In this article series, we have been studying various aspects of “fellowship with Jesus.” Now, we turn to an incredibly important topic—Jesus is Lord. What does it mean that Jesus is Lord? What do his titles say about him? How are we to understand titles that are shared between God the Father and Jesus the Son? These are the types of questions we will be asking and answering in this article, but since this is such a huge topic, these questions will not be answered comprehensively. Much more study and understanding is available on these topics.
What does the title “Lord” mean?
The word for “Lord” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word kurios. The basic meaning of this word is “he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has the power of deciding; master, lord.” In the New Testament, this word is predominantly used of either God the Father or of Jesus. However, it also is used in polite conversation like we use the word “sir” (John 12:21), of husbands (I Peter 3:6), masters generally (Matthew 10:24), slave owners specifically (Colossians 3:22-first occurrence), and idols (I Corinthians 8:5). In the culture of that time, it is vital to know that the Roman Emperor was given the title kurios. And when the Hebrew translators translated the Septuagint, they translated the word “LORD” (Jehovah) with kurios.
All of these meanings serve as a backdrop for how this title applies to Jesus and why applying this title to Jesus was controversial in the Roman Empire in the first century. First, this is a title of great respect. At the very least, a kurios is one who has authority and/or ownership over someone else. Jesus purchased us with his blood, and we are his now. Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Jesus deserves our respect and love for what he has done for us (Revelation 5:9ff). Second, Jesus is the greatest embodiment of God’s desire for mankind in human form. Jesus is the image of God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is the perfect reflection of God’s nature and the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3). In a similar way, angels occasionally spoke as if they were God and others sometimes attributed the title of God to them (see Genesis 16:7-13 for one example of this). The idea that Jesus could be called “Lord” just as God the Father is does not make Jesus equal to God—it makes him a great representation of God’s will and nature. And the Scripture is clear that Jesus is exactly that: a perfect representation of God’s desire for humanity. Third, unlike God the Father, Jesus is not “Lord” by nature, but by God’s decree.
Acts 2:36 (ESV)
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
God the Father made Jesus both Lord and Christ (more on “Christ” below). As such, Jesus is worthy of our praise, worship, and recognition (more on this in a future article).
What do his other major titles mean?
Perhaps Jesus’ other major title is Christ, or Messiah. This is yet another familiar term that deserves some unpacking to understand more clearly. Literally, the Greek word christosmeans “anointed one.” This was the title that ancient Hebrews used to denote the coming king of Israel who would fulfill God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, and David. Some Biblical students may remember that oil was used to anoint future kings on many occasions (the first three kings being three examples of this: Saul in I Samuel 10:1ff, David in I Samuel 16:1ff, and Solomon in I Kings 1:28ff). Priests (Exodus 28:41, Exodus 30:30, Leviticus 6:20, and Leviticus 8:12, among many others) and prophets (I Kings 19:16 is one example) were also anointed with oil, which adds dimension to the title “Christ.” The title of Messiah, then, could be understood as “King-Priest-Prophet,” with King likely taking the primary meaning. Here are several prophecies about the Messiah that fit this understanding well:
I Chronicles 17:11-15 (ESV)
When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.
He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.
I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you,
but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.
In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
The Messiah was to be, first and foremost, a king anointed by God and given the throne of David. In I Chronicles 17, Nathan prophesies that David’s offspring would build God a house and that his throne will be established forever. This was partially fulfilled by Solomon, but it was completely fulfilled by Jesus. Daniel 7 is a picture of the future establishment of the kingdom on Earth after the return of Christ (more to come in later series on this).
Related to the title “Christ” are the titles “son of David” and “son of God.” The “son of David” was used of people referring to the prophecy of the Messiah who would reign on the throne of David forever (as mentioned in I Chronicles 17). Here are some examples of this usage:
Matthew 12:22-28 (ESV)
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw.
And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.
And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
By asking if Jesus was the “son of David,” they were really asking if he was the Messiah (or Christ) come to reestablish the kingdom of God in Israel.
Matthew 21:9 (ESV)
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
The crowds were shouting that Jesus was the “son of David.” They were calling him the Messiah, the king of Israel, the rightful ruler that should sit upon the throne of David.
Matthew 22:41-45 (ESV)
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question,
saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”
He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”‘?
If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
Even the Pharisees knew that the Messiah would be “the son of David.” Jesus points out that the same Messianic figure was David’s Lord as well.
Similarly, the title “son of God” was used of the Messiah, the Christ.
Matthew 26:63 (ESV)
But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
John 11:27 (ESV)
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
John 20:30-31 (ESV)
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Many times when the title “son of God” was used, it referred to Jesus as the Messiah, the coming king of Israel. However, there is another reason that Jesus was called the Son of God:
Luke 1:30-35 (ESV)
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.
Jesus was literally the Son of God—God was literally his Father. As we have seen so far, Jesus’ titles must be understood in their first century Hebrew context. The titles “Messiah” or “Christ,” “son of David,” and “son of God” all point to the same idea—that Jesus was the promised king to sit upon the throne of David and righteously rule for eternity. In light of all of this, it is interesting to consider how N.T. Wright, the famed Anglican bishop and professor, sometimes translates the title “Christ” in his New Testament translation, The Kingdom New Testament:
Romans 1:1,7 (Kingdom NT)
Paul, a slave of King Jesus called to be an apostle, set apart for God’s good news,
This letter comes to all in Rome who love God, all who are called to be his holy people. Grace and peace to you from God our father, and King Jesus, the Lord.
Philippians 3:8 (Kingdom NT)
Yes, I know that’s weird, but there’s more: I calculate everything as a loss, because knowing King Jesus as my Lord is worth far more than everything else put together!
These are three of many examples. I am not saying that we should simply replace the title “Christ” with the title “King,” because I think that the title “Christ” has the kingly aspect as well as some other dimensions (priest and prophet particularly). The simple truth is that the titles Christ, Lord, son of God, and son of David all have in the background this idea that Jesus is the rightful ruler of the world. Jesus is King!
What about the shared titles, specifically Lord?
Jesus and God the Father share many titles in the Bible, including: God, Lord, light, judge, savior, shepherd, and others. Sharing titles does not imply that they are identical in nature. Titles in general rely heavily on context: for example, Jesus was called both the Shepherd (John 10:11) and the Lamb (John 1:29, 36). When it comes to the title “Lord,” it is clear that God and Jesus are “Lord” in different ways. Perhaps the clearest example of this is found in the Old Testament verse that is the most often quoted in the New Testament, Psalm 110:1:
Psalm 110:1 (ESV)
A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Do you notice that the ESV translators have differentiated between “the LORD” and “my Lord” through the capitalization? This is a common way for Bible translators to identify which usages of “Lord” in the Old Testament come from the Hebrew word Jehovah. The first “LORD” here is Jehovah, or God the Father. The second “Lord” is the Messiah, which we can confirm by how this verse is used in the New Testament:
Acts 2:34-36 (ESV)
For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”‘
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
In the sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter closes by quoting Psalm 110:1 and applying it directly to Jesus. We have already seen that the difference between the LORD and the Lord is that God the Father (the LORD) made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Messiah, King). Are there other clues that can help us in Psalm 110:1? Yes! It turns out that the second word for “Lord” is the word adoni, which is similar to adonai, another name for God. However, with the spelling adoni, the word “Lord” refers to a human lord in every occurrence. God the Father is the LORD Jehovah, the Creator of the heavens and Earth, the Eternal One. Jesus is the Lord of Israel, the King of Israel, the Son of David, and the Son of God. They both are Lord, but in different ways.
What should we make of the ambiguous uses of “Lord” in the New Testament?
Even though the Bible makes it clear that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate beings, having the same title “Lord” can be confusing. What do we make of the many references where we are unsure which “Lord” is being referenced? To give an example of this problem, let’s reconsider a section we briefly discussed in the second article:
Acts 12:5, 17 (ESV)
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
As we saw in the second article, it is probable that Peter meant “God the Father” when he said “Lord” here. However, I think that this case points to something fascinating about God and Jesus Christ: they are sometimes indistinguishable. God the Father and Jesus (even for a non-Trinitarian) are on the same team, making their actions difficult to distinguish at times. God the Father could tell Jesus to send an angel to save Peter. Then who saved Peter? An angel? Jesus? God the Father? Peter could equally speak about all three saving him, and he would be right. So there is balance here: attributing something good to God is always right—He is the Originator of all good things. However, other powers may be in play, including angels and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In light of this, it is cool to consider the strong connection between the Father and the Son. Here are just a few passages that demonstrate exactly how committed and unified these two are:
I Corinthians 12:3 (ESV)
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 1:10 (ESV)
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Ephesians 4:8 (ESV)
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV)
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When Christians speak in (or by) the spirit of God, they are confessing “Jesus is Lord!” In Galatians 1:10, seeking the approval of God is related to being a servant of Christ. In Ephesians 1:1, Paul said that he was an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Later, in Ephesians 4:8, he said that Jesus gave gifts (of ministers) to men (the church). In Paul’s mind, the Messiah, Jesus, completed the actions of God. Finally, in Philippians 2, we see God exalting Jesus, with every tongue confessing Jesus as Lord, which in turn brings glory to God the Father. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus always does what God wants him to do (John 4:34; John 8:29). Jesus and God the Father are always “on the same page.”
What has the Master told us to do?
To add more depth to the concept of Jesus as Lord, let’s consider how this reality is practically applied by the Christian. As mentioned before, the title “Lord” carries the idea of someone with authority and deserving of the highest respect and admiration. This person has the authority and ability to command obedience. This can be seen in our daily lives in the form of “the boss.” And since Jesus is not just our “boss” but also our King, the idea of obedience is vital. Let’s see what the Bible says about the title Lord and obedience.
Luke 6:46-49 (ESV)
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:
he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.
Jesus expected his disciples to do what he told them to do. Then, Jesus explained that the person who hears his words and does them will be on a solid foundation. Here, in John 14, we see that love should inspire obedience.
John 14:23-24 (ESV)
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
If we want to show the world that we love Jesus, we will keep the words of the Lord, which were the words that the Father gave him. Finally, in John 15, we see that friendship should inspire obedience.
John 15:13-15 (ESV)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Later in the same dialogue, Jesus went even further, stating that to be the friend of Jesus, we must do what he has commanded us to do. We are not only servants of Christ (Romans 1:1; Colossians 4:12; I Timothy 4:6), but also friends made knowledgeable through understanding the Bible, through our relationship with God and Jesus Christ, and through the fellowship with the community of faith.
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus told his disciples that he had received all authority in heaven and on earth. As a result of this fact, the disciples were to go forth and make disciples of all nations. One of the things they were to do is teach the nations to observe everything that Jesus had commanded them to do. Why? Because when we do the things that Jesus wants us to do, we are doing what God wants us to do, and we will receive the fullness of life and strength of foundation that such obedience merits. And as a quick clarifying point, Jesus could not have taught the disciples everything that they needed to know for every future situation. The disciples also had a connection with God, Who revealed many things to them through the Scripture and the spirit. In fact, Jesus promised his disciples that this would be the case (see Matthew 10: 17-20 for one such example). Thus, the Christian must closely follow the example of Christ as enumerated in the Scripture so as to enjoy all that God wants for our lives.
The Lord Jesus as servant leader
When first century Christians boldly confessed “Jesus is Lord,” they were going against everything that their nation and society believed. Look at how people responded to Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica in Acts 17. Paul was brought before the Roman authorities for teaching that there was “another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7). In that culture, Christianity was a revolution against the Roman Empire. However, this revolution was unlike any before it. Many other revolutions had come and gone violently and bloodily from various factions inside the Roman Empire, including some in the province of Judea. Christians readily admitted that Jesus was their true King, but they also paid their taxes and obeyed the laws of the land when it did not conflict with their faith. In addition, this revolution was nonviolent by nature. Nothing about this “revolution” was usual.
However, this makes much sense when we realize that the sacrifice of Jesus and his leadership style were both unlike anything the world had ever seen. Jesus taught his disciples to lead through service, not through the worldly way of enforcing power:
Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,
and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,
even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The way that the world shows lordship is through exercising authority—brute force. Jesus taught his disciples that true leadership is service by his example. Everything that Jesus did in the past and is currently doing is designed to be a service to God’s people, not “lording over us.”
Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Christians serve the Lord Christ. We work for the Lord. Jesus is not a brutal taskmaster, but he nourishes and cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:29).
Matthew 11:30 (ESV)
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The Greek word for “easy” is chrēstos, is defined by Thayer as “manageable, i.e. mild, pleasant (opposed to harsh, hard, sharp, bitter).” The Greek word for “light” is elaphros. About this usage, Thayer says “used figuratively concerning the commandments of Jesus, easy to be kept.” We are yoked to Jesus the Messiah when we claim him as Lord. However, the yoke that Christ gives us is mild and his commandments are easy for us to keep, since they are in our best interest to follow. As we consider all that the phrase “Jesus is Lord” means for our lives, we can appreciate both the aspects of obedience to Christ and how he has helped and continues to help us (more on this in a future article).
In this article, we have seen that many of the titles of Jesus, including Lord, Christ, son of God, and son of David, point to him being King. In the first century, publicly proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” would have been unacceptable in the Roman political environment. In modern times, Christians proclaim “Jesus is Lord” in many ways, including obedience and service to others. In the next article, we will consider more completely what is due to Jesus as our Lord.
See Thayer here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2962&t=ESV
A quick note on the spelling of Jehovah: scholars are divided as to the correct spelling. While it is more likely that Yahwehis the better spelling, I will use the lexical spelling (Jehovah) throughout these articles.
See Thayer here:
Depending on how you classify the verses, these are the only ones that potentially call Jesus “God” in any sense: John 1:1,14; John 10:32-36; John 20:28; and Hebrews 1:8. There are answers to each one of these occurrences, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
See this excellent article for more information on this: http://adonimessiah.blogspot.com/2016/02/psalm-1101-most-quoted-old-testament.html
Interestingly, I Peter 1:2 indicates that the purpose of that epistle was “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” Paul said that all should agree with “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” and warned against people speaking against the words of Jesus (I Timothy 6:3-5). Peter and Paul took the Great Commission seriously, and we should, too.
See Thayer here:
See Thayer here: