A messiah is a saviour or liberator of a group of people, most commonly in the Abrahamic religions.
Messiah (Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ, Modern Mashiaẖ, Tiberian Māšîăḥ; Aramaic: משיחא, Greek: Μεσσίας, Syriac: ܡܫܺܝܚܳܐ, Məšîḥā, Arabic: المسيح, al-Masīḥ, Latin: Messias) literally means “anointed one”.
In Hebrew, the Messiah is often referred to as מלך המשיח (Meleḵ ha-Mašīaḥ in the Tiberian vocalization, pronounced [ˈmeleχ hamaˈʃiaħ], literally meaning “the Anointed King”.
Mashiach refers to a ritual of consecrating someone or something by putting holy oil upon it. It is used throughout the Hebrew Bible in reference to a wide variety of individuals and objects; for example, a Jewish king, Jewish priests and prophets, the Jewish Temple and its utensils, unleavened bread, and a non-Jewish king (Cyrus king of Persia).
In Judaism, the Messiah is not considered to be God or a pre-existent divine Son of God. He is considered to be a great political leader that has descended from King David. That is why he is referred to as Messiah ben David, which means “Messiah, son of David”. The messiah, in Judaism, is considered to be a great, charismatic leader that is well oriented with the laws that are followed in Judaism. He will be the one who will not “judge by what his eyes see” or “decide by what his ears hear”.
He is thought to accomplish predetermined things in only one future arrival, including the unification of the tribes of Israel, the gathering in of all Jews to Eretz Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the ushering in of a Messianic Age of global universal peace, and the annunciation of the World to Come.
The translation of the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ mašíaḥ as Χριστός (Khristós, whence the term Christ comes) in the Greek Septuagint became the accepted Christian designation and title of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that messianic prophecies in the Christian Old Testament (especially Isaiah) refer to a spiritual savior and believe that Jesus is the Christian Messiah.
Many Jews have long been skeptical of predictions announcing the imminent arrival of the Messiah (Mashiakh). The first century sage Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai once said: “If you should happen to be holding a sapling in your hand when they tell you that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the sapling and then go out and greet the Messiah.”
Note: Don’t plant the sapling, never will the Messiah wait on you
An old Jewish story tells of a Russian Jew who was paid a ruble a month by the community council to stand at the outskirts of town so that he could be the first person to greet the Messiah upon his arrival. When a friend said to him, “But the pay is so low,” the man replied: “True, but the job is permanent.”
Yet, the belief in a messiah and a messianic age is so deeply rooted in Jewish tradition that a statement concerning the Messiah became the most famous of Maimonides’s Thirteen Principles of Faith: “And Ma’amin, I believe with a full heart in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may tarry, I will wait for him on any day that he may come.” In the concentration camps, it is reported that many Jews sang the Ani Ma’amin while walking to the gas chambers.
Most significantly, Jewish tradition affirms at least five things about the Messiah. He will:
- be a descendant of King David,
- gain sovereignty over the land of Israel,
- gather the Jews there from the four corners of the earth,
- restore them to full observance of Torah law,
- and, as a grand finale, bring peace to the whole world.
Concerning the more difficult tasks some prophets assign him, such as Isaiah’s vision of a messianic age in which the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the calf with the young lion (Isaiah 11:6), Maimonides believes that Isaiah’s language is metaphorical. A century later, Nachmanides rejected Maimonides’s rationalism and asserted that Isaiah meant precisely what he said: that in the messianic age even wild animals will become domesticated.
The Jewish belief that the Messiah’s reign lies in the future has long distinguished Jews from their Christian neighbors who believe, of course, that the Messiah came two thousand years ago in the person of Jesus.
The most basic reason for the Jewish denial of the messianic claims made on Jesus’ behalf is that he did not usher in world peace, as Isaiah had prophesied:
“And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
In addition, Jesus did not help bring about Jewish political sovereignty for the Jews or protection from their enemies.
A century after Jesus, large numbers of Palestinian Jews followed the would be Messiah, Simon BarKokhba, in a revolt against the Romans. The results were catastrophic, and the Jews suffered a devastating defeat.
In 1665-1666, large segments of world Jewry believed that Shabbetai Zevi, a Turkish Jew, was the Messiah, and confidently waited for Turkey’s sultan to deliver Palestine to him. Instead, the sultan threatened Zevi with execution and he converted to Islam.
In the modern world, Reform Judaism has long denied that there will be an individual messiah who will carry out the task of perfecting the world. Instead, the movement speaks of a future world in which human efforts, not a divinely sent messenger, will bring about a utopian age. The Reform idea has influenced many non-Orthodox Jews: The oftnoted attraction of Jews to liberal and leftwing political causes probably represents a secular attempt to usher in a messianic age.
Among traditional Jews, the belief in a personal messiah seems to have grown more central in recent years. Today however, one large movement within Orthodoxy, Lubavitch, has placed increasing emphasis on the imminence of the Messiah’s arrival. At gatherings of their youth organizations, children chant, “We want Ma-shiakh now.”
At the same time, the subject of the Messiah has become increasingly central to many religious Zionists in Israel, particularly to many disciples of the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. The event that helped set the stage for a revived interest in the Messiah was the SixDay War of 1967, in which Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem and, for the first time in over two thousand years, achieved Jewish rule over the biblically ordained borders of Israel.
A sober reading of Jewish history, however, indicates that while the messianic idea has long elevated Jewish life, and prompted Jews to work for tikkun olam, whenever Jews have thought the Messiah’s arrival to be imminent, the results have been catastrophic. Tikkun Olam is a jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring a safeguard to those who may be at a disadvantage.
In 1984, a Jewish religious underground was arrested in Israel. Among its other activities, the group had plotted to blow up the Muslim Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, so that the Temple Mount could be cleared and the Temple rebuilt. Though such an action might well have provoked an international Islamic jihad (holy war) against Israel, some members of this underground group apparently welcomed such a possibility, feeling that a worldwide invasion of Israel would force God to bring the Messiah immediately. It is precisely when the belief in the Messiah’s coming starts to shape political decisions that the messianic idea ceases to be inspiring and becomes dangerous.
NOTE: The Messiah will come through the Eastern Gate and walk straight into the Third Temple. So, if the Third Temple is built where the Dome of the Rock is now located, the Messiah would have to turn left, after coming through the Eastern Gate. That is not possible.
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero believed that the Messiah would be a Marrano and Rebbe Nachman stated that the Messiah would be his descendant who would be the Emperor of the world.
Islamic tradition holds that Jesus, the son of Mary, was a Prophet and the Masîḥ (مسيح) (messiah) sent to the Israelites, and that he will return to Earth at the end of times, along with the Mahdi, and defeat al-Masih ad-Dajjal, the “false Messiah” or Antichrist.
al-Masīḥ (proper name, pronounced [mæˈsiːħ]) is the Arabic word for messiah. In modern Arabic, it is used as one of the many titles of Jesus. Masīḥ is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims, and is written as Yasūʿ al-Masih (يسوع المسيح) by Arab Christians or ʿĪsā al-Masīḥ (عيسى المسيح) by Muslims. The word al-Masīḥ literally means “the anointed”, “the traveller”, or the “one who cures by caressing”. In Qur’anic scripture, Jesus is mentioned as having been sent down by Allah, strengthened by the holy spirit, and hence, ‘anointed’ with the task of being a prophet and a “recipient of sacred scripture”. The Israelites, to whom Isa was sent, had a traditional practice of anointing their kings with oil. An Imam Bukhari hadith describes Jesus as having wet hair that looked as if water was dripping from it, possibly meaning he was naturally anointed. Muslims believe that this is just one of the many signs that proves that Jesus is the Messiah.
Belief in the eventual coming of a future messiah is a fundamental part of Judaism, and is one of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith.
Maimonides describes the identity of the Messiah in the following terms:
And if a king shall arise from among the House of David, studying Torah and occupied with commandments like his father David, according to the written and oral Torah, and he will impel all of Israel to follow it and to strengthen breaches in its observance, and will fight God’s wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded and built the Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the dispersed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together, as it is stated: “For then I shall turn for the nations a clear tongue, so that they will all proclaim the Name of the Lord, and to worship Him with a united resolve (Zephaniah 3:9).”
Even though the eventual coming of the messiah is a strongly upheld idea in Judaism, trying to predict the actual time when the messiah will come is an act that is frowned upon. These kinds of actions are thought to weaken the faith the people have in the religion. This happened once when Sabbatai Zevi, from Smirna (now İzmir, Turkey), claimed that he was the messiah that the Jewish community have been waiting for. So in Judaism, there is no specific time when the messiah comes. Rather, it is the acts of the people that determines when the messiah comes. It is said that the messiah would come either when the world needs his coming the most (when the world is so sinful and in desperate need of saving by the messiah) or deserves it the most (when genuine goodness prevails in the world).
A common modern rabbinic interpretation is that there is a potential messiah in every generation. The Talmud, which often uses stories to make a moral point (aggadah), tells of a highly respected rabbi who found the Messiah at the gates of Rome and asked him, “When will you finally come?” He was quite surprised when he was told, “Today.” Overjoyed and full of anticipation, the man waited all day. The next day he returned, disappointed and puzzled, and asked, “You said messiah would come ‘today’ but he didn’t come! What happened?” The Messiah replied, “Scripture says, ‘Today, if you will but hearken to his voice.'”
A Kabbalistic tradition within Judaism is that the commonly discussed messiah who will usher in a period of freedom and peace (Messiah ben David) will be preceded by Messiah ben Joseph, who will gather the children of Israel around him, lead them to Jerusalem. After overcoming the hostile powers in Jerusalem, Messiah ben Joseph, will reestablish the Temple-worship and set up his own dominion. Then Armilus, according to one group of sources, or Gog and Magog, according to the other, will appear with their hosts before Jerusalem, wage war against Messiah ben Joseph, and slay him. His corpse, according to one group, will lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem; according to the other, it will be hidden by the angels with the bodies of the Patriarchs, until Messiah ben David comes and brings him back to life.
The Greek translation of Messiah is khristos (χριστος), anglicized as Christ, and Christians commonly refer to Jesus as either the “Christ” or the “Messiah”. Christians believe the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in the mission, death, and resurrection of Jesus and that he will return to fulfill the rest of Messianic prophecy.
The majority of historical and mainline Christian theologies consider Jesus to be the Son of God and God the Son, a concept of the Messiah fundamentally different from the Jewish and Islamic concepts. In each of the four New Testament Gospels, the only literal anointing of Jesus is conducted by a woman. In the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John, this anointing occurs in Bethany, outside Jerusalem. In the Gospel of Luke, the anointing scene takes place at an indeterminate location, but context suggests it to be in Galilee.
The Quran identifies Jesus as the penultimate Messiah (Masih), referring to him as “Isa”. Jesus is one of the most important prophets in the Islamic tradition, along with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad. Unlike Christians, Muslims see Jesus only as a prophet, not God. Prophecy in a human form is adequate in Islam, but does not represent the true powers of God as Jesus does in Christianity.
The Quran states that Isa, the Son of Mariam (Arabic: Isa ibn Maryam), is the Messiah and Prophet sent to the Children of Israel. The birth of Isa is described Quran sura 19 verses 1–33, and sura 4 verse 171 explicitly states Isa as the Son of Mariam. Muslims believe Isa is alive in Heaven and will return to Earth to defeat the Masih ad-Dajjal (false Messiah), a figure similar to the Antichrist in Christianity, who will emerge shortly before Yawm al-Qiyāmah (“the Day of Resurrection”). After he has destroyed ad-Dajjal, his final task will be to become leader of the Muslims. Isa will unify the Muslim Ummah (the followers of Islam) under the common purpose of worshipping Allah alone in pure Islam, thereby ending divisions and deviations by adherents. Mainstream Muslims believe that at that time Isa will dispel Christian and Jewish claims about him.
A hadith in Abu Dawud (37:4310) says:
Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet said: There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Isa. He will descend (to the earth). When you see him, recognise him: a man of medium height & reddish dusky complexion, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops of water were falling down from his head though it will not be wet. He will fight for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill the swine, and put an end to war (in another Tradition, there is the word Jizyah instead of Harb (war), meaning that he will abolish jizyah); God will perish all religions except Islam. He [Isa] will destroy the Antichrist who will live on the earth for forty days and then he will die. The Muslims will pray behind him.
Both Sunni and Shia Muslims agree that al-Mahdi will arrive first, and after him, Isa. Isa will proclaim al-Mahdi as the Islamic community leader. A war will be fought—the Dajjal against alMahdi and Isa. This war will mark the approach of the coming of the Last Day. After Isa slays alDajjāl at the Gate of Lud, he will bear witness and reveal that Islam is indeed the true and last word from God to humanity as Yusuf Ali’s translation reads: “And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them.” A hadith in Sahih Bukhari (Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:55:658) says:
- Allah’s Apostle said “How will you be when the son of Mariam descends among you and your Imam is from among you?”
The Quran refutes the crucifixion of Jesus, claiming that he was neither killed nor crucified. The Quran also emphasizes the difference between Allah (God in Arabic) and the Messiah: “Those who say that Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary, are unbelievers. The Messiah said: “O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord… unbelievers too are those who have said that Allah is the third of three… the Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger before whom other Messengers had gone.”
In Ahmadiyya theology, the terms “Messiah” and “Mahdi” are synonymous terms for one and the same person. The term “Mahdi” means guided by God, thus implying a direct ordainment by God of a divinely chosen individual. According to Ahmadiyya thought, Messiahship is a phenomenon through which a special emphasis is given on the transformation of a people by way of offering suffering for the sake of God instead of giving suffering (i.e. refraining from revenge). Ahmadis believe that this special emphasis was given through the person of Jesus and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908).
Ahmadis hold that the prophesied eschatological figures of Christianity and Islam, the Messiah and Mahdi, were in fact to be fulfilled in one person who was to represent all previous prophets. The prophecies concerning the Mahdi or the Second Coming of Jesus are seen by Ahmadis as metaphorical and subject to interpretation. It is argued that one was to be born and rise within the dispensation of Muhammad, who by virtue of his similarity and affinity with Jesus, and the similarity in nature, temperament and disposition of the people of Jesus’ time and the people of the time of the promised one (the Mahdi) is called by the same name.
Numerous hadith are presented by the Ahmadis in support of their view, such as one from Sunan Ibn Majah, which says, “There is No Mahdi but Jesus son of Mary.”
Ahmadis believe that the prophecies concerning the Mahdi and the second coming of Jesus have been fulfilled in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement. Unlike mainstream Muslims, the Ahmadis do not believe that Jesus is alive in heaven, but that he survived the crucifixion and migrated towards the east where he died a natural death and that Ghulam Ahmad was only the promised spiritual second coming and likeness of Jesus, the promised Messiah and Mahdi. He also claimed to have appeared in the likeness of Krishna and that his advent fulfilled certain prophecies found in Hindu scriptures. Though he held Krishna to be a prophet of God and a human being, rather than God or an incarnation of God. He stated that the founder of Sikhism was a Muslim saint, who was a reflection of the religious challenges he perceived to be occurring. Ghulam Ahmad wrote Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, in 1880, which incorporated Indian, Sufi, Islamic and Western aspects in order to give life to Islam in the face of the British Raj, Protestant Christianity, and rising Hinduism. He later declared himself the Promised Messiah and the Mahdi following Divine revelations in 1891. Ghulam Ahmad argued that Jesus had appeared 1300 after the formation of the Muslim community and stressed the need for a current Messiah, in turn claiming that he himself embodied both the Mahdi and the Messiah. Ghulam Ahmad was supported by Muslims who especially felt oppressed by Christian and Hindu missionaries.
- The Saoshyant is a figure in Zoroastrianism who brings about the final renovation of the world, the Frashokereti. The Avestan language name literally means “one who brings benefit”, and is also used as a common noun. The role of the Saoshyant, or Astvat-ereta, as a future saviour of the world is briefly described in Yasht 19.88–96, where it is stated that he will achieve the frasho.kereti, that he will make the world perfect and immortal, and evil and Druj will disappear. He is identified as the son of Vîspa.taurwairî and it is stated that he will come forth from Lake Kansaoya/Kansava and will carry the same weapon Verethragna that a number of Iranian epic heroes and kings have used in the past against various demonic foes. Haurvatat, Ameretat, and other similar entities will be his companions and together, they will vanquish the evil creations of Angra Mainyu.
- In Buddhism, Maitreya is considered to the next Buddha (awakened one) that is promised to come. He is expected to come to renew the laws of Buddhism once the teaching of Gautama Buddha has completely decayed. He is expected to be, according to page 26 of Digha Nikaya, fully Awakened, abounding in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher for gods[ devas] and men, an Exalted One: a Buddha.
- Krishna is the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu, the savior, and is one of the special avatars in Hinduism. The followers of Hinduism expect that there will be a new incarnation of the avatar (the Kalki Avatar) who, in different periods in history was known as Vishnu, Krishna and Jesus. This avatar will fight the apocalyptic snake and achieve the final victory over evil on earth. He will renew humanity and enable people to lead pure and honorable lives. The expectations of all religions will be fulfilled in him as he will be the world messiah that they all looked forward to.
- Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith, claimed to be the figure prophesied in the scriptures of the world’s religions. His name, when translated literally, means “The Glory of God” in Arabic. According to the Baha’i faith, Bahá’u’lláh addressed not only those timeless theological and philosophical questions that have stayed with humanity since old times such as: Who is God? What is goodness? and Why are we here? but also the questions that have preoccupied philosophers of the 20th century: What motivates human nature? Is real peace indeed possible? Does God still care for humanity? and the like. He is considered to be the latest of the messengers that God sent to human beings. He is the one who brought new spiritual and social teachings for our modern age. He taught that there is only one God, that all of the world’s religions are from God, and that now is the time for humanity to recognize its oneness and unite.
- Maitreya, a being that Theosophists believe will physically manifest sometime in the 21st century and who will be the Messiah expected by various religions. The followers of this religion consider Maitreya as “The Messiah” that has been expected for generations by all of the major religions. That is, Christians know him as the Christ, and expect his imminent return; Jews await him as the Messiah; Hindus look for the coming of Krishna; Buddhists expect him as Maitreya Buddha; and Muslims anticipate the Imam Mahdi or Messiah. They expect Maitreya to inspire all human beings to be one family and create a civilization that is based on sharing and cooperation. He (Maitreya) will make the basic needs of human beings such as food, clothing, education and medical care a universal right. According to the beliefs of Theosophy, under Maitreya’s inspiration, humanity itself will make the required changes and create a sensible and more just world for all.
- Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia is believed to be the Messiah by followers of the Rastafari movement. This idea further supports the belief that God himself is black, which they (followers of the Rastafarian movement) try to further strengthen by a verse from the Bible. Even if the Emperor denied being the messiah, the followers of the Rastafari movement believe that he is a messenger from God. To justify this, Rastafarians used reasons such as Emperor Haile Selassie’s bloodline, which is assumed to come from King Solomon of Israel, and the various titles given to him, which include Lord of Lords, King of Kings and Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah.
- In Kebatinan (Javanese religious tradition), Satrio Piningit is a character in Jayabaya’s prophecies who is destined to become a great leader of Nusantara and to rule the world from Java. In Serat Pararaton, King Jayabaya of Kediri foretold that before Satrio Piningit’s coming, there would be flash floods and that volcanoes would erupt without warning. Satrio Piningit is Krishna-like figure known as “Ratu Adil” (Indonesian King of Justice) and his weapon is a trishula.