The Greek form Messias is a transliteration of the Hebrew, Messiah, "the anointed". The word appears only twice of the promised prince (Daniel 9:26; Psalm 2:2); yet, when a name was wanted for the promised one, who was to be at once King and Saviour, it was natural to employ this synonym for the royal title, denoting at the same time the King's royal dignity and His relation to God. The full title "Anointed of Jahveh" occurs in several passages of the Psalms of Solomon and the Apocalypse of Baruch, but the abbreviated form, "Anointed" or "the Anointed", was in common use. When used without the article, it would seem to be a proper name. The word Christos so occurs in several passages of the Gospels. This, however, is no proof that the word was generally so used at that time. In the Palestine Talmud the form with the article is almost universal, while the common use in the Babylonian Talmud without the article is not a sufficient argument for antiquity to prove that in the time of Christ it was regarded as a proper name. It is proposed in the present article:I, to give an outline of the prophetic utterances concerning the Messiah;
II, to show the development of the prophetic ideas in later Judaism; and
III, to show how Christ vindicated His right to this title.
I. THE MESSIAH OF PROPHECY
The earlier prophecies to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 18:17-19; 26:4-5) speak merely of the salvation that shall come through their seed. Later the royal dignity of the promised deliverer becomes the prominent feature. He is described as a king of the line of Jacob (Numbers 24:19), of Juda (Genesis 49:10: "The sceptre shall not pass from Juda until he comes to whom it belongs"), and of David (II Kings 7:11-16). It is sufficiently established that this last passage refers at least typically to the Messiah. His kingdom shall be eternal (II Kings 7:13), His sway boundless (Psalm 71:8); all nations shall serve Him (Psalm 71:11). In the type of prophecy we are considering, the emphasis is on His position as a national hero. It is to Israel and Juda that He will bring salvation (Jeremiah 23:6), triumphing over their enemies by force of arms (cf. the warrior-king of Psalm 45). Even in the latter part of Isaias there are passages (e.g. 61:5-8) in which other nations are regarded as sharing in the kingdom rather as servants than as heirs, while the function of the Messiah is to lift up Jerusalem to its glory and lay the foundations of an Israelitic theocracy.
But in this part of Isaias also occurs the splendid conception of the Messiah as the Servant of Jahveh. He is a chosen arrow, His mouth like a sharp sword. The Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon Him, and His word is put into His mouth (42:1; 49:1 sq.). The instrument of His power is the revelation of Jahveh. The nations wait on His teaching; He is the light of the Gentiles (42:6). He establishes His Kingdom not by manifestation of material power, but by meekness and suffering, by obedience to the command of God in laying down His life for the salvation of many. "If he shall lay down his life for sin, he shall see a posterity and prolong his days" (53:10); "Therefore will I distribute to him very many, and he shall divide the spoils of the strong, because he hath delivered his soul unto death, and was reputed with the wicked" (53:12). His Kingdom shall consist of the multitude redeemed by His vicarious satisfaction, a satisfaction confined to no race or time but offered for the redemption of all alike. (For the Messianic application of these passages, especially Isaiah 52:13 to 53, cf. Condamin or Knabenbauer, in loc.) In spite, however, of Justin's use of the last-mentioned passage in "Dial. cum Tryphone", 89, it would be rash to affirm that its reference to the Messiah was at all widely realized among the Jews. In virtue of his prophetic and priestly offices the title of "the Anointed" naturally belonged to the promised one. The Messianic priest is described by David in Psalm 109, with reference to Genesis 14:14-20. That this psalm was generally understood in a Messianic sense is not disputed, while the universal consent of the Fathers puts the matter beyond question for Catholics. As regards its Davidic authorship, the arguments impugning it afford no warrant for an abandonment of the traditional view. That by the prophet described in Deuteronomy 18:15-22, was also understood, at least at the beginning of our era, the Messiah is clear from the appeal to his gift of prophecy made by the pseudo-Messiah Theudas (cf. Josephus, "Antiq.", XX, v. 1) and the use made of the passage by St. Peter in Acts 3:22-23.
Special importance attaches to the prophetic description of the Messiah contained in Daniel 7, the great work of later Judaism, on account of its paramount influence upon one line of the later development of Messianic Doctrine. In it the Messiah is described as "like to a Son of Man", appearing at the right hand of Jahveh in the clouds of heaven, inaugurating the new age, not by a national victory or by vicarious satisfaction, but by exercising the Divine right of judging the whole world. Thus, the emphasis is upon the personal responsibility of the individual. The consummation is not an earth-won ascendancy of the chosen people, whether shared with otter nations or not, but a vindication of the holy by the solemn judgment of Jahveh and his Anointed One. Upon this prophecy were mainly based the various apocalyptic works which played so prominent a part in the religious life of the Jews during the last two centuries before Christ. Side by side with all these prophecies speaking of the establishment of a kingdom under the sway of a divinely-appointed legate, was the series foretelling the future rule of Jahveh himself. Of these Is., xl, may be taken as an example: "Lift up thy voice with strength thou that bringest good tidings to Sion: lift it up, fear not. Say to the cities of Juda: Behold your God. Behold the Lord your God himself shall come with strength and his arm shall rule." The reconciliation of these two series of prophecies was before the Jews in the passages--notably Ps. ii and Is., vii-xi--which clearly foretold the Divinity of the promised legate. "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace"--titles all used elsewhere of Jahveh Himself (cf. Davidson, "0.T. Prophecy", p. 367). But there seems to have been little realization of the relation between these two series of prophecy until the full light of the Christian dispensation revealed their reconciliation in the mystery of the Incarnation.
II. MESSIANIC DOCTRINE IN LATE JUDAISM
(See also APOCRYPHA). Two quite distinct and parallel lines are discernible in the later development of Messianic doctrine among the Jews, according as the writers clung to a national ideal, based on the literal interpretation of the earlier prophecies, or an apocalyptic ideal, based principally on Daniel. The national ideal looked to the establishment on earth of the Kingdom of God under the Son of David, the conquest and subjugation of the heathen, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the gathering in of the Dispersed. The apocalyptic ideal drew a sharp distinction between aion outos and aion mellon. The future age was to be ushered in by the Divine judgment of mankind preceded by the resurrection of the dead. The Messiah, existing from the beginning of the world, should appear at the consummation, and then should be also manifested the heavenly Jerusalem which was to be the abode of the blessed.
The national ideal is that of official Pharisaism. Thus, the Talmud has no trace of the apocalyptic ideal. The scribes were mainly busied with the Law, but side by side with this was the development of the hope of the ultimate manifestation of God's Kingdom on earth. Pharisaic influence is clearly visible in vv. 573-8O8 of Sibyl. III, describing the national hopes of the Jews. A last judgment, future happiness, or reward are not mentioned. Many marvels are foretold of the Messianic wars which bring in the consummation--lighted torches falling from heaven, the darkening of the sun, the falling of meteors-but all have for end a state of earthly prosperity. The Messiah, coming from the East, dominates the whole, a triumphant national hero. Similar to this is the work called the Psalms of Solomon, written probably about 40 B.C. It is really the protest of Pharisaism against its enemies, the later Asmoneans. The Pharisees saw that the observance of the law was not of itself a sufficient bulwark against the enemies of Israel, and, as their principles would not allow them to recognize in the secularized hierarchy the promised issue of their troubles, they looked forward to the miraculous intervention of God through the agency of a Davidic Messiah. The seventeenth Psalm describes his rule: He is to conquer the heathen, to drive them from their land, to allow no injustice in their midst; His trust is not to be in armies but in God; with the word of his mouth he is to slay the wicked. Of earlier date we have the description of the final glories of the holy city in Tobias (c. xiv), where, as well as in Ecclesiasticus, there is evidence of the constant hope in the future gathering in of the Diaspora. These same nationalist ideas reappear along with a highly developed system of eschatology in the apocalyptic works written after the destruction of Jerusalem, which are referred to below.
The status of the apocalyptic writers as regards the religious life of the Jews has been keenly disputed. Though they had small influence in Jerusalem, the stronghold of Rabbinism, they probably both influenced and reflected the religious feeling of the rest of the Jewish world. Thus, the apocalyptic ideal of the Messiah would seem not to be the sentiment of a few enthusiasts, but to express the true hopes of a considerable section of the people. Before the Asmonean revival Israel had almost ceased to be a nation, and thus the hope of a national Messiah had grown very dim. In the earliest apocalyptic writings, consequently, nothing is said of the Messiah. In the first part of the Book of Henoch (i-xxxvi) we have an example of such a work. Not the coming of a human prince, but the descent of God upon Sinai to judge the world divides all time into two epochs. The just shall receive the gift of wisdom and become sinless. They will feed on the tree of life and enjoy a longer span than the patriarchs.
The Machabean victories roused both the national and religious sentiment. The writers of the earlier Asmonean times, seeing the ancient glories of their race reviving, could no longer ignore the hope of a personal Messiah to rule the kingdom of the new age. The problem arose how to connect their present deliverers, of the tribe of Levi, with the Messiah who should be of the tribe of Juda. This was met by regarding the present age as merely the beginning of the Messianic age. Apocalyptic works of the period are the Book of Jubilees, the Testament of the Twelve patriarchs, and the Vision of Weeks of Henoch. In the Book of Jubilees the promises made to Levi, and fulfilled in the Asmonean priest-kings, outshadow those made to Juda. The Messiah is but a vague figure, and little stress is laid on the judgment. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs is a composite work. The foundation portion, conspicuous from its glorification of the priesthood, dates from before 100 B. C.; there are, however, later Jewish additions, hostile in tone to the priesthood, and numerous Christian interpolations, Controversy has arisen as to the principal figure in this work. According to Charles (Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, p. xcviii) there is pictured as the Messiah a son of Levi who realizes all the lofty spiritual ideals of the Christian Saviour. La range on the other hand (Le Messianisme chez les Juifs, pp. 69 sqq.) insists that, in so far as this is the case, the portrait is the result of Christian interpolations; these removed, there remains only a laudation of the part played by Levi, in the person of the Asmoneans, as the instrument of national and religious liberation. A conspicuous instance in point is Test. Lev., Ps. xviii. While Charles says this ascribes the Messianic characteristics to the Levite, Lagrange and Bousset deny that it is Messianic at all. Apart from the interpolations, it is merely natural praise of the new royal priesthood. There can be no question indeed as to the pre-eminence of Levi; he is compared to the sun and Juda to the moon. But there is in fact a description of a Messiah descended from Juda in Test. Jud., Ps. xxiv, the original elements of which belong to the foundation part of the book. He appears also in the Testament of Joseph, though the passage is couched in an allegorical form difficult to follow. The Vision of Weeks of Henoch, dating probably from the same period, differs from the last-mentioned work principally in its insistence on the judgment, or rather judgments, to which three of the world's ten weeks are devoted. Messianic times again open with the prosperity of Asmonean days, and develop into the foundation of the Kingdom of God.
Thus the Asmonean triumphs had produced an eschatology in which a personal Messiah figured, while the present was glorified into a commencement of the days of Messianic blessings. Gradually, however, the national and apocalyptic ideals. The Apocalypse of Baruch, written probably in imitation, contains a similar picture of the Messiah. This system of eschatology finds reflection also in the chiliasm of certain early Christian writers. Transferred to the second coming of the Messiah, we have the reign of peace and holiness for a thousand years upon earth before the just are transported to their eternal home in heaven (cf. Papias in Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", III, xxxix).
III. THE VINDICATION OF THE MESSIANIC DIGNITY BY CHRIST
This point may be treated under two heads (a) Christ's explicit claim to be the Messiah, and (b) the implicit claim shown in His words and actions throughout His life.
Christ's explicit claim to be the Messiah
Under this heading we may consider the confession of Peter in Matthew 16 and the words of Christ before his judges. These incidents involve, of course, far more than a mere claim to the Messiahship; taken in their setting, they constitute a claim to the Divine Sonship. The words of Christ to St. Peter are too clear to need any comment. The silence of the other Synoptists as to some details of the incident concern the proof from this passage rather of the Divinity than of Messianic claims. As regards Christ's claim before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, it might appear from the narratives of Matthew and Luke that He at first refused a direct reply to the high priest's question: "Art thou the Christ?" But although His answer is given merely as su eipas (thou hast said it), yet that recorded by St. Mark, ego eimi (I am), shows clearly how this answer was understood by the Jews. Dalman (Words of Jesus, pp. 309 sqq.) gives instances from Jewish literature in which the expression, "thou hast said it", is equivalent to "you are right"; his comment is that Jesus used the words as an assent indeed, but as showing that He attached comparatively little importance to this statement. Nor is this unreasonable, as the Messianic claim sinks into insignificance beside the claim to Divinity which immediately follows, and calls from the high priest the horrified accusation of blasphemy. It was this which gave the Sanhedrin a pretext, which the Messianic claim of itself did not give, for the death sentence. Before Pilate on the other hand it was merely the assertion of His royal dignity which gave ground for His condemnation.
Christ's implicit claim shown in His words and actions throughout His life
It is in His consistent manner of acting rather than in any specific claim that we see most clearly Christ's vindication of His dignity. At the outset of His public life (Luke, iv, 18) He applies to Himself in the synagogue of Nazareth the words relating to the Servant of Jahveh in Isaiah 61:1. It is He whom David in spirit called "Lord!" He claimed to judge the world and to forgive sins. He was superior to the Law, the Lord of the Sabbath, the Master of the Temple. In His own name, by the word of His mouth, He cleansed lepers, He stilled the sea, He raised the dead. His disciples must regard all as well lost merely to enjoy the privilege of following Him. The Jews, while failing to see all that these things implied, a dignity and power not inferior to those of Jahveh Himself, could not but perceive that He who so acted was at least the Divinely accredited representative of Jahveh. In this connection we may consider the title Christ used of Himself, "Son of Man". We have no evidence that this was then commonly regarded as a Messianic title. Some doubt as to its meaning in the minds of Christ's hearers is possibly shown by John, xii, 34: "Who is this Son of man?" The Jews, while undoubtedly seeing in Daniel, vii, a portrait of the Messiah, probably failed to recognize in these words a definite title at all. This is the more probable from the fact that, while this passage exercised great influence upon the apocalyptists, the title "Son of Man" does not appear in their writings except in passages of doubtful authenticity. Now, Christ not merely uses the name, but claims for Himself the right to judge the world (Matt., xxv 31-46), which is the most marked note of Daniel's Messiah. A double reason would lead Him to assume this particular designation: that He might speak of Himself as the Messiah without making His claim conspicuous to the ruling powers till the time came for His open vindication, and that as far as possible He might hinder the people from transferring to Him their own material notions of Davidic kingship.
Nor did His claim to the dignity merely concern the future. He did not say, "I shall be the Messiah", but "I am the Messiah". Thus, besides His answer to Caiphas and His approval of Peter's affirmation of His present Messiahship, we have in Matt., xi, 5, the guarded but clear answer to the question of the Baptist's disciples: "Art thou ho erchomenos?" In St. John the evidence is abundant. There is no question of a future dignity in His words to the Samaritan woman (John, iv) or to the man born blind (ix, 5), for He was already performing the works foretold of the Messiah. Though but as a grain of mustard seed, the Kingdom of God upon earth was already established; He had already begun the work of the Servant of Jahveh, of preaching, of suffering, of saving men. The consummation of His task and His rule in glory over the Kingdom were indeed still in the future, but these were the final crown, not the sole constituents, of the Messianic dignity. For those who, before the Christian dispensation, sought to interpret the ancient prophecies, some single aspect of the Messiah sufficed to fill the whole view. We, in the light of the Christian revelation, see realized and harmonized in Our Lord all the conflicting Messianic hopes, all the visions of the prophets. He is at once the Suffering Servant and the Davidic King, the Judge of mankind and its Saviour, true Son of Man and God with us. On Him is laid the iniquity of us all, and on Him, as God incarnate, rests the Spirit of Jahveh, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Fortitude, the Spirit of Knowledge and Piety, and the Fear of the Lord.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X
Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911, Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York