The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.
You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.
For you will break the yoke of their slavery
and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. (Isaiah 9:2–4 NLT)
There were other messiahs before Jesus. Make no mistake, there is only one true Messiah, one Savior who takes away the sins of the world and is bringing about the restoration of all things, and his name is Jesus. However, in Hebrew, anyone specifically set apart in service for God was referred to as a messiah, or “anointed one.” David and Saul were both messiahs, having been anointed as kings. The temple priests were also messiahs, as were prophets such as Samuel. However, the Messiah prophesied about in Isaiah – as well as Daniel, Psalms, and a handful of other books – is not simply another prophet, priest, or king. In fact, he is all three. The first-century father Eusebius writes of Jesus as “Christ, the divinely inspired and heavenly Word, who is the only high priest of all, and the only King of every creature, and the Father’s only supreme prophet of prophets.”
Yet before Jesus’s arrival – and even after – most of the Jewish population were not looking for a prophet/priest/king; they were on the lookout for a warrior messiah who would come in power and might, physically freeing them from Roman rule. They wanted a military leader who would reign through the power of the sword. Instead, the oppressor the Messiah brought us freedom from was not of an earthly kingdom. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The yoke of slavery the Messiah broke was that of sin and death. He did not enlarge the nation of Israel through expanding her borders but by opening up salvation to all of the world, both Jews and non-Jews.
The first-century Jewish understanding of who the Messiah would be was impacted by the mystery of the Incarnation – for God loves a good surprise – but it was likely further blinded by a lack of understand of who God is and how he chooses to work in this world. Ultimately, the people’s expectations of the Messiah were not met, but we are all better off for it.
We all hold onto expectations of who God is and what we want him to do, but our expectations and God’s plans don’t always line up. We can certainly always depend on God being for us, with us, and in us, but there are other expectations about God we hold onto at the risk of missing out on his plans for our lives. Spend some time in God’s presence today, getting to know him better so that you are less likely to expect something of him that is not in his nature or his plans.