One of the books I cherish makes a bold claim: “In the Old Testament some 70 names and titles are ascribed to Jesus Christ, and in the New Testament some 170 more.”
To find and describe all the biblical titles for Jesus is a huge task. So why does one person need at least 240 names?
The answer is simple. Each name describes an aspect of Christ’s nature, person, character or work. While our culture has largely lost the idea that personal names carry important meanings, the Bible is different in this regard. Many of the 40 authors of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures savour the significance of names. Every name given to Jesus helps us understand who Jesus is and what He does for us.
At the outset of this discussion, we need clarity on the fact that we are saved by grace through faith. Jesus assured the thief on the cross, “You will be with me in paradise” (see Luke 23:43). The dying criminal had no opportunity to explore the Old Testament; and it would be many more years before the New Testament was even written.
What an exciting time eternity will be for the transformed thief as he discovers rich truths about his Saviour.
The Word of God is a mine of treasures we may never exhaust, no matter how long we dig. The apostle Paul speaks well of “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
John 1:35-42 describes the occasion when Jesus first met Andrew, Simon and another unnamed disciple. Jesus looked at one of the three and said, in effect, “You are Simon Johnson. You will be called Cephas in Aramaic, Peter in Greek, Rolling Stone in English” (see verse 42). From the outset, the apostle Peter’s name had significant meaning within the Christian community. This same passage of Scripture includes five of the 240 titles that depict Jesus.
John the Baptist sees Jesus passing by and announces to his followers, “Look, the Lamb of God!” This is a clear reference to the countless lambs “without blemish and without spot” sacrificed in the sanctuary and temple services described in the Old Testament. In His death on Calvary, Jesus fulfilled these symbols.
Revelation, the last book of the Bible, pictures the hosts of heaven singing, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” Clearly, the writer is calling us to worship the Lamb who by His death redeemed us to God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:12, 9).
But the One who was slain for us as the Lamb of God is also our Rabbi.
The apostle John is at pains to help us understand the meaning of this Hebrew title, so he adds the translation “which means teacher” (John 1:38). We meet Jesus constantly in the four Gospels in his role as teacher of disciples— meaning “learners”—and multitudes.
He taught with an authority that was different from the other rabbis of the time.
Andrew, John tells us, announced to his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah” (verse 41). Messiah is the Hebrew term for the anticipated Deliverer.
So his readers are clear on what this Hebrew term means in Greek— the main language of the Mediterranean world—the writer adds four words: “that is, the Christ.” In English, we would translate Christ as “The Anointed One,” remembering how the Scriptures speak of Jesus being anointed with the Holy Spirit and with the power of God (see Acts 10:38).
So, in seven verses of John 1, the writer has emphasised the importance of biblical names. They have meanings that are crucial, as in the case of Peter.
We are introduced to Jesus as Lamb, Teacher and Messiah. As the Lamb of God, He dies for us; as God’s teacher, He instructs us in the way of life; and He is anointed by God to be our Redeemer.
We do not have space to explore the biblical affirmations about our Lord as “truly God” and “truly man.” The Bible offers 11 lines of evidence just for belief in the deity of Christ. Another host of testimonies emphasise Jesus as an authentic human being.
Sometimes, a single passage helpfully pictures both Christ’s divinity and His humanity. For instance, in one of his many letters, the apostle Paul refers to Christ Jesus as “being in very nature God,” and yet as “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6, 7).
It is hard for us to understand this union of divinity and humanity. But by faith, we accept saving truths we cannot fully explain.
During a night-time interview with “Israel’s teacher”
Nicodemus, Jesus spoke the Bible’s best-known words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Christians have memorised this statement in various languages for 20 centuries and pondered its significance at length. Many older readers learned by heart the majestic expression of the King James Version: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Some modern translations make the original meaning even clearer by translating the words “only begotten” as “one of a kind” or “unique”.
Rather than list more of the instructive titles that help us understand the person and work of Jesus, let us observe a message that is written, in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation: Jesus Christ is the Coming One, twice over.
It was to humble “shepherds living out in the fields” near Bethlehem that the angelic announcement was made: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11).
In the same chapter, Luke tells us about Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man who was waiting for “the consolation of Israel” in “the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:25, 26). Simeon’s experience illustrates the wide recognition that the Old Testament predicted the Messiah’s coming. Matthew’s Gospel emphasises that even the kind of people who would later engineer the crucifixion of Jesus were well aware their Christ would be born “in Bethlehem in Judea” (compare Matthew 2:3-6 with Micah 5:2).
The crowning evidence that the Jewish Scriptures point unmistakably to Christ’s first coming is detailed by Jesus Himself soon after His resurrection.
Two disappointed believers who “had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” were on their way to the village of Emmaus when “Jesus himself came up and walked with them” (Luke 24:21, 15). The words of Jesus seemed severe at first, but as He “opened the Scriptures,”
their hearts burned with vibrant hope.
Notice the way Luke tells the story: “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself ” (Luke 24:25-27).
To read Matthew’s Gospel is to be reminded repeatedly that events in Jesus’ life fulfilled “what the Lord had said” through previous prophets (see, for instance, Matthew 1:22; 2:14-18).
Ellen White, a 19th-century author whose “Life of Christ” has been translated into scores of languages, says it well, even though she uses language that is a bit daunting for present-day readers: “In every page, whether history, or precept, or prophecy, the Old Testament Scriptures are irradiated with the glory of the Son of God. So far as it was of divine institution, the entire system of Judaism was a compacted prophecy of the gospel. To Christ ‘give all the prophets witness.’ From the promise given to Adam, down through the patriarchal line and the legal economy, heaven’s glorious light made plain the footsteps of the Redeemer. Seers beheld the Star of Bethlehem, the Shiloh to come, as future things swept before them in mysterious procession. In every sacrifice Christ’s death was shown.
In every cloud of incense His righteousness ascended. By every jubilee trumpet His name was sounded.
In the awful mystery of the holy of holies His glory dwelt.”
The Bible can rightly be called “the Jesus book” in that the first 39 of its books declare Him as the Coming One and the next 27 books declare He has come and fulfilled the promises made by God.
But in the New Testament, there is more than the assurance Christ came, ministered, died and rose from the dead. The Book of Acts, the first history of Christianity, tells when Jesus “was taken up” before the eyes of the apostles. They were promised, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11, 12).
The Bible is replete with the story of the Christ who was to come, came, and will come again. Even as we cherish its message about the Coming One, let us remember there is rich meaning in hundreds of other names and titles that portray who Jesus is, and what He does.