January 21 I Thursday
“As was his custom, Paul went to the synagogue…explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.” —Acts 17:2-3
“Christ” is not the last name of Jesus, but the Greek word for “Messiah,” an Old Testament title, meaning “anointed one.” The Messiah is the heart of Jewish theology, claiming all creation will find its fulfillment when He comes. As Christians, we recognize the Messiah has already come. Jesus has already fulfilled God’s plan for salvation, reconciling humanity to Himself, but many Jews, both then and now, refuse to accept Jesus as the Messiah because He did not match their messianic expectations.
There are two messianic themes that run throughout the Old Testament. The one that Orthodox Jews focus on is the theme of a liberating king. They believe the Messiah would come to set the people of Israel free from their political overlords. Originally, this was the Babylonians, but in Jesus’s day, it was the Romans. The Messiah was supposed to be a mighty warrior who would establish a new kingdom for Israel, which is why the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They believed Jesus was the Messiah, but until Pentecost, they mistakenly thought His kingdom would be a physical, geographical one.
This was the first stumbling block for the Jews. They never understood that Jesus was setting up a spiritual kingdom that included people of all nations. Jesus was a liberator, but He was not fighting a battle with horses or swords. His death and resurrection were the means of setting us free from the power of sin and death, not political powers.
The Jewish people downplayed the second messianic theme, that of the suffering servant. Isaiah 53:5 states, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” Many Jews today still argue that this passage refers to the nation of Israel, speaking of the nation as one person who has had to suffer much for the sake of the world. But one cannot deny the similarities between Isaiah’s descriptions of the suffering servant and Jesus’s own suffering, having been rejected and scorned by His own people and the agonizing death He suffered on the cross.
Jesus is the Messiah, though not the Messiah the Jews were anticipating. Theological leanings, which many have been conditioned to believe, can hinder a clear and accurate understanding of Scripture. This is why it is so important that we are open to the Spirit’s teaching when reading Scripture, as only the enlightenment of the Spirit can break down preconceptions and make truth known to us.
Prayer: Jesus Messiah, thank You for being the anointed one, saving us and reconciling our relationship with God. Praise You, Lord!