The Names of Jesus:
We hope to have a series of meditations on the various names and titles of Jesus as found in the New Testament Scriptures, and then how these names and titles were used throughout history, particularly how they’re used liturgically, and then also how they are explained and how they are harmonized and brought together in the formulation of Christian doctrine. We already spoke about the name Jesus: that Jesus is given the name Jesus by God himself through the angel of God to Joseph in Matthew, to Mary in Luke that he will be called Jesus. He is given that name when he was circumcised on the eighth day, when accordingly to the law, the child was named. And we should mention here that in the Orthodox Church, the practice of naming a child is still done liturgically on the eighth day. The priest comes, there’s a special prayer, and the child is named.
So, Jesus is named Jesus, Yeshua, Joshua (in our modern name of pronouncing that Hebrew word) which means “savior” and that he brings salvation to the world, and we thought about the name “savior.” We thought about the meaning of the salvation which in Hebrew is a synonym with the word “victory” that it can be translated either way, salvation or victory, that very same word, with Jesus being savior or victor, or ultimately conqueror. In the Book of Revelation, the apocalypse, you have that verb “conquering” being used all the time, and the noun conqueror. In fact, in the Orthodox Church, on liturgical bread that is used for the Holy Eucharist, there is a seal that says “Iesus Christos Nika” Jesus Christ the victor, the conqueror, and that same seal by the way, of course, is put on vestments and put on altar covers, and it’s a kind of insignia of Christianity: Jesus Christ the Victor, the Conqueror, the one who triumphs, the Triumphant One. And so, that is the meaning of the name Jesus.
Now we want to think a little bit about the term “Christ”. Christ, Christos. The term christ, of course, in Hebrew is messiah: mashiyach. And it literally means “the anointed one.” One who has been anointed, and literally it would mean one who has been anointed with oil, with eliaon, with oil. The anointing of a person with oil in the Scripture, in the Bible, in the Mosaic Law, in the practice of the Old Testament was a sign of consecration, of sanctification, of being set apart for the service of God, and so the use of anointing is in the Scripture. And we find, we can think of it, particularly usually we think of it, particularly in terms of the anointing of the king. We know in the book of Samuel that the people wanted a king.
By the way, I and II Samuel in the Septuagint in the traditional Orthodox Church’s numbering of the books, I and II Samuel is called I and II Kings and then what the Masoretic or Hebrew text, the King James, RSV, calls I and II Kings is in the Greek Bible, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, actually III and IV Kings. So, it depends on how you number those books.
But what we want to see now is that the unction, the anointing, was, is and in the Bible was very much, in fact, even centrally connected to the kings. The kings were anointed. But in the Torah, the Law of Moses, so were the priests anointed. Aaron was anointed. If you read Exodus and Leviticus, all those prescriptions about building the temple and how the table should be, and how the veil should be, and how many cubits it should be, and how it should be arranged, and what should be put where, and what materials everything had to be made from, you see that, and it when it comes to actually the persons of the priests, the Levitical priests, that they were anointed. That unction was put upon them, and the unction was put even upon the vessels and so on. So anointing things was a sign of consecration, sanctification, being made holy. And holy, kadoshet, means being set apart, being different, belonging only to the Holy One who is God Himself. And so, the peoples themselves are consecrated. People, holy people.
But what is made holy unto the Lord, whether it’s a person specifically or a thing, is often treated in the Scripture, ritualistically with unction, with oil, the placing on of oil. And then in addition to the priests in the Mosaic Law and the kings, when finally in Samuel, the people wanted a king, it’s important for us to remember, of course, and we’ll remember this again when we speak about Jesus as the King, and the kingdom of God, is that in the Scripture, God was the king of the people. God is our king before the ages, the Psalms sings. He has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth, and we will see later on again how Christians apply that text to the cross, to being crucified. He wroughts. He works salvation in the midst of the earth when he’s hanging on the cross being crucified, but what we want to see now is that the kingship was God. And one of the things that distinguished the kingdom of God from all the other peoples, certainly the other peoples of Canaan, although those Jebusites and Perizzites, and all those people that are named there that God conquered in order to give the land to His people that to the Israelites: the king was God.
They had no human king. They had prophets; they had leaders like Moses. They had judges. They had people set over them, but they had no king. And in the Bible, the people come to God, and they say, we want a king. We want to be like everybody else, and then God discourages them. He says what do you want a king for? You can’t be like everybody else. The whole point is that you are not like everybody else. I have made you a kingdom of priests. I have made you a holy nation. I have set you apart. I have made you a peculiar called and particular people, and what makes you called and particular and special is that you have no human king. God is your king. Your king is Yahweh, the Lord who rules over you. But the people wanted a king, and read Samuel, and you’ll see how God relented. He first warned the people: if you have a king, he’s going to take your taxes, he’s going send you to war, he’s going to co-opt and take over your properties and everything else. It’s not going to be fun having a human king. You’d do better off if God is your king. But God relents, and we know the story: how Samuel the prophet is raised up, and he’s raised up to anoint Saul as the king, and Saul works out terribly. He just doesn’t work, and then David becomes the king.
And then in the Bible, quintessentially, David is virtually always considered as “the christ.” Mainly, the anointed one, the Christos, the one who has been anointed. The one who has the oil of God placed upon him. And when he became king, in fact, indeed he was anointed. And so, the word Christos, or Mashiyach, or Messiah, it means the anointed one: the one who is anointed. And it means very particularly the one who is anointed by God, the one whom God anoints, the God-anointed one. The one consecrated to the service of God. And from the beginning of the kingship in Israel, and of course, it was a very unhappy history. Like the whole of Israel is a terribly unhappy history. You know, the kings are not always faithful. When you read the books of Kings as a matter of fact, most of them follow their own mind, and go after the Ashteroth and the Baalim, and serve the idols, and even bring idols into the temple and so on. And very few of the kings were completely and totally dedicated to God, who did not apostasize from God. And even when they didn’t apostasize from God, they were, still sometimes, pretty unsavory people.
Take Solomon for example. He began wise, the most wise man. He’s connected with wisdom, but he ended up, oh man, what he ended up! Read it for yourself. And then read the subsequent history of the kings. Jeroboam, Reheboam, the division of the kingships, Israel, Judah, and on and so on, and then only people like Josiah, Hezekiah, very few are really only totally faithful to God. So, the kingship was kind of a disaster, but still, it was in the Hebrew mind, and certainly in the Bible, that the king was to be the anointed of God, and the king was to be prophetic. The king was to be royal. The king was to be pastoral. He was to be a shepherd. He was to care for the people and bring the power of God, and the truth of God, and the wisdom of God to the people and that he was to destroy the enemies. That was one of the greatest duties of the king: to destroy all the enemies of the people, and it was alleged in the Scripture that the enemies of God’s people were the enemies of God. Or you might put it the other way around. The enemies of God were, in fact, the enemies of God’s people. But very often, the people gave themselves over into the hands of the enemies, and they trusted themselves, and they wanted to be like everybody else. And so they apostasized, and you know, the whole story of the Bible practically is the story of that apostasy, and the ultimate apostasy comes in fact, when Jesus comes and he, himself, is crucified.
But what we want to see now, in this whole story, is that in the Scriptures, and especially in the Psalms, where you have the expression “the anointed one”, the christ. If you’re reading the Psalms in Greek, it simply says Christos. It simply says “christ.” And there are many of the Psalms, how many of the Psalms actually refer to God’s anointed, protecting his anointed, sending his anointed, you know, it’s there. For example, already in the second Psalm, you have the people who rise up against the Lord, and against his christ, against his anointed, and you have in the Psalms that the Lord protects his anointed. He saves his anointed. He gives his saving strength to his anointed. He looks upon the face of his anointed, but then we also see in the Scripture that not only ordaining a lamp for his anointed and strengthening his anointed and protecting, he also is angry with his anointed when his anointed betrays the unction.
And sometimes in the Scripture, you have amazing things where even in the Prophets, those who are called upon to destroy Israel, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and so on, they are even referred to as God’s anointed, the ones set apart by God in order to do the will of God. So there is the Lord’s anointed, and what we see in Scripture also, is that this anointing and in that oil of unction, that it was connected to the Holy Spirit, to the Spirit of God, to the power of God. And in fact, there came to be to the connection of the unction of God with the Holy Spirit himself that God pours his Spirit upon his prophets. He pours his Spirit upon his priests, and it’s interesting that you have that kind of verbal form of pouring, pouring, pouring out, lavishing upon, you know. It’s a rich vivid image “pouring out my Spirit”, and sometimes even the Spirit is spoken about in portions, like with Elijah and Elisha, how much of the Spirit do you get? How powerful is it? How unctuous is it? But you have that connection of the Spirit of the Lord being upon me.
God will put my Spirit upon him, and the one that God chooses, his anointed one is the one upon whom and in whom his Spirit dwell, and through whom his Spirit acts. And then of course, if the Spirit is there, then the Word is there. As St. John of Damascus said, in the Bible you never have God’s Spirit without God’s word, and you never have God’s Word without God’s Spirit, and you never God without His Word and Spirit. This is the prefiguration in the Old Covenant of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. You have the one true and living God, the Spirit of God, and the Word of God: the Davar Yahweh and the Ruach Yahweh. And then of course, in the final New Covenant, the Word becomes flesh as Jesus who as we’ll see right now is proclaimed immediately as the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah, and is so because the Spirit of God is upon him because he has been anointed by the very Spirit of God who ascends and dwells upon him.
So, you have in the New Testament, God the father, the Son of God, the Word Incarnate, and the Holy Spirit who are the three divine hypostases of the God-head, the one true and living God who is the Father of Jesus Christ, and the Son, and the Spirit with the Son being the anointed one. And here also we have the mention, later on we will speak specifically about the expression “ho hios tou theo”, the son of God, and we will even speak about the biblical expression, very important, the expression that Jesus always uses for himself on the pages of Scripture. In fact, I believe there’s only one time in the entire four gospels that this expression is used by someone else for Jesus, and that is the expression “Son of Man”. So you have Son of God and Son of Man. And what will ultimately happen is that Son of God and Son of man will become synonymous with the term, Messiah or anointed one. But already in the Old Covenant, the kings who were anointed of God, christs of God, were also called sons of God. The term son of God was used for the kings. They were God’s sons. Why sons? Why the metaphor in that case, of sonship? Why is it used? It’s used because the son has everything that the father has, especially if you’re a firstborn son, especially if you’re an only son, a unique son, only begotten, firstborn.
And here, in the Holy Scripture, David, the anointed, the quintessential paradigmatic christ of the Old Covenant, the anointed one of the Old Covenant, he’s also called God’s son. “This day I have begotten you”, you know, and he was called firstborn. Why firstborn? Because the firstborn—and we will later on meditate specifically on the expression firstborn, prototokos, for Jesus, we’ll also meditate on the expression “Son of God” and “only begotten Son of God” for Jesus which then will be connected with the titles of heir, the one who inherits. But firstborn gets everything of the father. He has what the father has. He is the very presence of the father to others. He is the one who inherits all things of the father and to whom all things belong. So already in the old covenant, you have all this spoken about relative to the kings of Israel and certainly to David. And then in the Old Covenant, you have what became certainly central in the New Testament, and as what would happen when God’s final act would be enacted, would be that one of the sons of David would sit upon the throne, and of his kingdom there would be no end. He would be the anointed one, the Messiah, who is the everlasting king, who is the Son of God, who is the very presence of God on earth, who reigns in God’s kingdom, who reigns over the whole of God’s creation. This was all connected in Scripture with David. That’s why you have the expression son of David, which we will also meditate on, perhaps more specifically at some point, the son of David being applied to Jesus, that they call out to him.
In our church just recently, we had a couple of gospel readings on Sundays right in a row. We had the blind man in Jericho who calls out to Jesus “Son of David, have mercy on me.” We have the Canaanite woman who says “Son of David, have mercy on me.” And we will talk about mercy too as these days go by, what that mercy means, the elios of God. But what we see now is that there is this option, this anointing by God, by God himself, by his Spirit, setting apart, consecrating, and that is connected to prophecy, to kingship, also to the priesthood, and that is all prefigured in the Old Covenant, on the pages on the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms and connected, centrally and primarily with the figure of David, with the figure of David, the person of David.
Now, I think that it is beyond a doubt, but that’s my own opinion, all of this of course is my opinion, you have to decide whether it’s right or wrong, that’s why you’re listening to this podcast. But my opinion is, is that scholarship has shown, and I personally have to say here that I love more than any other technical, critical writer of our time, a man by the name of Martin Hengel. H-E-N-G-E-L. Martin Hengel. If you could read his books and get his books, you will not be displeased. They’re very difficult books, incredibly hard to read. He’s an incredible scholar, but he gets into all of that intertestamental period and all of those documents in the Old Testament with all of these terms, and basically he’s studying Christ in the Scripture, Jesus. And he has long essays like on the Christ and the Son of Man, and the Son of God, and essays on the Christology of the New Testament and so on, and he said a wonderful thing actually.
He said that within 50 to 60 years after Jesus was crucified, you have the entire, what scholars would call Christology already given to us in the pages of the New Testament. He said everything is there. It’s all there. It’s there in ?? (19:10). It’s there in its basic narrative form, but he said that by the time you get to the end of the first century, for sure, the rest of Christian history and the teachings about Jesus is nothing other than an interpretation and explanation of everything that’s given in the New Testament, and there really is nothing new at all, absolutely nothing new at all, and it’s all there. In fact, he called the couple thousand years after the end of the first testament simply a footnote, it’s a footnote.
All the ecumenical councils and all the essences and energies and persons and natures that were developed through the centuries, all of this is an explication in some metaphysical or Hellenistic form or whatever of what is already there in the New Testament. That is why we are taking this time and making this effort to try to meditate on the names and titles of Jesus in the Bible because everything is there. And you can’t really fully understand any of them. You can’t understand the word even Jesus without understanding the word Christ, without understanding son of David, without understanding Son of God, without understanding Son of Man, without understanding the king, the prophet, the priest, and so on, and that’s why we’re doing here what we are doing. But for today, what we want to specifically see and think of, is this term Messiah.
The term “Christ”. And what the scholarship shows us, and I think what this magnificent writer like this man Martin Hengel, shows is that there was not at all a consistent and clear teaching at the time of Jesus about what the messiah was, who the messiah would be, and how the messiah would act and what the messiah would do. There was, so to speak, dogmatic view in Judaism of quote “the messiah.” There wasn’t. And we should not oversimplify and think that there was or even worse, for saying that, but I think it’s true, that or even worse, claiming that the Jews had the or an idea clear of the messiah and they were wrong, and Jesus came and showed them that their idea about the Messiah was wrong. There wasn’t any one idea. Zealots had one idea and one hope. Pharisees had one idea and hope. Sadduccees had another, certainly Essenes had another. It was very confused, and here we could make a general statement that is true about virtually every name and title of Jesus in the Holy Scripture. That is true about the title Messiah. That is true about the title Son of God, Son of Man. It’s true about the Lord, kurios, which we’ll have to talk about too. You might even daresay that it’s true about the word Theos, about the word, God.
There are many ideas and many interpretations about what those words meant, and there was not agreement. There was not agreement. And what we, I believe, have to see, and this I really believe is the ancient Orthodox position, is that the first Christians, the apostles and those with them who witnessed the risen Christ, including those who spent at least three years practically every day with him when he was on the earth. I think there’s two things that have to be said about those people. Number one is that they were themselves confused about all these things. Half the time, they themselves didn’t know what they were talking about when Jesus was still alive. And this is witnessed to in the pages of the Scripture where it says only then after he was risen and glorified, and after, very important, they themselves were anointed and became christs with a little “c” by the Holy Spirit, when they became as our church fathers would say, for example, Gregory the Theologian whom we celebrated last Sunday, he would say in the one Christ we all become christs in Him. In the one Son of God, we all become sons of God including Greek women, slaves. In the Christ, the Son of God, we all become priests. We all become prophets. We all become pastors one to another.
This is the Christian conviction, but what we have to see is that what those terms meant certainly in Jesus’ lifetime were various, were different, were confused and even that was true about his various disciples. Probably we can dare to say that’s what even what led Judas to betray him because Judas had one idea about the messiah, and Jesus didn’t fit into it ultimately. Or some people believe and think more how can you say, cleverly and nuancedly that maybe Judas betrayed him so that he would come out and fight and then show indeed that he was the messiah in the way that Judas expected him to be. There’s all kinds of theories, but that’s the point. There are all kinds of theories. So, what we really want to see, very important, certainly in the first instances, this confusion existed, definitely. And we could almost see it being worked out in a meeting of the minds coming among the Christians who ultimately ended up agreeing with each other, some of whom we call the Orthodox Christians. Those were the ones who wrote and accepted the 27 books of the New Testament because there were plenty of people who called themselves Christians who did not and had a completely different view of God and Jesus and the Christ and the truth of things. They just didn’t agree with this. But what we see is that this was being worked out.
But what we also have to see, and I think this is extremely important, and certainly our Church history demonstrates this without any doubt, and I believe that the scholarly writings of people like Martin Hengel prove, is that by the time you get to the end of the first century, not only were certain names and titles given to Jesus in order to understand who he is and what he did, and what he does and where he is, namely at the right hand of the Father in glory, risen from the dead, but would also show what those various terms meant in themselves and in relation to all the other terms. In other words, what I’m trying to say here is, that the confusion of what these various names and titles meant, what these words in the Scripture meant, what the prefigurations of the Old Testament meant, how they were to be fulfilled, that that confusion was ultimately overcome. And it was overcome when Christians, and here we would say the ancient Orthodox Christians who wrote and believed and propagated the Gospel as it is testified to in the 27 books of the New Testament, they actually came to their own understanding of what these words meant. In other words, an Orthodox Christian interpretation of these words was formulated.
In other words, if you had asked the Orthodox Christians of the earliest church and we Orthodox would say all of the subsequent Orthodox Christian saints and martyrs through history, what do these words mean? They would give you the same answer. They would give you essentially the same answer because a meaning was worked out and given to them, and it is that meaning that is testified to on the pages of the New Testament and then explained, interpreted, unpacked, developed in the Christology of the Church, which simply means the teachings of the Church about Jesus and Christ, the Christ, through history, which again in this very felicitous expression of this Mr. Professor Hengel, is just a footnote to everything you find in the New Testament. You know, it’s already completely elaborated by the end of the first century. Then it is further debated, then it is further explained, and it is further even codified and defined. We Orthodox believe it’s done by the ecumenical councils by the Church fathers through history.
So, what do we say about the term “ho Christos”? The Christ, which in Hebrew is Messiah which literally is the anointed one or an anointed one. Well, what we would have to see, what we want to say, is that in the earliest Christian writings, that we have, and we might even go to what we consider by study to be the first, the very earliest, which would be St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, Jesus is already called Lord and Christ. If you take the very first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, it begins Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord (kurios) Jesus (Iesous) Christ (Christos). And then he continues, we give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. So that formula, Lord, Jesus, Christ. Jesus is Christ the Lord. Iesous Christos Kurios. That’s the foundational Christian creed. But before we get to kurios, Lord, let’s talk about Christos, Christ.
Now, if we take the four Gospels, we see that the expression Jesus Christ is in the four Gospels right from the beginning. If you take what is considered the most primitive Gospel, Mark, the actual words are “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Some ancient manuscripts add “the Son of God.” Most do. Some omit it, but in any case, it would be the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is written in Isaiah the prophet and then he gets into John the Baptist, and John’s baptism of Jesus where John is saying, of course, that Jesus is greater than he and so on. But in the very first sentence of Mark, you have the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ or Jesus Christ the Son of God. Matthew begins with “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” and then launches right into the genealogy. And then when it finishes the genealogy, it says “now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” So you already have him being called Jesus Christ. Now again, some ancient authorities say not Jesus Christ, but the birth of the Christ, “ho Christos”, the Christ took place in this way when his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph and then the story continues. So you have the expression Jesus Christ in the gospels from the very first sentence of Mark and Matthew.
In Luke, in the gospel according to St. Luke, it’s very interesting that you do not have the term Christ right in the very, very beginning. It is not in the opening introduction to the gospel. Luke’s gospel simply begins, inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished as they were delivered from the beginning by eyewitnesses and ministers that you might know the truth, it begins with John the Baptist. There is no mention of Christ in the entire first chapter. Even in the annunciation, the expression Christ is not used. When Gabriel comes to Mary in Luke’s first chapter, you have the angel saying that Mary should name her son Jesus, then you have him connected with the house of David. You have him being called the son of the Most High. You have the teaching that his kingdom will have no end, and you have the clear teaching that you will be conceived of the Holy Spirit because he is God’s own son. And then Mary hears all this, she sings her Magnificat, John the Baptist is born, and his father Zechariah sings his song the Benedictus. And then in the second chapter, you have the decree going out from Caesar Augustus and then you have the story of the birth of Jesus.
But even in that story, you do not have the term Christ used at all in the infancy narrative as such—at the birth narrative I should say, but it appears for the first time in Luke’s gospel in the second chapter when the baby Jesus is brought to the temple, on the fortieth day according to the Law of Moses to be presented to the Lord, fulfilling the commandment that every male child who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord. And then it says that there was a man there named Simeon, devout, aged, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit, looking for the consolation of Israel, the Holy Spirit was upon him and told him that he would not die—and then you have for the first time the word Christ being used—before he had seen the Lord’s “Christ”. So then there you have it. That in Luke that this Jesus was brought to the temple is the Lord’s Christ.
Now, John’s gospel, it’s quite different as we all know. John is the theological gospel. It begins as it were in heaven, it begins within the Trinity itself. In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God, he was in the beginning with God. So you have the prologue of the Gospel of St. John and at the very end, in the very sentence in the 17th, 18th verses of the prologue of Gospel of St. John, you have the expression “Jesus Christ” being used. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth, actually literally in Greek it would be the grace (he charis) and the truth (he aletheia), there’s definite articles, the grace and the truth, came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, the only son, or the only begotten son, some texts even say the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father. He has made him known. And then St. John’s gospel continues in the first chapter with John the Baptist just like the other four gospels, and the very first thing that John has to do, like he does in St. Luke’s gospel, is to say that he’s not the Christ. They ask him: are you the Christ? And he says no. Are you the prophet? And he says no. Because the prophet was a messianic title. It was a title for the Christ. The Christ is not a prophet, he’s the prophet, the last and final prophet, and we’ll speak about that in the future sometime, the title of Jesus as the prophet.
But John says he’s not the Christ; he’s not the prophet. He’s the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and so then you have the expression that Jesus is the Christ. So at the end of the very first chapter of St. John’s gospel, you have this said explicitly by Andrew, the first called of these apostles, who when he goes to call his brother Simon Peter—Andrew and Peter are brothers—Jesus, who is called the Lamb of God, the Son of God, and so on, finally Andrew says to his brother Simon Peter quote “we have found the Messiah”, and then St. John’s gospel even finds it necessary to put in parenthesis “which translated means Christ or which means Christ,” and he brought Simon to Jesus. So you have it very clearly. We have found the Messiah, which means Christ, and we brought him to Jesus.
Some folks ask the question, why would John have to say which means Christ. Wouldn’t the people have known? Well, perhaps not if they were Greeks. They may not have known what Messiah meant, so he had to tell them that it means Christos, and then when they heard that word, they would certainly know that that means the anointed one. It is very interesting that before you get to the end of that first chapter of St. John’s gospel, you have Jesus not only being called the Christ, not only being called the Son of God, but it actually ends with the expression Son of Man. So you have Son of God, Son of Man, Christ, Lord. I mean, all these things already in the very first chapters of all the four gospels.
Now, first of all, the term Christ was a title, and it had a definite article. It was the Christ. You see, Iesous was “ho Christos”. You are the Christ, and that’s very important because Jesus Christ will come to be a name in the kind of connection as a whole for Jesus. Jesus Christ. In other words, you won’t say the word Jesus alone. You’ll say Jesus Christ. Or as we will see, very quickly, very early in the writings of St. Paul, some of the earliest ones written even before the four gospels, you have the expression being used “Christ Jesus”, not just Jesus Christ, but Christ Jesus.
Now here, I want to also make a little comment. When you read the English translations of the scriptures, and here I would say particularly the King James Version, the authorized version, very, very often, it is not translated into English literally from the Greek. Very often, sometimes they’ll put Christ in there when Christ is not in the Greek, when it just says Jesus, they’ll say Jesus Christ. Sometimes it’s the other way around, sometimes there’s no Christ in Greek, sometimes there is. Sometimes where it says in the original, Christ Jesus, the English translation will say not Christ Jesus, but Jesus Christ. So, I would say if you’re really being careful about the Bible and about the New Testament, get yourself an interlinear, even if you can’t read Greek. Just learn the alphabet. Just learn what the letters are even if you don’t know any grammar or you don’t have any vocabulary, but learn how to read the Greek letters, and get an interlinear. And when you’re reading a text, go look at the interlinear and see what’s actually there.
Many times, you will be surprised that words are in the Greek that have not been translated into English, and very often words are stuck in English that are not in the Greek. And sometimes, I have a feeling it’s because the translators wanted to quote, unquote “improve upon” the Scripture. One point that comes really to my mind as I remember once where St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, glorify God in your bodies. That’s all it says in Greek. Glorify God in your bodies, and in the King James, they wrote “and souls.” Probably because they didn’t want people to think we’re materialistic or not to neglect our immortal soul or something. So a lot of betrays theological opinion and doctrine. And even sometimes the words that are used to translate like parthenos, should it be translated virgin or young woman? And how should son of man be translated? Well, I think it should simply be translated “son of man”. We’ll talk about that. Not just human being or something because that’s not what it means, but here it is worth making and taking the time to make a note about translation.
Now, in regard to the term Christ, we have to see that Christ is very often used with a definite article. Jesus the Christ. And that’s the way that it’s used in the confessions about Jesus that you find in all four gospels. Certainly, the very first confession of Peter that you find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where Jesus has done all these different actions, all the signs, and here we could actually say that the Christians saw that all the signs that Jesus did, their interpretation was that these were all the signs that the Messiah would do when he would appear, when the ultimate, last, final, anointed one of God would appear. The king of whose kingdom there would be no end, would also be the great High Priest, not according to Levi, but according to Melchizedek. We’ll speak about that later. Who would also be the one good shepherd, the one final shepherd king, who would also be the final prophet. When he would appear, what would happen?
Well, according to the gospels, what happens is what happened. What happened was the kingdom of God was announced, the grace of God had appeared. Jesus appeared bringing the kingdom, and he showed he was bringing the kingdom because the Holy Spirit rested upon him and in him, that’s even the reason why he is baptized so that the Holy Spirit could descend and rest upon him humanly, and there could be no doubt that he is the anointed one. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism is proof that he’s the Messiah is the epiphany that he is the Christ. He is the Messiah, and then he does all those acts by the power of God. He casts out demons, he makes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the dumb to talk. He heals all manner of diseases, epilepsy, paralysis, possession, madness. He walks on water. He feeds the multitudes in the wilderness. He calms the winds. He does all the things, and ultimately he raises the dead.
So when he asks “who do you say that I am”, well in Mark, again, which is the simplest gospel, the most primitive gospel, the answer that Peter makes also in Mark itself is very simple. Peter says “You are the Christ.” “Su ei ho Christos.” You are the Christ. And it then it says Jesus charged him not to tell anybody. And then he began to teach that the son of man, he uses that expression, must suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests, elders, scribes, and be killed. But the confession is: you are the Christ. In Luke, it’s exactly the same words. You are the Christ. In Matthew, it is “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” So you have the expression “son of God” explicitly stated in Peter’s confession in Matthew, the 16th chapter. You are the Christ, the son of the living God.
Now here’s also an interesting scriptural note. That in St. John’s gospel, you do not have a confession of Peter as such. But you do have Peter saying when Jesus feeds the 5000, and everybody is scandalized, and they’re going to go away, you have Peter saying to Jesus in John when Jesus asks Peter, are you going to go away too, he says Lord (kurios), to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God. And it is very interesting that in the King James Version, they stick in there “that you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” They use exactly the words of Peter from Matthew, but they’re not found in John. They’re stuck in John by the modern English translators.
But in any case, the Holy Name of God is also synonymous for the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lord, the Messiah, and all of these things that we’re talking about. So, you have “Su ei ho Christos”: you are the Christ. You are the Christ of God. You are the Christ, the son of the living God, the anointed, the spirit-filled, the son of David, and so on. So this is what we find in the Scripture. Now, immediately, you almost can say, already, very soon that the definite article “the” is dropped. It is not Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, it is simply Jesus Christ. Iesous Christos. Or Christ Jesus: Christos Ieosus. Or Jesus “holigomanos Christos”, the one who is called Christ. So, you have this kind of conflation into sort of one formula: Jesus Christ. No longer Jesus the Christ, but Jesus Christ. And here again I would recommend to you if you’re a very serious reader of Scripture, get yourself an interlinear not only to notice how things are translated, but also to notice when the definite article the is used, the Christ, and when there is no definite article, when it simply is Jesus Christ. And there are real differences and different usages by different authors.
For example, in Ephesians, you almost find consistently the expression used: Christ Jesus. Not Jesus Christ, but Christ Jesus. So Jesus Christ very early and even very publicly was the appellation for our Lord, for Jesus. He wasn’t just Jesus; he was Jesus Christ. And the disciples are first called Christians. They’re not called Jesus-ites, Yeshuites, they’re called Christiane, they’re called Christians, Messiah-ites. And what characterizes them is their conviction that Jesus is the Christ. He is the Messiah foretold in the Scriptures, and here you have it, and, the first Christians who identify Jesus as the Christ and called him Jesus Christ and Christ Jesus, they had a very particular understanding of what that meant, of what that meant. There is the Christian Orthodox, ancient Orthodox Christian interpretation of what it means that Jesus is the Christ.
And here we have to say very simply what it means is that he, as the Christ, and as the Son of Man, and as the Lord, and as the Son of God, but now we’re looking at the Christ: that in fact he is the anointed of God, unique, definite article “ho Christos”, the Christ, not a christ, but the Christ, who brings the kingship of God to the world, and who does the work of God in the world, who is God in the world, and we’ll see that the Christ is theos, he is God and kurios, Lord, we’ll get to that, but that is what the New Testament, particularly the gospels are showing when they depict and narrate the signs and the words of Jesus. What he says and what he does, and we already just now enumerated those things. He proclaimed the gospel to the poor. He brought the good news of the kingdom of heaven. He did all the signs: that’s what St. John’s gospel calls them, signs that the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord, would do and God would be ultimately revealed. And that he really is the very presence and power of God in his own human person, his own person as a human being, we should say more accurately, on the planet Earth.
But there’s one more thing that’s really unique, that is absolutely essential and really unique to ancient Orthodox Christianity. It’s not unique even to the Gnostics to the Docetists, to the Jews, to the later Muslims, and that is that the Christ has to be crucified. Put in scriptural terms, it is that the Christ is not only the son of David, he’s not only the seat of Abraham, he’s not only the messianic king and high priest and prophet and teacher and whatever, but he is the suffering servant. He’s the “ebed yawheh”, the slave of Yahweh, the child of Yahweh, he is the one who is put to death. He is the one who bears the sins of the world. He is the who is humiliated, degraded, rejected, spit upon, beaten, mocked, and that proves that he’s the Christ, and the Apostle Paul would even claim that is the ultimate proof that Jesus is the Christ: his suffering.
In fact, St. Paul would say that’s even the ultimate proof that he is Jesus’ apostle, by what he suffers, and marteria, suffering, confession and suffering that Jesus is the Christ, crucified, preaching Christ crucified. We preach the crucified Messiah, the crucified Christ, not anything else. And so, for Christians, for Orthodox Christians, for Orthodox messianic people, their messiah, their Christos, their Christ is the one who is put to death in the vile, degrading, shameful death, and thereby, enters into the glory of his kingdom and brings and establishes and rules over the kingdom of God. He sits enthroned, and St. Paul will say that he is revealed to the world as Christ and Lord. He is manifested, declared Christ and Lord by what he suffers. So he is put to death. He is raised. He is glorified. He sits at the right hand of the Father.
We will meditate on what that means to be seated at the right hand, which you find in all early Christian confessions, including all the creeds. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, in glory, seated on the very same throne as the Father, as the messianic king, but the Christian Orthodox conviction to this day is that all that happens because he is crucified. So the unique thing about Orthodox Christianity is we preach Christ crucified. We preach a crucified Messiah. We preach the crucified God, a crucified Lord. That’s our faith, and that is the great surprise. That we might even say is the great messianic secret of the Holy Scripture, when Jesus says don’t tell anybody until the Son of man is raised and glorified.
And of course, it was totally scandalous to some people that the messiah would be crucified. According to St. Paul it’s a scandal to the Jews. It’s certainly a scandal to Muslims. But it’s just folly to Greeks. It is folly to Greeks who had also the expression Lord and son of God and king and all those kind of terms. They had them. They’re universal human terms, but that that person would be crucified? He would be weak, meek, poor, rejected, vilified, made of folly and of slander and a spectacle to God and man by being hanged on a cross with criminals? That’s the messiah? Well, yeah, it is.
That’s the Christian view, and until he comes again in glory, we worship God through his broken body and his shed blood. And we put the Sign of the Cross upon ourselves, and we are baptized into his death. But being baptized into his death, we are anointed with the same Holy Spirit with which he is anointed. As the holy fathers said, the son of God is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit from all eternity within the godhead. And when he becomes man, the Holy Spirit descends upon him and dwells in him, and he does all his acts and speaks all his words by the power of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because he is the Christ.
He is the anointed of God, and we become christs, and we become anointeds of God, and sons of God, and gods also, even gods by grace in and with him, providing that we are crucified with him, providing that we suffer with him, providing that we die with him because there’s no other way to reign with him, and there’s no other way, according to ancient Orthodox Christianity to be messiah. This is what messiah means. And so, there could be big debate at the time of Jesus, what it meant to be messiah, what it meant to be Christ, what it meant to be the anointed one, but for Orthodox Christians, there’s no debate afterwards. There’s no debate now! And there was no debate already on the pages of the New Testament.
To be Messiah, son of God, Lord, heavenly son of man, new Adam, savior of the universe, Yeshua, Jesus, if you really were Christos, then you were also crucified. You also suffered. And that is—well one of my students once called it the bad news of the good news. That expression stuck with me: the bad news of the good news. But it ain’t bad news. It’s good news. It’s good news. Because how do we reign? How do we offer the perfect sacrifice to God? How are we reconciled to God? How are we sanctified, how are we deified, how do we become real human beings? How do we become Christians? How do we become gods by grace? How do we become christs, anointed with the same spirit that anointed Jesus himself which was in and of the second person of the Holy Trinity from all eternity? How does that all happen? Well it happens when we believe in him, suffer with him, take up our crosses with him, die with him, and then are glorified and enthroned with him.
So our understanding of “ho Christos” the Christ, the reason that we call Jesus, Jesus Christ, the reason why we call him Christ Jesus, is because the Yeshua, the savior, who is also the anointed, is the crucified and glorified. And that is the mind-blowing teaching of ancient Christianity. That was something that the Apostle Paul found in the Law of the Psalms and the Prophets that was not seen. And certainly it appears to be true that practically no one, Jew or Gentile, at the time of Jesus, would have ever thought that. They had their versions of the Messiah, but it certainly wasn’t as the one who was crucified in order to enter his glory. It certainly wasn’t as the one who chose his power, and affects his victory as the victor and the savior by being put to death. But that is the Christian faith, and that is why we confess not only is Jesus the Christ and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but this is what we understand it to mean, and this is what we preach, and this is what we glory in, and this is what we live by, and hopefully this is what we’re even ready to die for because that is our confession. “Who do you say that I am”, we are asked every day of our life, and we have to respond with the apostles and the martyrs: you are the Christ, the son of the living God. What does that mean? That you are Christ crucified, raised, and glorified. That is our understanding of why Jesus is called the Christ and why we call him Christ Jesus.