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The Mystery of Jesus’ “Last Name”

October 18th, 2011 by Oleg Kostyuk

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

I was always wondering why Jesus was called Christ? In fact, when I was growing up I thought that Christ was Jesus’ last name. Once, I even asked somebody about His “family name”. At that time I was given an answer that it was a Greek translation of Hebrew word Messiah. I have to admit it was not enough to satisfy my curiosity. So now, when I became older, I decided to do a little research. Let us take a look together at the meaning of Jesus’ “last name”.

For Greeks in the first century, the word christos would not have been used with reference to a person. The term usually meant “the rubbing ointment”. The new name Christos was so unusual that non-Jews confused it with the common slave name ChrEstos.[1]

It is important to remember that Greek language was the main language in the first century World. That is why the followers of Jesus, translating the word Messiah from Hebrew used Christos in Greek. The word messiah, in its turn, was used in the Old Testament to describe a person in special relationship to God. It was used to identify “anointed” with oil or Holy Spirit, who was set apart for a special task.[2] In addition to that, the term Messiah was especially applied to an anointed King. Old Testament prophets write about Messiah who will destroy God’s Gentile opponents and as His representative will reign over the nations.[3]

That is why the title has become a part of Jesus’ name, since Jesus was the anointed King, the Son of God, who came to save the World. Even the inscription on the cross stated: “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS”[4]

The emblem of the earliest Christians was “the fish”. It also conveyed the message about Jesus being the Christ. The “fish” is frequently seen as a bumper sticker today. The association between Jesus and a fish is only acronymic. That is to say, it is the letters of the word that describe the meaning. They convey the message that Jesus is the Christ. In fact, the Greek word i-ch-th-y-s (“fish”) was an acronym for Iesus Christos Theou Huios Soter, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”.

The central message of the original meaning was following: Jesus was sinless Messiah. He was not merely a suffering righteous man or prophet.[5] Jesus was the long waited Savior of the World who sacrificed His life for you and for me…

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[1] Suetonius, Claudius 25.4; Cf. Tacitus, Annals 15.4: Chrestiani.

[2] The term is employed variously with respect to kings (Saul): 1 Samuel 24:7, 11; (David): 2 Samuel 19:22, (Solomon): 2 Chronicles 6:42, (Zedekiah): Lamentations 4:20; of patriarchs: Psalm 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22; foreign rulersCyrus, the Persian king: Isaiah 45:1; Israel: Habakkuk 3:3; priests: Lev. 4:3; 16:15, and prophets: Psalm 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22.

[3] See Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:25; Amos 9:11- 12.

[4] Matthew 27:37; Cf. Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19.

[5] Martin Hengel, ‘Jesus, the Messiah of Israel: The Debate About the “Messianic Mission” of Jesus’, in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, ed. by Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999), pp. 323-49, p. 323.


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