What is the Meaning of the Name Jesus Christ?
Jesus Christ has many significant names used throughout the Bible. He is called “the Son of God,” “Master,” “Teacher,” “Rabbi,” “Son of David,” and many others that have literal and symbolic meaning. The name “Jesus Christ” also has deep meaning itself, although often overlooked because of the multitude of other titles given Him. As we understand the origin and purpose of the names “Jesus” and “Christ,” we can understand the significance of His life to a greater degree.
At the time of Jesus, such a name was as common as today’s “James” or “Henry.” However, looking at the deeper history and connection of that name shows that “Jesus” was not simply the first name to “Jesus Christ,” with Christ being the divine addition.
When Mary heard the announcement of the angel calling her to bear and raise a Son from God, she was specifically instructed to name the child Jesus (Luke 1:31). Matthew recorded as well that Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, was instructed by an angel as well that the Son miraculously conceived by his virgin fiance would be named Jesus (Matt 1:21).
“Jesus,” or today’s “Joshua,” is written in Greek as “Yesous,” Hebrew “Yeshua” derived from earlier Hebrew spelling of “Yehoshua.” The prefix “Yeho-” is associated with the Hebrew word for “Lord” (“Yod-He-Vav-He”). Secondly, “Yehoshua” is derived from the verb “yasha,” which means “saves, rescues, delivers.” Joined together, “Jesus” means “God saves, rescues, delivers.”
This linguistic chain is not mere linguistic coincidence, but is confirmed as purposeful by the angel when he told Joseph, “they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23 NKJV).
“Christ” is not a last name, but a title. “Christ” comes from the Greek “Christos,” which translates to “Messiah” in Hebrew. Both “Messiah” and “Christos” mean “anointed one.” Traditionally, religious and political leaders were anointed to show that their role was approved by God. Christ fulfilled both religious and political roles by being our “prophet, priest and king.” His authority superseding all forms of government created by mankind.
At the time of Christ, the Jewish tradition was based on thousands of years of waiting for a Deliverer at different times. The political history of the Israelites/Jews was one of oppression and war, from the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Greeks, the Romans and others. The deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt was a great inspiration for the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus.
Perhaps it was because the Jewish contemporaries believed themselves spiritually aligned with God (although there were deep divisions among the sects of Judaism, which alludes to at least some spiritual misalignment) that the Jews were not prepared to find a Deliverer, Messiah, Christ who came peacefully, from a quiet village, without trumpets and fanfare.
Moses’ role in an epic deliverance, amplified over almost a thousand years of legend, culturally made Moses a type of demigod. When Jesus came correcting the modern practices of the Law of Moses, saying that He would fulfill it and show an even better and holier way to live, the Jews were understandably threatened by the dethroning of a legend by a quiet carpenter. This prejudice and disillusionment with the seemingly average man was in fact prophesied by the prophet Isaiah:
“For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2 NKJV).
During Jesus’ ministry, many would come to feel in their hearts that Jesus truly was the Christ. He healed many, raised people from the dead, fed thousands, and walked on water. While these things were certainly evidence of His divine origin, perhaps the two disciples on the road to Emmaus most reliably described their conversion: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NKJV).
The name “Jesus Christ” truly captured the mission of that great Man. Born in the humblest of circumstances, those with “ears to hear” were able to see past tradition and understand that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He was the perfect example of heaven, spending time with the outcasts and sinners, healing, and serving those in need. Jesus voluntarily gave up His life for our sakes to pay for our sins, giving all mankind the chance to repent and be saved by grace.
When people were surprised by Jesus’ teachings or miracles, they would wonder if He could possibly be the same Jesus of Nazareth that they had known. He was dismissed as the prophet from Galilee (John 7:52). Though Jesus was from Nazareth and Galilee, these names were used to question His power and mission. As we come to understand the miraculous circumstances under which Jesus was born, and the prophecies of His life more than a thousand years before HIs birth, we learn that His name was not chance. It was a declaration of the fulfillment of promises made to the Israelites almost 1500 years before. Although Jesus Christ is not with us now, His name brings power and hope over 2000 years later, and will continue to do so as Christians all over the world await His return.