The answers to these questions become evident when we examine the concept of the Messiah.
Messiah is a Hebrew word meaning "Anointed One." Anointing was used, among other things, to signify that kings had been chosen by God (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).
A prophesied king and kingdom
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 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."
After the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon, respectively, the Israelite people looked to these promises for a deliverer. In Christ's day, the descendants of 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 promised Messiah, a conquering king who would deliver them from their Roman overlords and restore Israel to 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 disciples.
Jesus confirms He is the Messiah
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. ". . . 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 14:61-62).
Jesus knew that He was born to be a king. When Pontius Pilate questioned Him before His crucifixion, he 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 . . ." (John 18:36-37).
The disciples' misunderstanding
That Jesus' kingdom was not for that time was misunderstood by most of His followers. They had assumed that Jesus Christ would lead a popular uprising that would throw off the Romans and establish a new political entity. Among themselves, some of the disciples even argued at times 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 would come as the conquering king they expected.
When Jesus was tried and executed, they were dismayed. Their hopes and dreams of power 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 hoped Christ would establish the Kingdom of God then. 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 a conquering king to establish the Kingdom of God.
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. The four Gospels recall the Old Testament prophecies and show how Jesus Christ fulfilled them .
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. To learn more about Jesus' role, request the free booklet Who Is God?