by David A. Reed COMPLETE BOOK ONLINE
I am tempted to leave the pages of this chapter blank, except for a single sentence urging readers to close the book now, turn on their stereo, and insert a CD presenting a complete performance of Handel's Messiah. George Frederick Handel accompanied the story of Christ with the musical power, majesty, and tender emotion that it deserves. But he also let Scripture speak throughout the performance; Handel's lyrics were taken directly from the Bible, word for word. His classic masterpiece begins with Isaiah's prophecy of a gospel message, or message of good news, coming to Jerusalem:
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. ... O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!" (Isaiah 40:1-2, 9 KJV)
And Handel concluded the Messiah with words from the Apostle John's Apocalypse depicting Christ as a sacrificial lamb raised from the dead to glory in heaven:
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. ... Blessing, and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. ... Amen." (Revelation 5:12-14 KJV)
There is some overlapping between the story of the Messiah and the story of the Promised Seed, because they both end up being fulfilled by the same person, Jesus Christ. As noted in the chapter of this book titled "Promised Seed," the New Testament documents the genealogy of Jesus' lineage back to the house of David, both through his mother Mary and through his adoptive father Joseph. (Matt. 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38). This is a critical factor in identifying him as the fulfillment of the promise.
That is because our English word Messiah comes from a Hebrew word of like pronunciation which means "anointed one." The word Christ comes, similarly, from a Greek word for "anointed one." Both terms originally referred to a king chosen by God, because the first Israelite kings were designated as rulers when God's prophet anointed them by ceremonially pouring oil over their heads. The promised Messiah would, himself, be a future king, one descended from the ancient kings of Israel.
For a few hundred years after their exodus from Egypt, right up until around 1000 B.C., the Jews lived in the Promised Land under a loose, decentralized form of tribal government. They had no king. Each tribe had its elders, and these handled any judicial cases that could not be cared for by local village elders and heads of families. Whenever the twelve tribes needed to be take action on some matter that transcended tribal linessuch as national defense in the face of invading armiesGod raised up a "judge" as an ad hoc ruler.
The Bible book titled "Judges" contains the record of Jewish history during this period. Moses' commander general and eventual successor Joshua was the first judge. Gideon, Deborah and Samson are other names that stand out among the judges. But, eventually the people began to complain that they needed a king to rule over them, like the nations round about.
The prophet Samuel then received instructions from God to anoint Israel's first king. He was sent to the family of "Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power." (1 Samuel 9:1 KJV) When the Lord revealed to Samuel that his choice was Kish's son Saul, "Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, 'Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?'" (1 Samuel 10:1 NIV)
However, Saul later proved unfaithful, and God had Samuel anoint David, son of Jesse, to succeed him. Sheep herder Jesse brought seven of his sons before the prophet, one by one, but left the youngest to watch the sheep. Yet it turned out to be this one that God had chosen. "The LORD said, 'Arise, anoint him; for this is he.' Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. ... Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul." (1 Samuel 16:12-14 RSV) So David, too, was a Messiah or anointed one. Kings in David's line continued to rule in Jerusalem for generations, some of them faithful to God, but others unfaithful as Saul had been.
Throughout that period inspired prophets pointed forward to a time when the ultimate Messiah would come, a Messiah who would not need a successor, because he would live forever and his rulership would last forever. First, though, he would be killed, and would rise again, immortal, and would eventually take power to rule the whole world in righteousness, on into eternity.
A hint of the coming Messiah was provided by the prophet Nathan who gave this divine revelation to David:
"'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'" (2 Sam. 7:11-16 NIV)
David's son Solomon succeeded his father and built the temple in Jerusalem. But God's promise of someone from the house of David ruling "forever" was not fulfilled in Solomon, nor was God's reference to a future king who would be "my son." Kings from the house of David ruled in Jerusalem for nearly four hundred years, but around 600 B.C. that rule was interrupted when the neo-Babylonian empire took the city and destroyed the temple. From that point onward faithful Jews looked to God to send them a son of David who would restore the kingdom in Jerusalem. They began hoping for the promised Messiah.
Daniel wrote: "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined." (Daniel 9:26-26 KJV)
Isaiah foretold many details about this promised Messiah:
He would be born of a Virgin: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isa. 7:14 KJV)
His ministry would be largely in Galilee: "Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isa. 9:1-2 NIV)
He would become earth's ruler forever: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this." (Isa. 9:6-7 KJV)
He would be descended from Jesse, king David's father: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD 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 the LORD." (Isa. 11:1-2 KJV)
People from non-Jewish nations would turn to him and glorify him: "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious." (Isa. 11:10 KJV)
Meek and gentle, his teachings would bring hope and the light of God's law to the non-Jewish nations: "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. ... I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." (Isa. 42:1-7 KJV)
He would be rejected by the Jewish people: "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isa. 53:2-3 KJV)
He would be scourged and, by God's arrangement, would take the sins of mankind upon himself: "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isa. 53:4-6 KJV)
He would be put to death for the sins of mankind, like a sacrificial lamb: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken." (Isa. 53:7-8 KJV)
He would be buried in a rich man's grave: "And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither [was any] deceit in his mouth." (Isa. 53:9 KJV)
His sacrificial death would free others from their sins: "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put his to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin ... the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. ... he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isa. 53:10-12 KJV)
Other biblical prophets were similarly inspired to add further details about the promised Messiah:
He would be born in Bethlehem, and would be stuck on the face: "They will strike Israel's ruler on the cheek with a rod. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:1-2 NIV)
He would be nailed up to die, with the executioners dividing his clothing: "the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." (Ps. 22:16-18 KJV)
Besides foretelling Jerusalem's role in the Bible's end times scenario, the prophet Zechariah also foretold several additional details concerning the Messiah's life and death:
He would be humble and would present himself to Jerusalem by arriving seated on a donkey: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." (Zech. 9:9 KJV)
He would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, which would be thrown into the temple and used to buy the potter's field: "And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD. " (Zech. 11:12-13 KJV)
So, the promised Messiah would be descended from the house of David, yet would somehow also be the son of God. He would be born in Bethlehem, the child of a virgin, would preach in Galillee, would arrive in Jerusalem seated on a donkey, but would be rejected, beaten, stripped, and nailed up to die like a criminal. His betrayer would be paid thirty pieces of silver. He would rise again, immortal, and would be accepted and glorified by non-Jewish peoples around the world.
Jesus of Nazareth fit every detail of the prophetic discription, but only a small minority of the Jewish people accepted him as their promised Messiah. These Jews who rejoiced at the "gospel," or message of good news, formed the nucleus of congregations meeting to share encouragement. As predicted, Gentiles too accepted the message, and they soon outnumbered the Messianic Jewish believers. Unable to read Hebrew, most of these Gentile believers heard or read the message in the then universal Greek language and referred to themselves as followers of "Christ." It was in such a mixed congregation of Jewish and Gentile converts in Antioch that the disciples were first called "Christians." (Acts 11:26)