What Does the Name “Christ” Mean—and Mean to You?

The angel announces to the shepherds that in the city of David a baby has been born who is “Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) A few verses later (Luke 2:26) as Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple as they bring the required offering for purification, we are told that elderly Simeon had been told that he would not die before he had seen “the Lord’s Christ.”What does the title “Christ” mean? What does it mean to you, and how do you respond? Look at Luke 4:16–21.

Listen to what Jesus says about himself. Jesus proclaimed the presence of the kingdom. Jesus spoke at the synagogue service in Nazareth. This incident is not the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, see verses 14,15,23; Matthew 13:53–58. Luke does record this significant reaction to Christ, one that was tied with the familiarity that the people of Nazareth had with Jesus, who had grown up in their town. It was not unusual for a visiting rabbi to be asked to address the congregation. The service included: the thanksgiving and Shema, prayer and Amen, reading of a passage from the Pentateuch, reading from the prophets, a sermonic exhortation, benediction by a priest or closing prayer. Jesus stood to read, and sat to speak. Picture the stillness in the congregation as the local boy spoke, verse 20. Jesus used the Scripture to announce the presence of the kingdom. The reading was Isaiah 61:1, 2 (also see Isaiah 58:6). A crucial element in the prophecy is that the speaker is anointed by the Spirit. Luke places this sermon shortly after the baptism of Jesus, in which the Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends to equip him for his messianic work. The passage is full of the promise of the kingdom in its majesty and glory. Jesus announces this kingdom as a present reality, verse 21, see also 4:43.

Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah, the anointed one.

“In the biblical view, Jesus is the Christ, the anointed mediator who fulfills the office of prophet, priest, and king. He is the perfect mediator between God and man because he is himself true God and true man. All who are in communion with Christ are named ‘Christian’ and anointed to be prophets, priests, and kings in him.”

“From the beginning the belief that Jesus is the Christ is the heart and core of the Christian confession. Jesus himself publicly asserted the claim that he was the Christ.”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, pages 324 & 361

The arrival of the kingdom implies the presence of the King. The prophecy is personal, note the repeated “me” in verse 18. Yet Jesus, at this point in his ministry, refrains from pushing the concept of his kingship. He functions here as a prophet, v. 24, and leaves the matter of his kingship to implication and to future proclamation. The language of the prophecy, with it focus on anointing, has strong overtones of a priestly function. The presence of the King requires you to respond in faith. That was true in Elijah and Elisha’s day, in Isaiah’s time, in Nazareth in the first century, and for you today.

Trust the Savior. Don’t let familiarity breed contempt. Initial acceptance was followed by rejection. Initially the congregation was amazed at him, verse 22. Then they began to think of the man they knew, the boy who had grown up in their town, the carpenter–and rejection began to set in. Jesus recognize the unbelief in their hearts (see Mark 6:6), and put his finger on their sin of unbelief, verses 24–27. Jesus’ warning leads to violent anger and an effort at lynching, verses 28, 29, but Jesus walks through the crowd and away.

“At this point, as later, it was the place occupied by Jesus within the gospel of the kingdom that caused men to stumble; but in the happenings at Nazareth the offence was accelerated and aggravated by their arrogant assurance that He who was of their number could not possibly wear the mantle of God’s special minister.”

Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Luke to Christ, p. 75

Beware of a shallow familiarity with Jesus. Like the residents of Nazareth, we call ourselves God’s covenant people. We know much about Jesus. Too much of what passes for Christianity is happy to have a religion, as long as people are not too insistent on who Christ is, and on what his work of redemption involves. Suffering, death, resurrection are foreign terms, sometimes. But, just as you cannot have the kingdom without the King, you cannot have Christianity without the Christ. Don’t let your relationship with him be superficial. Don’t let familiarity with him make you refuse to acknowledge him as your King, your Savior, your Lord.

Trust the anointed Savior. There is a hint of the universal offer in this passage. Both the widow and Naaman were Gentiles. Luke’s second volume (Acts) will detail the spread of the good news to the nations, concluding with the missionary apostle reaching the capital of the world empire. Some did respond in faith. Although Nazareth rejected him (see Luke 2:34), this was not the reaction or others in Galilee, verses 15, 32, 43. The day of vengeance is also proclaimed, in Isaiah 61:2. The day of vengeance is a time of judgment, cf. Isaiah 61:4, where both judgment and blessing are included. The same note is present in the New Testament, Luke 3:16, 17. Jesus does not quote this phrase, even though he takes time to expand on the text by quoting Isaiah 49:8, 9. He stops with jubilee and does not mention vengeance. Not everyone is pleased with the presence of the King. His coming makes life uncomfortable. He demands repentance, change, commitment to him. The residents of Nazareth reacted strongly to the good news that Jesus proclaimed–they tried to kill him by pushing him off a cliff just outside of town. Opposition to the gospel continues today. Isaiah uses prophetic fore-shortening. The first and second comings of Christ are events that are integrally related. They can be seen as one event taking place in two stages. But between them is a temporal separation. Don’t let the passage of time obscure the structural unity. Don’t become lax in how you use the time you have been given. Now is still the day of salvation. Turn to Christ today. Proclaim his name today. The day of vengeance will come. The Jubilee was the sabbath of sabbaths. God had commanded that it be held every 50th year, Leviticus 25. It was a time for cancellation of debts, return of lands, and release of slaves. Thus the proclamation of Is 61:3. It was to be a time of joy, joy in the Lord’s salvation, and a picture of fuller redemption to come. In Christ the Jubilee has come. It pointed forward to his work. Appreciate what it means that these words are fulfilled in your ears. God’s favor is upon you because his Son, the messianic King has come. He calls you to receive him, to trust him as your Savior, to acknowledge him as your King and Lord. You are called by his title. You are a Christian.

If you really (not superficially) know the Christ, the Anointed One, if you trust him, then the year of the Lord’s favor has come upon you as well.