Jesus Christ is the central figure whom the Old Testament foreshadows and the New Testament proclaims as prophecy become fact. It is accordingly of first importance to understand the biblical portrayal of the Messiah (Heb. masiah
; Gk. Christos
, from chrio
, to anoint), whom God has anointed to redeem his people and creation.
A key passage that summarizes the risen Christ's own interpretation of his completed messiahship is the Emmaus saying of Luke 24:25-27
: "'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." In Luke's abbreviated account abstracted from a longer and more detailed story circulated among eyewitnesses in the early church, Jesus claims the Old Testament as prelude to his role as the Christ/Messiah, highlighting his redemptive suffering and triumphal glorification. He attests the continuity of the old and the new and invites his followers to see "in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Jesus also promises that his disciples will receive the gift of reliable remembrance and accurate interpretation ("All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" John 14:25-26
; 15:26-27 ).
Old Testament Images of Christ . In the Old Testament anointing with oil was associated with the Lord's appointing a person to the office of priest, king, or prophet to save and preserve Israel. To fill the priestly office Moses was directed by the Lord to anoint Aaron and his sons: "anoint them and ordain them. Consecrate them so that they may serve me as priests" (Exodus 28:41
). For the kingly office Samuel anointed Saul and said, "Has not the Lord anointed you leader over his inheritance?" (1 Samuel 10:1
). After Saul's failure, the Lord commanded Samuel to anoint David: "So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power" (1 Samuel 16:13
). King and priest were anointed together at the formal installation of Solomon as king and Zadok as priest (Matthew 21:28-31
). Of Solomon, the Chronicler remarks, "The Lord highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him royal splendor such as no king over Israel ever had before" (1 Chronicles 29:25
). These texts underscore several composite characteristics of the messianic figure. As king, he is appointed by the Lord and in being separated for service receives the powerful Spirit of the Lord, reigns over the people of the Lord, and serves them by delivering them from the hand of their enemies (cf. Psalm 2:1-12
). As priest, he is clothed with salvation for the joy of the saints as he atones for the people's sins (cf. Psalm 132:16
). These typological offices notably describe Jesus' royal messiahship, which inaugurates the saving reign of God by the anointing of the Spirit and the invasion of satanic territory. They also describe his priestly office in atoning for the sins of the people by his suffering as the final and perfect sacrifice, accompanied by majesty and glory. These are the themes Jesus encapsulates in his Emmaus address.
The prophets, too, were anointed, and Jesus fulfills their role as the superior messianic prophet. To Elijah God gives the command, "and anoint Elisha ... to succeed as prophet" (1 Kings 19:16
b). God says of his anointed prophets, "Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm" (Psalm 105:15
). In the prophetic literature Isaiah foresees the coming of a royal servant figure who will embody the true Israel and gather to himself not only sinful Israel but will be a light to the nations of the Gentiles as well. He will be a despised servant ruler before whom kings and princes will prostrate themselves (Isaiah 49:5-7
), a figure who will take prey from the mighty (vv. 24-25) as Jesus will invade demonic strongholds and plunder Satan's goods (Matthew 12:28-29
). The messianic servant will make himself an offering for sin and make many to be accounted righteous; he will bear their iniquities and so be glorified and divide the spoil with the strong because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53 ). Jesus as anointed Messiah embodies these royal and priestly functions and consciously sets his vision on fulfilling Old Testament suffering and glorification typologies in the cross and resurrection (Matthew 16:21
). At the failure of the princely and priestly shepherd of Israel Ezekiel prophesies that the Lord God himself will come as shepherd: "As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep... I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice" (34:12,15-16). Jesus similarly uses the personal pronoun "I" in claiming to fulfill Ezekiel's prophecy: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11
). Daniel foresees one like a Son of man who receives from the Ancient of Days authority, glory, and sovereign power and an everlasting dominion that will never pass away (Daniel 7:13-14
). Jesus claims to be the Son of man who has authority as Lord of the Sabbath and of the endtimes (Matthew 12:3-7
; 16:21-28 ). Haggai foretells the glorious overthrow of the kingdoms of the nations with their chariots and riders by the victorious servant king anointed by the Lord of hosts (2:21-23); Jesus claims to be the victorious king of the kingdom of God who is binding Satan by the power of the Spirit (Matthew 12:28-29
). Zechariah foresees the coming victorious king, humble and riding on an ass, whose dominion will be from sea to sea, who will set the captives free by the blood of the covenant (9:9-11); Jesus fulfills the prophecy with his ministry of passion and promise of final redemption and judgment (Matthew 21:1-46
; 24:27-31 ; 26:26-29 ).
Images of Christ in the Gospels . Jesus evinces a characteristic eschatological power that reveals his messianic self-understanding: in him the reign of God is personified; he is acting as the anointed agent in a powerful invasion to rescue Satan's prisoners, one by one.
The parables of the kingdom shed further light on Jesus' Christology of inaugurated eschatology, since a true metaphor is more than a sign because it bears the reality to which it refers. The following sayings describe Jesus' messianic understanding as he sees the power of God at work in his own ministry and in those who accept him. In the parable of the children in the marketplace (Matthew 11:16-19
) Jesus declares with authority his right to invite outcasts to open table fellowship, thereby going beyond nationalist and ethnic interests to include all who will eat with this friend of tax collectors and sinners (implicitly fulfilling the vision of Isaiah 49:5-13
). In the twin parables of the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46
) Jesus describes the surprise and joy of discovering and acquiring great treasure, implying that the saving reign of God is present to be discovered and acquired. Only one who is supremely confident that he is anointed to speak with divine authority could make such a radical announcement. Astounding is Jesus' announcement that forgiveness of sins is present in response to himself, and still more startling is that lost Gentile sinners (including Jews who have made themselves like Gentiles) are forgiven and welcomed into table fellowship. In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32
) the reprobate who has become like a Gentile is forgiven and restored to the father's table, in reversal of traditional theology that the son was "dead."
We need to ask what opinion Jesus must have had of himself to speak as he did against the traditional viewpoint of religious authority. Jesus exhibits a decisive Christology that exceeds the messianic views of Judaism. Jesus appears to speak as the voice of God in announcing the inauguration of the eschatological time when the unforgivable sinner is forgiven. No other explanation can satisfactorily account for the phenomenon (the rejecting Pharisees, on the other hand, see Jesus as demonically possessed and heretically mad, Matthew 12:24
). The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:3-10
) bear out the same theme of searching, finding, and rejoicing that characterizes Jesus' inauguration of the messianic time of salvation, as do the parables of the great supper (Matthew 22:1-14
; Luke 14:16-24
) and the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-9
), which emphasize the importance of immediate decision. So also the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16
), the two sons (1 Chronicles 29:22
), and the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14
a), which note that preconceived ideas may blind one to the present challenge. The good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37
), the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35
), the tower builder and the king going to war (Luke 14:28-32
) describe the necessary response to the challenge; the friend at midnight (or importunate friend, Luke 11:5-8
) and the unjust judge (the importuned judge, Luke 18:1-8
) underscore the importance of confidence in God in the present messianic moment and of "pestering" God with petitions.
The critical consensus of those sayings that imply Jesus' messianic self-understanding also includes his appeal to discipleship, typical of which is Luke 9:62
: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." Scholars note "the radical nature of the demand, " in view of which it should be asked what sort of person would make such a claim except one who is certain of his divine calling and the presence of God's reign in his ministry. While the idiom of entering the kingdom of God is found in both Judaism and the early church, Jesus' attitude toward riches and the kingdom is more radical than that of the rabbis. Jesus says, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:23
b, 25 ). The saying would lead one to conclude that the challenge of the proclamation arises from the intention of Jesus the proclaimer. In making such an absolute demand of his hearers, Jesus implies that he considers himself absolutely worth following. This is borne out in the unusual saying of Luke 9:60
, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God"; and the exhortation of Matthew 7:13
a (cf. Luke 13:24
), "Enter through the narrow gate ... , " which underscores the radical nature of Jesus' demand and points to his sense of messianic confidence. A similar point is made in the saying in Luke 14:11
, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted, " which implies that only one who is conscious of speaking with the authority of God can announce that all must and will be in accordance with the values of God.
The sayings of Jesus agreed on by a consensus of scholars as historically authentic continue with three attitude utterances. In Mark 10:15
, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it, " Jesus presents the unforgettable image that one must bring to the announcement of the messianic activity of God the ready trust and instinctive obedience of a child. The originality of Jesus is implicit in the saying and can come only from one who is convinced that he has the authority to challenge traditional ways of thinking. Jesus' use of the personal pronoun "I" in the formula "I tell you the truth" lends additional weight not only to the demand but to the view that Jesus is indwelling the saying with an intentional authority as he understands himself to have the right to make demands that only God has the right to make. Matthew 5:39
b-41 also substitutes unusual teaching for the traditional Jewish understanding of the messianic age: "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." In this excerpt from Jesus' larger manual for mission in the Sermon on the Mount he is presenting the proper attitude of discipleship in the inaugurated age of evangelization when the disciples, following the example of their Messiah, place themselves at the disposal of sinners to bring them to salvation. Jesus does not emphasize personal rights or prudential self-interest but mission servanthood in this messianic endtime. The daring that motivates Jesus to contrast the present with the past and to place himself in authority over Moses indicates that he is speaking with divine authority. He claims to supersede the teachings of Moses by the formula, "You have heard that it was said ... But I tell you, " ( Matthew 5:21-22,27
-28,31-32,33-34,38-39,43-44 ) as he presses to the intent of the Law in preparing the disciples for the mission of the messianic age.
Yet another of the contrasts generally accepted as genuine is Jesus' saying, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44
). This mandate for mission implies that Jesus consciously mediates messianic love in his word of forgiveness and table fellowship with sinners. Internal attitudes are emphasized more intensely by Jesus in the new messianic time than they were in the Old Testament typologies: "Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean'" (Mark 7:15
). This saying goes against the grain of rabbinic and sectarian Judaism by insisting that it is one's own attitudes and behavior, not external practices relating to foods, which defile a person. It is one of the most remarkable statements of Jesus and is coherent with Jesus' attitude and behavior toward tax collectors and sinners. When the saying is placed in the context of Jesus' inaugurated kingdom proclamation, one sees that the kingly Messiah requires a new attitude and conversion of thought in regard to himself. There is no longer clean and unclean according to the old typologies of food and ethnic priorities, but equality between Jew and Gentile through the far-reaching forgiveness of the Messiah that brings inner transformation. By forgiving sinners and by fellowshiping with them in joyous feasting Jesus personifies the kingly messianic activity of God. Thus the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our sins, as we ourselves herewith forgive everyone who has sinned against us" implies not only the presence of forgiveness in Jesus the Messiah but acknowledges that his disciples are to carry on the messianic mission by sharing the good news of forgiveness with others.
The texts examined above imply the present work of the Messiah. A number of "consensus" passages also imply confidence in the future dimension of the Messiah's inaugurated work. The parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-9
) contrasts the small amount of seed and the bountiful harvest. Forgiveness and table fellowship, like the seed, are planted and taking root and anticipate rich blessings to come as the fruition of Jesus' messianic work. Only one who is supremely self-confident about what is coming to pass through his present words and Acts, and about what will be brought to fruition in the future, could utter such sayings as those of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32
), the leaven (Matthew 13:33
), the seed growing of itself (Mark 4:26-29
), the petition "your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10
), and the prophecy "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, IsaActs and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11
). What is remarkable about all these sayings is the implied declaration of small beginnings, big endings. Already seeds are being sown and are taking root, bread is rising, the reign of God is inaugurated, the banquet has already begun as converted sinners begin to feast at the gracious Messiah's table, and all will be brought to fulfillment at the end of the age.
Jesus claims that in his ministry both the prophetic and wisdom traditions of the Old Testament are superseded: "and now one greater than Jonah is here ... , now one greater than Solomon is here" (Matthew 12:41-42
). He says to his hearers, "But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it" (Matthew 13:17
). Jesus sees himself as the Messiah who inaugurates the reign of God and phases out the old era of the prophets represented by John the Baptist. In a passage that is distinctly messianic, John the Baptist, hearing in prison what Christ was doing, inquires of Jesus through his disciples, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Matthew 11:2-3
). Jesus presents as evidence his works of miracles and preaching and remarks, "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it" (Matthew 11:11-12
). The new and forceful arrival of the redemptive reign of God is embodied in the ministry of Jesus, who binds Satan and plunders his stronghold, releasing his prisoners: "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless his first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house" (Matthew 12:28-29
). In these declarations of messianic intention Jesus shows that he is conscious of being the stronger man who, with the Father and the Spirit, is despoiling satanic power and redeeming prisoners from spiritual bondage.
Peter is inspired by the Father to utter an affirmation of Jesus' messiahship: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16
). In this confession Jesus is affirmed as divine through the title "Son of the living God" and as the Christ who fulfills the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus then discloses that he is the suffering Messiah whose work will culminate in his death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21
), countermanding Peter's objections that stem from the traditional view of messiahship as something tied to ethnic and nationalistic aspirations. The older typology is condemned as obsolete, and even as demonic ("Get behind me, Satan!"), now that Christ has come in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Matthew 16:22-23
). Yet, while Jesus has inaugurated the messianic age and his mission is unfolding, the time is not yet ripe for a full declaration of his identity until he has completed his redemptive work. Hence the significance of the messianic secret voiced in Matthew 16:20
. When his role as Christ draws to fulfillment during the final days in Jerusalem, he increasingly claims the space of the religious leaders by exegeting them into silence (Matthew 22:41-46
). To the Pharisees he puts t