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This is what the LORD says to his anointed,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their armor,
to open doors before him
so that gates will not be shut…
Christians confess Jesus as God’s Messiah, the Savior and King who has come to redeem us from the bondage of sin and establish God’s kingdom. We have been taught that the word “messiah” is an Anglicized version of the Hebrew mashiach, which means “anointed one.” Jesus was anointed by God for his special mission of redemption and restoration.
When Christians come to Isaiah 44-45 then, we can be shocked by what we read. The last verse of chapter 44 surprises us by mentioning Cyrus, the king of Persia. In 44:28, God refers to Cyrus as “my shepherd.” Then, in the next verse (45:1), Cyrus is referred to as the Lord’s “anointed.” This word translates the Hebrew mashiach, from which we get the familiar term “messiah.”
How could it be that Cyrus was God’s messiah? Isn’t Jesus alone the Messiah? How can we understand what’s going on in Isaiah 44-45?
In Hebrew culture, people were set apart and recognized as leaders by being anointed with oil, that is, having oil poured on their heads. Thus prophets, priests, and kings could be “anointed ones.” They were chosen and set apart by God for God’s special purposes. Isaiah 45:1 reveals that God had empowered Cyrus to do God’s own will, which included the overthrowing of Babylon and the restoration of Jerusalem and its temple. In this sense, Cyrus was God’s “anointed,” even though he was not from the chosen people.
The identification of Cyrus as God’s messiah reminds us that God’s ways can be surprising, even shocking. Just when we think we have God all figured out, he does something completely unexpected. Often, God chooses to use people whom we might write off because we don’t think they are good enough or Christian enough or whatever enough. Yet, in his sovereign wisdom, God can and does use all people and all things for his purposes (see Gen 50:20 and Rom 8:28, for example).
Of course, Cyrus was not the final “anointed one.” Jesus alone fulfilled that role, having been set apart and authorized to inaugurate the kingdom of God. Thus, when we refer to Jesus as the Messiah or the Christ (which is the word mashiach based on the Greek word christos), we are acknowledging his role as God’s chosen one, God’s king. Like Cyrus, Jesus would do a work of restoration. But, unlike Cyrus, Jesus’s messianic effort would restore not just Jerusalem, but the whole creation, including you and me.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Does it surprise you to hear Cyrus referred to as God’s messiah?
What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Messiah (or the Christ)?
How have you experienced his restoration in your life?
Gracious God, indeed, you reign over heaven and earth. According to your wisdom, you raise up leaders to do your will, even leaders of foreign kingdoms, people like Cyrus.
Yet, in him we see an image that will be fulfilled in Jesus, the final Messiah, the true Christ. Through Jesus your kingdom has begun. Through Jesus, we are invited into your kingdom as citizens, as royal children.
So, as we remember Cyrus the messiah today, we acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. We invite him to rule over us, to use us in the extension of the kingdom. May Jesus be not just the Messiah, but our Messiah… our Savior, our Lord, our King. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: God Meant All for Good (Genesis 50:15-21)
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