Cyrus and Christ
Cyrus, the Lord's Anointed
This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor.—Isaiah 45:1, NIV
In a study of Cyrus, his Achemeneed dynasty and the Medo-Persian empire in history, it is useful to consider the four empires described in Daniel: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Cyrus and the Medo-Persian empire was the second in this series of universal empires. The Medo-Persian empire reigned from 539 to 331 B.C., a little more than two centuries before it was vanquished under the assault of Alexander the Great.
The Medo-Persian empire is described in several visions of Daniel:
w In Daniel 2:32 it is the chest and arms of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar.
w In Daniel 7:5 among the four beasts representing these empires, it is the bear holding in its mouth three ribs which represent the kingdoms it conquered.
w In Daniel 8:3 it is the terrifying ram with the two unequal horns: Media, the inferior, and Persia, the triumphant state.
Because God gave such information, we know that Medo-Persia, starting with Cyrus, plays an important part in the Plan of God. It is only from the time of Cyrus that we have historical dates in which we may have confidence.
The Goodness of the Almighty
Although Cyrus fascinates us by his life, he becomes even more interesting when we see how God regards him. Obviously he was a king who wanted those he ruled to be happy. Although a pagan, he had a profound sense of justice that few Israelite kings possessed. His willingness to forgive his enemies did not go unnoticed by his contemporaries. In many ways he was a good man. He was also an instrument God used to achieve an important part of his plan to end the captivity of his people and to rebuild the temple.
Did Cyrus recognize the God of Israel as the only true God, instead of the one he had worshipped since his childhood, the Persian god Ahura-Mazda? We do not know for sure, although we do have his words: “God hath charged me to build him a house.”
Cyrus’ noble character is a type of someone much higher. That Cyrus is a type of Christ has not escaped many of the biblical commentators. So let us look at the different prophecies relating to Cyrus, his character, and his work, to see the interesting parallels which exist between Cyrus and Christ.
1. The Anointing
“Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus” (Isaiah 45:1). We saw the exceptional character of Cyrus and the unique title that the Lord bestowed upon this pagan king. Was Christ an anointed? Definitely yes. The Greek word Kristos means “Anointed.” The apostle in Acts 4:27 tells us the supreme anointed is Christ. The apostle Peter speaks to Cornelius and says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy spirit and power” (Acts 10:38, NIV).
was indeed anointed at his baptism and received the holy spirit, not literal
oil. A study of Israel’s Tabernacle arrangement shows us the fundamental
character of the anointing of Christ. Anointing was the first step required
to confirm the high priest who is, in antitype, our Lord. As the Anointed,
God chooses him. Jesus Christ is given a very specific and glorious mission,
as was Cyrus.
2. A Glorious Title
“I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah 45:4). God guided Cyrus a long time before Cyrus came to know him. These words can also be applied to Christ.
Christ was the first creation of God as Logos [Word]. All things were made by him. What is the glory of this title “Logos”? “All things were made by him [the Word]; and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” (John 1:3,14).
God, in his prescience, had foreseen the foundation of the universe and the very special mission of our Lord Jesus long before he came to earth. The glorious title of Logos is one of many other titles, such as Wonderful and Prince of Peace which all have their importance (John 1:1; Isaiah 9:6). The name of Christ is glorious.
3. The Shepherd
“[I] saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure” (Isaiah 44:28). In addition to the glorious title of Anointed, God calls Cyrus his shepherd. Cyrus, as we saw, was indeed the shepherd of a great number of people which he pacified, and whose lives he improved in his immense empire.
Christ is also called the good Shepherd (John 10:11). As a shepherd, he will do two slightly contradictory things. First, he will rule the nations with a rod of iron at the time of the restitution of all things (Revelation 2:27). This shows us that his authority must be accepted by all. Those who will not obey will not receive everlasting life. Second, Christ, as a good shepherd, will lead mankind to the sources of life (Revelation 22:17). He will feed the nations so they might receive life. What a splendid prospect this is!
Let us notice the exceptional lesson found in the behavior of Cyrus who showed forgiveness toward his defeated enemies, something not generally done at the time. He knew one exercised better control over a vanquished country by making it an ally rather than a slave.
In the same way Christ will forgive mankind’s sins and iniquities, for all power to forgive was given to him (Matthew 9:6). The best illustration of the forgiveness exercised by Christ is found on the cross, where in great suffering he had the courage to say: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
“I will give you … riches stored in secret places” (Isaiah 45:3, NIV). Cyrus literally seized hidden riches in Sardis which helped make his empire extraordinarily powerful.
Will Christ receive hidden riches? Yes. We read, “Worthy is the Lamb to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Revelation 5:12).
What are riches for a spiritual being like Christ? First there is the richness for which Christ gave his life: the dominion of mankind and earth during his glorious reign of 1,000 years. But there is another richness, hidden until the due time for the mystery to be revealed, a richness that Christ obtained from his Father. It is the church, his bride, with whom he shares his glorious divine mission.
May we be sufficiently aware of this promise that we aspire to be a part of this “richness.”
6. The submission of people to him:
The conquered Egyptians and all people prostrated and subjected themselves to Cyrus and they did it willingly; they were relieved by the new and generous administration that Cyrus granted to them. In the same way the nations will subject themselves willingly to Christ, according to the word of Isaiah: “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (Isaiah 66:23) These are God’s words but they concern his son Christ to whom all authority will be given in the thousand-year kingdom.
7. The One from the East
Cyrus was called a “man come from the East” who invaded Babylon using the bed of the dried up Euphrates because he had diverted its course. In fact we find these words a second time in Revelation and there it concerns Christ: “And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared” (Revelation 16:12).
It is Christ, the chief of the kings of the east, who will drain the Euphrates. He will drain the richness of “Babylon” at the end of this age to prepare his kingdom of justice.
Release of the prisoners
“He shall let go my captives … saith the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 45:13).
According to the Plan of God, Cyrus released the Israelites after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Christ will release humanity from the slavery of more than 6,000 years of sin and death. The Babylonians released by Cyrus welcomed him with palms. All the released prisoners in Christ’s greater release in the kingdom will welcome Christ as well.
This release reminds us of another one, the one we recall once each year at the time of Passover. It is the exodus from Egypt. Both the exodus and the defeat of Babylon picture the great release which will occur under Christ in the age to come.
The Benefits Will Not Cost Anything
“Not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 45:13).
Just as Cyrus gave freedom to the people of Israel without requiring a payment, Christ, who paid the ransom once and for all when he died on the cross, will liberally give life to those who seek him: “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Revelation 21:6).
10. The Rebuilding
“Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel” (Ezra 1:3).
Cyrus allowed the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem and especially its temple. In the same way, mankind under the reign of Christ, will have the chance to rebuild a new world where there will be neither tears, crying, nor pain, for these former things will have disappeared.
This hope is described by the words of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of those who will come to Christ to receive life. He says that they “come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads” (Isaiah 35:10). What a wonderful hope these words contain.
This hope, in which the historical king Cyrus
has played a part, is sublime for it is mankind’s only hope for life. But
we also know that Christ will not act alone. His Church, the body of Christ,
will be associated with this wonderful and glorious work. If we want to have
a part in this work, let us also have the noble-heartedness displayed by
this “pagan” king Cyrus, so that one day we will, with Christ, be able
to bring freedom to all.