The Surprising Sayings of Jesus Christ: Who Was Jesus Christ? - Part 1

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The Surprising Sayings of Jesus Christ

Who Was Jesus Christ? - Part 1

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In the north of the nation of Israel sits a lush location of springs and a waterfall called Banyas. Known in Roman times as Caesarea Philippi, it was here that Jesus of Nazareth asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 Matthew 16:15He said to them, But whom say you that I am?
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).

Just who was this man who had walked on water, calmed the storms, healed the sick, raised the dead and made such bold claims? “Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ ” (Matthew 16:16 Matthew 16:16And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
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). Jesus confirmed that Peter was correct (Matthew 16:17 Matthew 16:17And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven.
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).

Jesus had previously revealed His identity to 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 John 4:25-26 25 The woman said to him, I know that Messias comes, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. 26 Jesus said to her, I that speak to you am he.
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).

Later, when the Jewish authorities took Jesus into custody, the high priest ordered Him, “Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 Matthew 26:63But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said to him, I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you be the Christ, the Son of God.
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). Jesus affirmed, “You said it” (Matthew 26:64 Matthew 26:64Jesus said to him, You have said: nevertheless I say to you, Hereafter shall you see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
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, Green’s Literal Translation).

How important is Jesus’ identity as the Christ? The apostle John later wrote that “he who denies that Jesus is the Christ” is a liar and the enemy of God (1 John 2:22 1 John 2:22Who is a liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son.
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). Of course, to meaningfully avoid denying that Jesus is the Christ requires knowing what the term means-and what being the Christ entails.

The Lord’s Anointed

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), 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; 2 Samuel 5:3; 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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; Psalm 89:20 …), and who were given the title ‘the Lord’s anointed’ (e.g., 1 Samuel 2:10; Samuel 12:3; 2 Samuel 23:1; Psalm 2:2; Psalm 20:6; Psalm 132:17; Lamentations 4:20)” (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; Judges 9:15 Judges 9:15And 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 4:3-5 Leviticus 4:3-5 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:
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; Leviticus 4:16 Leviticus 4:16And 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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).

Messianic expectation

When Jesus came on the scene, the Jews were expecting the arrival of a leader called the Messiah (Luke 3:15 Luke 3:15And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
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). They understood that this was the very time indicated by a prophecy recorded in Daniel 9:25 Daniel 9:25Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem to the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and three score and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
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for the coming of “Messiah the Prince”-that is, the anointed ruler.

Yet confusion abounded over to whom this term applied. “In the intertestamental period, messianic speculation included three messianic figures (the righteous priest, the anointed king, and the prophet of the last days)” (John Bowker, editor, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, 1997, “Messiah,” p. 637).

Scripture contained many prophecies of a coming king and deliverer. Jeremiah wrote: “ ‘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 …’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6 Jeremiah 23:5-6 5 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
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; see Isaiah 9:6-7 Isaiah 9:6-7 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from now on even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
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).

Jesus was this prophesied King (Luke 1:32-33 Luke 1:32-33 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
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). When Pontius Pilate asked Him if He were a king, Jesus answered: “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 18:37 John 18:37Pilate therefore said to him, Are you a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears my voice.
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). Indeed, as explained in the previous article in this series, the good news-or gospel-that Jesus Himself proclaimed was the coming of the world-encompassing Kingdom of God to be ruled by Him under God the Father.

Prophet and priest

We see that God set Jesus apart to be king. But what about the biblical examples of anointing to the offices of prophet and priest? Does Jesus fulfill these roles too?

Concerning a messianic prophet,  Moses, who had been the chief human prophet, lawgiver and judge over God’s people, foretold the coming of a prophet to replace him (Deuteronomy 18:18 Deuteronomy 18:18I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brothers, like to you, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him.
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). This prophet was thought to be the one mentioned in 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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as being anointed by God “to preach good tidings to the poor …”

Later Peter directly stated that Jesus was the expected prophet (Acts 3:20-23 Acts 3:20-23 20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached to you: 21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. 22 For Moses truly said to the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you of your brothers, like to me; him shall you hear in all things whatever he shall say to you. 23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.
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). Jesus Himself explained that He was the anointed prophet of Isaiah 61, bringing good news-the gospel. He shocked listeners by announcing, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-21 Luke 4:17-21 17 And there was delivered to him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say to them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
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).

Thus, contrary to a view of the time that the Prophet and kingly Messiah were two different individuals (compare John 1:20-21 John 1:20-21 20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Are you Elias? And he said, I am not. Are you that prophet? And he answered, No.
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), these two titles applied to the same person-Jesus of Nazareth.

Also, “belief in a priestly messiah, son of Aaron [that is, one assumed to be a descendant of Israel’s first Levitical high priest], who would arise alongside the Davidic messiah to save Israel, appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls … The mysterious figure of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18) provides a title for one who is at the same time both king and priest (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7)” (Metzger and Coogan, p. 514).

This was apparently a confused interpretation of Psalm 110. David here wrote, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand …’” (Psalms 110:1 Psalms 110:1The LORD said to my Lord, Sit you at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.
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) and “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’ ” (Psalms 110:4 Psalms 110:4The LORD has sworn, and will not repent, You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
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). As shown in Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees regarding this Psalm, it was commonly understood that the “Lord” to whom God here speaks is the Messiah (Matthew 22:43-44 Matthew 22:43-44 43 He said to them, How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying, 44 The LORD said to my Lord, Sit you on my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool?
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). And Jesus made clear that the Messiah was to be a descendant of David, as the Pharisees knew (Matthew 22:41-46 Matthew 22:41-46 41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 Saying, What think you of Christ? whose son is he? They say to him, The son of David. 43 He said to them, How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying, 44 The LORD said to my Lord, Sit you on my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool? 45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? 46 And no man was able to answer him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
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).

This did not indicate a separate priestly messiah but that the prophesied Davidic king would also be a priest—not, as Hebrews 7 explains, a Levitical priest descended from Aaron, but a priest who was even higher, referring to Jesus (Hebrews 7:22 Hebrews 7:22By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
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).

Contradictory roles?

The Messiah, then, was to be priest, prophet and king. Yet, as far as was physically apparent, Jesus did not serve as priest or king. He did not restore Israel. Nor did He reign forever. When people actually tried to “take Him by force to make Him king,” Jesus slipped away into seclusion (John 6:15 John 6:15When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
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). He was later hailed as “King of the Jews,” but this label was meant to mock Him while He was brutalized and crucified. Jesus then died, as we know. Many in His day failed to comprehend how He could have been the Messiah.

But rabbinic teachings of the time, at least those derived from Scripture, should actually have helped. Unger’s Bible Dictionary states:

“Their interpretation …, as [author Alfred] Edersheim shows …, embraced ‘such doctrines as the premundane existence of the Messiah; his elevation above Moses, and even above the angels; his representative character; his cruel sufferings and derision; his violent death, and that for his people; his work in behalf of the living and of the dead; his redemption and restoration of Israel; the opposition of the Gentiles, their partial judgment and conversion; the prevalence of his law; the universal blessings of the latter days; and his kingdom’ ” (“Messiah,” 1966, p. 718).

Yet confusion reigned because some of the prophecies seemed to contradict other prophecies. The Jews did not understand how the Messiah could be a conquering king (Psalm 2) and yet, at the same time, a suffering, humble servant, despised by His people, who would die (Isaiah 52:13-15 Isaiah 52:13-15 13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. 14 As many were astonished at you; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: 15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
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; Isaiah 53:1-12). Therefore many rejected the prophecies of the suffering servant as applying to the Messiah, seeing this as figurative of Israel.

Others determined that two messiahs must come: “The Davidic messiah would be preceded by a secondary figure … [who] would be killed” (Bowker). Yet we should note that even this figure was commonly thought to be a military leader to immediately precede the messianic age under the Messiah descended from David. The Jews did not understand that the Messiah would serve as a sacrifice for sin (Isaiah 53).

The anticipation of two messiahs in the first century perhaps explains a question posed by John the Baptist. Though he had announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 John 1:29The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
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) and heard a voice from heaven stating that Jesus was the Son of God (Mark 1:11 Mark 1:11And there came a voice from heaven, saying, You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
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), John, while in prison, sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 Matthew 11:3And said to him, Are you he that should come, or do we look for another?
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). Although this may have been mere frustration, it may also have been prompted by contemporary teachings about two messiahs.

Jesus answered: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:4-6 Matthew 11:4-6 4 Jesus answered and said to them, Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he, whoever shall not be offended in me.
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). These were all prophetic earmarks of the glorious King of the messianic age. Jesus thus assured John that He was the one destined to fulfill all the prophecies about the Messiah.

Proof of messiahship

In opposition to the Roman occupation of the land of Israel, various would-be messiahs emerged, such as Judas the Galilean and Theudas, a Jew from Egypt (Acts 5:36-37 Acts 5:36-37 36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nothing. 37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
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). But they both fell. Even after the Romans later crushed Judea in A.D. 66, others arose but were likewise killed-not to rise again.

Jesus also died. But, unlike any other messianic claimant, He did rise again-three days later. He offered this fact as specific proof of His messiahship (Matthew 12:39-40 Matthew 12:39-40 39 But he answered and said to them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
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). It proved who He was because it was the only way all the prophecies of the Messiah could possibly be fulfilled. He had to die to be the suffering servant sacrificed for sin. He had to remain dead for as long as He said He would to prove Himself a genuine prophet. And He had to be resurrected to serve as high priest and come again to rule as king.

His own disciples had not understood this even after He explained it to them (Luke 9:22 Luke 9:22Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.
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, Luke 9:44-45 Luke 9:44-45 44 Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. 45 But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying.
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). But after His resurrection He appeared to two of them and said: “ ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27 Luke 24:25-27 25 Then he said to them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: 26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? 27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
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).

Yes, the Christ-the Messiah, the Anointed One-is a central theme of the Bible. He has come. His name is Jesus. He lived as a human being and died by crucifixion. But God raised Him from the grave, and He will come again to rule the world, restore Israel, usher in everlasting peace and save all who will accept Him.

In the next article in this series, we will examine further claims Jesus made about His identity that were even more surprising to His listeners-and may be to you as well. In the meantime, please read our Bible study aid booklet Who Is God?

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