Who was Jesus Christ? What was Jesus Christ? Was He merely a gentle, kind person who went around saying gentle, kind things and who died for our sins? Or was He much more than that?
Who and what is He now? What is He doing now? Is He sitting in heaven, passing the time until He returns to earth? Or will He even return to earth? What will He yet do in the future?
Questions like these have been discussed and argued over by theologians and religious leaders for centuries. They have perplexed and puzzled millions of believers. Many more have not even tried to understand, thinking that simply accepting and believing in Jesus is all that matters.
Yet the answers to these questions, and the real significance of Jesus Christ's life and sacrifice, have been available to mankind all along. The answers are found in the very name of Jesus Christ.
Peter said, "There is no other name ...by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12, New King James Version except as noted). But what does that name mean? God attaches great significance to names. His own names are powerful testimonials to His great glory and majesty: God Almighty (El-Shaddai), God of Peace (Yahweh-Shalom) and God Our Provider (Yahweh-Jireh), among others.
Throughout the Bible, God uses names to signify what the person or being represents (Genesis 16:11; Genesis 17:5, Genesis 17:15-16, Genesis 17:19; Genesis 35:10; 2 Samuel 12:24-25; Isaiah 8:3; Hosea 1:4, Hosea 1:6, Hosea 1:9; Luke 1:13). They tell us of the individual's role and purpose in God's great plan. Time and time again God named or changed the names of individuals to reflect the purpose for which God used them.
In the same way, the name "Jesus Christ" tells us a great deal about His purpose and part in God's great plan as well. It enlightens us about His character, purpose and love for humanity as well.
The Meaning of "Jesus"
What does "Jesus" mean? How did He receive that name? Did Joseph and Mary choose it because they liked the sound of it? Was it the name of a relative or family member? Why was Jesus named "Jesus"?
In Matthew 1 we find that Mary was discovered to be pregnant during her engagement to Joseph. Joseph, not wanting to embarrass this young woman he loved, was considering how to best handle the difficult situation.
"But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins'" (Matthew 1:20-21).
The New Testament was written in Greek, and the name "Jesus" here means the same in Greek as the Hebrew name "Joshua." "Joshua" means literally God is salvation. So the angel's message to Joseph was "You shall call His name 'God is salvation,' for He will save His people from their sins." That name tells us of Jesus' purpose in God's plan-that it is through Him that God saves humanity.
How are we saved?
But how are we saved through Jesus Christ?
There are two important aspects of salvation through Jesus Christ. First, we must realize that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). We have all earned for ourselves the death penalty (Romans 6:23). Death is the total loss of consciousness and awareness forever (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, Ecclesiastes 9:10). By our sins, we have earned eternal death-the right to be blotted out of consciousness, no longer to exist, not even to be remembered, for all time. We have earned the right (if it could be called a right) to be erased from reality forever.
That's the hopeless situation we would be in without Jesus Christ. The death penalty we have earned would be carried out, and there would be nothing left for us, no hope for anything beyond the grave (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
But something happened to prevent that death penalty from being carried out. In Romans 5 Paul describes how we were stumbling along in our ignorance and blindness, and then Paul says, "When we were still without strength, indue time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die...But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).
God didn't need us. What use were we to Him? Paul makes the point that rarely someone might give his life for a good man, but that doesn't fit us. We were as good as dead, waiting for the death penalty to be carried out, but something happened. Jesus Christ intervened and paid the death penalty for us.
"For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life," said Paul (verse 10). The penalty of eternal death has been paid for us by Jesus Christ. We can claim that sacrifice and stand innocent, pure and clean once again before God. We are reconciled, no longer cut off from God. We have access to God again. We have access to life again. Through Jesus Christ-"God is salvation"-He has saved us from being erased from existence by paying the death penalty for us.
Saved by His life
But Paul also says we are "saved by His life"-a second important aspect of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. We know that Christ was resurrected from the grave and lives again forever. But how are we saved by His life?
Paul elaborates in Galatians 2:20, describing how Jesus Christ has transformed him. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
If we were crucified with Christ, says Paul, we died. That is what is pictured by baptism-The old self went down into the watery grave and was buried there. Figuratively, we put the old person to death, and that person no longer lives. After that has happened, Paul says, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."
If we properly understood the symbolism of baptism, we realize that our old self is dead. Now Jesus Christ lives again within us. We no longer live, but Jesus Christ lives again within us, as Paul described it. The man Paul was no longer important to Paul. Jesus Christ living within him was what was important to Paul.
"And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." That sums us Christ's mission and sacrifice for us. He "loved me and gave Himself for me." Jesus Christ gave Himself for us out of love for each one of us.
Personal sacrifice for us
Paul related to Christ's sacrifice on an intensely personal level. "He loved me and gave himself for me." Jesus' sacrifice wasn't an abstract concept to Paul. It was deeply personal. Paul felt it with all his being. Paul, a man who had persecuted the Church, imprisoning and executing followers of Jesus Christ, had no doubt about his sins. He had no doubt that he deserved to be erased from existence for all eternity. But he knew that Jesus Christ intervened directly and personally for him to save him from that fate.
Do we take Jesus Christ's sacrifice personally? Do we recognize, like Paul, what it means that Christ died for each of us personally and individually? Because of our sins, we deserved to die. Jesus Christ didn't. But He did it for us, dying instead of us. That's what Paul meant when he said, "He loved me and gave himself for me."
No other person could fulfill the role of Jesus in God's plan for salvation. He is the only one who has ever lived a perfect, sinless life. As God in the flesh, His one life is worth more than the sum total of all mankind before and after Him (John 1:14). He died for every single one of us, and without His sacrifice we would have no hope for anything beyond this life.
As Paul put it, without that hope we would be "of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
In recognition of and gratitude for that truth, we allow Jesus Christ to live within us. But how does that happen? The apostle John said, "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:6).
We must follow Christ's example. We walk as He walked. We think as He thought. We live as He lived. And we submit ourselves to God's divine will and purpose in our lives, just as Jesus did. "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me," He said (John 6:38).
So it is through Jesus, whose name means "God is salvation," that we are saved. It is through His death to pay the penalty for our sins in our place, and through Him living within us, that God gives us salvation.
The Meaning of "Christ"
What about the second part of the name "Jesus Christ"? What does the word "Christ" mean? Actually, it isn't so much a proper name as it is a title. "Christ" comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning "anointed." Its meaning is the same as the Hebrew word Messiah (John 1:41). They both mean "anointed" or "anointed one."
What is the significance of being anointed? The Jews of Jesus' day understood the meaning perfectly well. They were familiar with the Scriptures we call the Old Testament today; those writings were their guide for daily life. These very Scriptures, said Jesus, foretold His coming and purpose. "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me," He thundered to those who refused to believe (John 5:39).
The Jews of Christ's day expected a Messiah, an anointed one (John 4:25). They knew the significance of anointing, so they understood what the role of the Messiah would be. Without the background of the Old Testament, the term "Messiah" becomes meaningless, resulting in a shallow and distorted understanding of who and what Jesus Christ is.
Those who expected a Messiah knew that, in the Old Testament, anointing was used in four extraordinary situations to set someone or something apart for a special purpose. Each of these teaches us something about Jesus Christ, His purpose and His mission, about why He is called the Anointed One.
Dedicated for God's Use
The first significant act of anointing occurred in Exodus 40. After Israel's miraculous departure from Egypt, God gave the Israelites detailed instructions for building the tabernacle, an elaborate tented structure designed to be the center of worship for the nation. After its completion, God told Moses, "Take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and everything in it; consecrate it and all its furnishings, and it will be holy" (Exodus 40:9, New International Version).
This act of anointing would "consecrate" the tabernacle. Consecrate means to dedicate or set something apart for holy use. Through this anointing, the tabernacle and the objects in it were set apart for God's sacred use and service. Anointing was symbolic of that setting apart.
What does that teach us about Jesus Christ? How does that fit into His role as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One?
Simply put, His entire life was set apart for God's holy use. "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work," said Jesus (John 4:34). That was His motivation, His source of strength. His reason for living was to do the will of God the Father.
"...The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner," Jesus said (John 5:19).
What did Jesus do? In His own words, He did exactly what the Father did. Yet some people think He came to push the Father into the background, overturning God's holy law and removing it as a standard of guidance and behavior for mankind. What a sad contradiction of Jesus' own words!
He dedicated Himself to the mission God had given Him. "I can of Myself do nothing," He said. "...My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me" (John 5:30). Jesus Christ never tried to please Himself, to do His own thing. His motivation was to please the Father. What God wanted was most important to Him.
His entire life was set apart to serve God. He was an example of total commitment to and surrender to God's will and purpose. Even when facing imminent death, His final prayers were, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42).
Jesus Christ lived His life in perfect accordance with God's will, and He gave His life in perfect accordance with God's great plan. A part of that plan was that He was set apart, His life freely offered as the one sacrifice to pay the penalty for the sins of all mankind forever (1 Peter 1:18-20).
Jesus Christ fulfilled this aspect of anointing perfectly. His entire life was an example of complete and total dedication to God's will.
Selected for the Priesthood
After the dedication and consecration of the tabernacle in the wilderness, God instructed Moses to carry out another anointing. "Bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and wash them with water. Then dress Aaron in the sacred garments, anoint him and consecrate him so he may serve me as priest. Bring his sons and dress them in tunics. Anoint them just as you anointed their father, so they may serve me as priests...," said God (Exodus 40:12-15, NIV).
We see from this example that anointing was used to set individuals apart to serve as priests to God.
What is the role of a priest? What did a priest do? It is difficult for us to comprehend, because that system of a priesthood and temple worship was crushed during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Although alive and flourishing in Jesus' day, it is a foreign concept to many of us today, lost in the mists of long ago.
In its simplest terms, a priest's function was to serve as an intermediary between God and man. Under that system of temple worship, mankind as a whole had no direct access to God. Members of the priesthood served as God's representatives to Israel, and in performing the sacrifices they interceded with God on behalf of the people.
How does this apply to Jesus Christ? We are told that "we have a great High Priest..., Jesus the Son of God" (Hebrews 4:14).
Our perfect High Priest
The book of Hebrews explains how Jesus Christ is the perfect High Priest. He can "sympathize with our weaknesses," we are told, because He "was tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15, NIV). Because He lived as a physical human being, He knows what we go through in this life. Because of that, He knows that we are weak and how we need God's mercy and help. In addition to this, Jesus Christ is submissively obedient and has been made perfect (Hebrews 5:8-9).
Unlike human priests who grow old and die, He will never need to be replaced in that office "because Jesus lives forever, [and] he has a permanent priesthood" (Hebrews 7:24, NIV). He continues the intercessory work of the physical temple priesthood: "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Hebrews 7:25, NIV). He will always be there to save those who come to God, forever.
"Such a high priest meets our need-one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens." Physical sacrifices are unnecessary, we are told, because, "unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself" (Hebrews 7:26-27, NIV).
Through His function as High Priest, Jesus Christ purifies us through His sacrifice: "...The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse[s] our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9:14, NIV)
What is the result of this? Having been cleansed of our sins, we can now be reconciled to God and come before Him confidently. "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus ..., let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:19-23, NIV)
That paints a wonderful picture of Christ's sacrifice and function as High Priest and how He allows us to be reconciled to God. It shows us that Christ has removed the barrier of sin between man and God and brought us together again, making us one with God. Therefore we come boldly to God's throne, full of faith and confident that we are forgiven and pure in His sight.
Set Apart as Prophet
In 1 Kings 19:16 we find another example of anointing being used to set someone apart for a particular purpose. In this case, Elijah's days as a prophet were numbered. "...Anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet," he was told (NIV).
What significance does this have in Jesus Christ's life and mission? He was often called a prophet (John 6:14, John 7:40), and said of Himself that He was a prophet (Luke 4:24, Luke 13:33). He clearly foretold the future during His physical ministry on earth. In Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, He prophesied of events that would lead up to His return to earth. The four Gospels contain many prophecies about His disciples and the future Church, and the book of Revelation is called "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:1).
Is foretelling the future the most important thing Christ discussed? Even though Christ did foresee the future, that is a relatively small part of what is recorded for us about Him and His life. A prophet isn't just someone who reveals the future. A prophet is someone who reveals the will and purpose of God to mankind.
What did Christ speak about during His time on earth? "For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak...Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak" (John 12:49-50).
Divine and holy teacher
What did He reveal? "Whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak." He revealed exactly what God the Father told Him to reveal. He taught and revealed the plan, purpose and will of God. He foretold the future, but even more than that, He was a divine and holy Teacher, revealing God's wonderful purpose and plan for mankind.
In Luke 10 Christ discussed what He revealed to people. "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure,'" (verse 21, NIV).
What was it that was being revealed? "'All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,'" (verse 22, NIV).
Christ was revealing God the Father. He was revealing a new view of God, a new understanding of God. His fellow Jews had previously understood God as a sort of national champion, the "father" of their nation who had worked mighty miracles in the days of their forefathers. But Jesus Christ revealed a very different understanding: a loving God, gently caring for His followers as a father loves his own children.
The Father that Jesus Christ revealed was a God who desired a close personal relationship with His people, wanting to share all things with His children, to forgive them, to heal them, to bless them and to give them eternal life in His Kingdom. Jesus Christ Himself personified that love. Throughout His life and ministry He revealed a love far beyond what they could have understood earlier: a love so deep that God would give His very Son as a sacrifice to reconcile each of His children to Him.
This understanding of God was a wonderful truth, said Jesus. "Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, 'Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it,'" (verses 23, 24, NIV).
So we see that Jesus Christ was anointed to be a prophet, not just foretelling the future, but, far more important, revealing God's will, purpose and plan to mankind and showing us what a loving God we worship.
Born to be a King
A final significant use of anointing is found in 1 Samuel 16. God told His prophet Samuel that He had rejected Saul as king over Israel because of his disobedience, and He had chosen a new king. Samuel was sent to David. "Then the Lord said, 'Rise and anoint him; he is the one.' So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power..." (1 Samuel 16:12-13, NIV).
From this example we see that anointing signified that God had chosen that person for rulership. Several times in the Old Testament, kings are referred to as "the Lord's anointed." It was a title of respect and reverence, acknowledging that God had placed the person in that position.
How does that apply to Jesus Christ? Just before His execution, the Roman governor Pilate asked Him, "Are You a king?"
"...For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world..." answered Jesus. "...'My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here,' " He said (John 18:36-37).
Ruler of coming Kingdom
That Kingdom, of which Jesus Christ would be king, was at the heart of Jesus' teaching: "...'I must preach the kingdom of God...because for this purpose I have been sent,'" He said (Luke 4:43).
The message He brought was "the gospel [good news] of the kingdom of God" (Mark 1:14). Jesus "went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God..." (Luke 8:1). He commanded His followers to "seek first the kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33).
That Kingdom is prophesied throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. "...The God of Heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed...It shall break in pieces and consume all these [other] kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).
"Then to Him [prophesying of Jesus Christ] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His Kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:14).
This coming Kingdom will rule over "all peoples, nations, and languages" of the earth, as we just read. It will replace the governments of this world, and Jesus Christ will be the supreme Ruler. "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'" (Revelation 11:15).
Assisting Jesus Christ in administering His Kingdom will be His followers, now resurrected to eternal life. "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6).
How will this government be administered? "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever..." (Isaiah 9:6-7).
There will be no end of peace under that government. It will be established and upheld with judgment and justice forever. What a contrast to today's world, filled with every kind of suffering and anguish imaginable! But that is the kind of government mankind will have under Jesus Christ's rule in the Kingdom of God.
Exalted above all
Not only will Jesus Christ rule over that Kingdom in the future, but He is also a ruler now. Throughout the New Testament, He is referred to as "the Lord Jesus Christ" or simply "the Lord," signifying that He is our Master, Ruler and King now. "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"(Philippians 2:9-11).
Do we recognize that "Jesus Christ is Lord," our Lord and Master now? Paul described to the church in Ephesus the position to which God the Father has exalted Jesus Christ. "...He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:20-23).
Paul says here that Jesus Christ is over everything, "far above all principality and power and might and dominion..." He is over all the angels. He is above all the powers of the universe, the galaxies, the stars, the planets. He is over all power and authority both now and in the age to come. God the Father has put everything in subjection to Him, and included in that is the Church, His spiritual body. That is the greatness and the power and the authority of our King and Master, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is truly the One through whom "God is salvation." He sacrificed Himself to pay the death penalty in our place. He lives now within us, helping us to live as He lived and walk as He walked, developing God's holy character within us.
He truly is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. He truly is set apart, having devoted and given His physical life as the perfect example and sacrifice for us. He truly is our High Priest, reconciling us to God and giving us greater understanding of God and His ways. He truly is a holy Prophet, a divine Teacher, showing mankind the way to peace and happiness and life everlasting.
He truly is the One who will return to this earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to establish a kingdom that will bring peace forever and salvation to all. And He is our King, our Lord and our Master now.
How great is the meaning of "Jesus Christ" for us! GN