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Christology 101 (Part 2): The Theological Significance of Jesus' Messianic Title

The main character in the Scriptures, as well as all human history, is Jesus Christ.

Since people today typically have a first and last name, we might assume that Jesus is his first name and Christ is his last name.

However, until about the 10th century AD, people typically had one given name.

If they had a surname (last name), it was connected to their father or city of residence.

For example, in the New Testament, we read of:

  • Simon son of Jonah,
  • Saul of Tarsus, and
  • Jesus of Nazareth.

This is to say, Christ is not Jesus' last name.

In John 1:41, Andrew tells Simon, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ)." In saying, the Messiah, Andrew identifies the term Christ not as a personal name, but as Jesus' Messianic title.

The term Christ is transliterated from the Greek word Christos, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew word, Messiah (Māšîaḥ, מָשִׁיחַ) which means "anointed one.”

To be "anointed" is to be chosen by God and consecrated (set apart) for a special purpose. For example, Kings and priests were ceremonially anointed to serve in their specific roles.

The special purpose for Jesus was announced by the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, who declared the name of Mary’s child should be Jesus because his mission was to "save his people from their sins."

By the first century, many Jews were expecting a powerful Messiah-King to deliver them from Roman oppression.

This is one of the major reasons the crowds turned from seeking to crown Jesus to wanting him crucified.

In John 6:14-15, after Jesus feeds the five thousand, the people recognize him as "the Prophet who is to come into the world," referring to a Messianic figure.

Their response is to try to take him by force and make him king, revealing their expectation of a political liberator.

Jesus responds to them by withdrawing to a mountain by himself, indicating that he did not come to fulfill their political expectations.

While Jesus had demonstrated divine qualities in his ability to heal and speak with the wisdom and authority of God, he would be an altogether different brand of Messiah—one who achieves victory through suffering.

Rather than save his people from political oppression, the Father sent Jesus to rescue us from something far worse–our own moral and spiritual condemnation.

1 John 4:10 states the gravity of Jesus' sacrificial mission, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

Some Bible translations use the phrase "sacrifice of atonement" instead of the word propitiation. Maybe that is because of the antiquated nature of the word or perhaps a theological bias.

Regardless, sacrifice of atonement accurately describes the central act of Jesus’ ministry as propitiation.

Propitiation is a term used to describe how Jesus satisfied the law’s demand for justice for the treason of sin.

By taking upon himself the punishment the law demanded, Jesus absorbed justice. He drank the cup to the dregs.

In fulfilling justice, he made it possible for God to be both just and the justifier of those who receive Jesus as the Christ by faith alone (Romans 3:25-26). The result of propitiation is that believers’ sins are not only forgiven. We are reconciled to God as beloved children of the Father.

Simply put, by turning Messianic expectations upside down, Jesus received the justice of God so that we may receive the mercy of God.

This is how Jesus fulfills the prophetic expectation of the Messiah as the one set apart, chosen, and consecrated to save his people from their treasonous sins.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the term Christ mean, and how does it relate to the Hebrew word Messiah? How does understanding this terminology enhance our understanding of Jesus’ role and mission?
  2. Discuss the significance of the term “anointed one” in relation to Jesus. What does it mean to be chosen and set apart by God, and how does this relate to Jesus’ mission?
  3. How did the first-century Jewish expectations of a Messiah differ from the actual role and mission of Jesus? In what ways did this contribute to the crowd’s reaction to Jesus, from wanting to crown him to wanting him crucified?
  4. Explore the concept of Jesus as the “propitiation for our sins” or the “sacrifice of atonement.” What does this mean, and how does it reflect the central act of Jesus’ ministry?
  5. Reflect on the statement, “Jesus receives the justice of God so that we may receive the mercy of God.” How does this encapsulate the gospel message, and what implications does it have for how we live our lives and understand our relationship with God?

If you teach Sunday School, a Bible study for adult or youth small groups, teach your kids as a homeschool parent, lead family devotions, are a missionary, serve as a camp counselor, etc., the principles in the PPGR Preaching System will give you a template that will help you create lessons that are biblically grounded, tethered to the cross of the risen Jesus, and applicable to real life.

Get more information about the PPGR Preaching System.