Names and Titles Of Jesus Christ
All of the articles thus far in this series have examined the first major area of doctrine—Bibliology (the study of the Bible). This article begins an examination of another significant area—Christology (the study of Christ).
A consideration of some of the names and titles of Jesus Christ is a good place to begin the study of Christology. In biblical times, names and titles had great significance. They were designed to reveal such things as the nature, character, position, and accomplishments of a person. Thus, a study of Christ’s names and titles reveals significant things concerning Him.
Lord: This term was used to signify two things concerning Christ. The Greek word for lord (kurios) meant master or sovereign. Thus, sometimes it was used as a title to reveal that Christ is the Master or Sovereign Lord over all of creation. Peter seemed to have this in mind when he asserted that Jesus Christ “is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36).
In addition, the term was used to reveal the deity of Christ. During the course of Old Testament times, Jews came to regard God’s personal name Yahweh (written JHVH) too sacred to pronounce because it signified His absolute deity. Abraham Cohen explained it this way,
To the Oriental, a name is not merely a label as with us. It was thought of as indicating the nature of a person or object by whom it was borne. For that reason special reverence attached to “the distinctive Name” of the Deity which He had revealed to the people of Israel, viz. the tetragrammaton, JHVH (Everyman’s Talmud, p. 24).
Thus, whenever Jews came to that name in their Hebrew Scriptures, they pronounced a substitute title. “Instead of JHVH the Name was pronounced Adonai” (Cohen, p. 25). Adonai meant lord, master, or sovereign.
Because of this practice, when, during the 200s and 100s B.C., Jewish scholars produced the Septuagint (the Greek language version of the Hebrew Old Testament), they used kurios (lord), the Greek counterpart of the Hebrew title adonai, as the substitute for Yahweh (Gottfried Quell, “kurios,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. III, p. 1058). As a result, by New Testament times the title kurios (lord) was commonly used as a substitute for God’s personal name Yahweh and, when so used, was intended to communicate the idea of absolute deity. Thus, on many occasions the early church used the title Lord (kurios) to signify the absolute deity of Jesus Christ. The fact that the blind man whom Christ healed worshiped Him when he called Him “Lord” (Jn. 9:38) indicates that he used that term to signify Christ’s deity.
Jesus: This is Christ’s human and historical name. He did not have this name before He became a human being through His incarnation. The angel told Joseph, “thou shalt call his name JESUS” (Mt. 1:21, future tense).
In addition to signifying Christ’s humanity, this name identified a major aspect of His ministry. Jesus means Yahweh saves; thus, it revealed that Christ would do the work of salvation for mankind. The angel gave the reason for His human name: “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).
Christ: Christ is the Greek and New Testament counterpart of the Hebrew and Old Testament title Messiah. Concerning Andrew’s statement, “We have found the Messiah,” the New Testament asserts, “which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (Jn. 1:41). The terms Christ and Messiah mean anointed one. Thus, this title signifies that Jesus of Nazareth is the one specially anointed by God to do His work, to accomplish God’s purpose for history, and to fulfill the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
Immanuel (sometimes spelled Emmanuel): This name emphasized the deity of Jesus Christ. It indicated that He was God dwelling in the midst of the people of Israel. The angel who spoke to Joseph concerning Jesus said, “they shall call his name Immanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us” (Mt. 1:23). Jesus clearly demonstrated that He was “God with us” when He allowed the Shekinah glory to radiate through His human flesh at His transfiguration (Mt. 17:1–6). The Shekinah glory always signified the unique presence of deity.
The Son of God: John the Baptist gave the following witness concerning Jesus: “And I saw, and bore witness that this is the Son of God” (Jn. 1:34). The combination of the definite article “the” and the singular form of “Son” in this title is very significant. It reveals that Christ is the Son of God in a unique sense. The Old Testament calls angels “the sons of God” (Job 1:6) because He brought them into existence through creation, but Christ was not created. The New Testament calls believers “the sons of God” (Jn. 1:12–13) because they became His spiritual offspring through the new birth, but Christ did not need the new birth. Thus, Christ is the Son of God in a unique sense that is not true of angels or human believers. This is emphasized even more by His enlarged designation “the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).
The uniqueness of Christ’s Sonship in relation to God the Father is revealed by the fact that in the Old Testament and writings of post-biblical Judaism, the Hebrew words for “son” were “often used to denote the relationship which determines the nature of a man” (Eduard Lohse, “huios,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VIII, p. 358). Thus, the title the Son of God signified that Christ had the same divine nature as God the Father. Because of this, the Jews recognized that when Christ claimed to be the Son of God, He was ascribing absolute deity to Himself (Jn. 5:17–18; 10:33, 36).
The title the Son of God also indicated that Christ is a separate person from the Father (Mt. 3:16–17; Jn. 5:19–22) and is the heir, not the servant, of the Father (Mt. 21:33–39; Heb. 3:5–6).
The Son of Man: This title emphasized the humanity of Jesus Christ (Lk. 9:58). As a result of His incarnation, Christ became a human being with a complete human nature. The combination of the definite article “the” plus the singular form of “son” is very significant. It reveals that Christ is the unique offspring of humanity. All other human offspring are sinful by nature, but Christ is sinless in His humanity (Jn. 8:46; Heb. 4:15). In addition, He is the only human being who can accomplish the victory of humanity over its enemies (Heb. 2:14–17).
As the Son of man, He died as our substitute and rose bodily from the dead to save sinful people (Lk. 9:22; 19:10). At His Second Coming He will return as the Son of man to rule the earth (Mt. 24:29–30; 25:31–34).
The Last Adam: Jesus Christ is “the last Adam,” the counterpart of the first Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Through his original rebellion against God, the first Adam caused the theocratic kingdom of God to be lost from the earth, the world system to come under the rule of Satan, and nature to be subjected to a curse (Lk. 4:5–6; Rom. 8:20–23). At His Second Coming Christ will return to the earth as “the last Adam” to end Satan’s rule, restore God’s theocratic kingdom rule to the earth, and remove the curse from nature (Rev. 19:11–20:6; Mt. 28:19).
The Word: The Apostle John called Jesus Christ “the Word” (Jn. 1:1, 14). This title refers to an important function that Christ had in the world during His first advent. A person’s thoughts are invisible to other people unless those thoughts are given outward expression. The instrument used for this expression is words, either in spoken or written form. Thus, words are the outward expression of invisible thoughts to people.
By analogy, the Bible teaches that God the Father is invisible to mortal human beings (Jn. 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:17). It also indicates that while Jesus Christ was on the earth, He was the outward expression of God to people (Jn. 1:18; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). When Jesus was asked to show the Father to His disciples, He said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Jn. 14:8–9). Just as words are the outward expression of invisible thoughts to people, so Jesus Christ was the outward expression of the invisible Father to them. He was the personal revealer of God to mankind.
The Light of the World: Christ was called “the Light” (Jn. 1:7–9), and He called Himself “the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). Light’s function is to expose what is hidden; therefore, this title signified several things about Christ. First, He was the revealer of God and His truth to mankind (Jn. 8:26). Second, He looks inside people to expose their innermost being (Jn. 1:9). He did this to Nathanael (Jn. 1:47–48) and the scribes and Pharisees (Lk. 6:6–8). Third, He exposes the outward deeds of people (Jn. 3:19–21). He did this to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (Jn. 4:16–19).
The Lamb of God: John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The combination of the definite article “the” with the singular form of “Lamb” is very significant. It implies that Christ was unique in His function as a sacrificial lamb in at least three ways. First, the Jews were required to provide their own lambs as sacrifices for their sins. By contrast, Christ was the Lamb that God, not human beings, provided. Second, the Jews were required to offer many lambs as repeated sacrifices for their sins. God offered only one Lamb, His Son, as a one-time sacrifice for mankind’s sin (Heb. 9:28; 10:11–12). Third, the many lambs that the Jews offered could not take away sins (Heb. 10:11). The one-time sacrifice of Christ took away the sin of the world (Heb. 10:10).
The King of Israel: Nathanael said to Jesus, “thou art the King of Israel” (Jn. 1:49). The Old Testament foretold that in the future the Messiah, a physical descendant of King David, would rule the nation of Israel as the heir of David’s ruling authority (2 Sam. 7:16; Isa. 9:6–7; Jer. 23:5–6), as well the entire world (Zech. 14:9). Centuries later the angel Gabriel told the virgin Mary the following concerning Jesus, the unique Son to whom she would give birth: “the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father, David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Lk. 1:32–33). Gabriel thereby revealed that Jesus Christ is that promised King of Israel, the Messiah, who will fulfill the Old Testament prophecies by ruling with His ancestor David’s authority over the nation of Israel throughout the Millennium and eternity in the future.
King of Kings and Lord of Lords: Jesus Christ will have this title on His garment and thigh when He comes out of heaven in His Second Coming to end Satan’s rule over the world system and to restore God’s theocratic kingdom rule on the earth (Rev. 19:16). During the future reign of Christ there will be distinct nations with their individual kings and other ruling authorities, but Jesus Christ will be the ultimate King over all these other kings and the ultimate ruling authority over all other ruling authorities (Ps. 72:10–11, 17; Zech. 14:16–19).
This list of names and titles is not exhaustive. Other designations are given in the Bible; however, the ones that have been examined give significant insight into the person and work of Jesus Christ. They indicate that He was and is a unique person who came in the past and will come again in the future to do a unique work.