Skip to main content

The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments

 His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St Vlassios

(The Messiah and Messiahs) 

Original Article in Greek:  Ναυπάκτου Ἱερόθεος: Ὁ Μεσσίας στήν Παλαιά καί τήν Καινή Διαθήκη

One of the basic phrases associated with St Andrew the First-Called Apostle is his statement to his brother Simon, the Apostle Peter: “‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ)” (John 1:41).

This raises the question of how St Andrew understood the word ‘Messiah’ and what exactly he meant. Is he referring to a messianic expectation that existed in his time among the Jews, and to the appearance of a political leader to liberate them from Roman domination? Or is this a matter of empirical faith, which is connected with Christ as the true God Who took flesh?

Before he said these words, the Apostle Andrew, together with St John the Theologian, had been in the company of St John the Forerunner. He had heard him say of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36), and he had followed Him. At some point “Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, ‘What do you seek?’” They asked Him where He was staying. Christ replied, “Come and see.” And “they came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day” (John 1:38-40).

According to the interpretative teaching of the Fathers of the Church, this was a vision (theoria) of the glory of God. These two Disciples spent that day in His glory and realised that He was the Son of God. St Theophylact explains:

“Jesus turns towards those following Him and shows them His face. If you do not follow Jesus through good action, you will not arrive at vision (theoria) of the Lord’s face, nor will you set off for His dwelling, which means that you will not arrive at the illumination of divine knowledge. Christ’s home is the light. For it says: ‘He dwells in unapproachable light.’ How can someone who does not purify himself and follow [Christ] through purification be illumined in knowledge?” [1]

Fr. John Romanides said:

“When the two disciples of the Forerunner became Disciples of Christ, they asked Him, ‘Where are You staying?’ (John 1:38). Does this mean that they asked Christ to show them His apartment? Of course not. They asked Him to show them where He dwelt. The Apostles asked Christ to reveal His dwelling-place, which is the uncreated glory of God. And for a whole day those Apostles participated in the experience of glorification [theosis]. So here we have the first experience of glorification after the Forerunner. Just as the Forerunner had this experience of Christ, so His Disciples have this experience.”  [2]

We should interpret the Apostle Andrew’s words “We have found the Messiah” in the same perspective. Thus he passed from the Old Testament to the New Testament, according to the interpretation of the word ‘Messiah’ by the Fathers of the Church.

This is an interesting subject that has occupied not only biblical theologians but also those who interpret the Fathers of the Church.

1. The Messiah in the Old Testament

The Hebrew word Mashiah ‘Messiah’ and the corresponding Greek word Christos ‘Christ’ mean ‘the anointed one’. In this sense, ‘Messiah’ in the Old Testament denotes someone who is anointed by a Prophet. At first this is the King, such as Saul and David, who were anointed by Samuel the Prophet, but also other Kings. Later the word ‘Messiah’ refers to the kingly Messiah who was to reign over the Israelite people. His kingship, therefore, relates to theocratic institutions, and the emphasis is always on his political role.

After the Babylonian captivity, when there was no King, the Priests become Messiahs, those who have anointed, and essentially the High Priest becomes the head of the Israelite community. The High Priest is anointed and so are the Priests; they are the Lord’s anointed ones.

In Old Testament there were some groups, such as the Essenes, who were waiting for the coming of two Messiahs in the last times. One Messiah would be the Priest, who would have the first place; the other Messiah would be the King, who would take care of the worldly concerns of the people of God. The kingly Messiah is given greater importance, but some groups were waiting for the priestly Messiah. It is clear, therefore, that all the passages in the Old Testament refer to the Messiah as a human being who is anointed.

At the same time, however, the Old Testament also speaks about the unincarnate Word, the Angel of Great Counsel, Who is God and appears to the Prophets in His glory. But there is an absolutely clear distinction between the human, earthly Messiah and the unincarnate Word, Yahweh, Who is true God. In the Old Testament, Yahweh, the Angel of Great Counsel, was not an anointed Messiah-Christ. He was the anointing, the Chrism, with which human Messiahs were anointed.

With the incarnation of Christ, His Disciples saw His glory and understood that the two names, the Lord of Glory (Yahweh) and the Messiah, were united in Christ’s person. The first, the Lord of Glory, denotes the divine nature, the true God; the second, Messiah, denotes the human nature that was anointed by the divine nature.

The words of St Andrew the First-Called Apostle, “We have found the Messiah”, taken together with the vision of Christ’s glory, which he had been counted worthy to see previously, when he was first called to be an Apostle, indicate that Yahweh, the Angel of Great Counsel, Who was the Chrism with which the Kings, High Priests and Priests were anointed, became Christ (the anointed one), because the divine nature anointed the human nature. This means that Yahweh, the Lord of Glory, became Christ: the human nature that He assumed from the All-Holy Theotokos was anointed.

Furthermore, after the incident with Andrew and John, when Nathanael replied to Christ, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”, Christ said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:49-51).

So now the New Testament unites the two names, the name ‘Christ’ and the name ‘Lord’ (Luke 2:11, 2 Cor. 4:5ff.), and refers to “our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). The Apostle Paul will speak about Christ, Who was crucified and rose again and has great glory, about Him Who is Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Cor. 15:12-34) .

2. The Messiah in the New Testament, according to the Fathers of the Church

We looked earlier at how the word ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’ passed from the Old Testament into the New Testament. At the same time we saw what all the Apostles believed about Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a human Messiah linked with kingly or priestly authority in Israel, but He is the Chrism, the God-man Christ, in Whose person the two natures, divine and human, were united.

This was clearly expressed by the Fathers of the Church who interpreted the Old and New Testaments in their attempt to deal with heretics, who relied on Greek philosophy, and Judaisers, who were waiting for the Messiah, either as a political ruler or King, or as a Priest or High Priest, but ultimately as a political liberator.

The Fathers of the Church, including St Athanasius the Great and the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century, theologised about the divinity of the Son and Word of God. They confessed Christ to be perfect God and perfect man, developing even further the faith and confession of the Apostles, as it was recorded in their writings and included in the New Testament.

I should now like to present the teaching of Fr. John Romanides about the Messiah in the Old and New Testaments, because he had a very good knowledge of the Protestant biblical interpretative tradition, and an even better knowledge of the whole patristic tradition on this subject.

Fr. John Romanides taught:

“In the Old Testament the name ‘Messiah’ appears five times in Leviticus alone. It is obvious that it refers to an earthly man. The ‘anointed one’ is he who has the anointing (chrism), nothing more. To be sure, Christ was anointed, but Christ Himself is the anointing, the Word is the chrism. Christ is the source of the anointing, because He is the chrism and is also Christ, the anointed one. He is the chrism as God and is anointed as man. Christ always has this double characteristic.”

“When the Old Testament refers to Christ, it does not refer to Christ as Messiah. Everything that has been written about the Messiah, the son of man, has been written from a non-Orthodox perspective. They have sifted through all the passages about Christ-Messiah in the Old Testament. It is obvious that in the Old Testament the messiah is a human being. They cannot understand how this simple man-messiah in the Old Testament appears in the New Testament as pre-existent and as a person of the Holy Trinity, as expounded in the Christian tradition.

“Of course the anointed one (christos) in the Old Testament is the messiah, the man who is anointed. In the Old Testament the Prophets and the various rulers of Israel are called messiahs, because ‘messiah’ means someone who has been anointed by God for a particular mission. If we really want to see Christ, as we know Him in the Christian tradition, in the Old Testament, we should search in the theophanies in the Old Testament, not in passages about the Messiah.”

“In the Old Testament, Christ did not have a human nature. He is only the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who is called the Lord of Glory and Yahweh in the Old Testament. He is the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of Glory, the Angel of Great Counsel, Who appears to the Prophets.”

“The name ‘Christ’ refers to the human nature and means ‘anointed’. Before taking human nature, the Word is not anointed. But the Word Himself is the anointing, the Chrism. God is the Chrism, because man is anointed with the uncreated glory of God. The one who is anointed is not God; it is man who is anointed.

The Word was anointed as man, although He is simultaneously the source of anointing and the anointed one. This is the mystery of the incarnation: that He who is chrism by nature anoints Himself as man. Christ does not have the chrism according to grace; the chrism is His by nature. Christ is He Who is anointed by nature. This is the most fundamental difference between the Old and New Testaments.”

There is, therefore, a fundamental misinterpretation with regard to the name Messiah-Christ, both among the Hebrews and among biblical commentators who have been influenced by Protestants.

“The Hebrews preferred to see Christ as Messiah, who was raised to the level of God. The New Testament, however, does not say that the Messiah became God. It says that God became Messiah. The Lord of Glory Himself became Messiah and was born of the Virgin.”

“The dogmatic theologians attempted to explain how the New Testament contains teaching about the Holy Trinity that is not in the Old Testament. Some of them dreamt up the theory that in the Old Testament there is an earthly Messiah, a this-worldly Messiah. Later, at some point in the history of Israel, a heavenly Messiah appears, and there is a lot of discussion about when the Messiah appears in the Hebrew tradition. Some think that he is the ‘Ancient of days’ in Daniel, and that this Messiah from Daniel came into the New Testament and was declared to be a heavenly Messiah…

“The Fathers of the Church did not see Christ as Messiah in the Old Testament, but as the Lord of Glory, as the Apostle Paul says. In other words, Christ in the Old Testament is not the Messiah; He is the Angel of the Lord Who appears to the Prophets. In that case, the Prophet sees God, that is to say, he sees God in the Angel, and this Angel is Christ.”

On this point, too, the Fathers of the Church interpret things differently from biblical theologians who have been influenced by Protestant misinterpretations.

“When the Fathers read the Old Testament, they are not searching for a Messiah to equate with Christ in the Old Testament. There is no need for the existence of a transcendent heavenly Messiah, such as some eschatologists who have studied in America are seeking, in order to teach us that method. We learn that method as little kids in America.”

“Well, this is an interpretation, which is certainly that of the Fathers of the Church, but also of St Paul: that Christ in the Old Testament is the Angel of the Lord. This means that every time the Angel of the Lord appears to a Prophet, it is a vision of God.”

From all this it can be concluded that in the Old Testament He Who appeared to the Prophets was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the unincarnate Word, the Angel of the Lord, Yahweh, the Angel of Great Counsel, and not the Messiah. The name ‘Messiah’ referred to human beings, to the earthly King, the Priest and High Priest who were anointed. The Angel of the Lord, as God, is the Chrism that anointed the King, the Priest and the High Priest. The Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament took flesh, assumed human nature and anointed it, so He became Christ. However, Christ in the New Testament is Christ (the anointed one) by nature and not by grace.

Consequently, St Andrew the First-Called Apostle, with his well-known phrase, “We have found the Messiah”, which he uttered after his experience of revelational vision (theoria), did not mean by ‘Messiah’ an earthly man and High Priest, but the Angel of the Lord, Yahweh, the Angel of Great Counsel, Who became Messiah at His incarnation.

This means that the Apostle Andrew was the first Apostle to pass from the Old to the New Testament, and later he received even greater assurance of this through Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, as well as Pentecost. This explains why he became a martyr for our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory Who became man, because martyrdom is the fruit of vision (theoria) of the glory of God.

Nowadays, unfortunately, most people do not accept Christ as the God-man Christ. They look instead for other Messiahs, who are not anointed by God, but by philosophy, sociology, economics, international organisations and the money markets, all of which are like an organised religion with its own ‘priesthood’, its ‘ministers’, its ‘gospel’, and its ‘temples’, in other words, the bankers and financial centres. Christ has been thrown out of the lives of many people who live on our planet today.

However, even in many religious and Christian circles, Orthodox or not, the unincarnate Word Who became the God-man Christ, the Messiah, is not wholeheartedly welcomed, and they exalt other messiahs instead. This gives rise to disputes, problems and divisions that split the unity of the Church and divide the Christian world in the West.

Today, more than ever before, St Andrew teaches us that we must recognise the one and only Messiah in the person of the God-man Christ. As a consequence of this, we recognise the great value of the Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ and is spread throughout the world.

This means that the Church, as Christ’s Body, ought not to compete with worldly organisations in authority, work, and simply making a contribution to society, but it should offer what those organisations do not have, in other words, Orthodox theology.

The West knew another, secularised, kind of Christianity: a Christianity linked with political power and moralistic behaviour. As a reaction against this, various currents developed, such as humanism, the Enlightenment, romanticism, existentialism, and so on. Thus the West needs to know the Orthodox Church, with its worship, its neptic theology based on spiritual vigilance, its iconography, its music, and its entire inner life.

This is one of the messages of St Andrew the First-Called Apostle to our era.

September 2017



[1] Theophylact Archbishop of Bulgaria, Ermineia eis to kata Ioannin Evangelion - Commentary on St John’s Gospel, PG 123, col. 1180

[2] Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church according to the Spoken Teaching of Father John Romanides, vol. 2, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2013