It should immediately be apparent from the context that God's use of "His anointed" is not as restricted as commonly assumed. The Hebrew word is mashiah, which has come down to us as "messiah" and translated as christos in Greek. Because we now use this term exclusively for Jesus Christ, the Messiah, many have failed to realize the breadth of its meaning.
Mashiah simply means "anointed" or "anointed one." The Old Testament writers use it and its verb form, mashah, to describe kings (David, Saul, even Gentile kings like Hazael—II Samuel 1:14; 12:7; I Kings 19:15); priests, including the high priest (Leviticus 4:3, 5); and prophets (I Kings 19:16; Isaiah 61:1). Normally, these people were anointed with oil in a ritual as a sign of being set apart for the office that they were about to fulfill. Thus, at its most basic, mashiah indicates a person God authorizes and sets apart for His service.
The type of service he renders can vary. Obviously, kings, priests, and prophets fill very different roles, though some "anointed ones" have fulfilled more than one. David, for example, was both king and prophet, while Samuel and Jeremiah were priests and prophets. Jesus Christ is the only Anointed One to fulfill all three roles, as well as that of Apostle.
One aspect of these roles begins to stand out as God's revelation unfolds throughout the Bible: deliverance. We can see this most clearly in the text Jesus recites to inaugurate His ministry (Isaiah 61:1-3; see Luke 4:16-21). Jesus explicitly confirms in Luke 4:21 that He fulfilled these verses, at least up to the first part of verse 2, for indeed He is the ultimate Messiah. He will fulfill the remainder of these deliverances upon His return as King of kings and Lord of lords. Even His name, Joshua or Jesus, means "savior" or "deliverer," and God frequently calls things and people what they are and/or do.
In short, then, mashiah has three primary facets:
1. It describes a person whom God sets apart for His service.
2. Such a person may fill one or more roles in His service.
3. His primary function is to cause deliverance.
Strange as it may seem, Cyrus, King of Persia, qualifies as a messiah!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Cyrus: God's Anointed