The Messianic Expectation


The English word messiah is derived from the Hebrew word mashîah, which means “anointed.” The equivalent in Aramaic is meshîha, and in Greek Christos. It is from the Aramaic that the Greek messias is derived.

The particular meaning associated with the words messiah and Christ is: the King and Deliverer, the Anointed One, the Savior, the Redeemer.

Although the concept of a messiah is perhaps widely thought of as distinctively Judaic and Christian, or uniquely Judeo-Christian, even a cursory examination of world religions or the academic field called comparative religion will reveal almost a universality of the concept. Some students would suggest a naturalistic origin of the concept among the many groups that have held or do hold it, maintaining that in each of the groups it arose independently out of certain environmental circumstances, such as social, economic, and political conditions, although assuming that in some cases it was adopted by one group through the cultural impact of another.

An examination of the revelations of the Lord clearly indicates that although there may be an element of truth in the suggested proposition, the basic messianic concept is not of naturalistic origin, and that in all probability what appears to be a relatively universal, spontaneous manifestation of the concept, if records had been made among all peoples and preserved, would be found to be a diffusion of a concept known at the beginning of man’s sojourn upon the earth, which was part of the prophetic heritage that lingered in the traditions of the various peoples as they were scattered upon the earth.

The need for a messiah was understood by God’s spirit children even in the premortal council in heaven. Speaking of Satan, the Lord, in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, said:

“… he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

“But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” (Moses 4:1–2.)

Satan rebelled against God and persuaded one-third of all of God’s spirit children to follow him in that conflict in the premortal world, as a result of which Satan and his followers were cast out.

It is clear from ancient and modern revelation that it was over the question of the need for a redeemer that one-third of our Father’s spirit children chose to follow Satan even in the premortal world and forfeited their opportunity to become mortal and gain a body of flesh and bones.

Perhaps the first reference to the Redeemer in the Bible is in the account of the Lord’s dialogue with the serpent and Adam and Eve after the Fall, where, among other things, the Lord said to the serpent:

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15.)

At the moment when it appears that Satan, “that old serpent, even the devil” (D&C 76:28), has been victorious through the Fall, he is told that the seed of the woman will be victorious over him; or, in effect, the apparent tragedy of the Fall will be overcome by the seed of the woman.

Should there be any ambiguity in the Genesis 3:15 [Gen. 3:15] passage (see also Moses 4:21) regarding the messianic mission, or the coming of the Redeemer, there is utter clarity in the word given to Adam when he was offering a sacrifice to the Lord after he and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

“And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.

“And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.

“Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.

“And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed; and all mankind, even as many as will.” (Moses 5:6–9.)

Adam and Eve rejoiced when they learned that the Redeemer had been provided for mankind, “and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.” (Moses 5:12.)

But Satan exercised his influence, persuading men to love him more than God. Men everywhere were commanded to repent, but unrighteousness still prevailed.

“… [Men] would not hearken unto his [God’s] voice, nor believe on his Only Begotten Son, even him whom he declared should come in the meridian of time, who was prepared from before the foundation of the world.” (Moses 5:57.)

Enoch, who was descended from Adam through Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, and Jared, was called by the Lord while “but a lad” (Moses 6:26–31) to preach the gospel. He was shown men in their perversity from the time of Adam and “looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity. …” (Moses 7:41.) He saw Noah and the flood.

Enoch was shown that the Son of Man would come in the meridian of time, and he heard the Lord say: “Blessed is he through whose seed Messiah shall come; for he saith—I am Messiah, the King of Zion, the Rock of Heaven. …” (Moses 7:53.)

Among the many things Enoch was shown were both the first coming and the second coming of the Messiah, the Christ.

“And the Lord said unto Enoch: Look, and he looked and beheld the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, after the manner of men;

“And he heard a loud voice; and the heavens were veiled; and all the creations of God mourned; and the earth groaned; and the rocks were rent, and the saints arose, and were crowned at the right hand of the Son of Man, with crowns of glory.” (Moses 7:55–56.)

But the Lord also said unto Enoch:

“As I live, even so will I come in the last days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance. …

“And it came to pass that Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, in the last days, to dwell on the earth in righteousness for the space of a thousand years;

“But before that day he saw great tribulations among the wicked; and he also saw the sea, that it was troubled, and men’s hearts failing them, looking forth with fear for the judgments of the Almighty God, which should come upon the wicked.” (Moses 7:60, 65–66. Italics added.)

Methuselah was a son of Enoch, and Lamech was a son of Methuselah, and Noah was a son of Lamech.

“And the Lord ordained Noah after his own order, and commanded him that he should go forth and declare his Gospel unto the children of men, even as it was given unto Enoch.” (Moses 8:19.)

Noah and his three sons accepted the message of the gospel and “gave heed, and they were called the sons of God.” (Moses 8:13.)

From the time of Adam until Noah and his sons, there was a knowledge of the coming Messiah. Inasmuch as Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (along with their wives) survived the great flood, the knowledge that the Redeemer of mankind was to come was likewise preserved through the flood.

Several generations after the flood, in the time when the languages were confounded, the knowledge of the coming Redeemer was still among men, for the Redeemer manifested himself unto the brother of Jared and declared:

“Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. … In me shall all mankind have light, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name. …” (Ether 3:14.)

About a dozen generations after the flood, Jacob, or Israel, in blessing his son Judah prophesied the coming of the Messiah.

A few generations later the Lord directed Moses when he was delivering the children of Israel from their bondage to the Egyptians. Moses, in a remarkable passage of scripture, warned Israel against divination, enchanters, witches, consulters of familiar spirits, wizards, necromancers, and other abominations; then he said:

“The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” (Deut. 18:15.)

This is regarded as a messianic prophecy in that the subsequent prophets were not prophets “like unto” Moses in at least two significant respects, in which respects Moses’ work might be regarded as “like unto,” or analogous to, that of the Messiah.

The Messiah was the Deliverer; Moses was a deliverer; the other prophets were not. The Messiah is the Mediator; Moses was the mediator of the covenant; the other prophets were teachers and preachers of the covenant.

Another important aspect of the messianic expectation in Israel involved King David. As Moses had been a prophet who was a deliverer of the Israelites from bondage to the Egyptians, David became a king who was a deliverer of the Israelites from the political and military power of his contemporaries.

As Jacob prophesied the kingship and messianic future in his blessing upon Judah, later we find the Lord making covenant with David regarding the throne, through his prophet Nathan:

“And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, … and I will establish his kingdom.

“I will be his father, and he shall be my son. …

“And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.” (2 Sam. 7:12, 14, 16.)

The messianic dimensions of this covenant regarding the king and its identification with David, even centuries after the death of King David, is well illustrated in this prophecy of Ezekiel:

“And I will set up one shepherd over them, … even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.

“And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it.” (Ezek. 34:23–24.)

The Davidic symbolism is clearly projected to the messianic aspects of the last days in these words of the prophet Hosea:

“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:

“Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:4–5.)

Another great prophecy regarding the Messiah and the latter days and involving David was given through Jeremiah, who said:

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

“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.

“Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

“But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jer. 23:5–8.)

A century before Jeremiah, many things were revealed to Isaiah concerning the Messiah who was to come. In one place he said:

“Hear ye now, O house of David; …

“… the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:13–14. In Hebrew “Immanuel” means “with us is God.”) Reflecting on this remarkable son, Immanuel, Isaiah further identifies him by some other names and titles and says it is he who will reign on the throne of David forever.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isa. 9:6–7.)

The prophet Micah was shown that the great Ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem. And he wrote:

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2.)

In many places in his writings Isaiah mentions things associated with the Messiah, things that have to do with either his first coming or his second coming. For example, he says: “He will swallow up death in victory. …” (Isa. 25:8.) “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. …” (Isa. 26:19.)

The millennial condition of righteousness, peace, and abundance was described in some detail by Isaiah as part of the messianic promise.

Isaiah described very clearly the mission of the Messiah to suffer for and redeem mankind. He said he would be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He was “wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and with his stripes we are healed.” The Lord “hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He “made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.” He “poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (See Isa. 53.)

Of course, Isaiah lived in the age when the northern kingdom, or Israel, was destroyed and many of its people were taken into captivity by the Assyrians (721 B.C.).

It was 135 years later (586 B.C.) that the southern kingdom, or Judah, was destroyed and many of its people taken into captivity by the Babylonians.

Lehi and his associates departed from Jerusalem about 600 B.C., prior to the fall of Jerusalem, and were led by the Lord to what is now known as the Americas, taking with them the brass plates and its prophecies concerning the Messiah and making a record of their own on which they and their successors recorded their own visions and other revelations regarding the Messiah, including his visits among them after his resurrection.

The part of the record of Lehi’s people that we have is the Book of Mormon. Inasmuch as the great knowledge of the Book of Mormon peoples regarding the Messiah had no direct influence upon the old world Israelites, nothing more will be said about it here.

From the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, with the exception of the short-lived and insecure Maccabean revolt, the Palestinian remnant of Israel was a subject people of the great powers. First they were victims of the Babylonian captivity; then they were ruled in turn by the Persians, the Greeks, the Ptolemies, and the Seleucids. And the efforts of the zealous Maccabeans to establish Judaic control was succeeded by subjection to the rising world power, Rome.

As the centuries passed and the seemingly endless servitude to heathen powers continued, the Jews hungered for their liberation. It seems that the messianic vision of the prophets, which included the first coming of the Messiah, with his personal redeeming sacrifice, and his second coming to usher in the messianic age (millennial reign) in the last days, became fused in the minds of the people, or at least in the desires of the people.

They remembered the prophets had promised one “like unto Moses,” and a “son of David,” who would be raised up as the Messiah to deliver them even as Moses and David had delivered them, but when the Lord came into the world they seem to have forgotten the personal aspects of the Redeemer’s life and remembered only those parts of the prophecies which had to do with political matters, or the establishing of a permanent kingdom.

The Lord’s first coming was heralded by angelic testimony to the shepherds; and the wise men, Simeon and Anna, Elizabeth and Zacharias, and Mary and Joseph knew who he was from his infancy.

John the Baptist identified him to his own disciples as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29.)

After discovering Jesus, Andrew went to his brother, Simon, and said, “We have found the Messias,” that is, the Christ. (John 1:41.)

After Jesus taught the woman at Jacob’s well and then the others in Samaria, the Samaritans declared: “… for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42.)

When Jesus taught in the temple at the feast of the tabernacles, “many of the people … said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ.” Still others disputed, and “there was a division among the people because of him.” (John 7:40–41, 43.)

On many occasions the Lord said things that were explicit declarations of who he was, or things that now seem so clear by implication that it is difficult to understand how they could have been misunderstood when they were given. For example, he declared:

“… if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” (John 8:24.)

“… I lay down my life for the sheep.

“… I lay down my life, that I might take it again.

“No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. …” (John 10:15, 17–18.)

“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25.)

When Jesus addressed the multitude in the bread of life sermon, among other things, he said this:

“I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:35, 38, 40.)

The Lord told the brethren the things that would happen to him when he and they went to Jerusalem again (Mark 10:33–34); and when those events began to unfold and he was subjected to one of the several trials, the high priest said unto him, “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God,” and Jesus answered, “Thou hast said. …” (Matt. 26:63–64).

Again, when Jesus was before Pilate he was confronted directly with the question, “Art thou a king then?” To Pilate the Lord responded, “Thou sayest 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 unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” (John 18:37.) Previously the Lord had declared that he was the truth. (See John 14:6; John 8:31–36.)

After Pilate’s query of Jesus, he said to the multitude, “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.” (Matt. 27:22. Italics added.)

The public knowledge of Jesus’ declaration that he was the Messiah, the Christ, was further attested when Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. “And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.

“This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.

“Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.

“Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.” (John 19:19–22.)

Additional testimony of Jesus’ messiahship was given the world when he was resurrected and was seen in Palestine on a number of occasions and in a variety of circumstances over a period of some forty days. He was seen by Mary, by the women, by two disciples on the road to Emmaus, by Simon, by the apostles with Thomas absent, by the apostles with Thomas present, by seven of the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, by the eleven apostles on a mountain in Galilee, and by more than five hundred brethren at once.

The ancient apostles were given still an additional assurance of the Lord’s messiahship when they witnessed his ascension into heaven and “two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10–11.) Thus the first coming of the Messiah and first phase of his messianic work was concluded, as far as the biblical record reports.

In the spring of 1820 the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith to inaugurate the work of the latter days, which includes the preliminary aspects for the second phase of the Lord’s messianic work.

In describing instruction given to him by the angel Moroni on the evening of September 21, 1823, the Prophet Joseph Smith said:

“This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God, sent to bring the joyful tidings that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the Gospel in all its fullness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the Millennial reign.” (DHC, vol. 4, pp. 536–37. Italics added.)

The Lord has restored the keys of the holy priesthood by direct ordination of mortals by resurrected beings who held that power anciently.

He has established his church and kingdom in the earth with prophets, seers, and revelators to direct the work.

In addition to the Holy Bible, he has now given the world published revelation in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.

The message of the restored gospel continues to go forth throughout the earth, proclaimed by those whom the Lord has authorized to speak in his name.

When the time is ripe and all the preparations have been made, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Messiah, will come again and the prophetic events associated with his coming will occur. Then the millennial reign will be ushered in and he whose right it is to reign will rule and reign a thousand years. Thus the second of the two broad prophetic aspects of the messianic expectation will be accomplished, which is the age of righteousness, peace, and abundance.

Even as the preparations for the work of the Messiah extend back into the premortal council in heaven, and the Lord Jesus Christ came and completed the first phase of his messianic work, just as surely will he come again and usher in the Messianic Age.

And, as he himself said:

“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

“For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,

“And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matt. 24:37–39.)

There are those who do not believe in the second coming of the Lord, just as there were those who did not accept him in his first coming, and as there were those who did not believe Noah’s word regarding the coming flood. To such the words of a great Book of Mormon prophet should evoke some soul searching:

“… what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled.” (Alma 5:58.)

[illustrations] Paintings by Carl Bloch. (Pictures copyright 1972 by the Corporation of the President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

[illustration] “… after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” Luke 2:46–47)

[illustration] At Jacob’s Well in Samaria, Jesus said to the woman, “… whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst …” (John 4:14)

[illustration] “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them …” (Matt. 5:1–2)

[illustration] Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden of Eden. (Picture copyright 1972 by the Corporation of the President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

Dr. Yarn is a professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University, the author of many religious books and articles, and president of the BYU Eighth Stake.