Many people recognized the name of Jesus in His day. They associated it with several important roles within their culture. Some called Him “Teacher”, didaskolos in Greek, a word used over 50 times in the New Testament and 29 times as a specific name for Jesus (Mt. 22:16; Jn. 1:38 for example). Teachers were highly respected and considered authorities on many subjects. But in the scenario unfolding in Matthew 22:15-22 a group of Pharisees are hoping to discredit Jesus. They do not respect Him or recognize His authority. “Should we pay taxes?” they ask. Their question is intended to trap Jesus but He sees right through their pious disguise answering them with the obvious. “Whose picture is on the coin? That’s who it belongs to.” Opposition silenced.
Some called Him “Lord”. The Greek word, kurios (cure-ee-ose) designated someone as the owner or master of property, servants, or a household in general (Mt. 20:8; 21:40; Gal. 4:1; Col. 3:22). It could also be used as an honorary title toward a person of dignity and authority such as a commander in the army (Mt. 7:21-22, 28; Lk. 6:46) or a Roman procurator (Mt. 27:63). So it is significant when someone with that kind of authority and prestige recognizes and identifies Jesus with the same respect and places themselves in submission to Him. That is the case in Capernaum when a centurion seeks out Jesus on behalf of his servant who is gravely ill (Lk. 7:1-10). If Jesus was looking for name recognition, He found it in Capernaum.
But perhaps the most important name used to label Jesus was that of Messiah in Hebrew or Christ in Greek (Mt. 16:13-20; Mk. 8:27-30; Lk. 9:18-22). In 2020 we have lost touch with what this name really meant in the ancient world. The name Messiah or Christ is related to the action of “anointing”. Prophets, priests and kings were all anointed and as such “messiahs” or “christs”. Embodied in this action and title was the idea that the anointed person was consecrated or called to a certain “job” which had to be fulfilled by them. Throughout Scripture there was one special individual designated as the Anointed One who was to be the supreme Deliverer of Israel beginning with Gen. 3:15 and finding His physical lineage through the line of David (2 Sam. 7:16). Recognizing Jesus in this role is critical to recognizing Jesus period.
The most well-known account of Jesus and this name takes place in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks the disciples what the word on the street is concerning Him. “What are the people saying about Me?” he asks. A list of the common conceptions is listed off: some people think You’re Elijah. Some think You’re John the Baptist; others a great prophet like Jeremiah. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus responds. Peter boldly states, “You are the Christ” (Mt. 16:13-16; Mk. 8:27-29; Lk. 9:18-20). It is a simple yet profound statement.
Peter and his contemporaries may have been looking more for One who was anointed to deliver them from Roman oppression. But am I any better at recognizing the reason Jesus is the “Anointed One”? You can assign Jesus names that describe roles and positions of importance like Lord and Teacher but in the end there is only One Name that designates both Who Jesus is and what He came to do. The fulfillment of that Name, The Christ (Messiah), enabled Jesus to endure the cross and the suffering associated with it because He understood what it meant and its eternal significance. “Who do you say that I am? What is my Name?” He asks. How am I going to answer (Phil. 2:5-11)?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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