Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?
In a word: fascinating. First of all, of the five so-called messiah claimants prior to Jesus, two were emperors who would have likely claimed the title "Anointed" for political reasons. There is no evidence to support that these men were believed to be, or believed themselves to be, the Jewish Messiah in the covenant sense. Next, Judas son of Hezekiah was himself in the royal family of Judah and would have likely claimed the title "Anointed" for similar political reasons--to emphasize his claim to the throne of David. Finally, Asthrongs and Simon were men of more humble origins, yet their claim to the title "Anointed" was nonetheless political. As they endeavored to lead their Jewish brethren in rebellion, they needed to make strong claims to their authority. What better way than to profess a direct anointing of God?
It should be clear to you by this point, if it was not already, that the term Messiah has not always born such a weighty religious definition as it does in modern context. It has gained a more mystically slanted definition in today's culture as a direct result of a widespread misunderstanding of the term's application to Jesus, and of course, a widespread misunderstanding of who Jesus Himself is.
If you continue down the list of claimants in the Wikipedia article, you'll soon realize that in fact nearly all of the men listed were leading a rebellion of some sort. In order for their plot to succeed, they would need the trust of the people. What better way to trust the people than to call yourself by the same title as the ancient kings?
So did any one on this list really mean "Messiah" in the way we think of the term? Were any of them ever thinking of themselves as more than a temporal king or leader of Israel? Did anyone on the list actually use the word mâšîah to mean the ultimate fulfillment of God's covenant? Well... there was this one guy. You know His name. Jesus!
That's right. Jesus the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah, was and is the Anointed in a unique way. "Anointed" became a political term in Judea because of the implication of kingship, but Jesus knew that He was Anointed as much more than that. He is King in the line of David. He is the prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), and even greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6). He is our high priest, even greater than Aaron (Hebrews 4:14-16).