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Question: Explain any five titles that were attributed to Jesus? (25)

A NUMBER of titles and attributes have been attached to Jesus in Biblical studies and they include Messiah, Saviour, Christ, Prophet, Son of God, and Son of Man only to mention these among many. This essay however, seeks to explain any five titles that were attributed to Jesus using the Bible as a point of departure to address these attributes.

The title Messiah can be traced from the Old Testament. Etymologically the title Messiah means the ‘‘anointed one’’ or a saviour. The word Christ is a Greek word “kristos” and it was used interchangeably with Messiah. This title meant different things during different eras. In the Old Testament the title has political connotations, during the Hellenistic periods Messiah or Christ were associated with the pagan Emperors and Early Church possibly referring to the post resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as showing continuation of the old covenant and the new covenants. From the Old Testament Messiah was someone who is to come to remove the Israelites from the Babylonian exile.

According to Evans (2014:110) states that the term Messiah comes from a Hebrew word “Mashiah” meaning the anointed one, whom God assigns special mission for his people. In other words, the title Messiah designates an anointed agent sent by God for the welfare or salvation of his people. In Old Testament it refers to historical kings who sat on the Davidic throne. It assumes political connotations (Psalm 18:51; 89:39,152; 132:10, 17) assuring the continuation of the Davidic dynasty.

Christians and Biblical scholars regard Messiah as a title that has bearing upon Jesus Christ the Saviour. Thus Messiah in early Judaism and Christianity reminds that this term has been appropriated throughout the history of Christianity to various persons in different ways. Zetterholm (2007;190) noted that the roots of this term can be traced back to the royal ideology of the Ancient Near East, which meant to indicate a close connection between a human ruler and a deity. Thus in the Hebrew Bible King David is upheld as a perfect example of the relationship between a king and God to such an extent that a divine promise albeit in the condition of obedience ensures a Davidic descendant on the throne level. Israel had lost its political independence and hopes for liberation from oppression had to be focused on the future when a new king would expel and eliminate the oppressor, thus the title remains a title for the first century Jews yearning for a militant liberator, Jesus.

Furthermore, Fitzmyer (1982:85) “during the exilic and pre-exilic periods the title Messiah was used to the high Priest and by that time the Davidic dynasty was no more (Leviticus 4v3,5). Scroggs (1978:65) says “In Jewish Tradition Messiah is a royal reign either by military power or by the power of God.” In the Old Testament it was used on historical personages such as the anointed kings and priests of Israel. During the Hellenistic period the title was used to refer to the Greco-Roman Emperors for example Augustus Caesar. It was used to mean pagan heroes.

Religiously the tittle Messiah or Christ eschatological just like in the Hellenistic times meaning someone who is to come.

Bercovitz (2000:67) noted that it is reasonably certain that the early church proclaimed Jesus as a Messiah or Christ. Luke (1 v 31-33) denotes the angel’s announcement to Mary suggesting the classic Jewish model of a Messiah. The Early church uses this title to stress the Davidic kingship of Jesus so as to emphasise brilliantly the continuity between the old covenants and the new covenants. However, the church not only took over the terminology related to the term Messiah but in the light of fulfillment and in a Christian transformation. Acts 3v20 “. . .  and He will send Jesus who is Messiah . . .” This shows that the early church spoke of Jesus as Messiah in connection with his imminently expected Parousia. The Christian churches in Zimbabwe believe that Christ will come to end this troublesome life. So just like in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah Messiah was someone to come to overthrow the Babylonian rule and to remove the Israelites Babylonian exile.

Moreso, Acts 2:36 is an affirmation that Jesus was “made Christ,” the sense of the verb being that by resurrection, Jesus was confirmed as the Christ, the Messiah of God. Thus the early church did not hesitate to refer to Jesus as the Christ and as the greatest Son of David, the king. Also the story of an aggressive move by James and John who seek permanence in Jesus’ kingdom may reflect the possible existence in the early church of those who understood his Messiah ship in terms of the Davidic monarchy (Mark 10 v 35-40).

In other words, to the early church, the Messiah was to be a king who would restore the Davidic dynasty and usher in a time of justice and peace, the Messianic seeds having been sown in the royal theology which provided legitimacy to the 11th BCE reign of David, the first king of Judah (Isaiah 9 vs 6-7), as stated by D H Wallace. Socially in Zimbabwe Messiah is used to the ones who will always stand on the side of the oppressed to restore social justice. The title can also mean the one who will be the voice of the voiceless in whatever situation. Just like in the Old Testament the rule of David was seen as just and fair thus why he was called Messiah. So churches, Prophets like Magaya, Makandiwa, Guti just to mention but a few, non-Governmental organisations such as CAMFED, Unicef, Beam all these are seen as the Messiahs of today in Zimbabwe.

In the Early Church times the title Messiah was also apportioned to Jesus due to his works of assisting those who were in need. Mark 8: 27ff Peter’s confession “you are the Messiah”, Jesus explicitly accepts Peter’s confession and forbidding them to speak it out. Jesus demonstrates an attitude of extreme restrain toward the title. O Cullman (1999) “Jesus showed extreme reserve towards the title Messiah, actually considered specific ideas connected to satanic temptations (Mark 14 v 16) and in divisive passages he substituted son of man with Messiah and even set one in a certain opposition to the other.

According to Senior (1971; 143), while the early church vehemently subscribed to the Messianic title, they did embrace Jesus as a prophet because they were influenced by the Old Testament traditions. It is clear that the people whom Jesus encountered thought of him as a prophet, the category of a prophet being a familiar one to the ancient Jews. To them it was a convenient label to apply to a charismatic religious leader who stood outside the official priestly hierarchy but seemed to be on a mission from God. The early church perceived Jesus as a reincarnation of Elijah or one of the great prophets of the past.
Old Testament studies shows that a prophet is a person who speaks for God to God’s people, in other words he is a messenger, and in several occasions we hear Jesus acknowledging that God sent him to do his work therefore He was also one of the prophets. Christ was the mouthpiece of God, as the prophet he spoke and taught the word of God, infinitely greater than all the prophets who spoke for God and interpreted the will of God even though Christ never used the messenger style, “thus says the Lord . . .” The early Church understood the titles Messiah or Christ as prophetic titles therefore Jesus from the perspective of the Early Church he was a prophet per excellence.

To sum up, the titles Messiah, Christ was used in different ways in such a way that they become encapsulating and associational to other titles already alluded to. In Old Testament it has political connotations, referring to king from the Davidic dynasty, a military figure closely related to God and ruled by both military power and by spiritual power who does the wills of God and very rich. During the Hellenistic era it was used for the pagan Emperors such as Augustus Caesar and during the pre-exilic and exilic periods it was used for the high priests. The early church used it in line with the continuity of the old and new covenants and defending the church from the persecution. Also in the early church the titles Messiah, Christ, Saviour, prophet, anointed one, were firstly associated with imminent Parousia but it was later changed to conform to the eschatological or futuristic message that was later portrayed.

Witness Dingani is an author, columnist, youth coach, radio host, cricketer. He is the founder of charity organisation Dingani Charity Organisation. In 2016 he was nominated as the most influential youthful figures in Zimbabwe and was voted on the 8th position out of 15 people by the Pan-Zimbabwe society. In 2017, Witness Dingani co-authored the new book of Lower 6, entitled Understanding Family and Religious Studies. Questions by schools can be submitted through his mobile number +2363777896159 or Email address: witnessdingani@gmail.com. Readers can follow the Questions and Answers on Sunday News every week.

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