Who Is Jesus?
A name can say a lot can't it?
It can communicate who we are, what we have accomplished, or what we hope to achieve.
Some names, such as President, King, Doctor, or Judge, or bestowed on people by others out of respect for hard work or achievements.
Other names are self-selected, such as Twitter handles, Xbox account names, or Fantasy Football "owner" names (mine is "El Conquistador - don't judge).
And yet other names are selected by others based off of what we hope for from a person. Like our birth names. Our parents bestow those names based off of a name they like, naming you after someone they love, or because of the meaning that the name holds (my name, Jeremy, means "blessing of God").
And our names for God say a lot about who we see Him as a deity.
In the first half of the Bible, what we call the Old Testament, there are many names for God and each one of them communicates something about what the followers of God, the Israelites, believed about God. Each name gives us a glimpse into what the writers, or the characters in the story, think about God.
And the first name used at the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis is: El Shaddai.
Which meant, literally, God, the one on the mountaintop. This God was understood to be one who lived very far away. But it also meant a God who, like a mother caring for her child, freely nourished and took care of the needs of His people. So this first name for God in the Bible communicated this belief that God was the Divine Creator who lived far off (on the mountaintop) but who also cared deeply for His people.
The main name for God in the first half of the Bible, however, was the name: Yahweh. This name communicated the power and authority of God - meaning God the omnipotent ruler of everything - and was so respectful that often they would not even fully say the word in order to avoid using the name disrespectfully or profanely. And this name, used 6,519 times in the Old Testament, is how the Israelites viewed God. A God of ultimate power.
And the Israelites also believed that their God, El Shaddai/Yahweh - this God of love and power - would one day send someone to save them from their lowly status.
Because throughout their entire existence, the Israelites were defeated, enslaved, and mistreated by superpower government after superpower government.
They cried out and prayed and waited for a - Savior.
And yet not every Israelite agreed on what this savior, who they referred to as their Messiah, would look like when he came. Within the nation of Israel, they had different social groups. Somewhat like our different political groups in modern times but with much stronger religious connections. And there were four dominant groups at the time when the second half of the Bible, the New Testament begins with the book of Matthew.
Those four groups (as described by N.T. Wright) were:
- Pharisees: Who believed radical obedience to the Law (i.e. rules) would cause the Messiah to come and remove the Gentiles (read: non-Israelites) from power.
- Sadducees: These guys forged an alliance with the Romans to gain status and control of the Temple.
- Zealots: They hoped for a revolutionary Messiah to come as a warrior and defeat the pagans.
- Essenes: These Israelites saw the situation in Jerusalem as corrupted by Romans and faithless Israelites so they retreated to the desert to please God in isolation.
But the Messiah who showed up was nothing like a Messiah that anyone was expecting!
And that’s why so few Israelites at that time ending up following Jesus, because He wasn’t the Messiah they had been hoping for.
What kind of Messiah did Jesus show up as? We are told the answer to this question later on in the Bible in Philippians chapter 2 when the writer says that:
Jesus was crucified. And nowadays we have necklaces and wall hanging and ear rings and bumper stickers with crosses on them, so it is somewhat hard for us to fully grasp this. But being crucified was the worst type of death possible. It was the electric chair of that time. It was a death reserved for the worst of criminals.
And here’s why that is important for us, many men popped up during that time in the Israelite history claiming to be the Messiah who will free the Israelites from bondage. The ineffective ones never developed a following, and the effective ones? The ones who did develop a large gathering of devoted followers? They were killed. They were crucified. The Romans eliminated any credible threats.
The point here is this: only failed Messiahs were crucified.
So not only was Jesus not the dominating, warrior king that everyone was looking for - but he was killed just like every other self-named messiah before Him.
Except, this time, the Messiah didn’t stay dead.
Jesus was the Messiah, the one come to free every human from captivity and enslavement. He just didn’t do it the way any human had planned. But through His death and resurrection, He defeated Satan, death, and sin. Darkness lost.
Jesus came to win the war, the Israelites just failed to see just how big the war was.
And for those of us who claim to be Christians, to follow Jesus, we believe He was the true Messiah. The one that the Israelites had been hoping for and the one all of humanity needed.
And we claim this fact every time we say two words: Jesus Christ.
Did you know this? Christ wasn’t Jesus’ last name.
Christ is actually a different word for Messiah. So Messiah is a word in the Hebrew language, the language of the Israelites, and Christ is the Greek translation of that word.
So when we say Jesus Christ we aren’t saying: first name: Jesus, last name: Christ. We are saying: Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the Messiah. He is God, who came to earth as a man, and is our Messiah - our savior - the healer of all our hurts, pains, and mess-ups.
Quick side note, this is who Jesus claimed to be. We have recounted for us conversations when Jesus claims to be the true Messiah. So when people say they don’t believe that Jesus was God or the Messiah, BUT that he was a good man and a moral teacher - it just doesn’t add up!
C.S. Lewis, who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia books, put it this way: "Jesus was either God, a lunatic, or an evil man." He claimed to be the Messiah - to be God! So Jesus either was God, was crazy, or a compulsive liar who sent many people to their deaths for Him. You can’t say He was just a good man. He either was God and good, or a liar and bad.
One last name of Jesus, you have maybe heard Christians or church-folk say that “Jesus is Lord”.
Lord simply means to be a ruler. And when we say that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we mean that he is our Ruler (our God) and our Messiah. So when you hear someone end a prayer with “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” there is a lot that is being said there! Again, it isn’t just some name - when we end a prayer with that phrase we are saying that we speak these things because of Jesus - our God and ruler and our messiah and savior, who was dead but didn’t stay dead and is alive today!
And it goes deeper because during the time of Jesus there was someone else who claimed to be Lord: the ruler of the Romans - Caesar. And it was required that all members of the Roman empire declare the phrase “Caesar is Lord” as proof of their allegiance to the empire.
And early Christians developed a reputation as being rebels and against the superpower because they wouldn’t say that. They wouldn’t say “Caesar is Lord.” or “This empire is our God.” Why? Because, for them, and for us - there is only one Lord - Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ. A being full of contradictions. He is God and man. He died yet isn't dead. He Lord and Messiah.
But, like the Israelites, what truly matters is what you believe about God.
Do you believe that Jesus is God? If so, what do you believe about Him?
Because your answer to these questions will radically transform your life. It will impact everything you do and don't do.
How you define Jesus will define your life.
So then the question for you is this:
Who is Jesus? Who do you believe that He is?