What Does "Christ" Mean?
by Lois Tverberg
"If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9

It is always fascinating and enriching to bring the Hebraic cultural context into understanding the most important, basic words that Christians use. One of the most important is the word "Christ". What implications does it have for us to say that Jesus is the "Christ"?

triumphal entryFirst of all, the word "Christ" comes from "christos," a Greek word meaning "anointed". It is the equivalent of the word "moshiach," or Messiah, in Hebrew. But what does that mean? To be anointed is literally to have sacred anointing oil poured on one's head because God has chosen the person for a special task. Kings were anointed during their coronation rather than receiving a crown. Even though prophets and priests were anointed, the phrase "anointed one" or "the Lord's anointed" was most often used to refer to a king.

So, the main picture of the word "Messiah" or "Christ" as the "anointed one" was of a king chosen by God. Even though we tend not to pick up on the cultural pictures, the gospels tell us many times that Jesus is this great King who has come. During Jesus' trial, the main question that he is asked is "Are you the King of the Jews?" and he answers affirmatively:

And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King." So Pilate asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And He answered him and said, "It is as you say." (Luke 23:2-3)

The fact that Jesus' disciples and others who believed in him referred to him as "Lord" also suggests that they were giving him great honor, with the understanding that he is the Messianic King. To use the word "Lord" displays an attitude of obedient submission to a greater power. Jesus seems even to expect that those who call him Lord obey him - he said to his listeners, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46). To call him Lord or to call him Jesus Christ is to say that he is the King that God has sent who has a right to reign over us!

This has implications about the basic understanding of what a Christian is. We tend to define ourselves by our statements of belief, but the very word "Christ" calls us to more than that. If "Christ" means King, a Christian is one who considers Jesus his Lord and King, and submits to his reign!

For more details, read the Director's Article by this same title.

   ©2006 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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