The name of our Saviour is “Jesus”. But we often call him “Jesus Christ”, or sometimes simply “Christ”. Technically, “Christ” is not a name but a title; so it is really “Jesus the Christ”. This title is commonly used in the New Testament: we find the name “Jesus” about 900 times, and the title “Christ” 500 times.
Just like the name “Jesus”, the title “Christ” is important and meaningful. At a crucial moment in our Lord’s ministry, disciple Peter confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Mat. 16:16) The Jewish leaders sentenced Jesus to death because he affirmed to be “the Christ, the Son of God.” (Mat. 26:63) It is clear that the very title “Christ” carries much weight!
In q&a 31, the catechism tells us that “Christ” means “Anointed”. In this lesson we will explore this idea further. What is the meaning of anointing? What does it mean that Jesus is the Anointed One?
The Anointed One
1. The meaning of Jesus’ anointing
2. The event of Jesus’ anointing
3. The purpose of Jesus’ anointing
The meaning of Jesus’ anointing
When you “anoint” someone, you apply perfumed oil to this person, typically by pouring it on his head. In Biblical times, people would use anointing oil to smell good, in the way we use deodorant and perfume. (See. e.g. Ruth 3:3; Mat. 6:17) A generous host would pour some anointing oil on his guests (see Ps. 23:5; Luke 7:46).
But anointing could also be a symbolic action, marking out the person for a specific task. Anointing belongs to appointing, or ordaining someone. When asked what the title “Christ” means, the catechism uses these two verbs: Jesus has been ordained by God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Spirit. These two belong together.
In the Old Testament, there are many examples of people who are anointed. The first example is in Exodus 29, where Aaron and his sons are ordained as priests. The olive oil that was used was perfumed, containing a mixture of spices: myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, and something called “balsam cane”, which may have been lemongrass. The oil was considered sacred; it belonged to the inventory of the tabernacle and temple, and you were not allowed to imitate it for any other purpose. The oil had a strong, pleasant smell. In Psalm 133, the anointing oil for the priest is used as an analogy for the sweet unity of God’s people.
In the anointing you could see (and smell!) that the priests were set apart for serving the Lord in a special way; they were consecrated to him. When we call Jesus the “Christ”, the Anointed One, we emphasize his consecration; he was set apart by God for a special, holy task.
Later in the Bible, we also hear about anointed kings. Samuel, for instance, anointed both Saul and David as a sign of their future kingship. (Interestingly, both of these anointments took place in secret…) The Israelite king was often simply called “the LORD’s anointed”. (1 Sam. 2:10; 12:3; etc.) The anointing oil marked a man out, not only to be king, but especially to be the holy king of God’s people, dedicated to the Lord, and acting on his behalf.
The meaning of anointing becomes especially clear in 1 Sam. 16, when Samuel anoints David as the future king of Israel. We read: “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward.” The anointing with oil is a physical sign of the spiritual anointing with the Holy Spirit.
This is also the case for anointed prophets. The prophet Elijah, for instance, anointed Elisha to be his successor (1 Kings 19:16). But when Elijah was about to leave, Elisha asked for a “double portion of his spirit”—that is, of the spirit of prophecy, which is God the Holy Spirit himself. The anointing with oil was only a sign; the anointing with the Spirit is reality.
All these anointed people had in common their consecration to the Lord, being set apart for a special task; and in order to perform that task on God’s behalf, they received the Spirit of God, who gave them the wisdom, courage, and strength to do this work. The anointed servants of God worked among his people. Priests administered the sacrament of forgiveness; kings administered God’s justice; prophets proclaimed his Word. They embodied God’s gracious presence.
Our Lord Jesus is the Anointed One. Especially the later parts of the Old Testament announce that he would come: a single person who brings God’s grace and glory to his people in an ultimate, definitive way. This is perhaps clearest in Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted. […]
When Jesus preached about this prophecy (Luke 4), he applied this prophecy directly to himself. He is the anointed one that was prophesied.
In the centuries before Jesus came, the Jewish people were eagerly waiting for this promised servant of God. Their theologians collected every scrap of prophecy that might apply to this special saviour. This is why in Jesus’ time, Jews with little education and even a Samaritan woman knew exactly what to expect: the Messiah! “Messiah” is simply the Hebrew word for “anointed”; our word “Christ” is a Greek translation of “Messiah”. When Jesus came and said that he was the Christ, everybody knew what that meant.
Jesus was ordained by God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Spirit to do God’s most special work in this world. That is why he received that hope-giving, glorious title: the Anointed One—the Messiah—the Christ.
The event of Jesus’ anointing
The Holy Spirit was involved in Jesus’ life in a special way, from the very moment of his conception (Luke 1:35). He was never without the Holy Spirit. And, being the eternal Son of God, he always lived in the most intimate fellowship of the Trinity, with the Father and the Spirit.
Still, there was a special moment when Jesus was publicly anointed with the Holy Spirit. Publicly, because it had to be clear to God’s people then (and to us today) that Jesus had indeed God’s approval and spoke with his authority. When did this happen?
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus came to the Jordan river, where John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing. John proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was just around the corner. He told people to prepare, by repenting of their sins and showing their repentance by being baptized. And he announced that after him would come the great messenger of God that people had hoped for. When he saw Jesus, he pointed out: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”
But Jesus did not simply say: yes, that’s me. Jesus insisted on being baptized. And when he came out of the river, the heaven opened and something looking like a dove came down onto Jesus’ head. That was Jesus’ anointing; the dove represented the Holy Spirit. This powerful sign from heaven was accompanied by a voice from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
You could say that this was when Jesus was anointed and appointed in history. He had been appointed as the Saviour from eternity, but now it was public and official: this man is the Anointed One, with an anointment directly from heaven, with the Holy Spirit in greater measure than anyone before. He is here to proclaim the Word of God, to administer his grace and justice, and to bring his salvation.
This is a key event in Jesus’ life and ministry. That is clear from the fact that all four gospels report it. Some Christian traditions set apart a Sunday to commemorate this event, as the feast of Theophany, usually in early January. Many Protestant churches do not have this holiday, and rarely speak of the event of Jesus’ anointing; but they miss out. This is the moment Jesus was presented to the world as the Lamb of God; this is when he began his public ministry as the Christ.
The purpose of Jesus’ anointing
So Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit; but what for? In the Old Testament, there were anointed prophets, priests, and kings; there were also a few who fulfilled more than one of these roles, such as Moses and Samuel. Which of these roles did Jesus take? Of course, our Lord’s ministry is unique. He did things no prophet, priest, or king had ever been able to do. But to help us think about all that Jesus Christ was (and still is!), the catechism characterizes his work as that of a prophet-priest-king.
Jesus Christ is our chief Prophet and Teacher. He tells us everything that we need to know. His three-year ministry was first and foremost a preaching-and-teaching ministry, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The catechism says: he has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption. Like other prophets, but even more so, Jesus told us God’s plan of salvation, and the way of salvation, and the kind of life that belongs to that salvation. Our Lord Jesus is uniquely qualified to do so; after all, he is the embodiment of the eternal Word of God. He still does this work, as he is present in the church in his Word and Spirit. Through the preaching and teaching ministry of the church, Jesus Christ is still fulfilling his prophetic office.
He is also our only High Priest. Like the priests of old, he is the mediator between God’s holiness and us sinners. At the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus brought the ultimate sacrifice to cover sin: the one sacrifice of his body; he became indeed the Lamb of God that carries away the sins of the world. He has redeemed us, set us free from sin and judgment, so that we are now at peace with God. The catechism also mentions that Jesus, being our High Priest, intercedes for us before the Father. A beautiful example of that we see in Jesus’ intimate prayer in John 17. He is still doing that, continually, says the catechism, as our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). Indeed, the Bible assures us (Rom. 8:34) that Christ Jesus is the one “who is at the right hand of God, who is indeed interceding for us.” Christ’s priestly office continues today, to ensure our complete salvation.
And he is our eternal King. Already during Jesus’ time on earth, people recognized him as the Son of David; and the early church applied to him the words of Psalm 2:6: “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” He is “seated at the right hand of God,” which means on the throne as ruler and judge. His task as our King is to govern us by his Word and Spirit; to defend and preserve us, by crushing the devil’s attempt to undermine our salvation, and by keeping his church strong in this hostile world. And it will only be a matter of time before his glorious Kingship is revealed to the whole world. He will be our King forever!
When we call Jesus “the Christ”, we emphasize his task and authority. God has appointed him and equipped him to execute his plan of salvation. He is “the one who comes in the Name of the Lord”, the ultimate agent of God in this world. It would be rebellious and foolish to ignore him; God has sent him, and not anyone else. He is chief Prophet, only High Priest, and eternal King. He is the Christs, and there will be no other Christs.
As we will see in the next lesson, Christian believers may think of themselves as “anointed ones” as well. But it is always in an indirect way: sharing in Jesus’ anointing, sharing in the work he came to do.
It is good for us to reflect on the all-encompassing work Jesus came to do. Our salvation and our relationship with God has many aspects, but all lines come together in Jesus the Anointed One. When we call him the “Christ”, we celebrate who he is and what he has done and is still doing, as our ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King.
- Anointing is a ritual involving, for instance, a new priest or prophet. What happens during this ritual? What does it show?
- Name at least three Old Testament characters who were anointed.
- What does the word “Messiah” mean? When the Jews in Jesus’ time talked about “the Messiah”, what were they talking about?
- When was Jesus publicly anointed?
- List one or two tasks of Jesus Christ
(a) as our prophet
(b) as our priest
(c) as our king
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||Exodus 29:1-9. Discuss the parts of this ceremony of consecration of the priest. What spiritual realities are signified?|
|Tuesday||Psalm 45:6-9. Is the “oil of gladness” merely cosmetic, or does it tell you something about the royal bridegroom of the psalm? See also Heb. 1:8-9.|
|Wednesday||1 Samuel 10. For what specific tasks was Saul anointed? What spiritual realities are connected to his anointing? (v. 9-10!)|
|Thursday||1 Kings 19. In response to Elijah’s despair, the LORD instructs him to anoint no less than three people! Who were they, what was their task, and how would they represent God’s presence and power among his people?|
|Friday||Acts 10:34-48. In his gospel summary, Peter mentions Jesus’ anointing. What does this anointing imply? (v. 38-39; 42) What special “anointing” took place after Peter’s sermon?|
|Saturday||Psalm 2. What warning is there for those who reject or challenge the authority of God’s Anointed? What comfort is there for those who love him?|