If we ever hear the word anointed today, it is usually in the context of a prediction. Early in his career LeBron James was “anointed” the next Michael Jordan. At the beginning of most football seasons for the past decade, the Alabama Crimson Tide were “anointed” national champions. We don’t anoint those who have achieved the throne; we anoint those we think will. It is a trite, metaphorical use of a word that was once loaded with profound meaning.
In biblical times, the anointed was the chosen one, the one set aside to reign. It was not a prediction but a dedication to the path of kingship. It predicated rule and stateliness, and the anointed one was seen as set apart, different. Anointing was tied to coronation in the eyes of God and people.
Readers of the Gospels will see a pattern: Jesus doesn’t operate like any other king in history. From His birth to His upbringing to His followers to His message—Jesus was a different kind of king. In Matthew 21 we see Jesus entering the temple and driving out the sellers and moneychangers to purify His Father’s house as “a house of prayer” (v.13). The blind and the lame, outcasts of society, flocked to Him for healing, and the little children shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”—despite the sneers of religious and societal leaders. Jesus’s home was a place of prayer, His court was filled with forgotten and downtrodden people, and His loyal followers included little children.
Jesus was not anointed in a grand ceremony or by a powerful representative of God or government. His anointing came at the hands of a humble woman as He dined with a man known as a leper, a truly unclean label in Jewish society. She broke open a jar of alabaster and poured pure nard on Jesus’s head as He reclined at a table. She gave her best to Him, a perfume fit for royalty but also used for embalming bodies.
The woman in this story goes unnamed by Mark but is identified as Mary, the sister of Lazarus, in John 12:1–7. A friend of Jesus, she anointed Him as king and prepared Him for burial. Jesus honored Mary for her actions, declaring, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:8–9). Mary recognized that Jesus was not just a good Jewish man, a good prophet, or a good teacher. She anointed Him as the giver of life and the King of kings. And she anointed Him before His death because that is how His victory would be won.
King Jesus held court with children and lepers, kept company with the blind and the lame, gave women the respect and dignity society denied them, and acted like no other ruler. It is a good thing too. Every other ruler anointed to kingship, no matter how upright and good, has failed and died. Jesus, anointed to rule and die, is the giver of eternal life and salvation.
Written by Barnabas Piper