Why is Jesus ‘the’ Christ?

We are so used to that word ‘Christ’ that we don’t usually give much thought to how it is being used.  For example:

A. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus …” (Romans 1:1)

B. “… you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6)

C. “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)

D. “…  the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.” (Romans 9:5)

All of these usages come from one author (Paul the Apostle) in the same letter (his epistle to the Romans) and all refer, of course, to the same individual (Jesus of Nazareth).  In usages (A) and (B) ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ are being coupled interchangeably to identify the man with His title, and (C) uses just the title, under the assumption that there is only one man who deserves it.  But what about (D) – what’s with that word ‘the’?

It may seem silly to focus on such an insignificant word, but when we use ‘the’ in this way, it’s kind of like a ‘spotlight.’   For example, when someone refers to “the Donald” or “the Ohio State” it implies that there is only one of its kind – a unique entity that actually defines the term.

We see this emphasis in passages like Acts 18:5 where we read that “Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” Now, remembering that ‘Christ’ (Christos in Greek) means the same thing as ‘Messiah’ (from the Hebrew Mashiach) we see that Paul was engaged in proving to the Jews in Corinth that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the very same figure, the Messiah/Christ, that had been prophesied in the Old Testament.

The understanding that the Old Testament speaks clearly about a Messiah (an ‘anointed one’ to be born from God’s chosen people, the Jews, to bless the entire world) is shared by both Jews and Christians.  But the ancient Jews understood this to be a political leader modeled after the warrior-king David who would overthrow Israel’s enemies and restore David’s throne in Jerusalem.  By bringing all nations under the reign of this perfect Kingdom of God, the world’s Gentiles too would thus be blessed.

Per that literal expectation, Jesus of Nazareth was at best a failed ‘Messiah-wannabe’ and could NOT have been the Messiah.  Not only did Jesus fail to overthrow Israel’s enemies and establish an earthly kingdom, but He didn’t even try to!   A Messiah who would suffer and die without establishing his kingdom was simply not what Jewish teachers could accept as fulfilling the promise that the Messiah would be the “Son of David.”  Paul himself was firmly of that conviction before he encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).  But that encounter began Paul’s new career of ”proving that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 9:22)

Now, Paul was obviously not trying to prove that Jesus had been the kind of political leader Messiah that Jews had been expecting; that would have been absurd!  Rather, Paul and the other Apostles started with the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to demonstrate that He was in fact the Son of God in human form appointed for eternal rule over all humanity (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 16:27).  With this newly-revealed knowledge they reread the Old Testament prophecies and now saw clearly that Jesus perfectly fit the self-sacrificing Messiah depicted in passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

But it wasn’t just that Jesus was now seen to be a different kind of Messiah than the one expected from a few prophecies scattered among Jewish history.  It came to be appreciated that the work of the Christ is the whole focus of the entire Old Testament – starting in the book of Genesis when God promises a ‘son of the woman’ who, at the price of His own mortal wound, will crush the ‘serpent’ Satan who has enslaved man in sin. (Genesis 3:15) Thus, in the person of Jesus, the term ‘Christ’ came to acquire all of the other layers of meaning that we now understand from it: Redeemer, Savior, Lord, etc.  He and He alone defines the word Christ as we today understand it.  So it is that when we proclaim Jesus as the Christ we mean that He is the one uniquely appointed to redeem God’s creation and rule over it.  Jesus, the Christ, is the focus of ALL human history, both past and for all eternity.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority”.  (Colossians 2:9-10)

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