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The Old Testament Messianic Hope

By H. P. Liddon

The Messianic belief was interwoven with the deepest life of Israel. The promises which formed and fed this belief are distributed along nearly the whole range of the Jewish annals; while the belief rests originally upon sacred traditions which carry us up to the very cradle of the human family. It is important to inquire whether this general Messianic belief included any definite convictions respecting the Being who was its object.

In the gradual unfolding of the Messianic doctrine three stages of development may be noted within the limits of the Hebrew canon, and a fourth beyond it: The Seed of the Woman; The Kingdom to David Forever; Messianic Prophecy; and A Jewish Caesar Expected.

I. The “Seed of the Woman”

The seed of the woman is to bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). With the lapse of years this blessing is narrowed down to something in store for the posterity of Shem (Gen. 9:26), and subsequently for the descendants of Abraham (Gen. 22:18). In Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth are to be blessed.

Already within this bright but indefinite prospect of deliverance and blessing we begin to discern the advent of a personal Deliverer. Paul argues, in accordance with the Jewish interpretation, that “the seed” is here a personal Messiah (Gal. 3:16); the singular form of the word denoting His individuality.

The characteristics of this personal Messiah emerge gradually in successive predictions. The dying Jacob looks forward to a Shiloh as One to whom rightfully belongs regal and legislative authority (Gen. 49:10), and to whom the obedient nations will be gathered. Balaam sings of the Star that will come out of Jacob and the Scepter that will rise out of Israel (Num. 24:17). This manifestly points to the glory and power of a higher Royalty than David. Moses (Deut. 18:18-19) foretells a Prophet who would in a later age be raised up from among the Israelites, like unto himself. This Prophet accordingly was to be the Lawgiver, the Teacher, the Ruler, the Deliverer of Israel.

II. Kingdom to David Forever

The second stage of the Messianic doctrine centers in the reigns of David and Solomon. The promise of a kingdom to David and to his house forever (2 Sam. 7:16) could not be fulfilled by any mere continuation of his dynasty on the throne of Jerusalem. It implied, as both David and Solomon saw, some superhuman Royalty. The messianic psalms present us with a series of pictures of this Royalty, each illustrating a distinct aspect of its dignity, while all either imply or assert the divinity of the King.

In Psalm 2, for instance, Messiah is associated with the Lord of Israel as His anointed Son. Messiah’s inheritance is to include all heathendom; His Sonship is not merely theocratic or ethical, but divine. All who trust in Him are blessed; all who incur His wrath must perish with a sharp and swift destruction. This psalm is quoted from in the first recorded prayer of the church (Acts 4:25-26), again in Paul’s sermon at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:33), and also in the argument which opens the Epistle of the Hebrews (Heb. 1:5 ; cf. Rom. 1:4).

Psalm 45 is a picture of the peaceful and glorious union of the King Messiah with His mystical bride, the church of redeemed humanity. Messiah is introduced as a divine King reigning among men. His form is of more than human beauty; His lips overflow with grace; God has blessed Him forever, and has anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows.

Messiah Is Also Directly Addressed as God

He is viewed as seated upon an everlasting throne. Neither of these psalms can be adapted without exegetical violence to the circumstances of Solomon, or to any other king of ancient Israel; and the New Testament interprets them as picturing the royal triumph of the one true King, Messiah (Heb. 1:8).

In Psalm 72 the character and extent of this messianic sovereignty are more distinctly pictured. The new kingdom reaches from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth (v. 8). It reaches from each frontier of the Promised Land to the remotest regions of the known world in the opposite quarter. At the feet of its mighty Monarch all who are most inaccessible to the arms or to the influence of Israel hasten to tender their voluntary submission. The wild sons of the desert, the merchants of Tarshish in the then-distant Spain, the islanders of the Mediterranean, the Arab chiefs, the wealthy Nubians, are foremost in proffering their homage and fealty.

All Kings to Bow Down to Him

But all kings are at last to fall down in submission before the Ruler of the new kingdom; all nations are to do Him service. His empire is to be coextensive with the world: it is also to be co-enduring with time. His empire is to be spiritual; it is to confer peace on the world, by righteousness. The King will Himself secure righteous judgment, salvation, deliverance, and redemption to His subjects. The needy, the afflicted, the friendless will be the special objects of His tender care. His Name will endure forever; and men shall be blessed in Him to the end of time. This King is immortal; He is also all-knowing and all-mighty. “Omniscience alone can hear the cry of every human heart; Omnipotence alone can bring deliverance to every human sufferer.”

David’s Son Is David’s Lord

In Psalm 110:1, David describes his great descendant Messiah as his “Lord” (cf. Matt. 22:44). Messiah is sitting on the right hand of Jehovah as the Partner of His dignity. He is to reign until His enemies are made His footstool; He is Ruler now, even among His unsubdued opponents. In the day of His power, His people offer themselves willingly to His service. They are clad not in earthly armor, but in the beauties of holiness. Messiah is Priest as well as King—an everlasting Priest of that older order which had been honored by the father of the faithful. The Son of David is David’s Lord because He is God; the Lord of David is David’s Son because He is God Incarnate.

III. Messianic Prophecy

The third period extends from the reign of Uzziah to the close of the Hebrew Canon in Malachi. Here messianic prophecy expands into the fullest details respecting Messiah’s human life, and mounts to the highest assertions of His divinity. Isaiah is the richest mine of messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. Messiah, especially designated as “the Servant of God,” is the central figure in the prophecies of Isaiah. Both in Isaiah and in Jeremiah the titles of Messiah are often and pointedly expressive of His true humanity. He is the Branch of the Lord (Isa. 4:2); He is the Rod out of the stem of Jesse (Isa. 11:1); He is the Branch or Sprout of David (Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12).

He is called by God from His mother’s womb (Isa. 49:1); God has put His Spirit upon Him (Isa. 42:1). He is anointed to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive (Isa. 61:1). He is a Prophet whose work is greater than that of any prophet of Israel. Not merely will He come as a Redeemer to them that turn from transgression in Jacob (Isa. 59:20; 49:6), He is also given as a Light to the Gentiles, as the Salvation of God unto the end of the earth. Such is His spiritual power as Prophet and Legislator that He will write the law of the Lord, not upon tables of stone, but on the heart and conscience of the true Israel.

In Zechariah He is an enthroned Priest, but it is the kingly glory of Messiah which predominates throughout the prophetic representations of this period, and in which His superhuman nature is most distinctly suggested. According to Jeremiah the Branch of Righteousness, who is to be raised up among the posterity of David, is a King who will reign and prosper and execute judgment and justice in the earth. According to Isaiah this expected King, the Root of Jesse, will stand for an ensign of the people.

The Rallying–Point of the World’s Hopes

He will be the true center of its government: Kings will see and arise, princes also will worship…kings will shut their mouths at Him (Isa. 52:15). Righteousness, equity, justice, and faithfulness will mark His administration. He will not judge after the sight of His eyes, nor reprove after the hearing of His ears. Instead, He will rely upon the infallibility of a perfect moral insight. Beneath the shadow of His throne all that is by nature savage, proud, and cruel among the sons of men will learn the habits of tenderness, humility, and love. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them (Isa. 11:6-8). The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (v. 9).

Daniel is taught that at the anointing of the Most Holy”–after a defined period –God will finish the transgressions,” and make an end of sins,” and make reconciliation for iniquity,” and bring in everlasting righteousness (Dan. 9:24).

Zechariah, too, especially points out the moral and spiritual characteristics of the reign of King Messiah. The founder of an eastern dynasty must ordinarily wade through blood and slaughter to the steps of his throne, and must maintain his authority by force. But the daughter of Jerusalem beholds her King coming, just and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass.” The King speaks peace unto the heathen”; the battlebow is broken”; and yet His dominion extends from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth (Zech. 9:9-10).

The Suffering Messiah

If Messiah reigns in Psalms 45 and 72, in harsh and apparent utter contrast He suffers hugely in Psalm 22. His anguish has been described in even greater detail by Isaiah. Both writers, however, confidently treat the deepest humiliations and woes as the prelude to assured victory. The psalmist passes from excruciating details of the crucifixion to a declaration that by these sufferings the heathen will he converted, and all the kindreds of the Gentiles will be brought to adore the true God (Ps. 22:1-21).

The prophet describes the Servant of God as despised and rejected of men (Isa. 53). He bears our infirmities and carries our sorrows; His wounds are due to our transgressions; His stripes have a healing virtue for us. His sufferings and death are a trespass-offering; on Him is laid the iniquity of all. His visage is so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” Like a lamb, innocent, defenseless, dumb, He is led forth to the slaughter. He is cut off from the land of the living.”

Yet the prophet pauses at His grave to note that He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied,” that God will divide Him a portion with the great,” and that He will Himself divide the spoil with the strong.” And all this is to follow because He hath poured out His soul unto death.” His death is the destined instrument whereby He will achieve His mediatorial reign of glory.

He Is Identified with the Father

In Isaiah’s great prophecy, the “Son” who is given to Israel receives a fourfold name: He is a Wonder-Counselor, or Wonderful, above all earthly beings; He possesses a nature which man cannot fathom, and He thus shares and unfolds the divine Mind. He is the Father of the everlasting age or of eternity. He is the Prince of Peace. Above all, He is expressly named the Mighty God. Jeremiah calls Him Jehovah Tsidkenu, as Isaiah had called Him Emmanuel. Micah speaks of His eternal pre-existence as Isaiah had spoken of His endless reign. Daniel predicts that His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away. Zechariah terms Him the Fellow or Equal of the Lord of Hosts, and refers to His incarnation and still more clearly to His passion as being that of Jehovah Himself. Haggai implies His divinity by foretelling that His presence will make the glory of the second Temple greater than the glory of the first. Malachi points to Him as the Angel of the Covenant, as Jehovah whom Israel was seeking, and who would suddenly come to His temple, as the Sun of Righteousness.

A Messiah Divine as Well as Human

Read this language as a whole; read it by the light of the great doctrine which it attests, and which in turn illuminates it, the doctrine of a Messiah, divine as well as human. All is natural, consistent, full of point and meaning. But divorce it from that doctrine in obedience to a foregone and arbitrary dictum of negative criticism which insists that Jesus Christ shall be banished at any cost from the scroll of prophecy—then how full of difficulties does such language become, how overstrained and exaggerated, how insipid and disappointing!

IV. A Jewish Caesar Expected

The last stage of the Messianic doctrine begins only after the close of the Hebrew Canon. The messianic hope gradually became degraded among the masses of the people. They dwelt more and more eagerly upon the pictures of His worldwide conquest and imperial sway, and they construed those promises of coming triumph in the most earthly and secular sense—they looked for a Jewish Alexander or for a Jewish Caesar. Doubtless there were saints like the aged Simeon, whose eyes longed sore for the divine Christ foretold in the great age of Hebrew prophecy. But generally speaking, the piety of the enslaved Jew had become little else than a wrong-headed patriotism.

The people who were willing to hail Jesus as King Messiah and to conduct Him in royal pomp to the gates of the holy city had so lost sight of the real eminence which messiahship involved that when He claimed to be God they endeavored to stone Him for blasphemy. This claim of His was in fact the “crime” for which their leaders persecuted Him to death. Even the apostles at first looked mainly, or only, for a temporal prince.

The Jews Reject their Messiah

When Jesus Christ presented Himself to the Jewish people He did not condescend to sanction the misbelief of the time. He professed to be the fulfillment at last of the ancient prophecies. Yet when, in the fullness of time He came, that He might satisfy the desire of the nations, He was rejected by a stiff-necked generation because He was true to the highest and brightest anticipations of His Advent. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the divine Messiah of David and of Isaiah and therefore He died upon the cross to achieve the spiritual redemption of humanity, not the political enfranchisement of Palestine.

The Lord Our God Is One Lord

Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,” was the fundamental law of the Jewish belief and polity. How copious are the warnings against the surrounding idolatries in the Jewish Scriptures! Yet this fundamental truth does but throw into sharper outline those suggestions of personal distinctions in the Godhead—those successive predictions of a Messiah personally distinct from Jehovah, yet also the Savior of men, the Lord and Ruler of all, the Judge of the nations, Almighty, Everlasting, indeed, One whom prophecy designates as God. The Old Testament was in truth entrusted with a double charge: besides teaching explicitly the creed of Sinai, it was designed to teach implicitly a fuller revelation, and to prepare men for the creed of the day of Pentecost.

Predictions that Cannot Be Denied

No amount of captious ingenuity will destroy the substantial fact that the leading features of cur Lord’s human manifestation were announced to the world some centuries before He actually came among us. With His hand upon the Jewish Canon, Jesus Christ could look opponents or disciples in the face and bid them: Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me.

Adapted from The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, H.P. Liddon. Pickering & Inglis LTD. London, n.d.

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Sermons & Bible Studies

Abide in Christ

Christ in Old Testament

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