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It is evident that the average church-goer has no real grasp on the biblical meaning of Messianic titles such as ‘Son of God,’ ‘Christ,’ or ‘Son of Man.’ According to Dr. Hugh Schonfield, author of The Passover Plot, the majority of the Christians he conversed with “were not even aware that Christ was simply a Greek translation of the Hebrew title Messiah (Anointed One), and supposed that it had to do with the heavenly nature of the Second Person of the Trinity.”[1] The significance of such titles is clearly being overlooked. However, their importance is not to be understated, for Jesus himself said that it is “upon this rock,” namely the fact that he is the Christ, that “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt 16:16,18). Thus, it is essential to have a correct understanding of such Messianic titles, for a vague or unbiblical understanding of Jesus’ titles will lead to a corruption of the gospel message he preached, and ultimately, his identity.

The most common title that is used to describe Jesus is “Christ” (Heb. “messiah”). The term “messiah” (Heb. mashiach) literally means “an anointed one.” It refers to a person anointed by God and filled with His Holy Spirit to be His appointed agent and accomplish His works. The term “messiah” may “refer to a prophet, priest, or king who was consecrated for service to God.”[2] In the Old Testament, King Saul, King David, and even King Cyrus – a pagan – are all designated “messiahs” (1 Sam. 12:3; 2 Sam 19:21; Is. 45:1). The patriarchs and Levitical priests are also called “messiahs” (Ps 105:15; 1 Chron 16:22; Lev 4:3,5,16; 6:22). There are also nine references to the coming or promised one, the ultimate “Messiah.”[3] In the New Testament, Christians are even referred to as “anointed ones,” which would make them “christs,” by definition (2 Cor. 1:21). Thus, from the Biblical usage, it may be seen that to be designated as “messiah” by God does not require one to be deity. Rather, it suggests the opposite: to be messiah, is to be God’s appointed human agent acting on His behalf. Therefore, to recognize Jesus as the ultimate “Messiah” or “Christ” is to identify him as a man, anointed and appointed by God, to fill the offices of prophet, priest, and king.

Another common title for Jesus is “Son of God.” Historically, it was used to describe God’s dirt-born son Adam who was initially appointed to rule the Earth, the nation of Israel, the King of Israel, and even angels (Luke 3:38;Ex 4:22; Hos 11:1; Ps. 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38). Dr. Colin Brown of Fuller Seminary, writes that:

“In light of these passages in their context, the title “Son of God” is not in itself a designation of personal deity or an expression of metaphysical distinctions within the Godhead. Indeed to be ‘Son of God’ one has to be a being who is not God! It is a designation for a creature indicating a special relationship with God. In particular, it denotes God’s representative, God’s vice regent. It is a designation of kingship, identifying the king as God’s son.”[4]

It is important to keep these thoughts in mind when applying the title “Son of God” to Jesus. Though he was literally the son of God by his miraculous birth by the Holy Spirit of God, Jesus was also anointed the “Son of God” at his baptism. Scripture also says that he was later “appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead” (Luke 1:35; Rom. 1:4). Clearly, it may be seen that the title “Son of God” is indicative of his divine anointing and appointment to rulership – not any reference to deity; and it functions much like his title “Messiah.”

In fact to the Hebrew mind, Jesus’ many Messianic titles are completely interchangeable and even synonymous. To be the promised Messiah is to be the King of Israel, the Son of God. This is evidenced by the usage of these titles in the Old Testament, in reference to the ultimate Messiah. In his book, They Never Told Me THIS in Church!, Greg Deuble writes that “Psalm 2 uses the descriptions ‘My Son,’ ‘My king,’ and ‘My Messiah’ interchangeably for the promised savior who is to come: ‘The rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed [Messiah]…but as for Me I have installed My King upon Zion…You are My Son, today I have begotten you’ (Ps, 2:2,6-7).”[5]

These same titles continue to be used synonymously in the New Testament as well.  When Jesus gathers his first disciples, Andrew finds his brother Simon and announces, “’We have found the Messiah’ (which translated means (Christ)” (John 1:41). The story goes on to tell how “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). After hearing Jesus’ claim to have seen him under the fig tree, Nathanael exclaims, “‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel’” (John 1:49). Later, at his trial, it may be seen that Jesus considers his favorite self-designation, “Son of Man,” to be synonymous with the titles “Christ” and “Son of God” (Matt 26:63-64).  Clearly, it can be seen that these Jewish men were not only basing their understanding of the Christ on their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, but also that they were comfortable using the terms “Messiah,” “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” and “King of Israel” as synonyms referring to the same subject.

So then, what is the significance of these Messianic titles, if there is no biblical support for them to be applied as a reference to deity? To understand their importance, one must understand the concept of the Kingdom of God and the promised Messiah from a Jewish perspective which, as noted above, was solidly based on the revelation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Regrettably, these concepts are foreign to many churchgoers today, for orthodoxy is largely based on tradition and Greek philosophy, instead of its Hebraic roots. To make any sense of the Bible, we must return to a Jewish perspective. Author Greg S. Deuble presents a beautiful summary of the Jewish expectation of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God:

“…To Jewish ears the expression ‘the kingdom of God’ carried a huge (national) connotation. Their Hebrew Bible contained the recurrent theme that God was going to send the Messiah to be His agent to bring about the end of the world as it is currently run, and to introduce a whole new world order. The government of that age would be upon his shoulder (Is. 9:6). This Messiah was to be the son of David… [and] he would sit on the throne of David in a New Jerusalem. The enemies of God’s people would be judged. Truth and justice would cover the earth. All nations of the earth would be blessed through Israel’s exalted status. Even the very natural order would be completely transformed, to the point where dangerous animals would no longer hunt and tear apart, and where little children could play un harmed with them; the desert would blossom (Is. 11:6-9). In short, the glory of God, through the Messiah and his people would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”[6]

It is from this background that Jesus’ titles gain their significance. By proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, one is acknowledging that he is God’s appointed agent, the future King of the restored Israel! There is no suggestion of deity to be found in the Jewish understanding of the Messiah.

Supposedly the church is founded on the confession that Jesus is the Christ. However,  as Dr. Schonfield noted from his many conversations with Christians over the years, “So connected [has] the word ‘Christ’ become with the idea of Jesus as God incarnate, that the title ‘Messiah’ [is] treated as something curiously Jewish and not associated.”[7] However, as it has been previously noted, “Christ” is simply a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah!” The original meaning of the title Christ or Messiah has been lost! – has the identity of the one to whom the title belongs been lost as well? Anthony Buzzard writes in his booklet, Who is Jesus?: A Plea for a Return to the Belief in Jesus, the Messiah, that

“Christianity’s founding figure must be presented within the Hebrew-biblical framework…Outside that framework we invent another Jesus because his biblical descriptive titles have lost their original meanings (cp. 2 Cor. 11:4). When Jesus’ titles are invested with a new unscriptural meaning, it is clear that the no longer convey his identity truthfully.”[8]

A Messiah separated from his Messianic heritage is not the biblical Messiah. In fact, as Dr. Schonfield writes, “It was Messianism that made the life of Jesus what it was and so brought Christianity into being.”[9] And thus it appears that by losing sight of the biblical meaning of the title Messiah, orthodox Christianity has lost sight of the identity of the true Messiah and invented a new one – an incarnate “God-man” foreign to the Scriptures.

The fact that the church has lost sight of the true Messiah is evidenced by the gospel that they are preaching. According to the famous evangelical preacher, Billy Graham, the whole gospel message is summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3 and 4. He writes,

“You are saved through a personal faith in the gospel of Christ as defined in the Scriptures. “The Bible says, ‘ I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you…For I delivered to you first of all what I also received, that Christ died according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he was raised from the dead the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15:1,3,4).”[10]

But does Billy Graham’s definition, which is the definition of the gospel accepted by most mainstream churches, line up with the gospel message as defined by Jesus?  It would appear that it falls short of being the whole truth, for it is missing an essential ingredient: the kingdom of God.

Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the future King of the restored Israel, and the gospel message he heralded reflected his identity as such. Jesus was a kingdom-preacher, in fact preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God was his mission: “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). Jesus’ statement in Mark 1:14-15 leaves no doubt that the main subject of Jesus’ gospel message was the kingdom of God: “…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). This is the message that Jesus and his disciples preached, long before he ever made any mention of his death. This can be seen in Matthew 16:21-23, where Jesus says that he will be handed over to death by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and Peter rebukes him vehemently saying “’Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” (Matt 16:22). Clearly, if the message about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was the whole gospel that Peter and the other disciples had been sent out to preach in Matthew 10, Peter should not have been surprised. Therefore, if you say that the gospel is solely concerned with death and resurrection of Jesus, you do not sound like Jesus or his disciples. Those elements are as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “of first importance,” but are clearly not the whole gospel.

The full gospel is a message about the kingdom of God and of Jesus the Christ. This is made clear by Acts 8:12, which records that when the people “believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12). Baptism is contingent upon intelligent believe in the gospel. The gospel of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ are inseparable – the king must not be separated from his kingdom, or else he is no longer a king! And without the atoning death of the king, there would be no way to be forgiven and enter God’s kingdom. A message that solely proclaims the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins provides the “how,” but not the “why.” The message of the kingdom provides the reason “why” people should repent and believe.

Losing the biblical definition of the title “Messiah” has caused us to not only lose sight of the identity of the Messiah, but also of the message of salvation which he fervently heralded. In most churches today, a half-truth is being proclaimed as the full gospel. Not only that, but the Messiah is now generally thought to be a being who is fully man and fully God – a concept that would have been completely foreign to the Jews of first century Palestine, who expected the Messiah to be an anointed human agent of God destined to overthrow the wicked and rule the kingdom of God on the earth, with righteousness and justice. It is essential that we return to the biblical Messiah and the gospel message that he proclaimed, for the fact that Jesus is the Messiah is the very foundation of the church and the good news that he preached the essential message of salvation.

[1] Hugh Schonfield, The Passover Plot, p. 12.

[2] Greg S. Deuble, They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes, p 144.

[3] Greg S. Deuble, They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes, p 144.

[4] Colin Brown, “Trinity and Incarnation: In Search of Contemporary Orthodoxy.” Ex Auditu 7, 1991, p. 88.

[5]Greg S. Deuble, They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes, p 362.

[6] Greg s. Deuble, They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes, p 360 – 361

[7] Hugh Schonfield, The Passover Plot, p. 12.

[8] Anthony Buzzard, Who is Jesus?: A Plea for a Return to the Belief in Jesus, the Messiah, p 33-34.

[9] Hugh Schonfield, The Passover Plot, p. 23.

[10] Graham, Billy. “Facts, Faith and Feeling: Being Sure of Your Salvation.”


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