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What Do 'Messiah' and 'Jesus Christ' Mean?

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The term Christ is an English derivative of the New Testament Greek word christos, which means “anointed.” The equivalent Hebrew word in the Old Testament is mashiach. This term is transliterated in the King James New Testament as messias (John 1:41 John 1:41He first finds his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
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; John 4:25 John 4:25The woman said to him, I know that Messias comes, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
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), a word that has come down into modern English, including many Bible versions, as “messiah.” Both Christ and Messiah mean “anointed” or “anointed one.”

What was the significance of anointing? The Oxford Companion to the Bible states: “In the Hebrew Bible, the term is most often used of kings, whose investiture was marked especially by anointing with oil (Judges 9:8-15 Judges 9:8-15 8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, Reign you over us. 9 But the olive tree said to them, Should I leave my fatness, with which by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come you, and reign over us. 11 But the fig tree said to them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? 12 Then said the trees to the vine, Come you, and reign over us. 13 And the vine said to them, Should I leave my wine, which cheers God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 14 Then said all the trees to the bramble, Come you, and reign over us. 15 And the bramble said to the trees, If in truth you anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
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; 2 Samuel 5:3 2 Samuel 5:3So all the elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron; and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the LORD: and they anointed David king over Israel.
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; 1 Kings 1:39 1 Kings 1:39And Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon.
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; Psalms 89:20 Psalms 89:20I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:
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…), and who were given the title ‘the Lord’s anointed’ (e.g., 1 Samuel 2:10 1 Samuel 2:10The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder on them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.
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; 1 Samuel 12:3 1 Samuel 12:3Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind my eyes therewith? and I will restore it you.
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; 2 Samuel 23:1 2 Samuel 23:1Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said,
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; Psalms 2:2 Psalms 2:2The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
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; Psalms 20:6 Psalms 20:6Now know I that the LORD saves his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.
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; Psalms 132:17 Psalms 132:17There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for my anointed.
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; Lamentations 4:20 Lamentations 4:20The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.
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)” (Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan, editors, 1993, “Messiah,” p. 513, emphasis added).

Anointing, this source tells us, “was widely practiced in the ancient Near East; the Amarna letters [on clay tablets found in central Egypt] suggest that anointing was a rite of kingship in Syria-Palestine in the fourteenth century BCE [B.C.], and …[a story from the time of Judges] assumes its familiarity (Judges 9:8-15 Judges 9:8-15 8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, Reign you over us. 9 But the olive tree said to them, Should I leave my fatness, with which by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come you, and reign over us. 11 But the fig tree said to them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? 12 Then said the trees to the vine, Come you, and reign over us. 13 And the vine said to them, Should I leave my wine, which cheers God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 14 Then said all the trees to the bramble, Come you, and reign over us. 15 And the bramble said to the trees, If in truth you anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
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)” (“Anoint,” p. 30).

Yet, as this and other sources point out, it was not only kings who were anointed in Scripture. Israel’s high priests were anointed (Exodus 29:7 Exodus 29:7Then shall you take the anointing oil, and pour it on his head, and anoint him.
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; Leviticus 4:3-16 Leviticus 4:3-16 3 If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he has sinned, a young bullock without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering. 4 And he shall bring the bullock to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD; and shall lay his hand on the bullock’s head, and kill the bullock before the LORD. 5 And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock’s blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation: 6 And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the LORD, before the veil of the sanctuary. 7 And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the LORD, which is in the tabernacle of the congregation; and shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. 8 And he shall take off from it all the fat of the bullock for the sin offering; the fat that covers the inwards, and all the fat that is on the inwards, 9 And the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks, and the lobe above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away, 10 As it was taken off from the bullock of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them on the altar of the burnt offering. 11 And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung, 12 Even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp to a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall he be burnt. 13 And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty; 14 When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation. 15 And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bullock before the LORD: and the bullock shall be killed before the LORD. 16 And the priest that is anointed shall bring of the bullock’s blood to the tabernacle of the congregation:
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), as were some prophets (1 Kings 19:16 1 Kings 19:16And Jehu the son of Nimshi shall you anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shall you anoint to be prophet in your room.
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).

In biblical usage, anointing is an act of consecration —setting one apart for the holy work of God. It was symbolic of the pouring out of God’s Spirit onto someone (compare Isaiah 61:1 Isaiah 61:1The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me; because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
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; Romans 5:5 Romans 5:5And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.
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)—representing God’s power and intervention to, in the cases cited, perform the duties of the office one was anointed to. Jesus Himself was “anointed…with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38 Acts 10:38How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
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).

The Jews of Jesus’ day eagerly anticipated a specific prophesied figure referred to in several scriptures as the Messiah or Anointed One, a great King of the lineage of David who, by the power of God, would restore Israel and rule the world. Jesus of Nazareth was that Anointed One—and He will yet fulfill these prophecies.

What about the name “Jesus”? How did He receive this name, and what does it mean?

In Matthew 1 we find that Mary was discovered to be pregnant during her engagement to Joseph. Joseph was considering how to best handle the difficult situation.

“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins’ ” (Matthew 1:20-21 Matthew 1:20-21 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, you son of David, fear not to take to you Mary your wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
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).

The Greek name “Jesus” is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua or Yeshua, the English form of which is “Joshua.” This name literally means God is salvation. So the angel’s message to Joseph was “You shall call His name ‘ God is salvation,’ for He will save His people from their sins.” That name tells us of Jesus’ purpose in God’s plan—that it is through Him that God carries out His plan to save humanity from death, giving us eternal life in His family.

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