Far from being Jesus’ last name, “Christ” is a title that carries immense meaning. Today, Barry Cooper tells of the glory that Jesus bears as the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King.
In the Middle East two thousand years ago, people didn’t have last names. Which meant, of course, that they needed a way to distinguish between people who shared the same name.
One way to solve the problem was by using the name of your hometown—hence, “Jesus of Nazareth”—or you might be identified by the name of your father. So, people might have referred to me as “Barry, son of Graham.” Although to be fair, according to most scholars, there don’t seem to have been many Barrys wandering around first-century Judea. So you could probably just go with “Barry.”
Others were known by their profession—Paul refers to “Alexander the coppersmith.” Or you might be known by a distinctive nickname: “Simon the Zealot,” for example.
This potential name confusion explains why, at one point in the Gospels, there’s a reference to “Judas, not Iscariot,” because after all, who wants to be mixed up with that guy?
Other people were identified by adding titles that were specific to them. Given that there was no shortage at that time of men with the name Jesus, the subject of the Gospels is often identified by His given title: He is Jesus Christ.
And what a title that is. In the original New Testament Greek, it’s christos, which is a translation of the Hebrew word mashiach, from which we get our word Messiah. It’s a word that means “Anointed One.”
So, when we say “Jesus Christ,” what we’re actually saying is “Jesus the Messiah,” or “Jesus the Anointed One” (“anointed” meaning “chosen”).
Christ is the most commonly used of Jesus’ titles—it appears 531 times in the New Testament. But Jesus was not the first one to be called “christ.” In the Old Testament, anyone whom God had anointed for a particular purpose could be called a (small-c) “christ” or “messiah.” Prophets, priests, and kings in the Old Testament were all said to be “anointed” or chosen by God for these roles—they were “christs” or “messiahs.”
Interestingly, even the pagan king Cyrus of Persia is described as a messiah—a christ—in Isaiah chapter 45, because Cyrus was anointed by God to conquer Babylon and set free the Jewish exiles in 536 BC.
But there would one day be an infinitely greater liberation, enacted by an infinitely greater Christ. All these prophets, priests, and kings—these christs—were signposts pointing towards the ultimate Christ.
And because He is the Christ, Jesus is in Himself the ultimate prophet, priest, and King.
As the ultimate Prophet, He speaks with an authority no other prophet can claim—not merely on behalf of God but as the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity Himself.
As the ultimate Priest, He fully and forever makes purification for our sin—not by offering stopgap sacrifices but by actually being the perfect, final sacrifice.
As the ultimate King, He conquers the ultimate enemies of God’s people—not just our earthly oppressors but sin, Satan, and even death itself.
All those glories are bound up in Jesus’ title Christ.