What Does Christ Mean?
- Robert Hampshire Christianity.com Contributing Writer
- 2020 9 Sep
There are quite a few names throughout Scripture spoken about Jesus or given by Jesus himself. One of the most prevalent titles is “Christ” (or the Hebrew equivalent, “Messiah”). This epithet or descriptive phrase is used regularly throughout the New Testament to the tune of 569 times.
For example, in John 4:25-26, Jesus declares to a Samaritan woman standing by a well (appropriately called “Jacob’s Well”) that he was the Christ that was prophesied to come. Also, an angel delivered the good news to the shepherds that Jesus was born as “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11, ESV).
But this term “Christ” is so commonly and flippantly used today by people that do not know what it means or that assume it is no more than Jesus’ last name instead of a meaningful title. So, what does “Christ” mean, and what does it signify about who Jesus is?
Who Is Jesus: The Word Christ
The word Christ is from the similar-sounding Greek word “Christos,” which describes the divine Son of God, the Anointed King, and the “Messiah” who is positioned and purposed by God to be the Deliverer of all people in a way that no regular person, prophet, judge, or ruler could be (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7).
This is made clear in John 1:41 when Andrew invited his brother, Simon Peter, to follow Jesus by saying, “‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” The people and Rabbis of Jesus’ time would have been looking for the Christ to come and righteously rule God’s people because of the Old Testament prophecies they were taught (2 Samuel 7:11-16). The elderly Simeon and Anna, as well as the king-making Magi, recognized young Jesus for who he was and worshiped him for it.
There have been many great leaders throughout history. Some were prophets, priests, or kings that were anointed with authority from God, but none were ever called “the Messiah.” Other leaders even considered themselves to be a god (such as the Pharaohs or Caesars) or made bizarre claims about themselves (like in Acts 5). But only Jesus fulfilled about 300 centuries-old prophecies about the Christ.
These prophecies were so miraculous (such as a virgin birth), descriptive (such as riding on a colt), or specific (such as being a descendent of King David) that it would have been a statistical impossibility for even a few of them to be true about the same person. But they were all fulfilled in Jesus.
In fact, he fulfilled ten unique messianic prophecies just in the final 24 hours of his life on earth. In addition, the name “Jesus” is actually the historically common Hebraic “Joshua” or “Yeshua,” which means “God saves” (Nehemiah 7:7; Matthew 1:21).
The genealogy of Jesus also points to the fact that he was the prophesied Christ or Messiah. While we tend to skip over the lists of names in Mary and Joseph’s family trees at the beginning of the Books of Matthew and Luke, the Jewish culture kept extensive genealogies to establish a person’s heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights. Jesus’ lineage shows how his life was intertwined with God’s covenant with his chosen people as well as his legal claim to the throne of David.
The stories of the people in those lists reveal that Jesus’ lineage itself was miraculous because of how many different routes the Messianic prophecies had to take because of the sinfulness of mankind. For example, in Genesis 49, a dying Jacob passed over three of his sons (including his rightful firstborn) to bless Judah and prophecy that it would be only through him that a lion-like leader would come and bring peace, joy, and prosperity (which is where the nickname “Lion of Judah” comes from, as we see in Revelation 5:5).
So, while we may never get too excited about reading the genealogies in our Bible reading plans, it is important to understand their purpose and implications.
Who Is Jesus: Jesus the Christ
Not only did the prophecies point to the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, but as New Testament professor Dr. Doug Bookman teaches, Jesus also publicly claimed to be the Christ (meaning that he knew who he was). Jesus emphasized his claim of being the Messiah by quoting from 24 Old Testament books (Luke 24:44, ESV) as well as performing 37 recorded miracles that clearly demonstrated and confirmed who he was.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus stood up in the temple and read from a scroll that contained a familiar Messianic prophecy from Isaiah. Then, as everyone listened in, this local carpenter’s son named Jesus let everyone know that he was actually the fulfillment of that prophecy (Luke 4:18-21). While this did not sit well with the religious people at the time, it is exciting for us today to read about Jesus’ self-revealing moments throughout his public ministry.
Another example is in the Book of Matthew when the crowds were debating about who Jesus was. Some thought that he was a resurrected John the Baptist, a prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah, simply a “good teacher” (Mark 10:17), a Rabbi (Matthew 26:25), or just a poor carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55). This led Jesus to prompt his disciples with the question of who they thought he was, to which Peter answered,“the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded with:
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18, ESV).
Oddly enough, Jesus then commanded his disciples to keep his identity quiet because many people misunderstood the Messiah’s kingdom to be physical and not spiritual, while others had wrong expectations from unscriptural speculations. These wrong beliefs led to some religious leaders wanting Jesus to be killed for blasphemy. But he had a timeline to keep, so he regularly escaped them until the time was right for him to be crucified.
Who Is Jesus and What Christ Means to Us Today
But as great as Jesus being the Christ was for Israel back then, what does it have to do with us today?
To answer that, we must understand that the idea of a Messiah started long before Judah or even Abraham with the beginning of humanity in Genesis 3 as a response to the sinful fall of mankind. Then, throughout Scripture, it becomes clear who humanity’s deliverer would be and how he would restore us back into a relationship with God.
In fact, when God set the Jewish people apart by establishing a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, confirming it through Isaac in Genesis 26, and reaffirming it through Jacob and his descendants in Genesis 28, his goal was for “all the nations of the earth to be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). What better way to impact the entire world than to provide a remedy for their sinfulness? God’s story of redemption through Jesus stretches from the first to the last pages of the Bible. As Paul wrote:
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26–29, ESV).
God chose Israel to be his covenant people not because they were special and not to exclude everyone else, but so they could become a conduit for God’s grace to be given to the world. It was through the Jewish nation that God demonstrated his love for us by sending his own Son, Jesus (who was the fulfillment of his covenant), to be the Christ or Savior of all who would believe in Him.
Paul drove this point home further when he wrote:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:8-11, ESV).
That salvation and reconciliation can be received through believing Jesus to be not just the historical Christ, but to be our Christ. We can be disciples of Jesus who follow him closely, learn from him, obey him, become like him, and represent him to the world.
When Jesus is our Christ, we have a new covenant of love that he has made with his invisible, universal Church that he calls his “Bride.” The Messiah that came once to suffer for the sins of the world will come again one day and establish his new kingdom on earth. I for one, want to be on his side when that happens.
Photo Credit: ©SparrowStock
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.
This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith: