The Concept of Messiah in World Religions

The concept of a redeemer, or a messiah appears to be quite universal and not typical to any one religion or religious groups. It pervades not only the Semitic faiths like Judaism, Christianity a nd Islam, but also the Aryan and Indic faiths like Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Brahmanism and Vedantic religions. It is also known in the Chinese religions like Taoism.


Amongst the oldest belief was the one prevalent amongst the Zoroastrians. At a time when the earth would be totally filled with the darkness and evil, a representative of Ahura Mazda, the eternal God, would make his appearance. His name would be Saoshyant, who would come riding a white stead.

Eventually, Ahura Mazda will triumph, and his agent Saoshyant will resurrect the dead, whose bodies will be restored to eternal perfection, and whose souls will be cleansed and reunited with God. Time will then end, and truth/righteousness (asha) and immortality will thereafter be everlasting.


Similarly in the Vedantic Brahmanic belief, when the end of the world nears and the evil pervades all over, Kalkin, the 10th avatar of Lord Vishnu would appear. Riding a horse and a sword in hand, he would defeat the evil and establish the rule of Brahma.

Kalki / Kalkin will come to end the present age of darkness and destruction known as Kali Yuga. The name Kalki is often a metaphor for eternity or time. The origins of the name probably lie in the Sanskrit word “kalka” which refers to dirt, filth, or foulness and hence denotes the “destroyer of foulness,” “destroyer of confusion,” “destroyer of darkness,” or “annihilator of ignorance.”

Kalkin/ Kalki, the tenth and last avatar of Lord Vishnu whose coming would herald the end of Kaliyug and the establishment of the Lord’s Kingdom. He is the Messiah.

Mark the double forked sword (a la Zulfiqār, the divine sword of Ali and the other Imams) and the white horse!


The concept is there in the third oldest religion of world, Buddhism, too. Maitreya, a bodhisattva, in the Buddhist tradition is to appear on Earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. According to scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor of the historic Śākyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya is found in the canonical literature of all Buddhist sects (Theravāda, Mahāyāna, Vajrayāna) and is accepted by most Buddhists as a statement about an actual event that will take place in the distant future.

According to a Buddhist stream of thought , Maitreya would appear in the imminent future in this world to provide salvation during a time of misery and decline.


The concept of a Messiah exists in the Jewish traditions and scriptures too. In Jewish messianic tradition and eschatology, the term came to refer to a future Jewish King from the Davidic line, who will be “anointed” with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age, an age of peace and tranquility.

Orthodox Jews strictly believe in a Messiah, life after death, and restoration of the promised land. The text is as follows:

Traditional Rabbinic teachings and current Orthodox thought has held that the Messiah will be an anointed one (messiah), descended from his father through the Davidic line of King David, who will gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel and usher in an era of peace.


In Christianity the Messiah is the Christ, the Anointed One. He would have a Second Coming and would appear again at the end of the world. Thus one prophecy, distinctive in both the Jewish and Christian concept of the messiah, is that a Jewish king from the Davidic line, who will be “anointed” with holy anointing oil, will be king of God’s kingdom on earth, and rule the Jewish people and mankind during the Messianic Age and World to come.


This concept prevails in the Far East as well. Around the 3rd century AD, Taoism developed eschatological ideas along these lines. A number of scriptures of this tradition predict the end of the world cycle, the deluge, epidemics, and coming of the saviour Li Hong, who would save and redeem humanity.


In Islam, al-Mahdi, the Messiah is believed to hold the task of establishing the truth and fighting against oppression and injustice as well as killing the false messiah al-Dajjal (similar to the Antichrist in Christianity), who will emerge shortly before him in human form in the end of the times, claiming that he is the messiah. After he has destroyed al-Dajjal his final task will be to become a just king and to re-establish justice, peace and monotheism in the world.

Sunni Islam

In Sunni Islam the Mahdi would be born, not appear, before the end is near. He would be a progeny of the Prophet through the line of Hasan, the elder grandson of the Prophet. Thus the history of the Islamic world has witnessed a number of people who claimed to be the Promised Mahdi. One such Mahdawwiya Movement which became quite popular was during the reign of Akbar. Shaikh Mubarak, the father of Abul Fazl was a strong proponent of this idea.


In Shi’i Islam the concept of Mahdi, the Messiah is somewhat different: He is born and living but hidden from the view. According to Shi’i Islamic beliefs the world can never be without a Guide. Thus when Prophet left this world he never left a vacuum: he appointed Imams, the first of these divine Imam was Imam Ali. He was followed, according to the majority Shi’i faith by 10 more Imams (1+10=11) – all in the line of Imam Husain, the younger grandson of the Prophet. The next to succeed, the 12th Imam was a child when anointed. He was born on 15 Shābān AH 255 / 19 July 868 AD

As an Imam or leader, he led a life hidden from public view and maintained contact with his people through 4 of his agents for around 80 years. This period of 80 years when he was hidden but accessible is known as “Minor Occultation” (Ghaibat-i sughra). This was followed by a period when he is totally hidden (thus one his names, al-Ghaib, the Hidden). This period of Major Occultation would end only before the end of the world. During this period of Ghaibat-i Kubra, (started AD 941) he guides through ‘inspired” agents, the wali-i faqih. He can reveal himself to whomsoever he wants, none other can meet him on their own.

When the end nears, and when the world would be full of evil and misery and when goodness would stand defeated everywhere and when religious would be the most irreligious, the 12th Imam would Reveal himself. He would come as al-Mahdi, the redeemer. He would come riding a white stallion, assemble an army of faithful, defeat the evil forces led by the Dajjal and declare the Kingdom of God on earth. And then Jesus would make his appearance and pray behind al-Mahdi. It will be then that the Bugle would be blown to usher the end of the world and start of the Day of Reckoning