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4. Identifying the Messiah

Identifying the Messiah

For generations, the Jews have eagerly been waiting for a human Messiah to emerge in their times to deliver them. Yet, when the long-awaited Messiah whom Moses spoke of finally appeared, most Jews in the 1st Century failed to recognize that the prophecies were beginning to unfold in Jesus. Sadly, many rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Only a few embraced Jesus as their Messiah and became his disciples.

Anticipating the Messiah

Simeon and Anna anticipated eagerly for the appearance of the Messiah in their times. They were among the few who, through faith and spiritual discernment, recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” [1] (Lk 2:25-26)

Joseph and Mary were ordinary parents who lived in the small town of Nazareth. When they presented their firstborn son to Yahweh in Jerusalem’s Temple, Simeon, guided by the Spirit, immediately acknowledged Jesus as God’s Messiah. Simeon had been eagerly waiting for this day to come, because God had promised him that he would not die until he had seen “the Lord’s Messiah”. “The Lord” here refers to “Yahweh”. Jesus is Yahweh’s Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah who belongs to Yahweh.

While holding the baby Jesus in his hands, Simeon prayed to Yahweh saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” (v.30) He discerned Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, fulfilling God’s promise of salvation not only to the Jews but also for all nations. Jesus was both a light to reveal Yahweh to the nations, and to bring glory to the people of Israel (v.32). The mission of the Messiah would be universal and not nationalistic. Simeon said to Mary, “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (vv. 34, 35). The Messiah would have a profound impact on the people of Israel. His presence and teaching would provoke strong reactions. Some will stumble, while others will rise and be saved. Jesus’ ministry would serve as a dividing line, exposing the inner thoughts of individuals and separating those who will accept him with faith from those who will reject him.

Anna, the 84-year-old prophetess, came up at that very hour, and “she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v.38). Unlike Simeon, Anna was not just visiting the Temple for the day, for she had been there all the time worshipping God in the Temple with fasting and prayer (v.37). Her many years of sacrifice and service brought her to this momentous hour to behold the Messiah Jesus. With thankfulness for God’s faithfulness, Anna immediately proclaimed the message of hope and salvation. God had not forgotten His people, and the long-awaited redemption would be realized in and through Jesus.

This was a great moment of joy and truth for these two saints as they waited for the consolation of Israel (v. 25) and the redemption of Jerusalem (v. 38). Clearly, they were well-versed in Scripture regarding the Messiah. Both of them had been anticipating the birth of the long-awaited Messiah through an Israelite family. In accordance to Moses’ law, many parents would bring their firstborn male child to the Temple for dedication and purification (Exo 13:2; 22:29). But on that special day when baby Jesus was dedicated to God in the Temple, it was not like any other day, but a day orchestrated by Yahweh. The arrival of the Messiah was publicly announced. The time of waiting was over, and God’s plan of redemption would unfold through Jesus. This marked a pivotal moment in human history. The long-awaited Messiah had arrived!

Conclusion: The Old Testament prophets had given the Jews many clues to help them identify God’s appointed Messiah. The Messianic prophecies started their fulfillment at Jesus’ birth when the angel of the Lord proclaimed, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord” (Lk 2:11). This was a proclamation of God’s promised Messiah at his birth. As Savior and Lord, the Messiah had a Messianic mission ahead of him. The public proclamation was made again by Simeon and Anna in the Temple of Jerusalem when Jesus was perhaps about 40 days old (cf. Lev 12:2-4). Mary must have later spoken to Jesus about her encounter with Simeon and Anna. Jesus was fully aware of his Messianic mission given by the Father, and that his Messianic role will be fulfilled in stages.

Are you the Messiah?

With a strong hope for the arrival of the Messiah to deliver them, the Jews in the 1st Century were constantly attempting to identify who he might be.

People questioning John the Baptist

When John the Baptist came on the scene, people queried whether he could be the Christ.

“As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” (Lk 3:15)

John the Baptist was the last prophet of the old covenant. The priests and the Levites from Jerusalem asked the Baptist, “Are you the Prophet?” (Jn 1:21) and he answered “No”. The Jews recognized “John was a man sent from God” (v.6) therefore they queried whether John could be the messianic figure. All the time, the Jews were looking for the Messiah from among men. John outrightly confessed, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent before him.” (Jn 3:28). The Jews did not have in mind a God-Messiah figure to appear, but a man-Messiah, a prophet like Moses, Elijah, or the Baptist sent from God.

The query from John the Baptist

In the Gospel accounts, the Jews had a great concern over whether Jesus was the expected one, “the one to come”, as they had read about him from the Old Testament prophecies. Later, when the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to query about Jesus.

Calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Lk 7:19-20)

Even John, a prophet, who baptized Jesus and prepared the way for him, experienced moments of uncertainty regarding Jesus’ identity. While in prison, he doubted whether Jesus was fulfilling the prophetic expecta­tions of the Messiah. John preached a message of repentance, warning people of God’s impending judgment. (Mt 3:7-12) The axe was laid at the root of the trees, therefore the impending judgment was imminent. John might have expected Jesus to exercise his authority to execute justice, separating the righteous from the wicked. Jesus’ ministry seemed to have taken a different direction from what he had expected, so “shall we look for another?” John sent his disciples to ask for confirmation from Jesus.

In response, Jesus provided evidence from Scripture that he was the Messiah. “Go, and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22). Jesus was the Messiah fulfilling the prophecies in Isaiah 35:5-6 and Isaiah 61:1. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” “The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Jesus wanted John to know that the signs and miracles he performed indeed were fulfilling the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scripture.

The Crowd who witnessed Jesus’ miracle

Jesus attracted a large crowd who followed him because of the signs and wonders he performed. After the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish, the crowd recognized Jesus as a significant figure fulfilling their Messianic expectations.

“This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (Jn 6:14)

They identified Jesus as the Prophet, who would deliver them and provide for their needs like Moses. They were so impressed by Jesus’ power that they wanted to make him king by force (v.15). A common understanding of the Jews at the time was that they expected the Messiah to be a political leader to deliver them from Roman rule. However, Jesus knew that the time for him to rule as king had not yet come. He withdrew to the mountains and continued his ministry teaching people about the proper understanding of the Kingdom of God. The crowd had limited knowledge of Jesus’ Messianic mission and needed to grasp the dynamic movement of God’s Kingdom.

The Crowd at the Feast of Tabernacles

Jesus taught in the Temple when he was at the Feast of Tabernacles. The people in Jerusalem marvelled at his learning and wondered whether he could be the Messiah. (Jn 7:14-26). There was a division among the people regarding Jesus’ identity. Some believed him to be the Messiah while others doubted.

“Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?” (Jn 7:26b)

The Jews were wondering whether the religious leaders and authorities knew that Jesus was the Messiah. If so, why didn’t they openly declare it? Why were they suppressing that knowledge? There were tensions among the religious authorities as they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. They sent officers to arrest Jesus.

The crowd was more open to the possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah, for they said, “When the Messiah appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (v.31) The works that Jesus did had already caught their attention. They debated among themselves whether there would be greater signs when the true Messiah appears. The Jews were trying to identify the Messiah by his signs and miracles.

On the last day of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (vv. 37-38) Jesus as the Messiah was fulfilling the prophecies of “the living water”. When people heard these words, there were different responses:

Some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” (Jn 7:40b)

Others said, “This is the Messiah.” (Jn 7:41a)

But some said, “Is the Messiah to come from Galilee? Has not Scripture said that the Messiah comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (Jn 7:41b-42)

The different responses show that the Jews were trying to identify whether Jesus was the Prophet, the long-awaited Messiah to rule as their king on David’s throne. Since Jesus had spent a significant part of his ministry in Galilee, skepticism arose as to whether Jesus could be the Messiah. Obviously, they were familiar with Jesus’ family and background. They were also familiar with Scripture that the Messiah would be the offspring of David and be born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David, as foretold by the prophet Micah (Mic 5:2)

The crowd had doubts and queries as they had limited knowledge of the person of Jesus. The crowd at that time did not have access to the New Testament which contains the record of Jesus’ birth. The New Testament had not been written yet. The individual books of the New Testament were in circulation within the Christian communities only in the late 1st Century CE, after Jesus’ time.[2]

The Samaritan Woman

Not only the Jews, but also the Samaritans had great anticipation that someone greater than Moses would come.

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (Jn 4:25)

There were great tensions and animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans were hated and despised because they were viewed as compromising their faith by marrying foreigners and adopting their idolatrous practices. The Jews did not want to have any dealings with them, yet Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water. When Ray and I visited Jacob’s well in today’s Balata village, the whole scene of John 4 came alive in front of our eyes. Oh, Jesus indeed loved the Samaritans, and so should we.

During the conversation, Jesus spoke about “the living water” he could give her. Living water provides a continual flow of water that cleanses and purifies those who drink it. Unlike still water in the well, flowing water is dynamic, refreshing and never ceases. Jesus was inviting the woman to come and drink from him, for the water will become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14) This caused the Samaritan woman to wonder whether Jesus could be greater than Jacob (v.12).

She bravely asked Jesus for this living water that could give her eternal life. In response, Jesus called for her repentance by bringing in the sensitive topic of her husband. The woman denied having a husband. Jesus pointed out to her that she had had five husbands, and the man she currently had was not her husband. She was astonished that Jesus could reveal the personal details about her immoral life. The Samaritan woman moved on to perceive Jesus as more than an ordinary person but a prophet (v.19).

The woman became convicted and asked about the proper place of worship because the Samaritans believed Mount Gerizim, rather than Jerusalem, as the chosen place to worship Yahweh. Jesus reminded her that “salvation is from the Jews” (v. 22). The Messiah comes through Israel, not only for the Jews, but from the Jews. Without Israel, there would be no Messiah. Jesus loved the Jews, and the Samaritans should love them the same, as they both worship Yahweh as their God. The hour would come when true worshippers of God would worship Yahweh in spirit and in truth. Sure enough, 40 years later, the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem. Not one stone was left upon another. The Romans also slaughtered thousands of Samaritans and brought an end to their worship on Mount Gerizim as well. The Messiah would usher in a new era of worship to bring all worshippers to worship the God in truth and in spirit. God is spirit, and this God is the Father of the Messiah. The word “Father” is repeated twice in verse 23.

The Samaritan woman then expressed to Jesus about her hope that when the Messiah comes, he will reveal all things. She was still trying to identify the Messiah. Could Jesus possibly be the long-awaited Messiah? Jesus revealed to her that he was the promised Messiah (v.26).

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn 4:29)

She then returned to her village and invited her people to see this remarkable man. Could he be the awaited Messiah as “he told me all that I ever did” (v.39). Many Samaritans from that town went to see Jesus and believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. The barrier between the Jews and the Samaritans, male and female, Israel and Judah all faded away in the person of the Messiah Jesus.

Conclusion: In the Gospel accounts, people from all walks of life were waiting for the prophet Messiah to appear, and so they would try to identify who this Messiah might be among the men of Israel. Views concerning the expected Messiah were diverse during the Second Temple period. There were four different sects in Jesus’ time: the Essenes, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Pharisees.

In our first study trip to Israel, we visited Khirbet Qumran, where the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. About eleven caves were excavated, with thousands of fragments of manuscripts, written mostly on parchment and papyrus. Fragments of almost the whole Hebrew Bible were found.[3] These scrolls shed new lights and research to the understanding of the Bible. We learned how the Essenes lived in the Qumran communities during the Second Temple period. Their writings revealed that they were looking forward to the advents of two messianic figures, a priestly Messiah and a kingly Messiah. On the other hand, the Sadducees did not hope for a Messiah nor did they believe in resurrection. The Zealots strongly resisted Roman occupation and believed in the sword. They anticipated a Messiah who would be a military leader to overthrow the Roman rulers and establish an independent Jewish state. As for the Pharisees, they envisioned the Messiah to reestablish Israel’s political and religious power. They anticipated a leader who would deliver them from Roman rule, and restore Israel to its former glory as an independent nation. Jesus defied these expectations as he said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn 18:36) His role as the Messiah and his vision of the Kingdom were quite different from the popular concept of the day. Regardless of their diverse opinions concerning their expecta­tions of the Messiah, Jesus challenged their preconceptions and gave them teachings about God’s Kingdom to help them better understand the mission of the Messiah.

We have found the Messiah

The disciples of Jesus were consciously waiting for the promised Messiah long before they started following Jesus.

Andrew and Simon

“He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).” (Jn 1:41)

Andrew was initially a disciple of John the Baptist. The Baptist preached about the need to repent for the Kingdom of God was at hand. (Mt 3:2) He also proclaimed the Messiah as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29) Andrew must have also witnessed the scene in which John baptized Jesus. While people went to Jordan River to confess their sins and receive baptism from the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism served to fulfill all righteousness (Mt 3:6, 15). The purpose of the baptism was also to identify and reveal the Messiah to Israel. (Jn 1:31) The heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove resting on Jesus. The dove symbolized the Holy Spirit. God affirmed to the Baptist regarding the Messiah, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 1:33). A voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16-17) God affirmed to Jesus that he was fulfilling the Messianic prophecies in Psalm 2:7 (a kingly son) and Isaiah 42:1 (a chosen servant in whom He delights). The Jordan River was a popular site for Jewish ritual immersion and purification. Many individuals, particularly the disciples of the Baptist, would have witnessed and recognized Jesus’ Messianic identity at his baptism.

One day, when Andrew and another disciple were with the Baptist, they saw Jesus walking by, and John proclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Hearing this, Andrew and the other disciple followed Jesus immediately. Jesus noticed they were following him, so he reached out to them and asked, “What are you seeking?” This is a simple yet profound question everyone needs to face. What do you look for in Jesus? They responded, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” By addressing Jesus as “Rabbi”, they acknowledged Jesus’ authority and sought to learn from him. It was already the 10th hour, about 4pm in late afternoon. Jesus invited them to come and see, and so they stayed with him that day. What an extraordinary day this was for Andrew and the other disciple. How I wish I were there too. What did Jesus say to them? It would have been one of those days you wish would never end. Eureka! We have identified the Messiah! Can you picture the joy of the two disciples? Andrew immediately looked for Simon to tell him who the Messiah was. Simon had to go and see for himself, and so Andrew “brought him to Jesus” (v.42). Each person must have his personal encounter with Jesus. When Jesus looked at Simon, he gave Simon a new Aramaic name “Cephas” (v.42).

Upon recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, the early disciples followed Jesus. Jesus was not just an ordinary Rabbi, but the promised Messiah from God, “My beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

Philip and Nathanael

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.” (Jn 1:45)

Philip was from the town of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. These disciples probably knew each other since they were from the same town. Andrew might have also shared with Philip about his encounter with Jesus. The next day, when Jesus called Philip to follow him, he responded immediately. This must have been the day he had longed for all his life. Eureka! We have found the Messiah as foretold by Moses and the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures!

In his excitement, Philip quickly informed Nathanael that he had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph! The Messiah came from the line of Joseph, and was the son of a carpenter. Upon hearing this, Nathanael responded with doubt as he was skeptical whether anything good could come out of Nazareth. Nazareth was a small village on a hilly terrain of lower Galilee, about 40 kilometers from Nathanael’s home­town. It was the last place in which one would expect anything significant to take place. Nathanael’s question was sarcastic. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? How could it be possible for the promised Messiah to come from such an obscure village as Nazareth?

Today, we know from the Gospel accounts that the Messiah is from Nazareth, so Nazareth has become a place of importance in our hearts. In Jesus’ time, Nazareth was a relatively unknown village, not a prominent or influential city. When we visited modern Nazareth in 1999, it was a buzzing town of about 60,000 people.

In recent years, archaeologists have done extensive excavations on the first-century Nazareth.[4] Excavation had uncovered a house dated to the days of Jesus. The pottery remains were made of clay and chalk, and not glass. “Judging from the pottery and other ancient objects found on the surface, these were Roman-period farms and very small villages, with no evidence of great wealth of specialized functions.”[5] Jesus grew up in a humble and ordinary village, probably with only a central marketplace and a synagogue for worship and study. Joseph was an ordinary carpenter with whom Jesus had worked alongside in his formative years. Some scholars estimated the population of 1st Century Nazareth as ranging between 1600 to 2000 people. In the research done in the past decade, the estimated population was revised to about 400.[6] Nazareth was a small, poor, and insignificant place. Nobody really cared for this village, which made it an unlikely place for the Messiah to grow up in. So obscure was Nazareth that there was no mention of Nazareth in all rabbinic literature and tradition. But however insignificant Nazareth was in the eyes of men, the angel Gabriel visited virgin Mary in this unknown town. (Lk 1:26-38).

In response to Nathanael’s sarcasm, Philip invited him to “come and see” (John 1:46). Philip was truly a disciple of Jesus, for Jesus said the same words to Andrew, “Come and you will see” (v.39). Do you recognize Jesus to be your Messiah? The personal invitation to “come and see” is also extended to you.

Nathanael went to see Jesus for himself, and had a first encounter with the Messiah that changed his life completely. The meeting was rich in meaning and moved Nathanael from doubt to faith in the Messiah. Without a word spoken by Nathanael, Jesus said these words as he saw him approaching, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47). What did Jesus mean? Surely Nathanael was an Israelite. Jesus was able to see into Nathanael’s heart, going beyond his prejudice against Nazareth. The adverb “indeed’ is “ἀληθῶς” (alēthōs) which means “truth, genuine, indeed, most certainly.” (TDNT) Jesus was not referring to his physical descent as an Israelite, but internally, he was indeed a genuine Israelite in whom there was no deceit. The Greek word for deceit is “δόλος” (dolos), meaning “guile, a bait, or treachery“. Nathanael had true integrity of heart that made it possible for him to come to see Jesus as the Messiah.

Nathanael was startled at Jesus’ remark and asked, “How do you know me?” What was it that Jesus knew about Nathanael? Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (v. 48). This revelation astonished Nathanael. He responded and called Jesus “Rabbi”. He had the same kind of response as Andrew’s. By calling Jesus his “Rabbi”, he was ready to submit to Jesus’ authority to learn from him.

He became convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, the King of Israel (v.49). “Son of God” and “King of Israel” are Messianic titles for Jesus. By stating these two titles of Jesus, Nathanael fully identified Jesus as his Messiah.[7] Jesus’ Messianic role as Israel’s king is of great significance, but sadly, this topic is often neglected in most evangelical churches.

Nathanael became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah when he realized that Jesus could see into his innermost thoughts. How did Jesus know he was under the fig tree without any prior interaction? The fig tree carries symbolic significance in Jewish tradition. The fig tree symbolizes Israel and its fruitfulness is connected to the Messianic age. The word choices used by the Messiah were not random, but fully understood by Nathanael. Jesus specifically tailored his words to meet Nathanael’s spiritual longing for the salvation of Israel. Like the Samaritan woman, he saw Jesus as no ordinary person, but someone with power who knew his heart and inner longing for the Messiah. Jesus counselled Nathanael further by telling him that he will witness more extraordinary signs and revelations to come.

Jacob was a deceiver, yet Jesus called Nathanael a true Israelite “without deceit”. A contrast was made between the two. Jesus brought out the significance of Jacob’s ladder to Nathanael. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (v.51 cf. Gen 28:10-19). Jacob’s story will culminate in the Messiah’s work as the son of man. Like the dove descending on Jesus, the heaven will open, and there will be angelic activities and communication as Jesus fulfils his role as the Messiah.

Come and See

“Come and see.” Andrew and the other disciple responded. Peter responded. Philip and Nathanael responded. So did the Samaritans. We all need to individually come to identify Jesus as the Messiah rather than rely on someone else for making the identification. Like Nathanael, having information about Jesus was not enough, as he had to see Jesus and experience who Jesus truly was. Acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah is neither an intellectual belief, nor a subject of debate that the religious Pharisees often raised when challenging Jesus. Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with Yahweh God and His Messiah. “Come and see.” This is Jesus’ personal invitation to you and me. Will you respond?

I confess that when I became a Christian, I did not accept Jesus as my Messiah. He was my Savior but not my Messiah. The terms “Messiah” and “Savior” have distinct meanings, but they also overlap in certain contexts.

The term “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew word “Mashiach” which means the “anointed one”. The Messiah is the promised anointed King, who brings salvation to mankind by establishing the Kingdom of God, in which God’s will is manifested, and His redemptive purposes are fulfilled. Through the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Messiah, we can receive forgiveness of sins and be transformed to become people of the Kingdom. Those who accept Jesus as their Messiah long for the Messiah to usher in Yahweh’s Kingdom in the final redemption for humanity. The focus is on walking with Yahweh and his Messiah, and participating in the Kingdom.

The term “Savior” conveys the idea that Jesus is the Savior who saves humanity from sin. Through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, we can receive forgiveness of sins and be transformed to become the new man to receive eternal life. But in the past century, the biblical understanding of “Savior” has been distorted by preachers proclaiming a “personal Savior” gospel. The faith of most Christians is in a Savior whose purpose is to save them to go to heaven, as preached in most evangelistic rallies. They believe Jesus is the King ruling in heaven and earth, but there is little concept of God’s Kingdom in their faith. The focus is on going to paradise in heaven to be with Jesus.

We can evaluate whether our faith is in the Messiah Jesus or in the Savior Jesus as preached today. The Bible specifically speaks about two different outcomes of our faith: either we will be in the Kingdom of God or outside the Kingdom (cf. Mt 13:41-43; 25:34-46, etc.).

The word “Christ” carried no significant meaning to me in my Christian life for more than three decades. If you had asked me whether I acknowledged Jesus as my Messiah, I would have said “yes” because I knew from the Bible that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. “Christ” or “the Messiah” was just a term I knew intellectually in my mind. I thought the terms “Messiah” and “Savior” were interchangeable.

The role of Jesus as the Messiah encompasses his role as the Savior, a term used for Jesus about 17 times in the New Testament. However, the term “Messiah” is used more than 500 times to refer to Jesus. The Messiah is a royal figure, not only to save, but also to rule and establish God’s Kingdom.

Jesus as the Messiah started carrying some meaning to my life in 1999 when I started making study trips to Israel. Before that time, I had always read my Bible in western thinking and interpreted the messages of the Bible through the lens of western cultural values and perspectives.

On that first day when I stepped foot on the soil of Israel on April 6th 1999, I was struck by the fact that I didn’t understand the Bible within its Jewish context. I came to realize that the church has severed herself from her Jewish roots. My eyes were opened to see how far away my understanding was about Jesus and the world he lived in. This was the first Israel trip Ray and I took together with our 5th team teammates. That morning, our teammates from Nepal, Canada, Malaysia, and Hong Kong met up at the Tel Aviv airport. We rented a van and left Tel Aviv to go straight away to Jerusalem, the holy city of God. As we moved closer to Jerusalem, the excitement in the van grew. I said, “Look! There is Jerusalem sitting on a hill!” One teammate asked, “How do you know? Have you been here before?” I said, “No, I saw what Jerusalem looks like from the archaeological books.” The sight of the old stone wall of Jerusalem moving closer and closer to us was a breathtaking moment for all of us. We were ecstatic!! Our Messiah Jesus loved Jerusalem and wept for Jerusalem. Jesus was drawn to Jerusalem ineluctably. When the hour came, he set his face steadfastly to Jerusalem. Our Christian faith has a deep spiritual link with Jerusalem and the Jewish people. The Church was born in Jerusalem. Christianity originated from its Jewish cradle in Jerusalem. Our roots should be in the fertile soil of Jerusalem.

With the vision of Jerusalem beckoning us, Ray and I subsequently made more study trips to Israel whenever we could take breaks from our pastoral work. Pastor Eric Chang always encouraged our full-time training teams to go to Israel to learn about God’s work in Israel. We never joined any tour groups, but would plan trips of three to four weeks to study on our own, allowing us to quietly soak ourselves into the Jewish land of the Bible. We met Jews and learned about their lives. We met Messianic Jews and fellowshipped with them. We visited the Jewish residences to immerse ourselves into their community. There were many secular Jews, but the more devout Jews longed for the Messiah to restore Israel. We went to bookstores and bought Jewish books that we could not find in our Christian bookstores at home. We then organized a study trip for our church brethren to visit Israel. They, too, had to breathe the air of Jerusalem for themselves and walk on the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

In 2001, we met a servant of God called Dwight Pryor in a APCOD Discipleship Conference in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. He was one of the keynote speakers on discipleship. He taught Scripture from its Hebraic roots, and the word of God spoke powerfully into my heart. Only with Hebrew eyes will we ever be able to embrace the Hebrew Jesus to its fullest. An example was given in the Transfiguration account (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36). The Messiah Jesus was engaged in conversation with the Hebrew Moshe and Eliyahu. How can we understand that Jesus is greater than Moses and Elijah if we disconnect Jesus from his Hebrew roots? Embracing the Messiah requires us to understand the backdrop of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Malachi, Zechariah, etc. Jesus’ rich Hebrew heritage was intertwined with his Messianic role. I grieved over the fact that I understood very little regarding the Messiah Jesus.

In 2007, we met up with Dwight and his wife, Keren, in Bethsaida when they were ministering to a group of touring students. Our fellowshipping with them again in Jerusalem struck a chord of fire in me to get involved in comprehending the Messiah Jesus within the Jewish context. Yahweh, the God of Abraham, was in the Messiah to reconcile the world to himself. When we realize our Hebrew heritage, we will come to see Jesus with startling freshness. We will also begin to understand why the church is the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).

All along, I had been a Christian and thought Jesus was my Messiah, only to discover that it was only on my own terms. In 2005, I started embracing Biblical monotheism taught by Pastor Eric Chang. I examined my faith and discovered that my faith was in Jesus as God, not as Messiah. How did this come about? My faith was in the God-Jesus portrayed in the Nicene Creed, which was used as a statement of faith in my church. Like the earthly Greek fathers, I understood Jesus outside his Jewish context. We must return to the Bible to understand who Jesus really was, rather than the way he was interpreted through the Gentile ecumenical councils. Since the 4th Century, the God-Jesus had replaced the Messiah-Jesus.

In his life, Jesus as the Messiah was totally committed to his one true God Yahweh (Jn 17:3). Yahweh as God was totally foreign to me for three decades. I had to read the Bible anew to come to know Yahweh whose name occurred 6828 times in the Old Testament. Such a high frequency was astounding. How was it possible that I missed all these references all these years of being a Christian? Yahweh revealed to me that He is the one true God, and there is no one else beside Him. For the first time, I acknowledged Yahweh as my God.

I asked Yahweh God, “Who is Jesus?” All of a sudden, the identity of Jesus became a puzzle to me. I knew Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but only on my own terms. In my mind, Jesus was my God-Lord and God-Savior. The Bible says that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, but it doesn’t mean that Jesus is God. I was confused. God led me to study how the term “Lord” is used in the Bible. God revealed to me the identity of Jesus.

The invitation of Jesus came: “Come and see”. My eyes were opened, not in a flash of insight, but through a time of studying the Gospel accounts anew before Yahweh God. God revealed to me that Jesus is the Messiah, appointed by Yahweh. Jesus is not just any Messiah, but Yahweh’s Messiah. For many years, I thought of Jesus as the standalone God-Messiah, who came to save me from sins. My understanding of the concept of Messiah was distorted. Yahweh was not in the picture. I did not link up the Messiah with the Kingdom of Yahweh. Jesus as the Messiah was (and is) fully focused on his mission to advance Yahweh’s Kingdom. Finally, everything came together for me, and I understood in my heart what it means to take Jesus into my life as my Messiah. Believing Jesus as the Messiah is not an abstract belief about Jesus’ essence.

In short, the Messiah Jesus, in his life and deeds, taught the reality of the Kingdom of God and its soon arrival for our full redemption. For us to take Jesus into our lives as our Messiah, we need to repent from our sins to become a new creation, the people of the Messiah. God has been dynamically working through the Messiah to bring the presence and power of God’s reign into His new creation. Our lives get transformed anew by the Kingdom message. We become the people of the Kingdom, and so we pray, “Thy Kingdom come!” Our ultimate calling is to follow the Messiah in preparation for the Kingdom to come. Yahweh is presently preparing a Kingdom of priests to reign with Jesus when the Kingdom arrives on earth. When the task of the Messiah is fully accomplished, he will hand the Kingdom back to the Father so that Yahweh may be all in all. The consummation of the Kingdom of God will occur in Zion, not in heaven, which Christians have very little understanding of. Our destined home is not heaven, but a new Jerusalem on the new earth.

Nathanael said that Jesus, the Messiah, is the King of Israel. Does it mean anything to you that Jesus is the King of Israel? I live in Hong Kong, so who cares who is King in Israel? If Jesus is our Messiah, his role as the King of Israel holds great significance regardless of where we live. Study Jesus’ teaching anew on the Kingdom in the Jewish context of Israel. When Jesus is our Messiah, we are consumed with a passion for Israel and for all the nations to submit to the Kingship of Yahweh and His redemptive reign. What is happening in the Israel-Gaza war is gripping our attention to pray for God’s righteousness to prevail. The Kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace and joy. (Rom 14:17) We must long for the day of peace and righteousness when Yahweh would be one and His name one in all the earth. (Zech 14:9) That day is coming very soon. Wars and rumors of wars are escalating: Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza. Will war erupt over the China-Taiwan conflict? And what will be the outcome of the chilling crisis between Israel and Iran? Our world is very fragile. One attack can ignite the entire world into war zones. In that scenario, all the airports will close down and people cannot travel again. Covid-19 had already given us “fire-drills” to prepare for the end times tribulations. We are now living in the very end of the end times. The clock is ticking. The Messiah’s return to bring the Kingdom on earth may be sooner than we think. There has already been a delay. Do not be like the five foolish virgins or the lazy servant. Our master had been away for a long time. Will the Messiah delay much longer? That day is breaking in very quickly. With Jesus as our Messiah, let’s catch a vision of the dynamic movement of the Kingdom of God. Let the fire of longing for the Messiah to return burn in our hearts.

We must have the right expectation of the Messiah as portrayed in the Old Testament. Let’s study the Old Testament diligently. Let there be a longing in our hearts to see God’s promises being fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus. Everyone is required to listen to the words of the Messiah Jesus for he only speaks words commanded by Yahweh. Do you and I take to heart all the words spoken by Jesus? Or are you unfamiliar with the Kingdom message that Jesus taught? Or perhaps Jesus has never been your Messiah?

The disciples recognized Jesus to be the Lamb of God to take away their sins. They responded to the Baptist’s and Jesus’ preaching on the Kingdom of God, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Repentance is required to be a part of God’s coming Kingdom. Christians need to repent today. We must become disciples of the Kingdom and work for the Kingdom now. Let the nation of Israel beat in your heart, for Jerusalem is the place where Jesus will set up God’s Kingdom on earth.

“Come and see” is a life transforming experience for our salvation. Trust in Yahweh God. Yahweh does the continual transformation work in our lives, so that we can focus our whole being into advancing His Kingdom in which Jesus the Messiah rules as King forever.

You are the Messiah

Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus asked the twelve disciples this question: “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus was provoking the disciples to clarify their own thinking with conviction as to “who he is”. Each disciple had to come up with his own conviction of how he viewed Jesus.

“Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” (Mk 8:29b)

Being an outspoken person, Simon Peter responded immediately to Jesus: “You are the Messiah.” It was not at this point that Peter first recognized Jesus to be the Messiah, as he had already known this when Jesus first called him. His view of Jesus as the Messiah never wavered. Jesus is the Messiah, anointed by God, the long-awaited king of the Jewish people.

“Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” (Lk 9:20)

In Luke’s account, more information is given in Peter’s confession. Not only is Jesus the Messiah, but he is also “the Messiah of God”. When we receive Jesus as our Messiah, he is not a possession of our own, for the Messiah is of God. The Messiah Jesus belongs to God for he is appointed by God. We owe our allegiance to Yahweh, for Jesus is Yahweh’s. Some Christians have the wrong concept of Jesus, and they order Jesus around to do things for them every time they pray. The tone of their voice gives them away. Tragically, many Christians have turned the Messiah Jesus into their slaves. But the Messiah Jesus is highly honored by Yahweh.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16)

Matthew elaborates Peter’s confession further by saying that Jesus the Messiah is also the son of the living God. What did Peter mean by “the son of God”? Did Peter have a revelation that Jesus is God? Did Peter believe in Jesus as “God the son”, a second person of the Trinity? The title given to Jesus is “the son of God” and not “God the son”. In the Bible, “the Messiah” and “the son of God” are synonymous terms. We need to understand these terms in the context of the Jewish world. Jesus is the Messiah (the anointed king), the son to represent the Father to reign on earth. “The son of God” is an important Messianic concept and will be discussed in detail in the next article.

The Confession of faith

Recognizing Jesus as the Messiah goes deep into our faith. In reply to Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus said these important words:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:17-19)

(1) Just as the Father revealed to Peter the identity of Jesus, let God the Father also reveal to us the identity of Jesus. The Greek word for “reveal” is “ἀπεκάλυψέν” (apekalypsen) which means “to uncover, to bring to light, to lay open what has been veiled or covered up, to disclose, to make bare.” (TDNT) Jesus affirmed that Peter’s declaration was revealed by God the Father, and not by human intellect or wisdom. Peter could not have figured it out by any logical human understanding. Obviously, Peter had been in communication with the Father, so God could unveil his eyes to see the deep spiritual truth of Jesus’ identity. Peter saw with clarity that Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Messiah (not God-Messiah), the son of the living God. God had already decreed the identity of the Messiah in the heavenly court: “I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” (Psa 2:7) This decree foreshadowed the ultimate fulfillment of the promised Messiah. As the son of God by his Father’s decree, the Messiah was appointed to rule with the full authority of the Father (cf. Psa 2:6-9). Faith in the Father is required if we want to receive revelations from God. If we communicate with the Father, He will reveal His truth through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God (1Cor 2:10). When we study Scripture diligently, our Father speaks and enlightens our minds. Yahweh always reveals Himself through His inspired Word. Free your mind from what others have been telling you about Jesus, so that you can get a direct answer from Yahweh God.

(2) It was at this point that Jesus gave Simon a new name, “You are Peter …” Peter in Greek is “petros” (a masculine noun) meaning “a rock or a stone” (TDNT).

(3) Jesus continued to say, “… and on this rock (petra) I will build my church.” In this second phrase, the rock in Greek is petra (a feminine noun which is distinct from petros) meaning “a bedrock” or “a large mass of rock.” Jesus is described as a petra of offence (Rom 9:33; 1Pet 2:8). The Church is going to be built on this immoveable bedrock of faith: Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.

(4) This is the first time the word “church” (ἐκκλησία) occurs in the New Testament. ’Eκκλησία (ekklēsia) is made up of two Greek words: “ἐκ” (ek) out from and to, and “καλέω” (kaléō) to call. The church is an assembly called-out by God and for His purposes. If ever there needs a Church creed, it would be this one: Jesus is the Messiah of God, the son of the living God. The Church is to build on the immoveable conviction and assured confession that Jesus is Yahweh’s Messiah, the son of God.

(5) Let us not forget that Jesus, the Messiah, is the founder of the Church. He believes in Yahweh as the only true God, and he himself is the Messiah (Jn 17:3). This is Jesus’ confession of faith. Let our faith also be Yahweh focused and Messiah minded.

(6) When the church is built upon the foundation of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. The Church will engage in spiritual warfare as she advances the Kingdom of God. Through God and His Messiah, the Church will withstand and overcome the powers of evil and darkness. The forces of death and evil will not overpower or destroy the Church.

(7) Jesus brings in the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. He, the anointed king to rule in heaven and on earth, delegates his authority. When the Church acknowledges Jesus’ authority, she is entrusted with spiritual authority on earth. What is bound or loosed on earth is also bound and loosed in heaven. What is happening on earth and heaven spiritually directly affects the advancing of God’s Kingdom.

(8) Jesus then strictly charged the disciples to tell no one he was the Messiah (Mt 16:20). Why? To come to the conviction that Jesus is the Messiah is not a matter of debate. Faith in the Father to reveal to each person is required. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus often guarded his Messianic identity, which is commonly known by scholars as the “Messianic secret”. Whether it was during an exorcism of casting out demons (Mk 1:34), or after a healing (Mk 1:43-44; 5:41-43; 7:31-36), or even after his disciples had recognized that he was the Messiah (Mk 8:29-30), Jesus strictly commanded them to keep silent. He warned them not to tell anyone. After the transfiguration, Jesus “charged them to tell no one what they had seen until the son of man had risen from the dead.” (Mk 9:9) Jesus was aware of his Messianic agenda on earth, and he did not want his mission to be thwarted by the enemies. Jesus’ agenda as the Messiah differed from that of the crowd as they tried to make him king by force (Jn 6:14-15). He needed first to suffer to die on the cross before entering into glory. The son of man must suffer, be killed, and be raised from the dead before receiving dominion and a kingdom from God the Father. After the resurrection, the disciples could openly proclaim Jesus as the Messiah

Conclusion: Everyone needs to come to know who Jesus is through the revelation from the Father. The Church is to be built entirely on the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. The confession of faith is that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Messiah, the son of God.


From A Pastor’s Heart

There are no arguments and debates on this biblical truth of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. The Church needs to be built on this confession of faith: Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God. I am sure all Christians would agree to this statement. But let’s face this question together: Is this our confession of faith in our Church?

Sadly, today’s churches have changed the confession of faith to Jesus as God, “true God of true God”. What happened? Have you ever asked this question? Where does the Bible say that Jesus is “true God of true God”, (Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ)? This Greek phrase is not found in the New Testament, but in the Nicene Creed.

While the Nicene Creed claims to believe in the one Lord Jesus Christ, why is there the repetition of the identity of Jesus as “true God” (Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν)? The repetition of “true God” underscores that Jesus is fully God, “being of one substance with the Father” (ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί). Again, this Greek phrase is not found in the New Testament.

When the Bible speaks of “the true God”, the phrase refers to Yahweh:

  1. “Yahweh is the true God”. (Jer 10:10)
  2. “This is eternal life that they know you the only true God (τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν).” (Jn 17:3)
  3. “And how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (θεῷ ζῶντι καὶ ἀληθινῷ)”. (1Thess 1:9)
  4. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him (God) who is true (τὸν ἀληθινόν); and we are in him (God) who is true (τῷ ἀληθινω), in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God (ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς) and eternal life.” (1Jn 5:20) Some commentators misread the pronoun “he” to refer to Jesus. If we look at the entire syntax of the sentence, the pronoun “he” refers to the two pronouns “him” referring to God. This verse finds its parallel to John 17:3.

The Nicene Creed created new concepts that outrightly contradicted Jesus’ words. Should we not reevaluate whether the entire Creed is still authoritative? The part about the one Lord Jesus Christ (εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν) is biblical (1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5). The Bible speaks of Jesus as “Lord” (Κύριον) and “Christ” (Χριστόν). Can you see the self-contra­diction within the Creed itself? Or perhaps there is no contradiction depending on how the terms “Lord” and “Christ” are defined. Many Christians assume “Lord” = “God”, but the Bible does not make this equivalence.

The Nicene Creed was formulated at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. The Creed then underwent revision and was confirmed as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in 381 CE. Today’s church is built on a Creed that is not biblical, but the Nicene Christianity has become the worldwide view of faith since the 4th Century.

In the 19th Century, there was a significant increase in the research conducted by Bible scholars and theologians into the Church Creeds formulated in the ecumenical councils. The great influence of the Greek dualistic world view on the Greek fathers could not be ignored. In the first four centuries, the Church faced challenges from various Gnostic sects. As the Greek fathers sought to articulate Christian beliefs, they drew upon Hellenistic philosophical concepts (eg. God-man, incarnation) rather than concepts from the Bible. The Creeds of the past explain the experiences of their understanding of God rather than defining God from the Bible. Do you realize that Greek mythologies can kill faith?

You need to experience who the Biblical God is yourself. Biblical faith is believing that Yahweh is God and Jesus is the Messiah. Nicene faith tells us to believe that Jesus is true God of true God. Which one will you choose? The choice is yours.

My Christian friends often ask me, “Is it that you don’t believe Jesus is God but that Jesus is man?” Christians are throwing darts all over the place, yet they manage to miss the central focus. The focus is not on whether believing in Jesus as a “man”, but believing in “Jesus is the Messiah, appointed by Yahweh” for eternal life.

Surely in the New Testament, when the term “Christ” is mentioned 529 times, no one can escape from seeing the true identity of Jesus, can they? It is always “Christ Jesus” or “Jesus Christ”. Jesus did not come to assume the title of God. He was not God but God’s Messiah. Let us put away “the Nicene Jesus”. This is an urgent call to return to biblical faith in “the Messiah Jesus”.

Have you come to faith in the Messiah Jesus?

Or have you come to faith in the Nicene Jesus?

[1] In the original Greek, the word for Messiah is “Χριστός”. The terms “Messiah” and “Christ” carry the same meaning of “the anointed one”. To help readers in understand­ing the Bible passages within the Jewish context, I occasionally substitute the word “Messiah” for “Christ” when quoting Bible references.

[2] In Jesus’ time, the Jews only had the Old Testament Scripture. The books of the New Testament were written in the late 1st Century CE., but the canonization occurred much later. The 27 books of the New Testament were first canonized in the Council of Hippo in 393 CE, and later affirmed in the Council of Carthage in 397 CE and 419 CE.

[3] “The chief cause of the excitement was the antiquity of the scrolls which antedate by a millennium the oldest previously known codices of the complete Hebrew Bible. They also reveal for the first time a whole body of Jewish religious literature traceable roughly to between 200 BCE and 70 CE. Enthusiasm was further sharpened by the scrolls’ potential impact on our understanding of nascent Christianity.” Geza Vermes, The Real Jesus, Then and Now, Fortress Press, 2010, p.113

[4] Ken Dark, an archaeologist, has conducted extensive excavations and studies of Nazareth in the 1st Century CE. He analyzed archaeological remains, ancient structures, pottery, and other artifacts in Jesus’ time. He was particularly impressed with the “Nazareth Farmhouse”, an ancient dwelling discovered beneath the Sisters of the Convent in Nazareth. This house dates back to the 1st Century which gives insights into the homes that existed in Nazareth during Jesus’ time. Much of his research is written in his book, Archaeology of Jesus’ Nazareth, Oxford University Press, 2023.

[5] Ken Dark, Archaeology of Jesus’ Nazareth, Oxford University Press, 2023, p.4

[6] Eric M. Meyers & James E. Strange, Archaeology, The Rabbis & Early Christianity: The Social and Historical Setting of Palestinian Judaism and Christianity, The Parthenon Press, Nashville, 1981.

[7] The Messianic title of “the Son of God” is explained in detail in later articles.


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