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June 1, 2010

by: Rebecca J. Brimmer, International President and CEO

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The Hebrew word for “messiah” is mashiach (משיח) and means “anointed one.” This word comes from the root word mashach (משח), which means “to anoint, smear (with oil), or consecrate.” It’s associated with the ancient Israeli custom of pouring oil on the head of a person being appointed to a position of authority.  Mashiach appears 39 times in the Older Testament, although the word “messiah” only appears twice in most English translations. The remaining 37 times, the word is translated “anointed one.”

The Greek word is Christos, translated into English as “Christ.” The word literally means “anointed one,” just as mashiach does in Hebrew. When Christians say Jesus Christ, most think they are saying His name, perhaps like our own first and last names. However, “Christ” is His title, which, when spoken with His name, is an affirmation of faith: Jesus the anointed one or Jesus the Messiah. The word “Christos” appears 569 times in 530 verses in the Newer Testament. In almost every instance, it refers to one person—Yeshua. As Christians, we understand this to reveal His unique role as Messiah, King, Savior, and Son of God.

Cultural Differences

Living in Israel, I have come to understand that one can say the same words and have totally different understanding about their meanings. Christians and Jews will sometimes have conversations in which both feel there has been good communication and walk away never realizing that they have not understood the intent of the other. Our Orthodox Jewish friend Moshe Kempinski says this: “Until the final days, our two communities will continue to use the same words and terminology but not necessarily mean the same thing, which…inevitably leads to misunderstanding and confusion.”

Mashiach is one of these words. As Christians, we know that there is only one Messiah, and He is Yeshua. But in the Tanach (Gen.–Mal.), there are many who are referred to by the title mashiach. The word is applied to priests (Lev. 4:3), kings (I Sam. 24:6; Isa. 45:1), and prophets (I Chron. 16:22).

Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, in his book To Be a Jew, explains the Jewish point of view: “The Messiah in Jewish thought was never conceived of as a Divine Being. As God’s anointed representative, the Messiah would be a person who would bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the people of Israel through the ingathering of the Jews to their ancestral home of Eretz Yisrael [land of Israel] and the restoration of Jerusalem to its spiritual glory. He would bring about an era marked by the moral perfection of all mankind and the harmonious coexistence of all peoples, free of war, fear, hatred and intolerance (see Isaiah 2, 11 and Micah 4).

“Claimants to the Messianic title arose at various times throughout Jewish history. The criterion by which each was judged was: Did he succeed in accomplishing what the Messiah was supposed to accomplish? By this criterion, clearly none qualified. The Messianic era is still ahead of us. The reestablishment of a Jewish State in our times and the restoration of a united Jerusalem as the capital of that State have led many devout Jews to hope that these times may be the beginning of that process of redemption that will ultimately lead to the realization of all the other ideals inherent in the Messianic belief.”

Future Unity?

David Rubin, a modern Orthodox resident of Shiloh believes that the day is coming when we Bible believers (both Jews and Christians) will be united. He sites Zechariah 14:9: “God will be King over all the land; on that day the Lord will be One and His Name will be One.” He explains, “In other words, on that day, there will be no confusion or disagreement between Jews and Christians about the ‘Messiah question’ or any other questions of theology. All of the theological disagreements that have tragically been the catalyst, even the excuse, for so much Jewish pain and bloodshed in the past will remain, in the past. There will be unprecedented unity among the peoples of the world in the desire to praise God in the proper way, which will be clear to all of us on that day.”

Truly, on the day when the Messiah comes, all confusion and disagreements will cease as we all follow the Messiah with gladness and rejoicing. May we live to see the day when, “they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10b).

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