Messiah, Mighty God?

One of the things that has intrigued me most as I have studied the Old Testament is what it says about Jesus as the coming Messiah. Even though the gospel about Jesus is the first thing every Christian learns, it is rare to hear a methodical explanation of what the Bible predicts about him.

What exactly is a Messiah? Why do we believe the Messiah would be God himself? We would be stronger witnesses if we could open up the Bible and trace from start to finish what it said about Jesus Christ.

The main picture of the Messiah is that of God’s chosen king. The prophecies that clearly predict this begin in the life of King David, when God promises David one of his descendants would have a kingdom without end. It says,

When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever. (1 Chron. 17:11-14)

One thing Christians may overlook is that many prophecies about the Messiah do not expressly say he would be God in the flesh. The term “Son of God” can refer to divinity, but is also occasionally used about angels and even people (see Gen. 6:2, Job 1:6, Matt 5:9). In the passage above, it could be interpreted to mean that the messianic king would be so close to God that he would be like a son to him.

In the life of Jesus we often look at his miracles as proof of divinity. However, Moses and Elijah and others had done miracles before Him, so even that isn’t conclusive.

Nevertheless, the church has believed from the earliest time that Jesus was God incarnate. It was probably one of the earliest Christian creeds that Paul quoted when he said,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Phil. 2:5-7)

An intriguing study is to find the passages in the Old Testament said that the Messianic King who was coming would be God Himself. In Isaiah we encounter one of the clearest statements that the Messianic King would be divine. It says,

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Is 9:6-7)

It is very clear the passage is talking about the Messianic king from David’s line, and also very clear that it refers to him with the words “Mighty God,” and “Everlasting Father.” The promised Messiah would be called “mighty God,” an obvious statement of the divinity of the messiah.

Another thing to note is that there are several precedents for God walking on earth in the Old Testament. It says that God walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8), that he visited Abraham and ate with him (Gen 18:1-13), and that Jacob wrestled with God (Gen 32:24 -38).

To see God walking again on earth as a man should not be a shock if he has done it before. The idea of the Messiah as God in the flesh is consistent with the witness of what the rest of scripture says about God’s ways.

An interesting thing to note is that in the Targums, ancient Jewish commentary-translations, whenever God walked on earth and interacted with humans, the Aramaic term Memra was used to refer to God. The term Memra actually means “Word”! One can hardly miss that this is the term the apostle John uses to refer to Jesus as the Messiah!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

We have hardly scratched the surface of the texts that point to the divinity of Christ, although some are indirect allusions. Jesus refers to many of them and applies them to himself, and his first followers would have recognized them.  As you read the prophets in the Old Testament, keep listening for the prophecies about the Messiah. We will see that Jesus used many of them to proclaim himself as Messiah, and even God in the flesh.

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Photos: Dimnent Chapel [Public Domain], Carl Bloch [Public domain]

Bursting Out of the Pen

by Lois Tverberg

I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head. – Micah 2:12-13

In Micah, we find a passage about a “shepherd” that was considered very messianic in the time of Jesus. His listeners understood that the “one who breaks open the way” was the messenger, who would cause people to repent and be ready for the Messiah, and that the Messiah was the shepherd king going out with the sheep. Interestingly, the passage says that the Shepherd is the LORD – hinting that the Messiah is God himself! (We have the benefit of being able to look back and can see how this passage was prophecy about John the Baptist and Jesus.)

This passage is much more meaningful if we understand the imagery behind it, that of shepherding. It tells us that the flock will be gathered together like many sheep in a pen, and “one who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out.”

Pen in pasture

In biblical times, the shepherd would lead the sheep around open land to graze all day. As they sun was going down, he would herd them into a pen made with boulders or into a cave closed with boulders. He himself would sleep in the gate or “be” the gate. In the morning, the sheep would be restless, hungry, bursting with energy and eager to get out to pasture.

Suddenly, one of the shepherd’s helpers would “break open the way” by pushing aside a boulder in the fence. The sheep wouldn’t just leave calmly – they would burst out in a stampede, breaking through the other boulders in their way. The shepherd would exit along with them and then they would follow the him out to pasture.

The picture is really one of a people who are full of joy at the coming of their Messiah – like sheep that are stampeding out of their pen after a night of being confined. The “sheep” of the messianic shepherd will be exuberant at his coming, and eager to follow where ever he leads. He heals us from our diseases and releases us from the bondage and guilt of sin. Our Shepherd, the LORD Himself, has come to save us now and forever!


This passage in Micah was probably alluded to by Jesus in Matthew 11:12. For more about that reference, read the article “The Kingdom Breaks Forth” at this link.

Photo: Bob Jones

The Great Shepherd

by Lois Tverberg

I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. – John 10:14

ShepherdJesus says “I am the good shepherd” in John’s gospel, and we may not realize that the image of the “shepherd” as the Messiah is all over the Old Testament, in Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah and other books. In the next few devotionals we will look at what these Messianic prophecies said about Jesus.

What is a “good shepherd”? In his classic book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, (1) Phillip Keller describes the difference between the good and bad shepherd, and the lesson he learned:

In memory I can still see one of the sheep ranches in our district which was operated by a tenant sheepman. He ought never to have been allowed to keep sheep. He gave little or no time to his flock. Every year these poor creatures were forced to gnaw away at bare brown fields and impoverished pastures. Shelter to safeguard and protect the suffering sheep from storms and blizzards was scanty and inadequate. In their thin, weak and diseased condition these poor sheep were a pathetic sight. To all their distress, the heartless, selfish owner seemed utterly callous and indifferent.

I never looked at those sheep without an acute awareness that this was a precise picture of those wretched old taskmasters, Sin and Satan, on their derelict ranch — scoffing at the plight of those within their power. It is a picture of the pathetic people of the world over who have not known what it is to belong to the Good Shepherd, who suffer instead under sin and Satan. How amazing it is that individual men and women vehemently refuse and reject the claims of Christ on their lives. He came to set men free of their own sins, their own selves, their own fears. Those so liberated loved Him with fierce loyalty. It is this One who insists that He was the Good Shepherd, the understanding Shepherd, the concerned Shepherd who cares enough to seek out and save and restore lost men and women.


(1) Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, 1996, Zondervan, ISBN 0-310-21435-1. The passages above are from Chapter 1, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

Photo: http://www.artnet.de/artist/16406/henry-ossawa-tanner.html

A Prophet Greater than Moses

by Lois Tverberg

Therefore when the people saw the sign which he had performed, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take him by force to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself alone. – John 6:11-15

At the end of the feeding of the five thousand, the people concluded from this miracle that Jesus was the “prophet” who had been prophesied in Deuteronomy 18. In this passage, Moses told the people:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him… The LORD said to me: … I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19)

Moses and IsraelitesThe Jewish people regarded Moses as the greatest prophet of all time. All other prophets heard God speaking in dreams and visions, but God spoke to Moses face to face (Numbers 12:6-8). Moses had also done great miracles to free them from Egypt and led them out of bondage. He had mediated their covenant and given them their scriptures, and they considered him their greatest leader of all time. To say that a prophet would come who would be even greater than Moses was a strong statement indeed!

So, when the people saw that Jesus had multiplied the loaves and the fish, it seemed to them as if he was duplicating the miraculous provision of food in the desert. He was, in essence, giving them manna from heaven. They imagined that Jesus would, like Moses, lead them to freedom from their enemies and provide miraculously for their needs. They were obviously hoping that Jesus would be the one that would lead them out of national bondage, as Moses did for his people.

While they were wrong in terms of looking for a political messiah, Jesus actually was “the Prophet who was going to come.” He spoke for God in a unique, powerful and authoritative way. He gave them living water and the bread of life — himself. And he mediated a new covenant, allowing anyone to enter the presence of God, freeing them from the greatest bondage of all — that of sin and death.

the Transfiguration


Photo:  http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/1907/deut6.jpg and
carulmare

The Afflicted King

by Lois Tverberg

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zechariah 9:9

Jesus on Donkey

As we are looking at messianic passages in this series, we shouldn’t forget the passage in Zechariah which clearly points toward the triumphal entry, when Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem. It is important to understand that he is riding on a donkey and not a horse, which would have been associated with war. This king had come victoriously to reign in peace.

It is interesting to notice a few alternative ways to translate the word for “humble,” and how they also describe Jesus. In most translations, the word that is translated “humble” or “lowly” is the Hebrew word ani. It is only rarely translated “humble,” but it has two other meanings that are much more common:

One translation of ani is “poor.” In Jesus’ life, this is very applicable. He said about himself, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). He had only one garment to his name and no home, wife or family. Because of his lack of riches and earthly glory, many of us miss the point that he was – and is – a king.

Another translation for ani is “afflicted” – oppressed, in misery, anguished, or sorrowful. Jesus fulfills this too by his prophetic reaction as he enters Jerusalem. Luke says,

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:42-44)

It is ironic that Jerusalem’s king came in peace on a donkey, poor, with only one garment and no fine robes. When he arrived, he was sorrowful and afflicted for the sake of his city. They did not recognize either their need for a savior, or the time when the true King entered their walls.


Photo: Giotto

God’s Great Surprise

by Lois Tverberg

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. – Malachi 4:5

Many of the prophecies that describe the coming of the Messiah also describe a time of judgment by God. For instance, in Luke 1:17, the angel tells the father of John the Baptist that John “will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.” The angel was quoting a prophecy from Malachi which says,

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. (Mal. 4:5-6)

Jesus baptized by JohnThe Malachi passage appears to describe the “great and terrible day of the Lord” as coming right at the time of Elijah. John the Baptist knew Scriptures well, and in his ministry we hear him preaching that judgment is right around the corner, in accordance with his Scriptures.

These prophecies are also the reason why John sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?” John knew he was to be the “messenger” prophesied in Malachi 3, and he had expectations for the one coming after him:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap… So I will come near to you for judgment. (Malachi 3:1-2, 4-5)

John’s question for Jesus came from the fact that Jesus wasn’t fulfilling prophecy as he expected. It appears he was thinking that Jesus would be a mighty warrior who would destroy the wicked, including those who had imprisoned him. Jesus replies by quoting other prophecies about the Messiah, that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22-23). John probably still believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was asking the question to show how perplexed he was at how Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

Often Christians say that Jesus’ people rejected him as Messiah because they just wanted a political leader, not a spiritual leader. It is more likely that many rejected him because he did not fit their reading of prophecy. Even Jesus’ disciples were waiting for him to announce when he would begin the war and they would take their thrones to reign in power. God surprised everyone, even the most faithful, in the coming of Jesus.

It should humble us to realize that he does not use our logic to fulfill prophecy, and should make us very careful to say we have definitive knowledge about the future from Bible prophecy. Jesus said of his second coming, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mark 13:32).


Photo: Lawrence OP

Kings From Distant Lands

by Lois Tverberg

May he also rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. Let the nomads of the desert bow before him, and his enemies lick the dust. Let the kings of Tarshish and of the islands bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts. And let all kings bow down before him, all nations serve him. – Psalms 72:8-11

When we read about the magi, it is a mystery who they are and where they come from. But if we understand the culture of the ancient world and read some of the Old Testament prophesies about the Messianic King, we can find out where they came from, and the incredible statement it makes about Jesus.

Three Kings

When a powerful king arose in a country, other kings would give him gifts to form alliances and show friendliness toward that nation. The verses in today’s passage from Psalm 72 are from a messianic passage with a vision of the greatness of the coming Messianic king. It names two areas where royalty should come from to honor the king – “Tarshish and the islands,” and “Sheba and Seba.” Tarshish is in modern Spain, and the islands are that of the Mediterranean. Sheba and Seba are at the southeast end of the Arabian peninsula. In the ancient world of the near east, these two areas were the limits of the known world of that time. Tarshish was as far west as one could go, and Sheba, as far east. It was if all the royalty from the ends of the earth should come to worship the Messianic king.

This picture of a king so great that other kings would come to pay homage to him was used to describe the coming Messiah. The Messiah was the promised son of David who would have a great kingdom without end. Not only would he be king over Israel, he will be king over the whole world!

Today’s verse from Psalm 72 foretells that kings from distant lands would come to give him gifts, as the queen of Sheba did for Solomon. The wise men were most likely counselors to foreign kings who were acting as ambassadors for their gentile nations. If the wise men were bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh, they were most like like from Sheba or Seba, which is known for those things.

It is interesting how God was telling the ancient people something in language that they could understand that would one day mean something much greater. God was saying that peoples of every tongue and tribe and nation from all over the earth, including even the world they didn’t know existed, would someday worship the Messiah. As the gospel goes out to the far corners of the world, we only now see the magnificence of God’s plan.


Photo: Wonderlane

Why Frankincense and Myrrh?

by Lois Tverberg

After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:11

In the story of the wise men, we often struggle to understand why they brought the gifts they did of gold, frankinscence and myrrh. It is very much related to the overall point of the story and what it says about the significance of Jesus.

Myrrh OilThe word “Messiah,” or “anointed,” alludes to the ceremony used to set apart one who is chosen by God, as a king or priest would be. Instead of being crowned during a coronation, kings were anointed with sacred oil that was perfumed with extremely expensive spices, making it like diamonds in terms of its preciousness. It would have been like putting on an invisible crown that conferred an aura of holiness. Everything that had that unique smell would be known to all as God’s special possession. After this initial anointing, kings would anoint themselves with other precious scented oils for special occasions. We read that both king David and Solomon did this:

(Song to King David) You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows. All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. (Psalm 45:7-8)

FrankincenseWhat is this coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all scented powders of the merchant? Behold, it is the traveling couch of Solomon; sixty mighty men around it, of the mighty men of Israel. (Song of Solomon 3:6-7)

So, in ancient times, the majesty of a king would be obvious to those around him, not only because of the jewels and robes that he wore, but by the scent of extremely expensive oils that were poured on him. These royal figures would process through the streets with the fragrance of the oils telling all of the bystanders that a king was passing by.

So, perhaps the wise men had brought these precious spices to anoint the king, the prophesied son of David. The wise men were proclaiming Jesus as the “anointed one,” the Messiah, the Christ, the King of Kings!


Photo: Spacebirdy and Itineranttrader

A Rabbi and a King

by Lois Tverberg

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
– John 10:10

Throughout the Old Testament, the promise is made of the coming Messiah, which primarily is a picture of a king who comes to reign. Even though Jesus speaks often of his kingdom, during his time on earth he really acts as a rabbi rather than acting anything like what we would expect of a king. That may be why some have mistakenly said that he never actually became king, but only will in the future, even though he says so clearly himself (Matt 27:11).

Torah

It is interesting that the Jewish picture of the Messianic King incorporates this idea of the king as a teacher of scripture, even though it doesn’t grasp that Jesus was the Messiah. According to one Jewish commentary,

The messianic king plays a unique role. He, as first citizen of the nation, is the living embodiment of Torah and how its statutes and holiness ennoble man… Holder of immense and almost unbridled power, he submits to the laws in the Scriptures which he carries with him at all times, he does not rest until his people know the rigors of Torah study and a discipline of honesty and morality in their personal and business lives that would earn sainthood in any other nation. It is the function of the king to safeguard the Torah and see to it that the people study it and obey its commandments. Nor is he to be considered above the Law – on the contrary, it is his duty to be a model of scrupulous adherence to the laws of the Torah. (Nosson Scherman, from the ArtScroll Commentary on Ruth, pp xxxi – xxxiii)

The Jewish commentator is actually basing his thoughts on God’s regulations for a king as they are described in Deuteronomy:

You shall surely set a king over you who your God chooses… When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees. Deut. 17:18-20

The idea behind the Jewish picture is that God wants his king to have as his chief aim to revere and obey God and teach the nation to obey him as well. He is not to seek glory in his own power and might, but to intentionally point people toward obedience to God.

It is fascinating that Jesus, the king that God chose, scrupulously adhered to God’s laws, and primarily concerned his earthly time with teaching of the scriptures, to follow them perfectly and to teach people the clearest way to obey them. With his death he redeemed his people and brought them into his kingdom, but his life was an example to teach them how to live, to bring honor to God and have life as it was meant to be lived.


Photo: Lawrie Cate

Mighty God, Everlasting Father

by Lois Tverberg

Jesus Christ

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

The main picture of the Messiah is that of God’s chosen king. The prophecies that predict this begin in the life of King David when God promises David that one of his descendants would have a kingdom without end. It says,

“When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. ” (1 Chronicles. 17:11-13)

One thing that Christians may overlook is that many prophecies about the Messiah do not expressly say that he would be God in the flesh. The term “Son of God” can refer to divinity, but also is occasionally used about angels and even people (see Genesis 6:2, Job 1:6 or Matt 5:9). In the passage above, it could be interpreted to mean that the messianic king would be so close to God that he would be like a son to him. In the life of Jesus we often look at his miracles as proof of divinity. But Moses and Elijah and others had done miracles before him, so even that isn’t conclusive.

An intriguing study is to find the passages in the Old Testament said that the messianic king who was coming would be God himself. One passage is below:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom. (Is 9:6-7)

It is very clear that the passage is talking about the messianic king from David’s line, and also very clear that it refers to him with the words “Mighty God,” and “Everlasting Father.” One other important thing to note is that there are several precedents for God walking on earth in the Old Testament scriptures. It says that God walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8), and that he visited Abraham and ate with him (Genesis 18:1-13). To see God walking again on earth as a man should not be a shock if he has done it before. The idea of the Messiah as God in the flesh is consistent with the witness of what the rest of scripture says about God’s ways.

We have hardly scratched the surface of the texts that point to the divinity of Christ, although some are indirect allusions. Jesus refers to many of them and applies them to himself, and his first followers would have recognized them. Jesus used many of them to proclaim himself as Messiah, and even God in the flesh.


Photo: Edal Anton Lefterov