Why Was Jesus Called the Christ? Part 3
With the overall theme of our 48th annual lectureship being “Rise of the Messianic Kingdom,” the question in the title of this article is very relevant. The short answer to the question is two-fold: (1) because Jesus was truly the Messiah, the God-chosen “anointed one,” which is what the Koine Greek term translated “Christ” means; and (2) because the term “Messiah” was so politically and militarily charged in the first century, to have called Jesus “Messiah” would have left the wrong impression upon most Jews and would have prematurely stirred up unnecessary worldly strife. As usual with short answers, a deeper understanding will bring better appreciation to the subject at hand. In Parts 1 and 2 of this study, consideration was given to the Old Testament background and intertestamental development of the term “Messiah” and the first century view of the Messiah. In the final part of this study, examination will be made of the early church’s value of the Messiah and some practical applications for people today.
The Early Church
And Jesus the “Christ”
The early church could “acclaim and proclaim Jesus as Messiah in an entirely new way, which transcended the OT understanding and the intertestamental development of the title” (Piper 334). Nothing in Jewish tradition would cause people to worship their view of the coming Messiah as deity. To the average Jew, He would be a political warrior who would set things straight. However, those who actually encountered Jesus considered Him worthy of worship because of whom He showed Himself to be (Mt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; Lk. 24:52; Jn. 9:38; 12:20). After the church was established (Acts 2), many people obeyed the Gospel, acknowledging Jesus as the Christ (Acts 2:41 cf. Acts 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7; 8:12; 9:42; 11:21; 14:1; 16:5; 17:12; 18:8). There are two major reasons why this was the case.
First and foremost, people followed Jesus because of His resurrection from the dead. Paul said Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). The resurrection was the “incontestible fact” upon which the church was built and why many became Jesus’ disciples (Piper 335). Some in the first century church actually witnessed the resurrection of Christ and others could confirm it (cf. 1 Cor. 15:4-8). Even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe He was the Messiah until after the resurrection (Jn. 7:4 cf. Acts 1:4; 15:13).
Second, in addition to His resurrection, the early church followed Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah, because it was clear He was the fulfillment of Old Testament scripture, from His birth in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1-6; Lk. 2:4), His coming from the lineage of David (Rom. 1:3), and His mission to the Jews first (Gal. 4:4), then to the Gentiles (Acts 26:15-18). Paul’s summary of the Gospel confirms this:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
Where one stood in relation to accepting Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah, determined whether he or she was in fellowship. John wrote:
By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. (1 Jn. 4:2-3)
People need to acknowledge now that God’s Messiah has come in the flesh in the person of Jesus, and they need to live their lives according to this fact. To the early church, “Confessing Christ” meant that “a Christian was willing to make a public stand for the messianic dignity of Jesus regardless of hostile reactions” (Piper 335).
One day, “at the name of Jesus every knee” will “bow” and “every tongue” will “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). For some, however, their acknowledgment of Jesus as the Christ at that time will be too late to improve their eternal destination (cf. Mt. 7:21-22; 25:31-46). Jesus is called the Christ because He is the true Messiah sent from God to redeem humanity from sin (Rom. 3:24-26; Gal. 3:13), to keep the redeemed washed in His blood (1 Jn. 1:7; Rev. 1:5), and to give His followers an eternal home in the presence of God (1 Cor. 15:21-28 cf. Jn. 14:1-3).
What difference can Jesus being called the Christ make in a person’s life today? How should people respond to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah? First, all should recognize that Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28:18). Second, they should submit to that authority by obeying the Gospel (Mt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Third, they should continue “walking in the light” of Jesus’ words and example (1 Jn. 1:7 cf. 1 Pet. 2:21). May everyone who learns of Jesus the Christ develop the attitude Paul expressed, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:21-23).
Piper, Otto A. “Messiah.” International Standard Bible En-
cyclopedia. Vol. 3. Ed. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986. 330-338.