The answers to these questions will become evident when we examine the concept of the Messiah.
Messiah is a Hebrew word meaning "Anointed One." Anointing was used to set someone or something apart for a specific purpose. It was used, among other things, to signify that kings had been chosen by God to rule (1 Samuel 15:1; 1 Samuel 16:12-13; 1 Kings 1:34). Christ means "Anointed One" in Greek, the language in which the New Testament has been preserved for us—the same as the Hebrew word Messiah. The two terms mean the same thing (John 1:41; John 4:25).
The Hebrews understood that their Scriptures contained many prophecies of a divinely appointed ruler who would restore the glory and grandeur of the kingdom of Israel. For example, Isaiah 9:6-7 says: ". . . The government will be upon His shoulder . . . Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever . . ."
Jeremiah 23:5-6 adds: "'Behold, the days are coming,' says the LORD, 'that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS."
After the kingdom of Israel and the nation of Judah were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon, respectively, the Israelite people looked to these promises for a deliverer. In the first century after Christ, the Jews who had returned to their homeland from Babylon several centuries earlier were dominated by the Roman Empire. In their oppression they prayed and hoped for the appearance of the promised Messiah, a conquering king who would deliver them from their Roman overlords and restore Israel to national greatness.
From many prophecies they deduced, correctly, that the Messiah was soon to appear. Hopes ran high. When John the Baptist came on the scene, some thought he might be the Messiah. Scripture tells us that "the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ [Messiah] or not" (Luke 3:15).
John said he was not the Messiah, but he did point people to Jesus of Nazareth. One of John's followers, a fisherman named Andrew, immediately believed in Jesus. "He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, 'We have found the Messiah' (which is translated, the Christ)'" (John 1:40-41). Both Andrew and Simon (Peter) became followers of Jesus.
Jesus acknowledged that He was the long-awaited Messiah in a conversation with a Samaritan woman. "The woman said to Him, 'I know that Messiah is coming' (who is called Christ). 'When He comes, He will tell us all things.' Jesus said to her, 'I who speak to you am He'" (John 4:25-26, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus also acknowledged that He was the Messiah at His trial. "And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, 'Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?' But He kept silent andanswered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, 'Are You the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed?' Jesus said, 'I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven'" (Mark 14:60-62).
Jesus knew that He was born to reign as a king. When the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, questioned Him before His crucifixion, Jesus said: "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked Jesus if He were indeed a king. Jesus responded: "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth" (John 18:36-37).
That Jesus' kingdom was not for that time was misunderstood by most of His followers. They had hoped and assumed that Jesus Christ would lead a popular uprising that would throw off the hated Romans and establish a new political entity. Some of the disciples even argued among themselves as to who among them would hold the primary positions in the new government (Matthew 20:20-21; Luke 9:46; Luke 22:24).
Their understanding was limited. They didn't realize that Christ must first come to suffer and die for the sins of mankind and only later come as the conquering king they expected.
When Jesus was tried and executed, they were bewildered and dismayed. Their hopes and dreams of power and grandeur were dashed. Peter and some of the other disciples returned to their old occupations as fishermen (John 21:1-3).
Even after Jesus appeared to them again, they still didn't understand. They still thought Christ would establish the Kingdom of God immediately. Notice Acts 1:6-8: "Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, 'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.'"
Jesus explained that the timing of that kingdom should not be their primary concern; indeed they would not know when it would be established. Their focus, Christ said, should be on the work He had assigned them. The Kingdom of God would be established in due time.
Finally they understood. Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the promised Messiah, but first He had to suffer and die for their sins. Later He would come as conquering king to establish the Kingdom of God.
Peter proudly proclaimed the wonderful truth that Jesus was the Messiah: "But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:18-21).
The dozens of prophecies recorded by the prophets about a Messiah—prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ—are among the strongest proofs that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Many nonbiblical writings are revered by the many religions claiming to be holy and divinely inspired. But none of the other writings can foretell the future, and then, hundreds of years later, provide a record of exactly how those prophecies came to pass.
This is, in essence, the story of the four Gospels. They recall the Old Testament prophecies and show how Jesus Christ fulfilled them as the Messiah born of a virgin and the divine Teacher who would be put to death to make it possible for us to receive forgiveness for our sins.
The Gospels also speak of His resurrection and ultimate return to earth as conquering King. That is the message of the Gospels—that Jesus Christ was the Messiah who is prophesied throughout the Old Testament.
One version of the New Testament, the Jewish New Testament, lists 52 prophecies fulfilled in Christ's first coming (1989, pp. xxv-xxix). Estimates of the total number of prophecies about the Messiah range into the hundreds. Both Old and New Testament testify that Jesus was and is the true Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was sent from God and will come again to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.