7 Titles of the Messiah

Michael A. Rydelnik
header for 7 Titles of the Messiah

There are numerous titles used throughout the OT for this eschatological King. Many of them will be highlighted in the articles in this book. Nevertheless, what follows is a brief summary of some of the most important titles, beyond the word “Messiah” itself. However, this is by no means to be taken as a comprehensive list.[1]

1. The Son of God

In Ps 2, David uses two words for the Lord’s Son, ben (2:7) and bar (2:12). The Lord says of the Anointed One (Messiah, 2:2), “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father” (2:7). The last phrase is literally translated, “Today I have begotten You.” The term “begotten” refers to coronation. It is describing the day the King is declared the Son of God and thus begotten. Even those who understand the psalm to refer to David, and not the Messiah, realize that David was a grown man when he was declared the son and begotten. Therefore, they conclude that begotten must refer not to his birth but to his coronation as king, or his enthronement. When spoken of the Messiah, it is describing the eternal Son taking His throne and does not imply that He is a created being. Allen Ross writes, “This is also a figure of speech (an implied comparison), assuming a comparison between the coronation of the king and the idea of begetting a son. Since ‘today’ the king is designated God’s son, today is also his begetting, his coronation. He was already grown, even if a youth, but was being crowned as king, that is, the ‘today’ on which he is ‘being begotten.’ . . . The psalm in its context of a coronation decree is therefore used properly for the exaltation and coronation of Jesus.”[2] Therefore, the title “Son of God” indicates the deity of the Messiah and the term “begotten” refers to His exaltation and coronation.

2. The Son of Man

The title “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite self-identification and is commonly understood to refer to His full humanity. However, in the interpretation of this title from its OT background, it is more likely an expression of deity. It appears in Dan 7:13-14 in the midst of the vision of the Ancient of Days. In this scene, “thrones were set in place” (7:9) with one obviously for the Ancient of Days. But for whom was the second throne? None other than the other figure present, “One like a son of man” (7:13). This One also is deity, but He appears to be fully human (“like a son of man”).[3]

“The son of David is the true hope of Israel.”

As the Divine Son of Man, He is granted all power and authority: “He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed” (7:14). Therefore, when the High Priest asked Jesus to state plainly if He was “the Messiah, the Son of God” and Jesus responded by citing Dan 7:13-14 in Matthew’s Gospel, “‘But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Mt 26:64), this was taken as Jesus affirming His full deity. The High Priest tore his garments and declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy (26:65). He clearly understood the title “Son of Man” to mean full deity and not mere humanity. The title “Son of Man” is an OT expression for the divine Messiah.

3. The Son of David

The Messiah was understood to be one who would come from the line of David. It is because of the Davidic covenant that the future King was called the son of David. There God states, “I will raise up after you your descendant (lit. “seed”), who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2Sm 7:12). The Latter Prophets keep reminding their hearers of this promise. Isaiah called the Messiah “a shoot . . . from the stump of Jesse” (David’s father, Isa 11:1), and Jeremiah identified Him as “a righteous Branch of David” (Jer 23:5; 33:15). Jeremiah and other prophets, when depicting the King Messiah’s reign, merely called Him “David,” although they actually were referring to David’s greatest Son (Jer 30:9; Ezk 34:23-24; Hos 3:4-5). According to P. J. and E. Achaemenes, the coming of the son of David is the only hope of Israel at the end of the books of 1 and 2 Kings, when Israel is in captivity: “The authors of this history are telling a defeated and exiled Israel that a descendant of David still lives. God yet preserves alive the bearer of the promise of David, and thus there is still hope that the expected Messiah will come. As long as the seed of David is preserved, Israel has a hope for the future.” The son of David is the true hope of Israel.

4. The Teacher

The Messiah is called “the Teacher of Righteousness” (Jl 2:23a) in some translations and the Teacher who will guide Israel, saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isa 30:2021). In both passages, the Messianic Teacher will not only guide to truth but also provide for Israel, giving them rain and crops (Jl 2:23b; Isa 30:23).[4]

5. The Servant of the Lord

In Isaiah, Israel is depicted as a failed servant, spiritually deaf and blind (Isa 42:19). Regardless, the nation remains a chosen servant, just incapable of fulfilling its commission (43:10; 44:1). God promises never to forget His servant Israel (44:21), but what will He do to restore the nation? In His kindness, God promises the mysterious Servant of the Lord, who will be successful (in contrast to Israel’s failure). He “will act wisely” (52:13), a metonymy for “He will succeed.” God’s ideal and perfect Servant “will bring Jacob back to Him” (49:5) and restore “the protected ones of Israel” (49:6). The Servant of the Lord will achieve this by being “cut off from the land of the living . . . because of my people’s [Israel’s] rebellion” (53:8). But the Lord declares it is insufficient for the messianic Servant of the Lord to merely restore Israel. Therefore, God promises, “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth” (49:6). Israel was called to be a nation of priests (Ex 19:6), mediating the truth of the one true God to the nations. Although the servant nation failed, the messianic Servant of the Lord will succeed.

6. The Prophet Like Moses

God promised that He would one day raise up for Israel a Prophet like Moses (Dt 18:15-19). Although all the prophets were like Moses in that they spoke for God, the Torah itself indicates what was unique about Moses’ prophetic office—He spoke to God directly (lit. mouth to mouth; Nm 12:6-8). Therefore, the expectation was that one day, God would send the Prophet like Moses who would also speak directly with God. Many years later, at the time of the close of the canon of Scripture,[5] when the epilogue was placed at the end of the Pentateuch, the inspired addendum reminded Israel that after all these years, “No prophet [had] arisen again in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Dt 34:10). So the key message at the time when the canon of the OT was closing was to keep looking for the Messiah, the Prophet like Moses.

7. Immanuel

In Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah predicts the virgin birth of the Messiah.[6] The passage says that the virgin mother of the Messiah will give Him the title, “Immanuel.” This indicates that God would be with the nation of Judah in a special way through the birth of this boy. Moreover, the title suggests that this boy will be deity, “God with us.” In Isa 8:8, Isaiah confirms that he intended this as a divine title, saying that the Assyrian army will conquer Judah “and its spreading streams will fill your entire land, Immanuel!” Here the child Immanuel is identified as deity because the land of Israel is seen as actually belonging to Him. Additionally, in the next great vision of the King Messiah, Isaiah uses a variety of divine titles to describe Him.

[1] Approximately 65 titles have been identified as messianic.

[2] Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume I (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2011), 208.

[3] Of course, the Messiah Jesus is indeed fully God and fully man, a fact foretold in Isa 9:6 and affirmed in the NT, especially Phl 2:6-9. Yet this text is describing Him as deity who looks like humanity.

[4] For this alternative translation of Jl 2:23 and the linkage of these two passages, see the article “The Teacher of Righteousness” in The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy.

[5] For a defense of seeing Dt 33–34 being added to the Pentateuch near the end of the canonical period by a bibli- cal writer from the time of Ezra, or even Ezra himself, see Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? (Nashville: B&H Publishers, 2010), 60–65. There it demonstrates that the passage is clearly post-Mosaic since it includes Moses’ death and burial. It uses postexilic terms like “man of God” to speak of Moses (Dt 33:1), does not remember where Moses was buried, and assumes it has been a long time since Moses’ ministry, long past the time of Joshua.

[6] For a defense of interpreting Isa 7:14 as a direct messianic prophecy, see the article “The Virgin Birth in Prophecy” in The Mood Handbook of Messianic Prophecy.

For Further Reading:

The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy

by Michael Rydelnik and Edward Blum

The ultimate, all-in-one resource on what the Old Testament says about Jesus As Jesus walked the Emmaeus road, he showed his companions how the...

book cover for The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy