As we saw earlier, one of the crucial turning points in Jesus’ earthly ministry was when, in response to a question about who He was, Peter answered: “‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matt. 16:16, NKJV).
The word Christ (christos in Greek) means the “anointed,” the “Messiah”; in Hebrew it is mashiyach. It came from a root word that means “to anoint,” and it was used in various contexts in the Old Testament. (It was even used in one place to point to a pagan king, Cyrus [see Isa. 45:1].) Thus, when Peter called Jesus the Christ, he was using a word that expresses an ideal derived from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Read the following texts from the Old Testament that use the word Messiah or anointed. What does the context teach us about what it means? How might Peter have understood what it meant when he called Jesus the Messiah?
Though Peter had been inspired by the Lord to declare Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 16:16-17), there’s no question that he didn’t fully understand what this meant. He didn’t understand who exactly the Messiah was, what He was to accomplish, and, perhaps most important, how He would accomplish it.
In that lack of understanding, Peter was not alone. There were many different ideas in Israel about the Messiah. In and of themselves, the uses of the word Messiah or anointed in the above texts don’t present a full picture, however much they might foreshadow what the Messiah would ultimately be and do.
John 7:42 reveals some of what was expected of the Messiah: He would be descended from David, from the town of Bethlehem (Isa. 11:1-16, Mic. 5:2). That part they got right. In the popular imagination, however, a Messiah from the line of David would do what David did: defeat the enemies of the Jews. What no one expected was a Messiah who would be crucified by the Romans.
Of course, by the time he wrote his epistles, Peter more clearly understood Jesus as the Messiah (He is called Jesus Christ 15 times in 1 and 2 Peter) and all that He would accomplish for humanity.