The Titles of Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth was given more titles than any other person in history. A brief sampling would include the following:
- Son of Man
- Son of David
- Great High Priest
- Son of God
- Alpha & Omega
- Rose of Sharon
- Lily of the Valley
- Lion of Judah
- Lamb of God
- Second Adam
The chief titles given to Jesus are:
- Christ. The title Christ is so often given to Jesus that people often mistake it for his last name. It is, however, not a name, but a title that refers to his position and work as Messiah. The term Christ comes from the Greek Christos, which is used to translate the Hebrew word for Messiah. Both Christ and Messiah mean “Anointed One.”
In the Old Testament the concept of the promised Messiah, who would be uniquely anointed by the Holy Spirit, was a many-sided and complex idea. The Jews did not all have the same idea about the Messiah.
One concept of the Messiah was that he would be a king. He would be the anointed Son of David, the Lion of Judah, who would restore the fallen kingdom of David. (This aspect greatly excited the Jews and fanned the flames of their hope for a political ruler who would free them from their bondage to Rome.)
But the Messiah was also called to be the Servant of God, indeed the Suffering Servant spoken of in Isaiah’s prophecy. These two strands seemed virtually impossible to unite in one person, though in Jesus they obviously were.
The Messiah would also be a heavenly being (Son of Man) and would be uniquely related to God the Father (Son of God). He would be both priest and prophet as well. The more we realize how complex the concept of Messiah was, the more amazed we are at the intricate way in which all these strands were woven together in the person and work of Jesus.
- Lord. The second most frequently used title for Jesus in the New Testament is the title Lord. This title is of supreme importance to understanding the New Testament portrait of Jesus. The term lord is used in three distinct ways in the New Testament. The first is as a common form of polite address, similar to the English word sir. The second usage refers to a slave owner or “master.” Here it is applied in a figurative sense to Jesus. He is our master. The third usage is the imperial usage. Here it refers to one who is sovereign.
In the first century, the Roman emperors demanded a loyalty oath from their subjects by which they were required to confess the formula “Caesar is Lord.” Christians were martyred for refusing to comply. Instead, they proclaimed the first Christian creed, “Jesus is Lord.” To call Jesus “Lord” was radical not only from a Roman standpoint but especially from a Jewish standpoint, for it is the title given to God Himself in the Old Testament.
The title Lord was bestowed upon Jesus by God the Father. It is the “name which is above every name” that Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:9.
- Son of Man. This title is one of the more fascinating titles given to Jesus and perhaps the one most frequently misunderstood. Because the church confesses the dual nature of Jesus, that He is truly man and truly God, and because the Bible describes Jesus as Son of Man and Son of God, it is tempting to assume that Son of Man refers to Jesus’ humanity and Son of God refers to His deity. This, however, is not exactly the case. Though the title Son of Man includes an element of humanity, its primary reference is to Jesus’ divine nature. The title Son of God also includes a reference to deity but its primary focus is on Jesus’ obedience as a son.
This title, Son of Man, takes on added importance when we realize that though it ranks third (well down the list) in terms of frequency of usage in the New Testament (behind Christ and Lord), it ranks first (by a wide margin) of Jesus’ use of titles for Himself. Son of Man is far and away Jesus’ favorite designation for Himself.
The importance of this title is drawn from its link to Daniel’s use of it in the Old Testament (see Daniel 7). Here Son of Man clearly refers to a heavenly being who functions in the role of cosmic Judge. On Jesus’ lips the title is not an exercise in false humility, but a bold claim to divine authority. Jesus claimed, for example, that the Son of Man had authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10), a divine perogative, and was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28).
- The Logos. No title for Jesus engendered more intense philosophical and theological interest in the first three centuries than the title Logos. Logos was central to the early church’s development of Christology. The prologue of John’s Gospel is crucial to this Christological understanding of the Logos. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word (Logos) was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God” (John 1:1).
In this remarkable passage the Logos is both distinguished from God (“was with God”) and identified with God (“was God”). This paradox had great influence on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, whereby the Logos is seen as the Second Person of the Trinity. He differs in person from the Father, but is one in essence with the Father.
That Christian philosophies were drawn to the logos concept as a title for Jesus is easy to understand. Though the term logos can be translated simply “word,” it had a history of technical philosophical usage which gave logos a rich meaning. The ancient Greeks were concerned about making sense of the universe and thus embarked on a quest for “ultimate reality” (metaphysics). Their philosophers sought the unifying factor or power that brought order and harmony to the wide diversity of the created realm (cosmology). They searched for a nous (mind) to which (or whom) they could attribute the order of all things. To this unifying ultimate reality the Greeks gave the name logos. It provided the coherence or “logic” of reality. The concept was used by Heraclitus and later by Stoic philosophy, where it was used as a cosmic, abstract law.
Though the term is thus loaded with pre-Christian Greek philosophical baggage, the biblical use of logos goes well beyond the Greek usage. In Genesis 1:3ff. we are told that “God said . . . and there was.” Thus, it is by God’s word that creation came into being. What sets the logos concept apart most significantly from Greek philosophy, however, is that the New Testament “logos” is personal—the Word became a man who lived and died in our world.
- Messiah means “anointed one” and is used as a title for Jesus to signify His role as both King and Suffering Servant. Messiah is the title most frequently used for Jesus.
- Lord is the second most frequently used title for Jesus and refers to His supreme authority as Sovereign of the universe.
- Son of Man is the title Jesus used most often in reference to Himself. This title primarily refers to Jesus’ role as Judge of the whole cosmos.
- The title Logos has a rich heritage in both Hebrew and Greek culture. Jesus is the Logos—the Creator of the universe, the ultimate reality behind the universe, and the One who is constantly sustaining the universe.