Jesus. Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus. Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is Lord. Various terms are used when we refer to Jesus, yet I think we often don’t really think about the significance of these terms.
In our modern day we are more likely to pick a name for a child that we simply like the sound of, or perhaps a name that has some personal family history connection. We also aren’t big on titles anymore, and even basic “Mr or Mrs” are used less as we casually call people by their first name. In ancient times, names and titles were much more significant. Especially among the Jews, the meaning of a name was important and would be carefully chosen by the parents.
Due to familiarity and frequent use, we may also not think about the words we use as Christians. The Lord Jesus Christ – each of these words is bursting with meaning! Let’s look at each one.
Jesus. This was a common Jewish name at the time of Jesus. Jesus is a Greek word (Iesous) that translates a shortened Hebrew version of Joshua (Yeshua). Since Greek was widely spoken, it is possible that Joseph and Mary could have named Jesus by either the Greek or Hebrew form of this name. Regardless, they chose a name of a great Old Testament hero – Joshua – which means “Yahweh is salvation.” The name Jesus is Christ’s human name and can remind us of Christ’s humanity and humility.
Christ. This is a title. It is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew title Messiah, which means “anointed one.” There was a Jewish expectation that a Messiah, of Davidic lineage, would come to rule in righteousness and deliver the Jewish people from their oppressors. But Jesus wasn’t exactly the Messiah they were expecting. They were looking for more of a political savior to free them from Roman rule…and not the suffering servant that Jesus turned out to be. They also weren’t looking for someone claiming to be God. Yet, some Jews did believe that Jesus was the Christ or Messiah.
Originally Christ was the title, followed by the name Jesus. As in, Christ Jesus. (By analogy, think of Queen Elizabeth.) In the New Testament we can see Christ Jesus used in a variety of passages such as Romans 3:24. To Gentiles however, this title would have had little significance and even been puzzling, thus we can see the title Christ become like a surname, as in Jesus Christ.
Lord. This is the Greek word kurios. It infers to one who has power or authority, and is translated in the New Testament as Lord, master, sir, owner – depending on its usage. Kurios was the title given to the Roman Emperor. While this title of respect was used in general society of that time, it had special significance to Jews.
The title Lord is the one most frequently given to Jesus in the New Testament. Lord was also the title usually reserved for God himself in the Old Testament. Kurios is the regular translation of YHWH and Adonai in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. (Jews at the time of Jesus read the Old Testament in a Greek – not Hebrew – version called the Septuagint.) YHWH was the proper name for God in the Hebrew Old Testament, which is pronounced as Yahweh. Since observant Jews were forbidden to say or write YHWH, they used the term Adonai instead. [Okay…some of your eyes are probably starting to glaze over or you are about to stop reading…let’s move on!]
The point is: The title Lord emphasizes Christ’s authority, power, and deity. It would be very significant for a Greek speaking, first century Jew to refer to Jesus as kurios. It was an implied confession of deity. In Romans 10:9-13 it states the need to confess “Jesus is Lord” – and in quoting 2 Old Testament passages in which Yahweh is the subject and applying them to Jesus, Paul is saying in so many words that Jesus is Yahweh.
Names and titles mean something…even if they have lost there meaning in our modern day. I hope this post, rather than making your eyes glaze over in boredom, will help you better worship and honor Jesus. Jesus the Christ is Lord!
Some sources I referenced in writing this: Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity by Paul Barnett, Lord of Glory by John Williams, Basic Bible Doctrines by R.E. Harlow, and Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary.