By Irvin Himmel
Jesus Christ is the central figure of the Bible. He is God’s gift to man and Man’s only hope. The Old Testament pointed to His coming. Virtually every line of the New Testament helps to portray Him. There is little danger of our over magnifying Him. To know God we must know Jesus (Matt. 11:27). To receive God we must receive Jesus (Matt. 10:40). To love God we must love Jesus (John 8:42; 16:27). To come to God we must come to Jesus (Matt. 11:28; John 14:6). To obey God we must obey Jesus (Matt. 7:21,24; Heb. 5:9). To honor God we must honor Jesus (John 5:23).
Names and titles are meaningful in the Scriptures. The personal name given to the Son of God is significant. Many titles are applied to Him in the Sacred Writings, and we need to know their meaning that we might honor Him more fully. A “name” is a word or phrase that distinguishes and identifies; it is that by which something is marked and known. Adam gave names to the cattle, fowl of the air, and beasts of the field in Gen. 2:19,20. There are common and class names. For example, “apple” is the name of a certain class of fruit. There are proper and personal names. “Golden Delicious” is the name of a particular variety of apple. “Man” is the name of a class of creatures. “Sam Smith” is a proper name used by a man for personal identity.
A “title” is an appellation of rank, office, dignity, or honor. “Gerald Ford”‘ is the personal name of the man who currently occupies the White House in Washington, D.C. He wears numerous titles, such as “President of the United States,” “Chief Executive,” and “Commander-in-Chief.” We have no problem in understanding the difference between this man’s name and the titles that reflect his office, rank, and position.
The Name Jesus
The personal name worn by our Lord was chosen and announced prior to His birth. When the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a virgin, to announce that she would bear a child, the heavenly messenger spoke these words: “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus” (Lk. 1:31). Later, when Joseph realized that his espoused wife was pregnant, supposing that she had played the harlot, he was thinking of putting her away privately. But the angel of the Lord informed him that she was with child of the Holy Spirit, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
This divinely-chosen name is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” It signifies that “salvation is of Jehovah.” Like many other personal names in the Bible, it has doctrinal meaning. Consider, for example, the name “Joel” which means “Jehovah is God,” or the name “Malachi” which means “my messenger.” The personal name chosen for our Lord is appropriate. Since the name “Jesus” is not altogether uncommon, it is sometimes given clarification by the addition “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 18:5; Acts 2:22) or “Jesus of Galilee” (Matt. 26:29).
The title “Master” often was applied to Jesus during His earthly ministry. Six Greek words translated “Master” can be used as titles for Jesus. Two of these mean “Lord” and that title will be considered later, so I now mention the other four.
(1) Didaskalos is used in such passages as Matt. 19:16; Mk. 4:38; and Lk. 12:13. It is rendered “teacher” in John 3:2. Thayer says it means “. . . One who teaches concerning the things of God, and the duties of man.” It sometimes refers to the teachers of the Jews’ religion and is translated “doctors” in Lk. 2:46 in the King James Version. It is applied to John the Baptist in Lk. 3:12. It describes Christians as instructors in Heb. 5:12. Because He was recognized as a teacher, Jesus was addressed by this title on numerous occasions.
(2) Rabbi is sometimes translated “Master” (John 9:2; Matt. 26:49), but in some cases it is not translated (John 6:25). Thayer says it means “. . . My great one, my honorable sir … a title with which the Jews were wont to address their teachers (and also to honor them when not addressing them . . . ).” It is interpreted as didaskalos in John 1:38. Like didaskalos, we find it applied to John the Baptist (John 3:26). Both didaskalos and rabbi were used by the Jews in reference to their teachers.
(3) Epistates is the word for “Master” in Lk. 5:5 and 17:13. Vine defines it as “a chief, a commander, overseer.” According to Thayer, it means “Any sort of superintendent or overseer,” and it was used by the disciples when addressing Jesus, not because He was a teacher, but because He had authority. Interestingly, this Greek word for “Master” is used only six times and is limited to the book of Luke. The Pulpit Commentary suggests that it may have been used in Luke’s writing because it would have been better understood by the Gentile reader than didaskalos or rabbi. It is interesting to compare Mk. 4:38 which uses didaskalos and Lk. 8:24 which uses epistates. Perhaps the disciples used both words when addressing Jesus, or Luke may have used the latter as a kind of synonym for the former to portray to Greek readers (Theophilus and others) the authority of Jesus as a teacher.
(4) Kathegetes is used exclusively in Matt. 23:8,10 and translated “Master.” It means a leader or guide. Albert Barnes says, “It refers to those who go before others; who claim, therefore the right to direct and control others. This was also a title conferred on Jewish teachers.”
Jesus was “Master” in the sense of Teacher, Rabbi, Overseer, and Guide during His ministry. It appears that these titles were regarded as inadequate following the ascension, so titles expressing Deity are more common after His exaltation. Vine remarks, “The primitive community never ventured to call Jesus `Our Teacher’ after He had been exalted to the Throne of God. The title rabbi, expressing the relation of the disciple to the teacher, vanished from use . . .”
Kurios is the commonly-used word for “Lord” and appears in every book of the New Testament except Titus and the epistles of John. It has several general and customary usages, four of which I now mention.
(1) It often means the possessor or owner of a thing. The householder who hired laborers to work in his vineyard is called “lord of the vineyard” (Matt. 20:8). He was what we think of today as a landlord. In Gal. 4:1, Paul reasoned that the heir, as long as he is a minor, is no different from a servant, though he be (potentially) “lord of all.” Ownership is the idea.
(2) It sometimes means a master in the sense of one to whom some kind of service is due. At Philippi, Paul and Silas found a damsel who “brought her masters much gain by soothsaying” (Acts 16:16). Jesus pointed out that no man can serve “two masters” (Matt. 6:24). The two masters or lords to which he was referring are God and riches.
(3) In some cases it means a ruler. When Paul appealed to Caesar, Festus was troubled that he had no certain thing to write to his “lord” (Acts 25:26). The “lord” to which he made reference was the Emperor. Jesus is called “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14). This means that He rules over all earthly rulers.
(4) It can be used as a title of respect and courtesy. In this sense Sarah called Abraham “lord” (1 Pet. 3:6). It is translated “Sir” in several passages. For example, the jailor at Philippi addressed Paul and Silas as “Sirs” (Acts 16:30). It was in this sense that Saul of Tarsus called Jesus “lord” before knowing His identity. “Who art thou, Lord?” (Acts 9:5).
Kurios was used by the Jews in a special sense to honor Jehovah. This title is applied frequently to Jesus in the New Testament. Although Jesus could be called “Lord” because He is our Owner, having purchased our redemption, or as Master deserving our service, or as Ruler over us, as His Deity was revealed the title took on deeper meaning. Vine suggests that the title “Lord” in its full significance “rests upon the resurrection.” There is certainly more to it than a mere expression of courtesy. When Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), he was acknowledging Lordship in the highest sense.
Messiah and Christ
Messias is the Hebrew word for “anointed” spelled as if a Greek word; anglicized, it is “Messiah.” It is used in the New Testament only in John 1:41 and 4:25. Translated into Greek it is Christos; into English, “Christ.” “Messiah” and “Christ” are identical in meaning.
In Old Testament days the priests were anointed with a special anointing oil (Ex. 30:22-30; Lev. 4:3). Kings were anointed, also. Saul was anointed by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 10:1). David, though threatened by Saul, always respected Saul as “the Lord’s anointed” (2 Sam. 1:14-16). David was anointed on three separate occasions (1 Sam. 17:13; 2 Sam. 2:4; 5:3). Since it was foretold that Israel’s Savior would be both King and Priest (2 Sam. 7:11; Zech. 6:13), the Jews came to think of Him as “the Anointed One” to come. This is the background for the well-known title “Messiah.”
Jesus is called “Christ” in such familiar passages as Matt. 16:16; 22:42; 26:63; John 1:19,10; and many others. Sometimes the title appears immediately after the personal name, hence “Jesus Christ” (Matt. 1:18; Acts 8:12; Eph. 2:20). Sometimes the title appears just before the personal name, therefore “Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 4:15; Eph. 2:13). Sometimes the title “Lord” appears before the personal name and the title “Christ” immediately after, so we find “Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1; 1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Tim. 4:2). Jesus is truly the Christ, the Anointed One of God.
The title “Savior” means deliverer or preserver. It is sometimes applied to God (Lk. 1:47; Tit. 3:4), but it is fitting for Jesus as the author of our salvation. Many Samaritans acknowledged Jesus to be “the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). It is not uncommon to find several titles grouped together, such as “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Lamb Of God
This is one of a number of metaphorical titles for Jesus. A metaphor is a term denoting one kind to suggest a comparison with another. Lambs were used for sacrifice under the law of Moses. Jesus is the “Lamb of God” because He is the sacrifice that God provided for us. John the Baptist honored Jesus with this meaningful title (John 1:29,36). Furthermore, it was prophesied that the Messiah would be led as a sheep to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7; Acts 8:32). Like the literal lamb that was suited for sacrifice, Jesus stood without blemish and without spot (1 Pet. 1:19). In the book of Revelation, Jesus is symbolized as the “Lamb” about thirty times. Note especially Rev. 5 and 13:8.
These are but a few of the many titles applied to Jesus in the Bible. These and other titles clearly reveal the concept that first-century disciples had of Him. Many of these disciples knew Him personally; some saw Him following the resurrection; they had firsthand information. Our efforts to honor Jesus should be greatly enhanced by studying these appellations of office, rank, and dignity. “To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”
Truth Magazine, XX:22, pp. 7-8
May 27, 1976