Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Take our poll

Bible Encyclopedias
Jesus Christ

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

Je´sus Christ, The ordinary designation of the incarnate Son of God, and Savior of mankind. This double designation is not, like Simon Peter, John Mark, Joses Barnabas, composed of a name and a surname, but, like John the Baptist, Simon Magus, Bar-Jesus Elymas, of a proper name, and an official title. Jesus was our Lord's proper name, just as Peter, James, and John were the proper names of three of his disciples. The name seems not to have been an uncommon one among the Jews (; ). To distinguish our Lord from others bearing the name, he was termed Jesus of Nazareth (, etc.), and Jesus the son of Joseph (, etc.).

The conferring of this name on our Lord was not the result of accident, or of the ordinary course of things, there being 'none of his kindred,' so far as we can trace from the two genealogies, 'called by that name' (). It was the consequence of a twofold miraculous interposition. The angel who announced to his virgin mother that she was to be 'the most honored of women,' in giving birth to the Son of God and the Savior of men, intimated also to her the name by which the holy child was to be called: 'Thou shall call his name Jesus' (). And it was probably the same heavenly messenger who appeared to Joseph, and, to remove his suspicions and quiet his fears, said to him, 'That which is conceived in thy wife Mary is of the Holy Ghost, and she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus' (). The pious pair were 'not disobedient to the heavenly vision.' 'When eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb' ().

The precise import of the name has been a subject of doubt and debate among interpreters. As to its general meaning there is all but an unanimous concurrence. It was intended to denote that he who bore it was to be a Deliverer or Savior. But while some interpreters hold that it simply signifies 'he shall save,' others hold that it is a compound word equivalent to 'The Salvation of the Lord,' or 'The Lord the Savior.' It is not a matter of vital importance.

The 'name of Jesus' () is not the name Jesus, but 'the name above every name' (), i.e. the supreme dignity and authority with which the Father has invested Jesus Christ, as the reward of his disinterested exertions in the cause of the divine glory and human happiness; and the bowing 'at the name of Jesus' is obviously not an external mark of homage when the name Jesus is pronounced, but the inward sense of awe and submission to him who is raised to a station so exalted.


This is not, strictly speaking, a proper name, but an official title. Jesus Christ, or rather, as it generally ought, to be rendered, Jesus the Christ, is a mode of expression of the same kind as John the Baptist, or Baptizer. In consequence of not adverting to this, the force and even the meaning of many passages of Scripture are misapprehended. When it is stated that Paul asserted, 'This Jesus whom I preach unto you is Christ' (), that he 'testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ' (), the meaning is, that he proclaimed and proved that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah—the rightful owner of a title descriptive of a high official station which had been the subject of ancient prediction. When Jesus himself says that 'it is life eternal to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent' (), he represents the knowledge of himself as the Christ, the Messiah, as at once necessary and sufficient to make men truly and permanently happy. When he says, 'What think ye of Christ? whose son is He?' (), he does not mean, What think ye of me, or of my descent? but, What think ye of the Christ—the Messiah—and especially of his paternity. There can be no doubt that the word, though originally an appellative, and intended to bring before the mind a particular official character possessed by him to whom it is applied, came at last, like many other terms of the same kind, to be often used very much as a proper name, to distinguish our Lord from other persons bearing the name Jesus. This is a sense, however, of comparatively rare occurrence in the New Testament.

Proceeding, then, on the principle that Christ is an appellative, let us inquire into its origin and signification as applied to our Lord. Christ is the English form of a Greek word, corresponding in meaning to the Hebrew word Messiah, and the English word Anointed. 'The Christ' is just equivalent to 'the Anointed One.' The important question, however, remains behind, What is meant, when the Savior is represented as the Anointed One? To reply to this question satisfactorily, it will be necessary to go somewhat into detail.

Unction, from a very early age, seems to have been the emblem of consecration, or setting apart to a particular, and especially to a religious, purpose. Under the Old Testament economy high-priests and kings were regularly set apart to their offices, both of which were, strictly speaking, sacred ones, by the ceremony of anointing, and the prophets were occasionally designated by the same rite. This rite seems to have been intended as a public intimation of a Divine appointment to office. Thus Saul is termed 'the Lord's anointed' (); David, 'the anointed of the God of Israel' (); and Zedekiah, 'the anointed of the Lord' (). The high-priest is called 'the anointed priest' ().

From the origin and design of the rite, it is not wonderful that the term should have, in a secondary and analogical sense, been applied to persons set apart by God for important purposes, though not actually anointed. Thus Cyrus, the King of Persia, is termed 'the Lord's anointed' (); the Hebrew patriarchs, when sojourning in Canaan, are termed 'God's anointed ones' (); and the Israelitish people receive the same appellation from the prophet Habakkuk ().

In the prophetic Scriptures we find this appellation given to an illustrious personage, who, under various designations, is so often spoken of as destined to appear in a distant age as a great deliverer. The royal prophet David seems to have been the first who spoke of the great deliverer under this appellation (;; ). In all the passages in which the great deliverer is spoken of as 'the anointed one,' by David, he is plainly viewed as sustaining the character of a king.

The prophet Isaiah also uses the appellation, 'the anointed one,' with reference to the promised deliverer, but, when he does so, he speaks of him as a prophet or great teacher. He introduces him as saying, 'The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord God hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them who are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn,' etc. (, etc.).

Daniel is the only other of the prophets who uses the appellation 'the anointed one' in reference to the great deliverer, and he plainly represents him as not only a prince, but also a high-priest, an expiator of guilt ().

During the period which elapsed from the close of the prophetic canon till the birth of Jesus, no appellation of the expected deliverer seems to have been so common as the Messiah or Anointed One; and this is still the name which the unbelieving Jews ordinarily employ when speaking of him whom they still look for to avenge their wrongs and restore them to more than their former honors.

Messiah, Christ, Anointed, is, then, a term equivalent to consecrated, sacred, set apart; and as the record of Divine revelation is called, by way of eminence, The Bible, or book, so is the Great Deliverer called The Messiah, or Anointed One, much in the same way as he is termed The Man, The Son of Man.

The import of this designation as given to Jesus of Nazareth may now readily be apprehended.—( 1.) When he is termed the Christ it is plainly indicated that He is the great deliverer promised under that appellation, and many others in the Old Testament Scriptures, and that all that is said of this deliverer under this or any other appellation is true of Him. No attentive reader of the Old Testament can help noticing that in every part of the prophecies there is ever and anon presented to our view an illustrious personage destined to appear at some future distant period, and, however varied may be the figurative representations given of him, no reasonable doubt can be entertained as to the identity of the individual. It is quite obvious that the Messiah is the same person as the 'seed of the woman' who was to 'bruise the head of the serpent' (); 'the seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed' (); the great 'prophet to be raised up like unto Moses,' whom all were to be required to hear and obey (); the 'priest after the order of Melchizedek;' 'the rod out of the stem of Jesse, which should stand for an ensign of the people to which the Gentiles should seek' (; ); the virgin's son whose name was to be Immanuel (); 'the branch of Jehovah' (); 'the Angel of the Covenant' (); 'the Lord of the Temple,' etc. etc. (ib.). When we say, then, that Jesus is the Christ, we in effect say, 'This is He of whom Moses, in the law, and the prophets did write' (); and all that they say of Him is true of Jesus.

Now what is the sum of the prophetic testimony respecting him? It is this—that he should belong to the very highest order of being, the incommunicable name Jehovah being represented as rightfully belonging to him; that 'his goings forth have been from old, from everlasting' (); that his appropriate appellations should be 'Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God' (); that he should assume human nature, and become 'a child born' of the Israelitish nation of the tribe of Judah (), of the family of David (); that the object of his appearance should be the salvation of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles (); that he should be 'despised and rejected' of his countrymen; that he should be 'cut off, but not for himself;' that he should be 'wounded for men's transgressions, bruised for their iniquities, and undergo the chastisement of their peace;' that 'by his stripes men should be healed;' that 'the Lord should lay on him the iniquity' of men; that 'exaction should be made and he should answer it;' that he should 'make his soul an offering for sin;' that after these sufferings he should be 'exalted and extolled and made very high;' that he should 'see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied, and by his knowledge justify many' (Isaiah 53 passim ); that Jehovah should say to him, 'Sit at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool' (); that he should be brought near to the Ancient of Days, and that to him should be given 'dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, and nations, and languages should serve him—an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away,—a kingdom that shall not be destroyed' (). All this is implied in saying Jesus is the Christ. In the plainer language of the New Testament 'Jesus is the Christ' is equivalent to Jesus is 'God manifest in the flesh' (),—the Son of God, who, in human nature, by his obedience, and sufferings, and death in the room of the guilty, has obtained salvation for them, and all power in heaven and earth for himself, that he may give eternal life to all coming to the Father through him.

(2.) While the statement 'Jesus is the Christ' is thus materially equivalent to the statement 'all that is said of the Great Deliverer in the Old Testament Scriptures is true of Him,' it brings more directly before our mind those truths respecting him which the appellation 'the Anointed One' naturally suggests. He is a prophet, a priest, and a king. He is the great revealer of divine truth; the only expiator of human guilt, and reconciler of man to God; the supreme and sole legitimate ruler over the understandings, consciences, and affections of men. In his person, and work, and word, by his spirit and providence, he unfolds the truth with respect to the divine character and will, and so conveys it into the mind as to make it the effectual means of conforming man's will to God's will, man's character to God's character. He has by his spotless, all-perfect obedience, amid the severest sufferings, 'obedience unto death even the death of the cross,' so illustrated the excellence of the divine law and the wickedness and danger of violating it, as to make it a righteous thing in 'the just God' to 'justify the ungodly,' thus propitiating the offended majesty of heaven; while the manifestation of the divine love in appointing and accepting this atonement, when apprehended by the mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit, becomes the effectual means of reconciling man to God and to his law, 'transforming him by the renewing of his mind.' And now, possessed of 'all power in heaven and earth,' 'all power over all flesh,' 'He is Lord of All.' All external events and all spiritual influences are equally under his control, and as a king he exerts his authority in carrying into full effect the great purposes which his revelations as a prophet, and his great atoning sacrifice as a high-priest, were intended to accomplish.

(3.) But the full import of the appellation the Christ is not yet brought out. It indicates that He to whom it belongs is the anointed prophet, priest, and king—not that he was anointed by material oil, but that he was divinely appointed, qualified, commissioned, and accredited to be the Savior of men. These are the ideas which the term anointed seems specially intended to convey. Jesus was divinely appointed to the offices he filled. He did not ultroneously assume them, 'he was called of God as was Aaron' (; ). He was divinely commissioned: 'The Father sent him' (). He is divinely accredited (; ). Such is the import of the appellation Christ.

If these observations are clearly apprehended there will be little difficulty in giving a satisfactory answer to the question which has sometimes been proposed—when did Jesus become Christ? when was he anointed of God? We have seen that the expression is a figurative or analogical one, and therefore we need not wonder that its references are various. The appointment of the Savior, like all the other divine purposes, was, of course, from eternity. 'He was set up from everlasting' (); he 'was foreordained before the foundation of the world' (). His qualifications, such of them as were conferred, were bestowed in or during his incarnation, when 'God anointed him with the Holy Ghost and with power' (). His commission may be considered as given him when called to enter on the functions of his office. He himself, after quoting, in the synagogue of Nazareth, in the commencement of his ministry, the passage from the prophecies of Isaiah in which his unction to the prophetical office is predicted, declared 'This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.' And in his resurrection and ascension, God, as the reward of his loving righteousness and hating iniquity, 'anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows' (), i.e. conferred on him a regal power, fruitful in blessings to himself and others, far superior to that which any king had ever possessed, making him, as the Apostle Peter expresses it, 'both Lord and Christ' (). As to his being accredited, every miraculous event performed in reference to him or by him may be viewed as included in this species of anointing—especially the visible descent of the Spirit on him in his baptism.

These statements, with regard to the import of the appellation 'the Christ,' show us how we are to understand the statement of the Apostle John, 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God' (), i.e. is 'a child of God,' 'born again,' 'a new creature;' and the similar declaration of the Apostle Paul, 'No man can say that Jesus is the Lord,' i.e. the Christ, the Messiah, 'but by the Holy Ghost' (). It is plain that the proposition,' Jesus is the Christ,' when understood in the latitude of meaning which we have shown belongs to it, contains a complete summary of the truth respecting the divine method of salvation. To believe that principle rightly understood is to believe the Gospel—the saving truth, by the faith of which a man is, and by the faith of which only a man can be, brought into the relation or formed to the character of a child of God; and though a man may, without divine influence, be brought to acknowledge that 'Jesus is the Lord,' 'Messiah the Prince,' and even firmly to believe that these words embody a truth, yet no man can be brought really to believe and cordially to acknowledge the truth contained in these words, as we have attempted to unfold it, without a peculiar divine influence.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Jesus Christ'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​j/jesus-christ.html.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile