Al-Masihu Isa

God’s Anointed Messiah

Ha Mashiah: The Hope of Israel

For centuries, from the time of the great prophetic period, when Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and a host of other prophets had foretold the final purposes of God for the Israelite nation and the world as a whole, to the time of the Roman occupation, Israel had longed for its promised Messiah, the Son of David, who they believed would redeem them from all their troubles. The nation longed for its Deliverer and, knowing from prophecies we have already considered in this book that he would be descended from their great king David, named him the Son of David. Yet they chose a more popular title to readily define him, namely the Messiah. By the time of Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, and the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, Messianic fervour among the Israelites was at fever pitch. His advent seemed overdue as they yearned for a glorious king who would establish their nation as the dominant nation over the whole earth.

The title Messiah comes from the Hebrew ha Mashiah, meaning "the Anointed One." Mashiah is a common Hebrew word and, in the Hebrew Old Testament, is applied to the anointed high priest (Leviticus 4:3), the nation’s king (2 Samuel 1:14), the prophets of God (Psalm 105:15) and even the Persian king Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1). All of these were anointed by God for some specific ministry or purpose, yet, from the abundance of prophecies of a supreme deliverer to come, who is called mashiah in Daniel 9:25, the people of Israel determined that a supremely anointed figure would arise whom they named the Messiah.

Because the Qur’an acknowledges this title (al-Masih) and applies it exclusively to Jesus Christ eleven times, this subject is a valid and crucial one for Christian witness to Muslims. The Qur’an, as a rule, teaches that all the prophets of God were the same and that Jesus was no more than a prophet, yet here we have a title obviously derived from its Hebrew equivalent, which to the Israelite nation implied so much more. Prophets had come and gone yet one supreme ruler, who would overshadow them all, had been promised in their prophetic writings and they longed for his coming.

The New Testament confirms that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and, while it generally uses the Greek title ho Christos ("the Christ") to describe him, it does on two occasions confirm that this is a translation of the word Messias, the Greek word for Messiah (John 1:41, 4:25). Once again, therefore, we find common ground with Muslims and you have a solid foundation from which to witness to the saving grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ and just what the title Messiah means. In the chapter on the prophecies of Isaiah I quoted a number of prophetic texts you can use in witness on this subject but a few others from other Old Testament prophets are useful as well. Here is one from the prophecy of Zechariah:

Behold the man whose name is the Branch; for he shall grow up in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord, and shall bear royal honour, and shall sit and rule upon his throne. Zechariah 6:12-13

It was texts like these that made the Jews expect a glorious king who would rule over the world from Jerusalem but, as we saw in the chapter on Isaiah, prophecies of his regal glory were interwoven with prophecies of suffering, obscurity and humiliation. The Jews failed to realise that he would come in humility the first time as a suffering servant to become exactly like us and, through his death on the cross, deliver us from our sins. Only at his second coming would he come as the divine ruler of the universe to establish his eternal kingdom and raise his followers to glory, to become as he is in his perfect righteousness. The Jews thought he would deliver the nation from the Romans. Jesus, God’s Messiah, came to deliver all of us from ourselves, as well as from the powers of the world, the flesh and the devil, which seek to pull us down into a state of hostility with God.

It is important, in witnessing to Muslims on the title al-Masih, to show that all the promises made by the earlier prophets had this twofold emphasis, a suffering servant and a glorious king. The people of Israel seem to have conveniently overlooked the first, yet Muslims recognise that Jesus will have two lifetimes on earth, the first when he was God’s servant, born of Mary, and the second when he will return as a ruler of all the earth for forty years. Many Christians also hold the view that Jesus will return to reign over the earth, expecting him to govern it from Jerusalem for a period of a thousand years. In my view both the Muslims and Christians who hold this belief are making the same mistake the Jews made expecting an earthly king who would rule from an earthly throne. The Bible makes it plain he will usher in an eternal kingdom and that he will rule directly from his Father’s throne in heaven (Revelation 3:21). You need to draw this contrast, otherwise the Messiah of God looks like nothing more than another King David.

The Messiah: Greater Than All the Prophets

In witnessing to Muslims on the identity of the Messiah, this point is crucial before you go into the greater work he was called to perform. He was not just another prophet in a long line of earthly messengers, he was the eternal Saviour, the anointed Messiah, who came down from heaven to reconcile men to God.

John the Baptist is regarded as a prophet in Islam, Yahya alayhis-salaam (John on whom be peace), just like all the other prophets. What is unique about him is that he lived at the same time as Jesus and was able to witness directly to him. This is what he said of him in his Messianic vocation:

You yourselves bear me witness that I said, "I am not the Messiah but I have been sent before him" ... he must increase but I must decrease. John 3:28,30

This is he of whom I said, "After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me." John 1:30

John clearly regarded the Messiah as a representative of God far greater than himself, and in this he was only emulating all the prophets who went before him. As Jesus said, Abraham rejoiced to see his day (John 8:56), Moses foresaw his coming (John 5:46), and David called him his Lord (Matthew 22:45). John the Baptist knew that he had only been sent as a forerunner of the Messiah. As the New Testament says, "he was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (John 1:8). Jesus is the light of the world, as he himself said (John 8:12), and everything that was written of him in the law of Moses, the psalms of David, and the writings of the other prophets, had to be fulfilled (Luke 24:44). The Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s well near Sychar in Samaria also knew the Messiah would be far greater than all the prophets who preceded him. She said to Jesus:

I know the Messiah is coming, he who is called Christ; when he comes, he will show us all things. John 4:25

To this statement Jesus openly replied, "I who speak to you am he" (John 4:26). You can show Muslims that this question was a direct invitation to Jesus to disclose his true identity was he just another prophet or was he the long-awaited Messiah, God’s supremely Anointed One?

The key passage here is the question Jesus put to the Jewish leaders gathered before him one day in the Temple. These self-appointed masters of the nation’s religious welfare, both Pharisees and Sadducees, had plied him with many questions, vainly attempting to trap him in his answers. Now Jesus had one for them:

How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son? For David himself says in the book of Psalms, "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies a stool for your feet." David thus calls him Lord; so how is he his son? Luke 20:41-44

Although Jesus was descended from David, and so was his offspring, yet he was also the coming Messiah, and so was his Lord. He was the root of David as well as his offspring (Revelation 22:16) and David knew he would reign over the kingdom of God for ever. This is the implication of the title Messiah, and it is very useful, before you cover the redeeming work of Jesus in witness to Muslims, to first establish his pre-eminence over all the other prophets of God. Then the uniqueness of his salvation through his crucifixion, death and resurrection, gains more meaning and significance.

The Suffering Servant Of God

The Messiah came the first time in relative obscurity. Jesus was a lowly man, living in a small village in Galilee, an insignificant district north of Judea, far from the religious heart of the nation. Most of the Jews missed their Messiah because they missed the prophecies of his first coming and focused only on those to be fulfilled at a much later date, which spoke of his eternal glory and rule. It is important, when witnessing to Muslims, to point to the original prophecy where the word mashiah is used and from which the title Messiah was derived. It contains a plain statement that he would be struck down in the middle of his course:

And after sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing. Daniel 9:26

This was a direct warning that God’s mashiah would be suddenly struck down and killed a clear reference to the crucifixion and death of Jesus which caught his disciples by surprise. Here you can quote any of the prophecies we studied of his sufferings from Psalms 22 and 69 and from Isaiah 53 which we have already considered. All of these show that he came the first time to redeem us, to save us from our sins, and to find eternal peace and joy.

On the last night Jesus was with his disciples, shortly before his arrest, trial and crucifixion, he spoke to them at length, knowing his ministry was ending and that the supreme purpose for his coming to earth was about to take place. He faced mocking, vicious scourging, being slapped in his face, a hostile mob, an unjust sentence, a painful crucifixion, six hours of excruciating agony on the cross, and an awful death. Yet he could say to his disciples:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. John 14:27

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

Two expressions here must be noted: my peace and my joy. At no time before this do we find Jesus using either of these terms. What peace or joy could a man have as he faced such a terrible ordeal and certain death within twenty-four hours? Yet he waited specifically until this moment, when most other men would have been overcome with fear and anguish, to speak of his peace and joy precisely because he was filled with them at a time when the opposite might have been expected.

Although he was about to die, his sole pleasure was to do his Father’s will (John 14:31), and he faced the cross with peace and joy because he knew he had come for this purpose and nothing that was to happen to him could disturb his calm assurance that his Father would bring him back to life and that he would rejoice when he saw the fruit of his travail (Isaiah 53:11).

It was his burning love for mankind and his determination to endure whatever it would cost to save us that made him face the cross calmly and resolutely. He knew the Messiah would be cut off at his first coming and would only be crowned with glory at his second coming. In between he offers the hope of his salvation to all men, including all Muslims, which is the only way by which anyone can be saved. It is crucial to distinguish these two facets of the Messiah’s mission the first time in humility to save us, the second in glory to transform us. This is what is embodied in the title al-Masih, a twofold mission not just to preach the Word of God as other prophets had done before him, but also to die for our sins so that we may be freed from our bondage and be guaranteed a place in the kingdom yet to be revealed.

The Glory of God’s Anointed Saviour

It cannot be denied, however, that glory is the key characteristic of the Messiah that the Old Testament prophecies foresaw. To some extent this explains why the Israelites overlooked the passages clearly predicting his suffering and obscurity and focused on his glory and triumphant rule instead. Perhaps it was nothing more than the typical human instinct to be seen to be backing a winner. No one wants to be identified with a loser. This is why virtually all Jesus’ disciples and followers deserted him when he was arrested and crucified. They had a lot to learn! One of the most difficult tasks of Christian evangelism is to call on the human race to renounce its pride, triumphalism and haughtiness. Unless it does it will never come to the knowledge of truth and this includes all the Muslims of the world. Pride comes before a fall, the proverb says. So also humility comes before honour (Proverbs 15:33).

Nonetheless, having first passed through the valley of Jesus’ humiliation and dishonour, we are now equipped to deal with the glory of the Messiah. It has been estimated that there are up to five hundred prophecies of the second coming of Jesus in his eternal glory. The first step was his resurrection from the dead. This sets Jesus apart from all the other prophets of God and, let it be said, the Prophet of Islam. Moses was buried by the Lord himself. Muhammad is buried in a tomb which is visited by millions of Muslims every year. The very journey is known as a ziyarah, a "visitation." As the Apostle Peter said of the great King David, "he both died, and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29) and was, no doubt, appropriately venerated.

Jesus, however, has three tombs, a unique qualification in any circumstance. If you visit Jerusalem and the Catholic Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you will be taken down to a tomb below the ground which is said to be his burial place. Just beyond the Dung Gate at the northern entrance to the old city, however, is a garden with a tomb hewn out of a rock consistent with the tomb of Jesus spoken of in the Gospels (Luke 23:53). The Protestants will tell you that this is the true tomb of Jesus. Make a pilgrimage to Mecca and a ziyarah to Medina, however, and you will be shown a tomb of Jesus next to that of Muhammad and his successors Abu Bakr and Umar, where Jesus will supposedly be buried after his return to earth.

Yet he fills none of them! He is alive, in heavenly glory, having risen from the dead never to die again. You can make a huge impact on Muslims here. The prophecies of his resurrection which we considered from the Psalms and the prophecies of Isaiah, are a telling testimony to the source of his ultimate glory. He rose from the dead, inconspicuously at first, only to ascend to heaven from which he will appear in glory when he returns to earth.

On the day of his resurrection he appeared to be no more than a normal traveller on the road from Emmaus to Jerusalem. Two of his disciples were walking along the road and, as he drew near to them, he seemed to be no more than an ordinary man out for an ordinary evening’s walk. They talked to him about all that had happened over that weekend, especially the fate of Jesus of Nazareth who they had hoped was the Messiah of Israel. When they finished their conversation with confusion at his demise and rumours of his resurrection, he declared:

O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory? Luke 24:25-26

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the prelude of his glory, but there was to be no sign of this while he remained another forty days on earth. It was only at his ascension to heaven that the glory of what he had achieved began to be realised. We will cover this in the last chapter of this book. Here, however, you need to be content with the fact that, right now, the glory of Jesus is, to all intents and purposes, hidden from the eyes of all who do not believe in him, especially Muslims. But you can witness to it! Peter wrote to the early Christians:

The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and enquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of the Messiah within them when predicting the sufferings of the Messiah and the subsequent glory. 1 Peter 1:10-11

The subsequent glory! This is where you can witness to Muslims very effectively. The Messiah came the first time in obscurity and died for our salvation. He will come the second time in glory to redeem his own, to raise them from the dead in perfect glory, and take them into his eternal kingdom to be with him for ever and ever. This text foreshadows the great event:

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so, Amen. Revelation 1:7

Muhammad lies dead and buried in Medina. No one saw him transfigured on a holy mountain. No one witnessed his resurrection from the dead. And no one will witness his triumphant return to earth. As Muslims believe in the return of Jesus, emphasise the wonder and awe it will occasion. He will return in glory. His face will be like the sun shining in full strength (Revelation 1:16). Islamic tradition robs Jesus of his glory, suggesting he appeared as no more than a messenger and that he will return as no more than a servant of Islam. It levels the playing field, claiming that he was no more than an ordinary prophet like all the other prophets of God. Its assessment of Jesus is purely horizontal.

You need to witness to the fact that, with this man, all the issues are vertical! From the heights of heaven to the humiliation of a cross. From the depths of the grave to the throne of God in heaven. The finest passage in the New Testament that brings this remarkable distinction into focus begins:

Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8

That’s the downward spiral which concentrates exclusively on his first coming. Unlike Adam, who sought equality with God, Jesus, who had that equality from all eternity, became a human being and was, during the first thirty years of his life, indistinguishable from other men. Yet, while nothing more was required of Adam than that he should be a humble servant of God, Jesus was required to descend to the dust, to be condemned as a criminal, and be executed in the worst of forms, reserved for the baser nations of the earth and the most heinous of crimes (no Roman citizen was allowed to be humiliated by crucifixion). This vertical descent is important in witness to Muslims. It moves away from the deliberately horizontal nature of Muslim faith and experience. Of course, if it had ended there, it would still have the appearance of nothing more than defeat. But the passage continues:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

This is the ascending scale! From the depths of the grave God raised him, not to a renewed, normal healthy life on earth as if nothing had happened, but to heavenly glory, above all the angels, at the very right hand of the Father, from which he will come to judge the whole human race at the end of time. Jesus Christ will not return to become a follower of Muhammad, he will return to judge Muhammad!

This is the meaning of the title al-Masih, the Messiah. He was no ordinary prophet, he was the ultimate figurehead, who came from heaven, who plumbed the depths, only to rise again and scale the heights. He ascended from the earth to heaven, he is alive there to this day (as Islam admits), and he will return in heavenly glory. On that day every man, including all Muslims, will be judged by their relationship to Jesus, God’s Anointed Messiah. His complete authority over all the earth and the final destiny of all men is finely summed up in this text:

God raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:20-23

It may take time, but with receptive Muslims you have much to gain by patiently working through the prophetic history of Israel, concentrating on the great prophecies of a Deliverer to come, who would first suffer and then enter into his glory, and then climaxing with a portrayal of the ultimate glory of God’s glorious Messiah who will return to claim his own and judge the rest. Where do the Muslims wish to be on that day? On which side of Jesus will they wish to be (for, at the end of it all, that is all that will matter)? He is God’s Supremely Anointed One (as the Qur’an freely admits), he is the Great Deliverer and Saviour, and he will be the Judge on that awesome Day yet to be revealed.

In the simple title al-Masih, "the Anointed One," you have a foundation for witness to Muslims, a door to a comprehensive witness of who Jesus really was and ultimately will be. Use the common ground Islam gives to press on to an effective witness of who our Saviour and Lord really is, and how he is the only one who can redeem the world from its sin, devilishness and ultimate destruction.

Sharing the Gospel with Muslims [Table of Contents]
Materials by John Gilchrist
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