We anchor our faith with the testimony that Jesus is the Christ, or in other words, the Messiah. This means, as Paul declares, “that [Messiah] 1 died for our sins according to the scriptures;
“And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day.” (1 Cor. 15:3–4.)
Most of Jesus’ contemporaries, however, did not expect that the Messiah would suffer and die. When Jesus taught the crowds in Jerusalem about his impending crucifixion, “the people answered him, We have heard out of the law that [Messiah] abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?” (John 12:34.)
Even the Apostles were confused about the sacrificial role of the Messiah. After Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Peter presumed to rebuke the Lord for saying that the Messiah “must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” (Matt. 16:16, 21–22.)
Were the prophetic announcements concerning the role of the Messiah so unclear as to cause widespread misunderstanding? Were the people so unacquainted with the scriptures that their beliefs concerning the Messiah were unfounded?
The Anointed One, the Great King
The Hebrew title messiah and its Greek equivalent christ mean the anointed one and could be used for a number of callings. The title mashiah (anointed one) applied to anyone—a priest, a king, or a prophet—who was anointed with oil to minister in God’s behalf. (See Ex. 29:29; 1 Sam. 10:1; 1 Kgs. 19:16.) Jesus was all of these—prophet, priest, and king.
His anointment took place in heaven, where God anticipated the fall of Adam and the need for a redeemer. It was there that Jesus became “the anointed Son of God, from before the foundation of the world.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 265.) For this reason, John identified Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8.)
Although the major earthly role of the Son of God was to conquer physical and spiritual death, many prophecies focus on the Anointed One primarily in his kingly role. One early prophecy stated, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Gen. 49:10.)
When David, of the tribe of Judah, came to the throne, the Lord promised him that his posterity would continue as heirs to the throne forever. (1 Chr. 17:11–14.) Thus, the Messiah would occupy David’s throne. Isaiah wrote concerning him:
“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 for ever.” (Isa. 9:7.)
The royal emphasis in many prophecies captured the imagination of most Jews. Paul testified that Jesus was this Royal One and that He would eventually be recognized as “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; … to whom be honour and power everlasting.” (1 Tim. 6:15–16.)
In that time to come, David’s descendant son, the great king, would be endowed by the Spirit with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. Because of his righteousness, he would not need to “judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.” (Isa. 11:1–4.)
Thus, the appellation Son of David became a synonym for Messiah. Anyone who greeted Jesus by this name showed that he regarded the Lord in this light. For this reason, the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary that “the Lord God shall give unto him [Mary’s son] the throne of his father David: … and of his kingdom there shall be no end” was a clear declaration to her that her son, Jesus, would be the royal Messiah. (Luke 1:32–33.)
When the time had finally come to reveal himself as the King of Israel, he did it by following ancient precedent, established by Solomon, who, after being anointed king at the spring of Gihon, mounted a mule for the royal procession into Jerusalem and was greeted with tumultuous joy: “Long live the King.” (See 1 Kgs. 1:38–45.) Other successors must have been similarly anointed. Thus, God revealed to the Jews that they could recognize their King when he came in like manner:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zech. 9:9.)
By choosing to ride into Jerusalem upon the colt of an ass, Jesus—his very name meaning that he would save his people—announced that he was the prophesied King, having salvation. Therefore, the believing, ecstatic Jews greeted him with “Hosanna!”—a word that means please save!—and shouted, “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” (Mark 11:7–10; Luke 19:35–38.)
Horrified Pharisees, alarmed at the crowd’s acclamations, beseeched Jesus to rebuke his disciples, to which the Lord answered, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:39–40.)
The royal Heir to the throne had arrived at the royal city. Enemies would soon bring about his crucifixion—what they thought was victory—but for the moment, the God of salvation was making his royal entry into Jerusalem, and his message of royal Messiahship was clear.
After Moses had established God’s covenant and law in Israel’s midst and had prepared himself to leave his people, he counseled them to prepare to accept another prophet like him. For God had promised:
“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” (Deut. 18:18–19.)
Like Moses, that prophet would make a new covenant and give new laws. Jeremiah wrote of that new covenant with the house of Israel, saying that it would be “not according to the covenant [God] made with their fathers in the day that [he] took them … out of the land of Egypt,” but instead would be a law written “in their hearts.” (Jer. 31:31–33.)
It was this messianic prophet for whom all Israel was waiting whom Peter declared to be Jesus:
“For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. …
“Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” (Acts 3:22, 26.)
The law Moses delivered to Israel superseded the older gospel law known in Abraham’s day, making all things new. (See Gal. 3:8, 19; JST, Ex. 34:1–2; D&C 84:19–27.) In a similar way, Jesus made all things new under his own law when he fulfilled the Mosaic law and restored the fullness of the gospel to Israel. (See Heb. 7–10.) Knowing this would happen, Nephi charged his people to observe Moses’ law until the new lawgiver would come; then they must be prepared to give up the old: “The words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.” (2 Ne. 26:1; italics added.) Only one with authority like Moses could replace Moses’ law. (See 3 Ne. 15:8–9.)
By word and deed Jesus himself sent clear messages to the Jews that a new lawgiver was replacing Moses. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; …
“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matt. 5:21–22.)
Jesus continued the sermon, redefining the Mosaic laws of adultery, divorcement, oaths, retribution, and love. (See Matt. 5:27–47.) His new covenant and his new, divine legislation showed Jews that One like Moses had arisen to fulfill prophecy, and whoever ignored it, as Moses had said, God would hold him accountable.
Immanuel, or with Us Is God
Two passages in Isaiah speak of a divine child being born. The first promises that “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” which means with us is God. (Isa. 7:14.)
The second, viewing the future birth as an accomplished fact, states, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: … and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6.)
Isaiah’s use of titles not only announces the birth of the mighty God, but also shows the glory and reputation the divine Messiah would have and the work he would perform. When Jesus came to earth as a helpless babe, he was still the great I Am, Jehovah, the Son of the Eternal Father, heralded by angelic hosts.
Even before the birth of Jesus, the angel Gabriel, referring to the prophecy in Isaiah 9, [Isa. 9] emphasized to Mary that her child would be called the Son of God. (See Luke 1:26–35.) Matthew also wrote that the birth of Jesus fulfilled the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah. (See Matt. 1:22–23.)
In Isaiah 61:12, [Isa. 61:12] the prophet foretold that the Messiah would be anointed to help the powerless of body, mind, or spirit triumph over their enemies. So rich is this prophecy in promise that one can see why Jesus used it to announce his Messiahship at the Nazareth synagogue. Herein he describes his anointing:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
“To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18–19; italics added.)
As Jesus stood in his hometown synagogue at Nazareth and discussed this prophecy in gracious words, how eagerly he must have yearned for his startled friends and neighbors to understand how God had anointed One in their midst to minister to their greatest needs. (See Luke 4:16–22.) Whoever among them understood Isaiah would know also why Jesus would work with sinners, sacrifice his life, and feed the hungry and thirsty with the bread of life and living water. The divine Messiah was to be the Savior who gathers those who are lost, comforts those who mourn, looses those who are bound, and heals those who are sick.
Having applied this prophecy to himself, all one had to do to test the divinity of Jesus’ calling was to see how well his ministry corresponded to this prophecy to see whether he truly was the anointed One. He challenged John’s disciples and any would-be-believer to come and see. (See Luke 7:22.)
Although Jesus fulfilled these and similar prophecies to the letter, he seemed to fail in one. And for many, it prevented them from accepting Jesus as the Messiah. Every Jew knew that Bethlehem would be the Messiah’s birthplace (see Micah 5:2), but most assumed that Jesus had been born in Nazareth.
When Jesus visited Jerusalem during the feast of the tabernacles, some asked, “When [Messiah] cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” Others saw him as the Prophet whom Moses spoke of, while yet others referred to the Bethlehem prophecy. (John 7:31, 40–43, 50–52.)
On some occasions, Jesus affirmed that he was truly the Son of God, but he was very careful about how he said it. However, at his trial, when it became an official issue and Jesus wanted to leave no doubt about who he was, he answered the high priest’s question “Art thou the [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed?” with the unwavering words, “I am.”
The high priest then tore his own clothes and exclaimed, “What need we any further witnesses. Ye have heard his blasphemy.” (Mark 14:61–64.)
Ironically, the only person who could make that claim of divinity and not be guilty of blasphemy was Jesus.
The Sacrificial Messiah
Even though the Jews expected salvation from the great Messiah and practiced animal sacrifice as a central religious rite, for some reason they did not think of their salvation as being based on the sacrifice of the Messiah.
Nevertheless, the scriptures were clear about the Messiah’s sacrifice. In fact, the Messiah’s suffering and sacrifice were taught from the beginning. After the fall of Adam and Eve, Lucifer discovered that in time he would indeed bruise the Messiah’s heel but the Messiah would bruise his head. (Gen. 3:15.) Adam and Eve learned from an angel that their ritual sacrifices were “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father,” a sacrifice that would redeem mankind from the Fall and make it possible to again see God in the flesh. (Moses 5:7, 9–10.)
Adam and Eve also knew the name of the Only Begotten, for God told Adam that the “Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth” would be “Jesus [Messiah], the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men.” (Moses 6:52.)
From that time on, the sacrificial, saving role of Jesus the Messiah was known among men. The Old Testament is replete with types of and references to the sacrificial Messiah.
The uniqueness and centrality of the sacrifice of the coming Lord was commemorated through ordinances like the sin and trespass offerings (see Lev. 4–6) and especially the rites of the annual Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16). Animal sacrifice became the temporal means by which the Israelites kept faith with God and looked forward to forgiveness for their sins.
Though many Jews of Jesus’ time were reluctant to accept Jesus as the one to whom the sacrifices pointed, when Peter fully understood, he boldly taught, “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things … ;
“But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
“Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world.” (1 Pet. 1:18–20.)
Many of the events in the Old Testament also pointed to the ultimate sacrifice. When the Israelites were dying of serpent bites, Moses lifted up a brass serpent in the camp of Israel to save them. Those who looked with faith at the figure lived. (See Num. 21:6–9.) Thus, Jesus taught Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:14–15.)
When the children of Israel in Egypt daubed the blood of lambs on their doorposts, they were saved from the destroyer. The Lord then commanded them to observe the passover feast, which included an unblemished male lamb and unleavened bread, in memory of their deliverance. (See Ex. 12:1–43.) Paul taught that the Passover symbolized the sacrifice of Jesus and the condition of those who accepted him:
“For even [Messiah] our passover is sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor. 5:7.)
Yet, the time came when those types of the Savior were misunderstood, as King Benjamin said concerning the Jews, “Many signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows showed he unto them, concerning his coming; and also holy prophets spake unto them concerning his coming; and yet they hardened their hearts, and understood not that the law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood.” (Mosiah 3:15.)
Isaiah was the foremost in describing a suffering, righteous servant who would suffer in order to save many.
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. …
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: … and with his stripes we are healed. …
“He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa. 53:4–5, 11; see also Isa. 50:5–7; Isa. 52:13–15.)
The following verses from Psalm 22 also describe metaphorically the circumstances of the crucifixion:
“All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
One wonders why such graphic prophecies as these were not understood by Peter and the rest of the Apostles until after the resurrection when they were able to bear witness of Messiah’s great and eternal sacrifice.
While Isaiah foresaw that the Messiah would be taken from judgment and cut off from the land of the living, that he would make his grave with the wicked (see Isa. 53:8–9), Isaiah also wrote, “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces. …
“And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us.” (Isa. 25:8–9.)
The Millennial Messiah
The grave could not contain Jesus the Messiah. Ancient prophets looked to Jesus’ resurrection and the great day of resurrection with deep joy:
“Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” (Isa. 26:19.)
Job’s exultant testimony shows what must have been a deep conviction for many ancient Israelites:
“I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
“And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25–26.) Job, Abraham, Adam, Enoch, Ezekiel, and all the ancient Saints knew of the promised Resurrection and looked forward to the Savior’s coming, for his triumph over death would also be theirs.
The signs of Jesus’ humiliation and ill treatment would remain with Jesus after the resurrection, establishing his identity as the true Messiah. When he appeared to his disciples in Jerusalem, he said, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see.” (Luke 24:39.)
The marks will again be evident when Jesus the Messiah comes to the beleaguered Jews and stands on the Mount of Olives, which shall cleave asunder. Then, with horrified fascination, they will recognize him, asking, “What are these wounds in thine hands?” and hearing, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (Zech. 14:3–4; Zech 13:6.)
As a Bridegroom, he will celebrate his reunion with his bride—the Church—and sit down in a great messianic banquet with special guests that include all the faithful. (See Isa. 25:6; D&C 27:5–14.) He will inaugurate a reign of wisdom, justice, and peace, to which every honest heart may assent. No one, not even the beasts, will injure another. God the Son will be judge and king, and the world will be full of the knowledge of the Lord. (See Isa. 11:2–9.)
At that day, the Lamb will teach the faithful all things that pertain to his work. He will open and read aloud the book that “contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God … concerning this earth.” (D&C 77:6–7; Rev. 5:1–9.) Every person will acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah is Savior and King and that there is no other beside him; and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Lord. (See Philip. 2:10–11.)
Until then, the Father has said to his Son, “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” (Ps. 110:1.)
Eventually all things will be brought under the Savior’s control, including death. Then he will triumphantly deliver the kingdom into his Father’s care. (1 Cor. 15:24–26.) In that day, when he is finally called King of kings and Lord of lords and Messiah of messiahs, all things foreknown about him will have been fulfilled.
To help the reader understand the Hebrew idea more fully, I have substituted the Hebrew word Messiah in brackets throughout this article for the Greek word Christ.