Anointed One – was Jesus anointed king over Israel?

In his book, Twenty-six reasons why Jews don’t believe in Jesus, Asher Norman claims that “Jesus failed to fulfil any of six authentic Jewish messianic criteria”.

Jesus’ first supposed failure, namely that he could not be from the tribe of Judah without a biological father, is dealt with in an earlier article. We now consider whether Jesus – in order to be the Messiah son of David – had to be anointed by a prophet and with oil.

Norman writes:“The word ‘messiah’ means anointed with oil. All kings, high priests, and prophets in the Jewish Bible are described as “messiahs” because they were all anointed with oil into God’s service. Many Jewish prophets foretold that a particular messiah, the Messiah ben David would appear and fulfil six major prophecies that will lead the world into a special Messianic Era …Normally a Jewish prophet (or a High Priest) anoint Jewish kings (with oil) because prophets are messengers of God and authenticate their right to kingship. For example, the prophet Samuel anointed King Saul with oil, and Samuel also anointed King David with oil.”


Jesus may have claimed to be “king” … however, Jesus was never anointed king of Israel (by a prophet). Therefore, he failed to fulfil this messianic criteria and is therefore eliminated from messianic consideration.

(pp.59 & 65-66)



The Hebrew word which describes ‘wiping’ or ‘pouring over’ is ‘mashach’. From this we get ‘mashiach’ (which in English is translated ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’).

Oil was commonly used in the day-to-day ablutions in the ancient Middle East, for soothing and cleansing. (See examples of this in Ruth 3:3 and 2 Samuel 12:20.) From this everyday application it gets its religious use and significance, namely as a means of ritually cleansing people and things and setting them apart for the service of God.

The altar (Exodus 29:36) as well as the priests (Exodus 30:30, 40:13-15) were anointed with oil. But, it was in connection with kings that the idea of an ‘anointing’ became most strongly associated. The term “the Lord’s anointed” was at one time synonymous with “king” (see 1 Samuel 12:3, 12:5, 26:11; 2 Samuel  1:14; Psalm 20:6).

The first king to be anointed in Israel was Saul the Benjamite: ‘Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying: “Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance? … you will go to Gibeah of God … you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person” (1 Samuel 10:1, 5-6). [1]

Saul was soon rejected because of disobedience and replaced by David: “The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” …  Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.”   Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power” (1 Samuel 16:1-13).

In both cases a prophet was sent with oil, as Asher Norman suggests, but in both cases we also see that the anointing with oil was followed by a more important anointing. The sanctification and consecration required for the work of God cannot result from oil applied to the exterior of the body. Rather, it is the Spirit whom God puts on His chosen ones that sanctifies them for His service.

It is the anointing with the Spirit that Isaiah speaks of in relation to Messiah the son of David.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD – and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11: 1- 4).

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations …” (Isaiah 42:1).

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me (יען משׁח יהוה אתי) to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners …” (Isaiah 61:1).

We thus differ with Asher Norman over the manner of anointing that would distinguish the Messiah, the son of David. On the basis of these prophecies the Messiah’s anointing would be with the Holy Spirit (not with oil) and done by YHVH Himself (not through a prophet). [2]

The Gospels record that Jesus was anointed in this way. [3]

Was Jesus anointed King of Israel?

To answer this question we must first understand the circumstance in which Israel came to be ruled by human kings.

Israel as a nation started out as a theocracy (nation governed by God through His prophets). Then in the days of Samuel, the people desired a king “like all the other nations”. This upset Samuel, but the LORD instructed him to “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.”

“Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king” (1 Samuel 8:1-22).

Since the dynasty of Israel’s human kings sprung from a rejection of God, Israel can never exist in God’s perfect order until its kingship is once again vested in God Himself. Would it not vindicate Israel’s rejection of Him, if Israel could achieve its Divine perfection in the Messianic Age under the kingship of a mere man?

Thus the Messiah ben David would not be an ordinary man who would rule like other kings in the conventional way.

  • Micah said that Messiah’s origins would be ‘from everlasting’. [4]
  • Isaiah said (in the passage quoted above) that the Branch from Jesse would “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth [and] with the breath of his lips … slay the wicked.” I.e. that Messiah would rule by the Word of God – not by military and political power.
  • Nathan and Ezekiel both said that Messiah would rule forever. [5]
  • David and Daniel both saw that Messiah’s throne would be in heaven, that he would rule from there. [6]

Nor was it necessary for Messiah to be recognized and accepted by the Jews, in order to be anointed as their king. David was anointed king after one year of Saul’s reign; yet his brothers and fellow Jews continued to serve the deposed king Saul, and even tried to kill David, the chosen one of God! [7]

Jesus Messiah was the shepherd King, in the example and type of David, leading by moral authority rather than force. The Scribes and Sadducees – in the typology and example of King Saul – illegitimately clung to an authority that God had removed from them, and persecuted to death the Anointed One of God.

Postcript: what it means to be a Christian

The reason why believers in Messiah are called Christians (meaning ‘anointed ones’), is because God has put the same Spirit that dwelt in Messiah, on them. The Holy Spirit is promised to all who believe and confess their faith in Jesus (Acts 2:39). Anyone who does not have the Spirit “does not belong to Christ” ( Romans 8:9).

By the work of the Spirit, a Christian is sanctified (made holy) and set aside for the works of God, whether great or small. Christians are called to be free from the love of this world and to live by faith in God’s promises, being led by the Spirit in everyday life.

For a deeper understanding of ‘what it means to be a Christian’, see:

Since the Koran also speaks of Jesus as the Messiah (al masih), without explaining the significance of the term, we challenge Muslims with the question, “Who or what is al Masih?”

[1] On receiving the Spirit Saul became as a new man – as Jesus explained to Nicodemus (John 3) – and prophesied – as the believers did when the Spirit was given at Pentecost (Acts 2).

[2] God sometimes worked through the agency of prophets, but not always. E.g. Moses had the Spirit of God (see Numbers 11:17), yet nothing suggests that his anointing came through a prophet.

[3] Matthew 3:16; John 1:32; see also Acts 4:27 & 10:38.

[4] Micah 5:2.

[5] 1 Chronicles 17:12; Ezekiel 37:25.

[6] Psalm 110; Daniel 7:13 -14; see also Psalm 45.

[7] 1 Samuel 23:8 and following.