Many call Jesus Lord. Few really understand what they are saying.
The name Lord, much like the name God, into whatever language or culture it is spoken, carries a wide range of intended meanings. As a pastor recently taught in church, “when Paul and Christians heard the name Lord as applied to Jesus, they were not just meaning Master, but Sovereign Master”. It sounds like an improvement, but that is not what it means to Jesus.
To call Jesus Lord is more than just a title of respect. It is also more than just an acknowledgment of his authority as a master or leader. And, although it certainly includes the royal level of one sovereign, like a king, the name Lord is much more than any of these.
This name of Lord is a name of God.
None of those common meanings require worship, and Jesus as the Lord presented in Scripture is worthy of worship! To call Jesus Lord is to identify him as divine. To a first century Jew, such a name applied to anyone other than the one true God was blasphemy. But, that is how Jesus represented himself.
Come, let’s take a closer look at who this amazing Lord really is:
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that she would become pregnant while still a virgin, the identity of Jesus was first made known.
“you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David” (Lu 1:31-33)
With that glorious revelation direct from the Lord God, Jesus was given his name as well as his lineage. He would be identified as both the Son of the Most High God as well as the son of his father David. He would be both God and man.
Notice that the name Lord at this point in the text is still limited to God, but that is about to change. When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, the older woman spoke by the Holy Spirit and prophesied the shocking distinction of God in two Lords just like King David understood.
“But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?…Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Lu 1:42-45, underlines added)
The reference to “the mother of my Lord” is about the child in Mary’s womb. The reference to “what the Lord has said” is speaking of the Lord God who commissioned Gabriel to talk to Mary. Here is the exact same revelation, written in Scripture about a thousand years earlier, that the one true God can be known and worshiped somehow in two Lords. Also, the Lord, which David specifically had a relationship with, was the Lord at the right hand of the Most High God.
“The Lord said unto my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psa 110:1, underlines added)
This very distinction is quoted by Jesus when he questions the Jewish religious leaders about who is the Christ. He asks them how it could be that this promised messiah could be both David’s son as well as the Lord that David worshiped. They had no answer. Such a Lord seemed incomprehensible.
But there is more.
The name Lord has a very special beginning. It is a name of God that remained hidden for 2500 years of human history. It was not until God decided to make a covenant with a special group who would be called the people of God, that he revealed this name.
“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” (Ex 3:14-15)
This “I AM” name is stated three times here and is given as the meaning of the Lord God worshiped by the forefathers. It is also declared as the specific name by which he wants to always be known. Most often in Scripture, this name is simply written as “LORD”.
“God also said to Moses, ‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them…therefore say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians’…Then you will know that I am the Lord your God…I am the Lord.” (Ex 6:2-8)
The sad irony is not only was this name hidden prior to Israel, but in their sinful rebellion they eventually lost both the pronunciation and unique meaning of this name. The letters that form this name in Hebrew Scripture are called the Tetragrammaton, and their mystery are simply referred to as “LORD” in Scripture. As to why, some Bibles show footnotes that the world Lord, in Hebrew, “sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM”.
The one person in all of human history who knows exactly what that name means and sounds like, Jesus, did not correct the error when he walked this earth. He chose to allow people to continue to refer to God and to him with the name, Lord. But make no mistake, that great name is what he had in mind about himself when he said:
“Before Abraham was born, I AM.” (Jn 8:58)
Jesus revealed that he was the Lord that walked with ancient Israel. This “I AM who I AM”, when translated as became typical in that first century of Palestine, would be the same as saying “Lord, Lord”. You may recall, that Jesus makes a sobering reference to those who use this name towards him, but do not do the will of God. They pronounce him as Lord, but dishonor his I AM, I AM name.
That same truth, that Jesus is that great and holy Lord who walked with Israel, is confirmed by the Apostle Paul as well.
“They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Cor 10:3-4)
Jesus the Christ was the Lord who revealed himself to Moses, gave his name of Lord to his people, and sustained them as the very presence of God. Notice the detail that God gave to Moses in this regard. God refused to go personally with Israel as they headed for the Promised Land.
“But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
Moses pleaded with God about this, praying that God would help him to lead these people, and this is what God says he would do instead:
“The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us. What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’” (Ex 33:14-17)
That Presence of God was Christ the Lord! God was pleased with Moses, so he blessed him and his people by giving them Christ the Lord. If you read further in the above passage, you will find that this is the very moment that Moses requests to see the glory of God, to which God says that he will show himself in all his goodness (as the Christ the Righteous One), and as Lord (Christ named the Lord), and he put his right hand over him (the Son of God who is the right arm of God that works salvation).
Christians who accept Jesus as Lord are not simply calling him master of their life, nor just sovereign ruler of their life. They are worshiping God through Jesus as Lord, the very Presence of God. This is why the prophets foretold that Jesus would be called Immanuel, God-with-us.
“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father…I and the Father are One.”
It is this shocking identity that Jesus is the very Presence of God with people that most humans find disturbing. Especially the Jews, to whom this new name of the Lord was revealed, have stumbled at accepting Jesus as Lord God. That is why he challenged them with this name:
“You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Jesus is not requiring that Jews simply accept him as a lord, like a leader, or master or king; rather, he is referring to the fulfillment of Scripture in calling him by this revealed name of God given to his people. That holy name of God must be credited to Jesus, or no one will be allowed to enter the presence of God. His name as Lord is that important. He is not just another lord, nor is he the highest Lord. He is Lord God:
“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes…Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God.” (Psa 118)
Jesus is that stone rejected by men, but glorified by God. He is the Lord who has done this; he is the one who has come in the name of that Lord. He is to be known as ”the Lord is God”. So the Apostle John also declares:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Jn 1:1, 14)
“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:20)
This Lord and Word is to be granted the name Lord God. And as Peter declared:
“We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69)
This praise is not something Peter made up. He was granted this prophetic understanding by God to name Jesus as “he is called the God of all the earth”, which comes from Isaiah the prophet, who wrote:
“the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (Isa 54:5)
As the Prophet Jeremiah records:
“No one is like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not revere you, O King of nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you…But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” (Jer 10:6-10)
Those who accept Jesus as Lord are declaring him to be this Lord Almighty, the Holy One, the Lord of his own people, God of all the earth! Anything less is not the Lord that Jesus has in mind. God has declared Jesus to be our Lord, and worthy of our worship as God’s very Presence, with the name that is above all names under God our Father: God with us!
Jesus is far more than just our sovereign master; as Lord, he is our Holy God—the I AM, I AM, I AM.
As the Apostle Thomas finally got around to believing: “My Lord and My God”. (Jn 20:28)
But this is not the Lord that most followers of Jesus initially had in mind. Just as Jesus came as a baby born in a manger, with obscurity, humility, and acting very much like a mere man, so his name as Lord also remained obscured during that time. In this same way, just as Jesus continues to be viewed as a great teacher, important prophet, and leader of a religious movement called Christianity, so many still can’t recognize who he really is.
Not only were the religious leaders and even the general populous confused as to who this Jesus was, so the early disciples also struggled with conflicting input as to how to rightly understand him. They called him Rabbi, which means teacher, and they called him Lord, which simply means master, but at rare moments they acknowledged that he was also the prophesied Christ. At such moments, Jesus repeatedly warned them to not tell anyone that he was the Christ. He even commanded the demons to stop speaking whenever they rightly announced his divinity.
At that time, Jesus was not willing for his true identity to be openly recognized. While he walked this earth, his divine identity was to remain cloaked with his fleshly humanity. For the same reason, the understanding of his name as Lord, also remained obscured by the plainness of the commonly used word Lord. Notice how he referenced their use of this name:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am.” (Jn 13:13)
He accepts their honoring of him as a teacher, and as their leader, but he then begins to shift their understanding of those terms:
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (v.14-16)
He re-orders the titles putting Lord first, while still connecting it to the idea of a master. Jesus is more than a great teacher. He is first their Lord, and must be imitated, not simply because of what he taught, but more because of who they serve. He then tells them why this is so:
“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” (v.19)
Did you catch that name? Jesus would not initially allow anyone to grasp the enormous significance of him as the I AM Lord, but shortly that would all change. The early believers were slowly being allowed in on a great mystery: that Jesus was the Christ, that he was the great I AM, that he was the Lord God with men, but that shocking revelation was slow to sink in, even after his resurrection, and even after the sudden indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christians.
As Paul admitted on behalf of all believers:
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer…all this is from God…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor 5:16-19)
Anyone can say the common words lord and master, but that is not the name for Jesus. The word may still be fleshly, common, and reflective of one who is the master. However, it is not even humanly possible to rightly profess, with the intended meaning, this mysterious name of Lord without the power of God:
”Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:3)
Many will say “Lord, Lord”, but it will not do them any good. Many may say Jesus is Lord, even those who have the Holy Spirit in them, but unless they submit to what God declares in his holy word about Jesus as this Lord, as inspired and led by God’s Spirit, they remain incapable of declaring him or knowing him for who he truly is. This tells us that knowing this Lord is not a linguistic issue, nor an archeological discovery issue, nor a dictionary definition issue, nor something that can be discovered by human effort, rather it is a relational knowing issue.
There was a time for everyone, when Jesus was viewed as a mere man. There was a time when he was honored as a mere Lord. There was a time when his flesh appeared dominant, and his existence appeared limited in time, but that time has passed. Jesus is not some amazing, leading creation of God–he is the eternal I AM, who is, was, and always will be!
The first words chiseled in stone by the finger of God were these:
“I AM the Lord your God” (Ex 20:2)
The most important command of God given to the people of God is this:
“’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’’” (Mk 12:29)
It is God’s intent and will that Jesus be glorified as I AM the LORD.
“Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Cor 8:6)
Worthy is Jesus the Lord our God!