Modern readers are usually familiar with the term Messiah both in its Hebrew form (transliterated into modern English as “Messiah”) and in its Greek form (Christ, a modernized spelling of Christos). Both terms mean “anointed” and can be used in a general sense, such as in a sacrifice that is anointed before being offered, and in a technical sense to refer to someone who will come and fulfill the role of the Messiah.

Jesus Christ MormonTypically, Christians in the modern era think of the Messiah as a distinct person, Jesus Christ, and speak of the Messiah as having already lived. This refined and specific definition of Messiah has encouraged Christian scholars to look back into the story of Jesus Christ and speak of what the Jews of the first century expected in their Messiah, as though their expectations were parallel to what modern Christians think about the Messiah. This process often causes modern readers to speak of the Jews as having missed their Messiah, in part to emphasize that they were looking for the wrong type of Messiah.

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Looking at the same issue from a Jewish perspective yields a very different set of conclusions. First, in the first century AD it is not clear from the surviving evidence that the Jews thought of the messiah as a divine person: rather, they thought of people like Cyrus of Persia as a messiah who delivered the Jewish people from Babylonian captivity (Daniel 9:25-26). Other people, who were anointed by the Lord to deliver the Jewish people, could be considered messiahs. Second, some Jewish groups like those who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls expected two messiahs, each with a different role to fulfill. One role of the Dead Sea Scroll community’s messiah was to lead the members into war against foreign oppressors and thereby to redeem Israel. Finally, the subjugation of Judea and Galilee, first by Seleucid rulers in the post-Alexander era and then eventually by Roman occupiers of the land in the first century BC, likely heightened Jewish emphasis on the expectation that the Lord would send a messiah who would deliver the Lord’s people from oppression. Those who looked for this deliverer appear to have thought of him in terms of Joshua, Cyrus, Zerubbabel, and later Simon bar Kochba.

Today Jews are divided with respect to the role the messiah will play. Some, like orthodox Jews, look for a future redemptive messiah who will help Israel regain its former glory. Others, such as reform Jews, look at those who help the Jews, both nationally and individually, as messiahs. Because of their contributions in helping the Jews, these individuals can be considered messiahs.

Christians on the other hand, think of the return of the Messiah, and they interpret that return in specific ways. The return of the Messiah is often described using apocalyptic terminology and the coming of the Messiah will initiate an age in which the righteous will overthrow the oppressive domination of the kingdoms of the world and establish a new Messianic kingdom. The Messiah will return to earth as a Savior, although the return will be a heavenly descent rather than through birth as in the first coming. Specifically, many Christians look forward to a time when the Messiah will return to earth and appear in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, where he will split the mount and save Israel from its enemies (Zechariah 14:1-7).

About karenrose
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.

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