Messianic or Messiah
Originally published onDevotion.al
When we read the Scriptures, as has been written often in these devotions, we bring in our understanding of things. Those who have been indoctrinated (in a good way) into the faith and theology of orthodox Christianity will read into the Scriptures that which they have been taught. The opening verse in today’s reading from 1 John is a good example.
As we read it, we have a particular understanding of what the “Christ” means. Theologians and Biblical scholars will often differentiate between messianic and Messiah for this very reason. It is important for us to understand, too, because it gives us insights into the perspectives of the other 2 Abrahamic religions (Judaism and Islam) and also remind us of how revolutionary the resulting Christian orthodox stance was.
Prior to the birth of Jesus, Judaism had evolved its understanding of messiah. Within messianic narratives, one person may not fulfill all the aspects of a messiah. A messianic figure could be solely for social reform or religious reform or solely for governmental reform. Christian scholars and theologians will often simplify it to Prophet, Priest, King. The evolution of messianic (any combination of the 3) to Messiah (all 3) is one of those changes that occurred between the time of the book of Malachi to the advent of John the Baptist (around 400 years).In Luke’s birth narrative, we read about where “the” Messiah would be born. This is the written acknowledgment that Judaism had become Messiah-oriented, more than messianic-oriented. Of course, Judaism (as a whole) does not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
Islam (and even some in Judaism) looks at Jesus as a messianic figure. It gets a little messy from there as the 3 main branches of Islam have different outlooks from there and the 2 recognizable branches (Shia and Sunni) have their own interpretations within them, too.
Even in the modern era, the messianic figure exists. Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, FD Roosevelt, Mao Zedong, Castro, Reagan, Putin, Obama, Trump, Biden all had (have) messianic attributes associated with them. It’s jarring to see these names tied together, especially for so-called Christian countries (and only one of these countries didn’t have Christian cultural roots). It is arguable that John’s statement about the Messiah is even more true today than it has ever been before!
Where we “hold” Jesus in our lives is critical to our Christian walk, or whether we are a Christian at all! How we view Jesus, as Messiah or merely messianic, critically feeds into this as well.
If Jesus is merely messianic, then while his words hold significance, they aren’t particularly life-changing. If Jesus is Messiah, his words are life- and orientation-changing.
One of the primary orientation changes is how we love. We often talk about a God of love, but that is so very much removed from us. If he is the Messiah, Jesus’ words telling us to love each other (and the context is within community), then we really ought to be doing that.
There is, so it seems, a division between the love within the community (sacrifice), and the love of neighbor (mercy). It may all be a hairbreadth’s difference, it may be a mile. Regardless, there should be a change in us.
- Where have you looked at people or things as messianic? What makes something or someone messianic?
- What are other reasons that we need to differentiate between the Messiah and messianic?
Lord, you are the Christ, Messiah, Savior. As such you call upon us to live changed lives. Empower us, Holy Spirit, to do exactly that. Amen.
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