Paul encouraged his readers to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). The Christian performs all aspects of his or her ministry and witness in the name of Jesus, and it is in his name that the church assembles for prayer and worship (1 Cor. 5:4) and offers thanksgiving to the Father (Eph. 5:20). The New Testament uses several titles to describe the meaning of God’s action through his Son. Many of these expressions (such as “Son of Man,” “Servant,” and “Anointed”) are applied in the Old Testament to significant leaders of the covenant people—prophets, priests, kings. As applied in the New Testament to the Lord Jesus, they are titles for God the Son.
Jesus’ name, which in Hebrew is Yeshu‘, is equivalent to Joshua, and means “Yahweh is salvation.” A messenger of the Lord revealed this name to Joseph (Matt. 1:21) and to Mary (Luke 1:31) before the birth of Jesus. It conveys the purpose for which he has come into the world: “for he will save his people from their sins.” The biblical concept of salvation is not an abstract idea but a concrete image of God’s action in behalf of his people. It means deliverance: the rescue of people from danger and from their enemies, and their release from that which enslaves and binds. Jesus’ ministry, culminating in his death on the cross and his resurrection and exaltation, was not only a deliverance from the condemnation of sin and disobedience to God; it was also a release of the people from the strictures of a religious tradition that had lost sight of its foundations in the covenant granted by the Lord. Jesus, the Deliverer, taught a new ethic of the kingdom of God that was not new at all but went to the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures, “the law and the prophets” (Matt. 5:17; 7:12).
The name Jesus, then, has special significance in its own right. But it takes on infinitely more meaning when equated with the many titles by which he is known in the worship and proclamation of his church. The church confesses that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3), its authority and head in the covenant. The apostles preach that “God has made this Jesus, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). They write of Jesus who, though humanly speaking a descendent of David, “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). The gospel writers tell his story to the end “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).
Jesus of Nazareth
This phrase differs from “Jesus” in being the name by which Jesus was known to the general public; New Testament evidence does not indicate that it was used within the church. Jesus is addressed in this way by demons (Mark 1:24); a blind man is told by the crowd that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by (Mark 10:46–47), and the crowds at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem describe him as “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matt. 21:11). After the crucifixion, two of Jesus’ disciples refer to him as Jesus of Nazareth in speaking to a stranger on the Emmaus road, not realizing that Jesus has been raised from death and is, indeed, their traveling companion (Luke 24:19). In the period immediately following the resurrection, the apostles heal in the name of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:6) and so identify him in preaching to the crowds (Acts 10:38; cf. 26:9). At the discovery of the resurrection, the women were told, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here” (Mark 16:6). Perhaps the messenger’s words anticipate Paul’s statement that although we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we do so no longer (2 Cor. 5:16).
The word is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew mashiḥ, or Messiah, meaning “anointed” or literally “oiled.” In ancient Israel, olive oil was a staple of the economy and therefore a symbol of prosperity and blessing. Important leaders were commissioned by having special sanctifying oil poured over them. The high priest was anointed (Num. 35:25; cf. Ps. 133:2), and Elijah the prophet was told to anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16). Most importantly, the kings were anointed. Saul was so commissioned by Samuel the prophet (1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13) and David spoke of him as “the Lord’s anointed” (mshiḥ Yahveh, 1 Sam. 24:10; 2 Sam. 1:14). David himself, anointed by Samuel while Saul was still reigning (1 Sam. 16:13), became the paradigm for the Mashiḥ, and the concept of the enduring Davidic dynasty, first enunciated by Nathan (2 Sam. 7:12–16), was celebrated by prophets and psalmists. In theory, every descendant of David installed in Zion was a “David” and hence a “messiah.” As the ruler ascended the Judean throne, he might be proclaimed the adopted son of Yahweh through a decree (Ps. 2:7), the Lord’s vice-regent in the governing of his earthly dominion. Several of the prophets looked forward to the restoration of the ideal commonwealth symbolized by David’s rule (Isa. 9:1–7; Jer. 30:1–9; Amos 9:11).
Such exalted language applied to the Judean ruler forms the background for the messianic hope of Judaism at the time of the birth of Jesus. Although it is common to speak of the Jewish expectation of an ideal Davidic ruler who would restore the glory of Israel, delivering it from its foreign oppressors and governing it with justice, in truth there was great divergence in the eschatological expectancy of first-century Judaism, which was split into many sectarian movements. The scribes of the Dead Sea community, for example, wrote of two messiahs, the priestly “Messiah of Aaron” and the lay “Messiah of Israel,” due to these sectarians’ bad experience with the Maccabean rulers, who had united the priestly and kingly offices. It has been said that Jesus’ own unique contribution to the concept of messiahship, and that of his apostles, was to combine the office of Messiah with that of the “suffering Servant” prefigured in the prophecy of Isaiah. Recent research involving the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, suggests that this idea was present in sectarian Judaism of the time.
When the New Testament writers call Jesus the “Christ,” they make the claim that he is the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic expectations: the instrument of God for their restoration as his people and their ultimate deliverance. But the exact nature of this restoration and deliverance did not conform to any one program in the contemporaneous Jewish scene. The fact of Jesus’ messiahship preceded its interpretation; the crucifixion and resurrection verified that Jesus was the Anointed of the Lord (Acts 2:22–36; 10:34–43; 17:31), but what this meant was left largely for the apostles to develop under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The central fact was that Jesus is the Christ, the Deliverer of the faithful; because of this, the title was attached to his name and became one with it, as “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.”
The word head conveys not only the ideas of authority and summation, but also the concept of source, as in the expression “fountainhead.” As “head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18), Jesus is the Lord of his people and also the source of their life and growth (Eph. 4:16). Not only the church, but “all things” are summed up in Christ (Eph. 1:10). The apostolic proclamation is that, as head of the church, Christ is also “head over all things” (Eph. 1:22 nasb), the “head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10). In this figure, Paul gives the church a powerful image of universal scope of Christ’s dominion.
The earliest Christian confession is, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). The title “Lord” (Kurios) was the term substituted for the divine name Yahveh in the Greek version of the Old Testament, used in many communities of the Jewish diaspora. It is the Greek equivalent of ’Adonai, with all the implications of this term for the understanding of covenant loyalty to the great King. The heart of the apostolic proclamation is that, in the resurrection from the dead, God has made Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The title Kurios, when applied to Jesus, in effect equates him with God; the confession of Jesus’ lordship, therefore, was what set the earliest Christians apart from their traditional Jewish contemporaries, who could abide no human claim to equality with God (John 5:18). In this, of course, they were quite correct. But, as Paul insisted, Jesus also made no such claim, even as the preincarnate Christ (Phil. 2:6); the Father exalted him to lordship because of his obedience to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:8–9). As Lord, Jesus will receive the oath of covenant allegiance from people of all times and places (Phil. 2:9–11), “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
The Christian confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” means that for the believer and for the corporate church, Jesus is the sole authority in life. The Scriptures are the written authority, but the church receives them from the hand of the Lord and interprets them with a focus on God’s action in Christ by the quickening guidance of the Spirit of Christ. Although it is through faith that a person is brought into the family of God (Eph. 2:8–9), this faith is accompanied by confession of the lordship of the risen Jesus (Rom. 10:9–10). Nor is this a vocal confession only (though it must be that), but a confession made with the whole of one’s being in a life of obedience, as the New Testament makes clear throughout.
In classical Christian theology, the Son is the second person of the Trinity. In the Semitic languages of the Bible, the word son (Hebrew ben, Aramaic bar) has a wider meaning than in English. It indicates not only biological or genealogical descent, but also things belonging in a certain class or representing something. A Hebrew speaker expresses his age by using the term; if he is 30 years old, he says “I am a son of 30, ” that is, “I belong to the class of those who are 30 years old.” In this way we understand expressions such as “sons of thunder,” Jesus’ epithet for James and John (Mark 3:17), perhaps because of their combative attitude (Luke 9:51–56); “sons of iniquity,” (Hos. 10:9 nasb) describing a rebellious Israel; and “Son of Encouragement,” the literal sense of the name Barnabas (Acts 4:36). The meaning of Jesus’ sonship, as ascribed to him both by himself and by the New Testament authors, is clarified in relation to the various qualifiers that attach to the term Son.
Son of God (Huios tou Theou), Son of David (Huios tou Dauid). These titles of Jesus are interrelated, and also relate to the concept of the “Anointed.” It is the idea of the covenant that imparts to them theological importance. In ancient treaties, a more powerful king would establish a treaty or covenant with a lesser one, who agreed to its terms as the representative of his people. Great kings were sometimes called “fathers,” while their vassals were known as “sons.” The Davidic ruler, as the anointed king, was the representative of Israel or Judah in the covenant with Yahweh and is thus termed the “son” (Pss. 2:7, 12; 72:1; Isa. 9:6). As a symbol of this mediatorial role in the covenant, when kings ascended the throne they were presented with the “Testimony,” or Book of the Law, a statement of the covenant between the Lord and Israel (2 Kings 11:12). Although all the people of Israel were called “sons of God” (Exod. 4:22–23; Deut. 1:31; 8:5; Jer. 3:19; 31:9, 20; Hos. 11:1; Mal. 1:6; Ps. 80:15), the king was viewed as the son par excellence in his role as their representative. This mediatorial position was an inheritance from Moses, who also functioned as “king” and the one who maintained Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh.
David was the symbol of the ideal royal son, whose appearance would bring a restoration of the covenant and the salvation of the people of the Lord. In identifying Jesus as the Son of David (Matt. 1:1; 21:9, 15; 22:42; Mark 11:10; John 7:42; Rom. 1:3; and others), the New Testament writers assert that he is also the Son of God, the agent and mediator of divine deliverance. Indeed, God declares Jesus’ sonship before his birth (Luke 1:32–33), at his baptism (Mark 1:11), and on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7). At his crucifixion it is an awestruck centurion who says, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54b). In the gospel proclamation of the apostolic church, it is by his resurrection from the dead that Jesus is “declared with power to be the Son of God” (Rom. 1:4).
Son of Man (Huios tou anthrōpou). The phrase “Son of Man” (which some scholars translate as “the human being,” taking “son” in the sense of “representative”) is familiar from the prophecy of Ezekiel, whom the Lord repeatedly addresses in this way in imparting his visions. Its use in Daniel (Dan. 7:13–14) is more cosmic in scope, describing one who is to rule with “an everlasting dominion” granted by the Ancient of Days. It is at this more exalted level that the New Testament employs it as a title for Jesus Christ. As the Son of Man, Jesus is the representative of mankind, able to enter and maintain the covenant on behalf of all humanity. The title is not a reference to Jesus’ ordinary human nature but to the extraordinary nature of his authority. Jesus healed the paralytic by forgiving his sins so the disciples would understand that he had that authority (Matt. 9:6; Luke 5:24). He declared that as Son of Man he was Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8; Luke 6:5), the keeping of which was a sign of the covenant (Exod. 31:13). In his prophecy of the destruction to come, Jesus borrows Daniel’s imagery to speak of the coming of the Son of Man to judge the unfaithful and gather his elect from all over the earth (Mark 13:26–27).
The Son. John employs the expression “Son of God” somewhat differently from the other gospel writers, often using the unqualified title “the Son.” In his interpretation, Jesus is the Son of God because he is one with the Father and therefore equal to him (John 5:18). In this sense, Jesus is not only the servant king who enters into covenant with the Lord as representative of the nation, maintaining its requirements in the nation’s behalf. He is also one with the great King, and as such is the granter of the covenant who lays down its terms. In divine paradox, Jesus the Son becomes both sides of the relationship between God and the people of God; he is the covenant.
Luke records that Mary, the mother of Jesus, calls God her Savior (Luke 1:47). But at his birth, Jesus also assumes the title, as confirmed by the name given him by the angel (Luke 1:31; 2:11, 21). After the Resurrection, the apostles herald Jesus’ exaltation as Savior (Acts 5:31; 13:23). The New Testament church looks forward to the appearance of its Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:13), but at the same time recognizes that he has already appeared (2 Tim. 1:10), delivering his people from bondage to the evil one through the mighty victory effected by his death and resurrection (Col. 2:15).
Servant (‘Eved, Pais)
The word, as applied to Jesus, is not the usual word translated “servant” (doulos), which is often applied to Christian workers and means “slave” or “bond servant.” Rather, it is the word pais, usually translated “child.” In covenant terminology “servant” is another title given to a ruler who enters into covenant with the great King. It is a title not of servility but of authority, for the servant is his ruler’s representative. Thus the Old Testament calls leaders such as Moses (Num. 12:7–8; 1 Chron. 6:49; Neh. 10:29), David (Ps. 89:20; Ezek. 34:23–24), and Zerubbabel (Hag. 2:23) the servant (‘eved) of God. In the “servant songs” of Isaiah, the Lord’s servant is sometimes an individual (Isa. 42:1–4; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12; 61:1–2), sometimes Jacob or Israel (Isa. 44:1–2, 21), sometimes both (Isa. 49:1–6). The New Testament portrays Jesus as the suffering servant described by Isaiah (Matt. 12:18); Jesus himself inferred this identification in the synagogue of Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:21). Jesus’ designation as Yahweh’s servant reinforces his role as covenant mediator on behalf of his people; he is the Servant-King. Peter, in his second sermon recorded in Acts (3:26), applies the title Servant (Pais) to Christ, as the one sent by God to turn the descendants of Abraham back to him, and the apostles in a prayer for God’s protection refer to Jesus as God’s “holy Servant” (hagios Pais, Acts 4:27, 30).
The Word (Logos)
Christ is directly called the Word only in the writings of John (John 1:1, 14; “the Word of Life,” 1 John 1:1; “the Word of God,” Rev. 19:13). In Hebrew culture, one’s word is the extension of his person; it is the mechanism through which the “soul” or life force impacts others, so that in effect there is no distinction between one’s word and one’s being (Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 2nd ed. [London: Oxford University Press, 1959], vol. 1–2, 166–168). Biblical theology builds on this idea; the word of the Lord extends the force of his being into all contexts. It is by his word that the Lord moves affairs of history, particularly the sacred history of his deeds of deliverance (cf. Ps. 107:20). In the saga of the Israelite kingdoms recounted in the books of Samuel and Kings, events occur according to the word of Yahweh through his prophets. In fact, the creation itself comes into being by the spoken word of God (Gen. 1:3; Ps. 33:6). Thus, in several passages of hymnlike or doxological character, the New Testament celebrates Christ as the Word through whom all things have been made and are sustained (John 1:3; Heb. 1:1–3; cf. also Col. 1:15–18, where the idea is present without use of the term logos).
But the concept of the word also has covenantal associations; in the Sinai covenant, Yahweh spoke “these words” of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1). In the ancient treaty, the “word” was the text of the covenant, standing as a sanction against its violators. As the “Word of God,” Christ appears at the head of the armies of heaven, executing the judgments of the Almighty against the rebellious (Rev. 19:14–15).
These two functions of Jesus as the Word—creation and covenant—are really one. Jesus, the incarnate Word, brings people into the family of God (John 1:12); through the “washing with water through the word” (Eph. 5:26) he prepares a church to be presented to God. By the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17), men and women enter into the new covenant, which is the “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
After telling of Joseph’s dream, in which an angel announces the coming birth of Jesus, Matthew’s gospel indicates that his appearance was to be a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah: “A virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). The Hebrew phrase ‘immanu-’El means “with us is God.” Isaiah used the imminent birth of a child as a sign for King Ahaz that the attacking enemies of Judah would soon cease to be a threat (Isa. 7:15–16); the expression occurs again in Isaiah 8:8. It is rooted in the very character of Yahweh, who had revealed his name to Moses (Exod. 3:13–15) as one known historically through his covenant with his people. As King, Yahweh often reassures Israel that he will be with them to protect and provide (for example, Josh. 1:9). Solomon’s benediction at the dedication of the temple expresses the concept well: “May the Lord our God be with us [‘immanu] as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us” (1 Kings 8:57).
Despite Matthew’s citation of the Isaiah passage, Jesus is never actually called Immanuel in the New Testament. The name, however, is a powerful expression of the doctrine of the incarnation, consistent with such New Testament declarations as John’s, that the Word, who is one with God (John 1:1), “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), or Paul’s statement that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19). Further, Immanuel aptly sums up the Christian’s awareness of the presence of Christ with his church. Declaring his authority over all things, the risen Christ pledges his faithfulness to the covenant: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Jesus remains continuously with the church through the Spirit, “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” dwelling amid his people (Rev. 21:3; 22–23).
The writer to the Hebrews consistently uses this title in reference to Jesus, calling him “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Heb. 3:1). The title “high priest” was a messianic one, having been applied to the Davidic ruler in Psalm 110:4, using Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, as the pattern (Gen. 14:18). The author uses this title as part of his demonstration of the superiority of the new covenant to the old. The Aaronic high priest of the old covenant, who was from the tribe of Levi, was subject to death. But Jesus is “a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:20), whose priesthood came before the Mosaic priesthood, and who had received tithes from Abraham, the ancestor of the Israelite nation. The point is that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, and a change in priesthood means a change in the law (Heb. 7:12). Therefore a new covenant supersedes the old (Heb. 8:7, 13); God “sets aside the first to establish the second” (Heb. 10:9).
As the “great high priest” (Heb. 4:14), Jesus is the “mediator of a new covenant” through his own blood (Heb. 9:13–15), having offered the sacrifice of the heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly was only a copy (Heb. 9:23–24). Being the “great priest over the house of God” (Heb. 10:21), Jesus lives forever to make intercession for those who approach God through him (Heb. 7:25). Believers have come, not to Sinai but to Zion, the place of celebration, to a “heavenly Jerusalem,” which is not an ethereal and future reality but the worshiping church, “the general assembly [panēguris, ‘festal gathering’] and church [ekklēsia] of the first-born” (Heb. 12:22–23 nasb). The theme of the high priesthood of Christ is therefore an incentive for the church to reflect in its worship the high celebration of the new covenant.
Rabbi; Teacher (Didaskalos)
In the Gospels, people sometimes address Jesus by the title “Rabbi,” which means “great one,” in the sense of master or teacher. These are usually people who are not yet believers (Nicodemus, John 6:25; a blind man, Mark 10:51; the crowds, John 6:25). However, Nathanael the disciple confesses his faith with the words, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (John 1:49). At the empty tomb, Mary cries, “Rabboni!” when she recognizes the risen Christ (John 20:16), using a more honorific form of the title. Jesus applies the title “Teacher” (Didaskalos) to himself, telling his disciples, “One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matt. 23:8 nasb).
King (Basileus), King of Kings (Basileus Basileōn)
Although the kingship of Jesus is implicit in his role as Lord and Christ, the title “King” is not often ascribed to him in Scripture. Jesus is acclaimed King by his disciples at his entry into Jerusalem, according to Luke’s account (Luke 19:38), and after Jesus’ arrest Pilate scornfully calls him King (John 18:37; 19:15, 19). The phrase “King of kings,” meaning “supreme king,” is more common in the church’s worship, as a title of the risen Christ. It is similar to the expression “Lord of lords,” with which it is paired in all occurrences in Scripture. The title does not appear in the Old Testament but is attributed to Jesus Christ alone as the manifest Sovereign (1 Tim. 6:15, in the form Basileus tōn basileuontōn), as the Lamb (Rev. 17:14), and as the rider on the white horse (Rev. 19:16). As King, Jesus reigns as coregent with the Father; in the Resurrection, God exalted Jesus to his right hand (Acts 2:32–36); the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom “of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
Prince of Peace (Sar Shalom)
The church worships Jesus as the Prince of Peace, although the title does not occur in the New Testament. The expression is one of the titles ascribed to the Davidic king in the familiar oracle of Isaiah (Isa. 9:2–7), which may have been composed for the coronation of an actual Judean ruler but later took on a messianic significance. Peace in the Bible is more than the absence of strife; it is shalom, a positive state of wholeness, prosperity, and blessing, which is the benefit of the covenant. The Prince of Peace is the one whose dominion brings this quality of life. In the New Testament, the peace of the covenant is extended beyond Israel to all people; in Christ, both Jew and Gentile have been united. Thus, Paul states, “He himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14), having broken the dividing wall between cultural groups.
As a synonym for “King,” John the Revelator calls Jesus “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5).
Author, Originator (Archēgos)
This word has the meaning “ruler” but in the sense of one who begins or originates something. The apostolic preachers refer to Jesus as “the author of life” (Acts 3:15), for new life and forgiveness have been released in his resurrection (Acts 5:31).