I’d like to share a quote from a book I picked up a couple weeks ago. I still haven’t decided whether or not I like Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill, but it has given me several things to think about. For example, there is an interesting footnote to page 50, in which the author discusses the shift from approaching Christianity through a “Jewish conceptual framework” to a Greco-Roman view that disconnected Christianity from its Jewish roots.
By the time of Constantine, Jesus was already shedding his Jewishness; and the Greek word Christos (Christ), meaning ‘Anointed One,” a translation of the Hebrew mashiach (messiah), had become in effect Jesus’s surname.
The problem with this is that treating “Christ” simply as a surname can make us lose sight of an important aspect of Who He is and what He was sent to do. His names have meaning, but too often we pay no more attention to those meanings than we would to the fact that the names John Doe mean “God is gracious” and “a female deer.”
Christ, the Anointed, is a title that God gave Jesus. It is so important that it quickly became part of His name — the name “Jesus Christ” is used 198 times in the New Testament and “Christ Jesus” 58 times. “Lord and Christ” is how Peter referred to Jesus in his Acts 2 sermon.
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36).
Looking For a Messiah
Having read from the scriptures we know as the Old Testament (some were discussed in this post last week), the Jews of Christ’s day were expecting an Anointed Savior to appear from the Lord. When Andrew (who became one of the 12 disciples) first met Jesus, he said, ““We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ)” (Jn. 1:41, NKJV). Even the Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke with at the well said, ““I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things” (Jn 4:25, NKJV). In reply, Jesus said, “I who speak to you am He.”
The fact that the Jews were expecting the Messiah — the Lord’s Anointed, or masiyach (H4899) — is why He is referred to as “the Christ” seventeen times in the gospels. It is why John’s Gospel was written, so “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (Jn. 20:31).
What Was He Anointed to Do?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
This scripture is one Jesus chose to read as He taught in the synagog at Nazareth on the Sabbath. After reading it, He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). Quoted from Isaiah 61, this mission is what His anointing included. Here in Luke and Acts 10:38 are the only places I’ve been able to find where the word “anoint” is used this way in the NT, but I think it is safe to say that the anointing Jesus received from God included other roles, such as High Priest (Heb. 5:1-10).
If we forget the meanings contained in Jesus’s names, we lose sight of much more than just the Jewish roots of our faith. The fact that Jesus is the Christ, the One chosen and Anointed by God, is one of the founding principles of our faith, and should not be ignored if we seek to follow and honor Him.