He is the King, the Messiah, who acts as our priest and ultimate prophet.
Now to that second question I mentioned.
“How does the Kingdom of God rush in at the opening of Mark’s Gospel?”
We looked at several ways the Kingdom of God rushes in when Jesus arrives. In a matter of just a few days (in Mark 1 and 2) Jesus spreads healing and hope across a landscape of people who are oppressed both internally and externally. The news spreads in all directions. The crowds move in. In the OT the Gospel unfolds, but in the NT…
the Gospel of the Kingdom E X P L O D E S!
The title Messiah in the first sentence of Mark’s Gospel signals that a king, the Christ (the Greek word for Messiah), has arrived and He comes to restore His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God in the opening scenes of this Gospel rushes in. It rushes in not just across the physical landscape, but across the spiritual landscape. He is casting out evil spirits and offering forgiveness for sin (deadly effects of Man’s Fall from grace).
As Messiah King, Jesus rushes in to change His Kingdom from the inside out. Read Mark chapters 1 and 2 and you will see this. From the inside out – no human king has been able to do this. All earthly kings rule with external force or layers of control.
Jesus is a king whose leadership provokes healing from the inside out and without heavy handedness. He rules with grace. His grace rushes in. Grace is no more vivid and authentic than in the person who is willing to give up whatever it takes to make someone else better. Jesus puts His life on the line right from the start (more about how that next week). Eventually He dies for His people.
To many onlookers that sounds like a failed attempt to save the world. But remember Jesus, this true and perfect Messiah, rules His Kingdom with grace. No act of true grace comes without a sacrifice greater than the benefits it restores. His death – like a seed that “dies” in the womb of the earth and rises up to yield abundant life – yields New Life, not merely for Himself, but for all who come to stand under the waterfall His forgiveness.
There is more I could say on this rich topic, but for now let me offer you a fresh way of reading the opening sentence, the title to the Gospel of Mark.
“The blossoming of the Good News about King Jesus…”
Do you know Him in this way?
Note: My aim in this short essay did not include wrestling with whether Jesus is or is not the Messiah. I am assuming that you come to this discussion with the belief that He is the Messiah God promised. If you have questions about whether He is or not I am glad to talk with you more about that. Just ask and I will point you to resources that give clear answers to why He is the Messiah.