Have you ever noticed that after Matthew and Mark introduce us to Jesus Christ in their opening verse they then almost exclusively refer to him as Jesus or Lord? However when we read the epistles of Paul and the other apostles they speak of him as the Lord Jesus Christ, Christ, Jesus Christ, the Lord, and there are only a very few occasions when they speak of him as Jesus. Why is this so and should we take cognisance of it? Should this very observable fact influence how we address our Lord?
It is an interesting and important matter, and we as Christadelphians should understand why these facts are inherent in the New Testament. We should know the reasons, the answers, because we are not befuddled and confused by the heretical doctrine of the Trinity. Tragically this was institutionalised in Christianity in the 4th Century by the decree of Constantine and has blinded men as to who Jesus Christ was and is, and his relationship to his heavenly Father.
The angel Gabriel had instructed Mary to call her son Jesus (Luke 1:31; 2:21). His name summarises his mission, for as the angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “she (Mary) shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).
The reason why Jesus is so addressed in the Gospels, but as Jesus Christ etc in the Epistles is simply explained by the fact that his resurrection lies between the records. It is his resurrection that has made the distinction. The Apostle Peter made this clear when he stood up on the Day of Pentecost and proclaimed for the first time in a public address the name of salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to explain the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and how the apostles could speak in tongues he quoted from the prophet Joel, and when he reached the words, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord [Grk kurios, Heb Yahweh] shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32), he paused to explain how the Name of God had been developed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He pointed out to his largely Jewish audience that Jesus had been approved by God in his life by miracles, that his death was part of God’s foreordained purpose and not an accident and that it was God who raised him from the dead. He then cited Psalm 16 at length and declared that its special terms could not apply to David; they could only apply to one who did not see corruption. Then he cited Psalm 132:11 and pointed out that David was a prophet and that “God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins … he would raise up Christ [the Anointed] to sit on his throne” eternally (Acts 2:30). Knowing this and that his seed would be mortal, David resolved the problem of him sitting upon his throne forever by writing Psalm 16: “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of [the] Christ, that his soul was not left in hell [the tomb], neither his flesh did see corruption” (v31). Resurrection before corruption was a precondition for Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth met this prerequisite.
Peter then explained Jesus’ absence by again citing words which, although written by David, could not apply to David himself: “The Lord [Grk kurios, Heb Yahweh] said unto my Lord [Grk kurios, Heb adon], Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool” (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34–35). David refers to his greater son as his Lord.
In verse 36 he pieced together the jigsaw and proclaimed the new name whereby Jesus was to be known, the ‘historical’ development of the Name of Yahweh which Joel said men would call upon and be saved: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
So convincing was Peter’s address that his hearers were pricked in their hearts, and said to the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” We should note Peter’s answer, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”
“Christ” is Greek for “Anointed” and the Hebrew word equivalent is “Messiah”. In Old Testament times God anointed prophets, priests and kings to their offices, and this predicated their belief that when the true Messiah appeared he would embody these roles. The Jews looked for the Messiah, one anointed by God, as promised in the prophets, who would deliver them from the crushing heel of Rome and reign over all nations from Jerusalem. They were not wrong as to his ultimate destiny; they did not however realize that the Cross was to come before the Crown, and that he would be raised from the dead and given immortality. His obedience to the death of the cross would perfect obedience to his Father’s will and that would secure resurrection and qualify him as Messiah.
So when we speak of Jesus Christ, the Christ, the Lord, or the Lord Jesus Christ, we recognise his exalted status and this is how it should be. Essentially he is no longer “Jesus”, as he was known during his ministry. Yes, he was potentially the Christ, but this was not realised until his resurrection and exaltation. Occasions in the epistles where he is called Jesus almost always are in reference to “the days of his flesh”, or when the story of his life is being rehearsed, as for example when Peter explains to Cornelius’ household how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). It is important for us to recognise the apostles’ usage and emphasis of the name of our Lord and Saviour. As you read through the epistles you will be struck by how true the point made in this editorial is. Look for example at 1 Corinthians 1 and you will notice how considered and insistent Paul is:
v1 “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ”
v2 “sanctified in Christ Jesus”
v3 “from the Lord Jesus Christ”
v4 “given you by Jesus Christ”
v6 “the testimony of Christ”
v7 “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”
v8 “day of our Lord Jesus Christ”
v9 “fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ”
v10 “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” etc.
Now it would have been much easier for the Apostle Paul to have simply used “Jesus” every time, but he does not. And the same applies in his other writings, as you will observe. Many men were called Jesus in those days (see Josephus’ Index), but only one has been distinguished by the name Jesus Christ.
In part this editorial has been occasioned by a practice that has become increasingly apparent in our brotherhood, the tendency to refer to the Lord as Jesus, on some occasions exclusively. Understanding as we do his exalted status, his special relationship with his Father and ours, and how he will return to rule for God and consummate His purpose on earth, we should accord to Jesus his rightful honour and Name, the Lord Jesus Christ. It can be understood how those ignorant of his relationship to the Father and of his current and future role in God’s plan could address him as Jesus, but we know better. It is a common mode of addressing the Lord in the churches of Christendom which have strayed so far from apostolic teaching and practice.
In the matter of our prayers to the Father, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he will give it you.” When we pray in the name of Jesus Christ we acknowledge that he is our mediator, our High Priest whom God has approved.
These words are not penned to be pin-pricking or pedantic but because of the importance of our personal relationship to our Lord, our appreciation of the wonderful victory he has wrought for us and his continuing love for us at the Father’s right hand.
Perhaps we need to take stock and remember his exalted, crucial, and vital role in the Divine purpose.
Consider the following:
The Lord Jesus himself said: “the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these … For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:20–23).
The Apostle Paul spoke of our Lord’s present and future glory in these words: “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9–11).