While Jesus is the human name given to the Son of God in His Incarnation, where He was born to his mother, Mary, the title Christ means Messiah, Anointed One, or Chosen One. In the New Testament, a writer may use, Jesus Christ, placing the human name first (Jude 1:1).
The Difference Between Jesus Christ and Christ Jesus
Other times a writer will use the title, Christ Jesus, putting the title first (2 Timothy 1:1). The usage of the terms Jesus and Christ Jesus has led people to wonder, is there a difference in meaning?
Linguistics is the scientific study of languages, and in this field, we discover that word order can be changed for emphasis. In English, words placed at the beginning or end of a sentence receive more attention typically than the words in-between. We might say, “We can only then be sure” to emphasize the word sure. By saying, “Only then, can we be sure,” we are placing stress on the condition of surety: “Only then.”
In the Greek and Hebrew, which the Bible is written, are also subject to shifts in emphasis in word order. The main difference between Jesus Christ and Christ Jesus are minor, but also very significant. To use the title Christ on either side of the personal name of Jesus is to attribute the Lord Jesus the same honor and meaning.
Philippians 2:5-11 and the Early Usage of Christ and Jesus
Philippians 2:5-11, is known as an early Christian hymn, which was passed on orally to help the people of God keep their theology on the right path. In Philippians 2:5-11, the Apostle Paul speaks of the kenosis, which is the emptying of Jesus Christ when He took on human form.
The “emptying” being spoken of here refers to the Lord divesting Himself of the independent use of His divine attributes, for in becoming fully man, the son of God became the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53. The Lord Jesus did this to reconcile sinners to God in His finished and sufficient work. In Philippians 2, Christ Jesus comes first, and in Philippians 2:5, Jesus Christ is used in Philippians 2:11.
The switch in Philippians 2 from Christ Jesus to Jesus Christ fits the point of the theme Paul quotes in this chapter. The hymn Paul uses begins with God becoming Man — thus Christ Jesus emphasizes the heavenly title, then the human name.
The hymn ends with the Lord ascending to glory; therefore, Jesus Christ referring to the human name, and then the heavenly title. The Lord’s designation reflects the direction He is taking.
Paul uses Christ Jesus more frequently than any of the other apostles, who usually use Jesus Christ. The Apostle John never uses Christ Jesus but always puts Jesus Christ, the human name first. The differences between Christ Jesus and Jesus Christ are subtle, but they are essential, and, in many cases, insignificant.
Placing the human name, Jesus first emphasizes the humanity of the Lord; whereas, putting Christ first emphasizes the deity of the Lord. Either way, Jesus is fully God and fully Man, He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed, and Chosen one of God.
The Bible’s Usage in the New Testament
Christ is, in the New Testament, used 531 times more than any other title to describe the Lord Jesus. Christ describes the function or role of Jesus and is not the last name of the Lord Jesus.
Even though our English translations of the Greek New Testament refer to Jesus Christ, the more proper title is Jesus the Christ. It is not inappropriate to refer to the Lord as Christ because he is the final holder of such a title and the only One in whom finds its ultimate meaning and purpose.
Christ comes from the Greek word christos, which is a translation of the Hebrew word mashiach, which is translated Messiah or Anointed One. Before the Lord Jesus was born, anyone whom God anointed for specific tasks could be called a “christ” or “messiah.”
Prophets (Isaiah 61:1), priests (Exodus 29:29), and kings (2 Samuel 5:1-3) were anointed under the Old Covenant. Such a point helps make sense when the biblical authors called Jesus “the Christ,” they are alluding to the threefold office of the Lord Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King.
The Prophets Were Pointers to the Lord Jesus
Despite the Prophets being called “christs” during the Old Covenant, they were only pointers who predicted the glory of God in Christ, who would come to redeem His people. The redeeming Messiah is seen in Cyrus (God’s “anointed”), the pagan king of Persia (Isaiah 45:1). To call the pagan king, Cyrus, “christ” does not indicate his salvation, but to his work in setting the captives of the nation of Israel free.
The Lord God anointed Cyrus, whom He selected to conquer Babylon and release the Jewish exiles in 536 BC to return to the homeland of Israel. Cyrus’ liberation pointed to the great salvation for the people of God from sin and death that the Suffering Servant would accomplish on behalf of the people of God in the finished and sufficient work of Christ alone (Isaiah 53).
Jesus Is the Prophet, Priest, and King over His People
As Prophet, Priest, and King (Hebrews 1:1-4), the Lord Jesus speaks by the Word of God to the people of God, intercedes for them, and leads them to final victory over Satan. The triumph of the Lord Jesus is assured because He is the Christ the Messiah whom God the Father has set overall.
Christ may be one of the most meaningful titles of Jesus with a rich meaning because it highlights the threefold office of Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King, and all that is connected to them. As humanity suffers the effect of the Fall, we need someone to reveal the character of God to us, to intercede for us, and to lead the way that we should go.
God has not left us without the final word in the Word who came in the flesh in Jesus Christ to pay the penalty we justly deserve and rise again. Let us then be thankful that God the Father did not neglect our great need for Christ alone, but has sent the Christ for the sake of the people of God to save, sanctify, and glorify a people for His possession and glory.
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Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon.