by Deborah Horscroft
An old joke asked, “What do John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common?” They have the same middle name. I don’t quite know what Christopher Robin meant by “Pooh”, but John was known as the one who baptised.
Jesus was known by many names: Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Son of Man, even son of Joseph and Mary. He is now most commonly known as Jesus Christ, and here the word “Christ” is Jesus’ title.
“Christ” originating from the Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew – the closest approximation in English is “The Anointed One”. People and things were ceremonially anointed with oil to signify that they had been separated for God’s purpose: that is, made “holy”. The word was also used metaphorically to mean God had shown favour or the person was chosen to fulfil God’s special purpose. For example, Cyrus the Persian was “anointed” to subdue the nations (Isaiah 45). In its article on “Messiah” The New Bible Dictionary points out that Cyrus was a kind of Messiah figure bringing the redemption of God’s people, judgement on God’s enemies and dominion over the nations. Although he did not acknowledge God, he was God’s instrument.
The Old Testament points to another Messiah who will reconcile God and his people. The prophecies say he will be a deliverer like Moses, a conqueror like David, a servant like no other, a new Israel who keeps the new covenant, a prophet, priest, king and willing sacrifice for sins.
Much of the New Testament is the story of people wrestling with what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, or Christ. Many of his day welcomed the conquering king into Jerusalem but rejected the suffering servant of God, anointed to be a holy sacrifice for sins. The Jews and Samaritans both longed for the Messiah to come, but only a few recognised Jesus the Christ.