Biblical Themes
What is the purpose of anointing? Watch our theme video to understand this ritual throughout the Bible and how it relates to Jesus and his followers.

Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion:

  1. Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Leviticus 8:9-12, Genesis 28:10-22, and Leviticus 8:10-11. Who or what is anointed in these passages? What does the anointing oil mean when it gets poured onto certain people, objects, or places?
  2. Read Exodus 30:22-33 to see a recipe for anointing oil. These specific plants are not mentioned in the Eden narrative (Gen. 2), but they connect to Eden symbolically as lush, beautiful, and good garden plants. What point is God making? Why instruct the people to use Eden-like plants to make anointing oil?
  3. Read Genesis 2:4-17 and notice the analogy between water and God’s Spirit as the fundamental sources of life. Take a look at Isaiah 32:15-18 and Isaiah 44:2-4. How does Isaiah draw on this analogy?
  4. How does Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:1-15) act as his “anointing” if there is no oil present? After the water and Spirit “anointing” in Genesis 2, other anointings always happen with symbolic oil. But Jesus’ baptism scene is different—he gets anointed with water and Spirit like the human in Genesis 2. Why does this matter? How does it help us better understand the act of anointing a person?
  5. Read Acts 2:1-21. The specific word “anointing” does not show up in this story, but the description of the event in the larger context of the Bible tells us that this is an anointing of the 12 apostles. What are Jesus’ apostles anointed with, and how would you describe the significance and purpose of this anointing?

Ancient Israel poured special, fragrant oil on people and places to set them apart for a sacred task. This practice is called “anointing.” It was common in the ancient world and shared by many of Israel’s neighbors.

Anointing is a key biblical theme that we first see in the opening pages of Genesis. It develops throughout the Hebrew Bible and culminates in the arrival of Jesus Christ, the anointed one.

To truly understand the symbolic meaning of the anointing oil, we have to go back to Genesis 1-2. The roots of anointing something for a unique purpose are seen in the stories of creation (Gen. 1:1-2:3) and Eden (Gen. 2:4-3:24).

In the opening lines of the seven-day creation story, we begin with the pre-creation state, depicted by chaos-waters (too much water) and darkness. Those “non-creation” elements are confronted by Yahweh’s Spirit. Out of the waters, Yahweh’s Spirit and Word call forth the dry land and garden plants, specifically fruit trees.

In the opening lines of the Eden story (Gen. 2:4-3:24), we begin with the opposite scenario. The pre-creation state is a chaos-desert (not enough water). But this “non-creation” wilderness is confronted by Yahweh’s “water”—out of the wilderness, God calls a garden and humans into being with his water and Spirit.

God’s Spirit and water are paired together in analogy: the water brings forth a garden out of the wilderness, and God’s Spirit breathes life into humanity. From this point on in the biblical story, God’s Spirit/water pouring out on a place or person becomes interchangeable with God taking something that is, on its own, lifeless and filling it with the life of Heaven.

Continuing with the Eden narrative, God makes humans in his image and appoints them to steward and care for the garden on his behalf. The human is formed from dirt, and God pours out his very life breath into the dirt, plants a garden, and places the human in the garden as a divine image.

By being anointed through water and then Spirit, humans are marked as “portals” between Heaven and Earth, God and creation. They are the royal priests of Eden, allowing God’s presence, purpose, and wise rule to be mirrored and reflected on Earth.

When humans (or places) are anointed in the biblical story, that means they are being called to represent God on Earth. This is why we see the anointing of priests, temples, prophets, and kings throughout the story—these people and places are representatives of God’s presence, purpose, and wise rule.

But these anointed humans repeatedly fail at their calling to faithfully represent Yahweh and be a place where Heaven and Earth are one. This pattern creates hope for the ultimate anointed one, one anointed not merely with oil but with water and Spirit—not simply a bridge to Heaven, but Heaven itself come to Earth. This is Jesus Christ. And “Christ” isn’t part of his name—it’s a title that means “anointed one.”

Jesus is the new human, the ultimate priest, the cosmic king. He is God’s heavenly life entering our world in new and surprising ways. After Jesus rose from the dead, he spread his anointing into the world through his followers, or “Christians,” from the word “Christ.” These Christians are anointed ones who follow the Anointed One.

God’s Spirit marks Christians to fill more of the Earth with the life of Heaven. One day, when Heaven and Earth have fully united once again, the divine and human will live together in harmony, and the anointed ones will reign alongside Jesus, the Anointed One.

Introduction [00:00-00:41]

There's a ritual in the Bible involving fragrant plants and spices that make a rich oil to pour on special objects or people. This is called anointing oil. And its meaning is rooted in the story of the garden of Eden, where God provided water for the dry land and formed the human, filling him with his Spirit. 1 This is the first anointing. The oil is a liquid symbol. It’s the water of life and God’s Spirit combined together, used to mark a person or a place as a bridge between Heaven and Earth.

Anointing in the Hebrew Bible [00:42-01:30]

During his wilderness exile, Jacob had a dream.

He sees a stairway leading up to Heaven. When he wakes, he anoints the stone on which he slept and called the place “House of God,” a place where Heaven and Earth are one.2

The Israelites built the tabernacle in the wilderness. When it was completed, they anointed the tent with oil, marking it as a place where God’s heavenly presence has come down to Earth.3

Israel’s priests and their kings were anointed with oil to set them apart as leaders, to mediate God’s heavenly wisdom to the world. (Exodus 40:12-14; 1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Kings 23:30) But they rejected God’s wisdom. They led with violence, leading to ruin and exile.

The Anointed One [01:31-02:42]

Their failure created hope for the ultimate anointed one, one anointed not merely with oil but with water and Spirit—not merely a bridge to Heaven, but Heaven itself come to Earth.

This is Jesus Christ.4

More than a name, “christ” is a title. It means “anointed one,” the new human, the ultimate priest, the cosmic king, God’s heavenly life coming into our world in a new way—a surprising way.

And after Jesus rose from the dead, he spread his anointing out into the world through his followers, Christians, from the word "christ," anointed ones who follow the Anointed One, people marked by God’s Spirit so that more and more of Earth can be filled with the life of Heaven.

  1. Genesis 2:4-14
  2. Genesis 28:10-19
  3. Exodus 40:9-11
  4. Mark 1:1
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Podcast Series
The Anointed
6 Episodes
Anointing refers to pouring oil on a person or place as an act of ritual. But what does this ritual
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