What does “Christ” mean?

Messiah (anointed one)

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Messiah comes from the Hebrew word mashiach and means “anointed one” or “chosen one.” The Greek equivalent is the word Christos or, in English, Christ. The name “Jesus Christ” is the same as “Jesus the Messiah.” In biblical times, anointing someone with oil was a sign that God was consecrating or setting apart that person for a particular role. Thus, an “anointed one” was someone with a special, God-ordained purpose.

In the Old Testament, people were anointed for the positions of prophet, priest, and king. God told Elijah to anoint Elisha to succeed him as Israel’s prophet (1 Kings 19:16). Aaron was anointed as the first high priest of Israel (Leviticus 8:12). Samuel anointed both Saul and David as kings of Israel (1 Samuel 10:116:13). All of these men held “anointed” positions. But the Old Testament predicted a coming Deliverer, chosen by God to redeem Israel (Isaiah 42:161:1–3). This Deliverer the Jews called the Messiah.

Jesus of Nazareth was and is the prophesied Messiah (Luke 4:17–21John 4:25–26). Throughout the New Testament, we see proof that Jesus is the Chosen One: “These [miracles] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). We also hear testimonies that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). The ultimate evidence that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the Anointed One, is His resurrection from the dead. Acts 10:39–43 is an eyewitness testimony to His resurrection and the fact that “he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”

Jesus fulfills the role of Prophet, Priest, and King, which is further evidence to His being the Messiah. He is a prophet, because He embodied and preached the Word of God (see John 1:1–1814:24; and Luke 24:19); a priest, because His death atones for our sins and reconciles us to the Father (see Hebrews 2:174:14); and a king, because after His resurrection God gave all authority to Him (see John 18:36Ephesians 1:20–23; and Revelation 19:16).

The Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to redeem Israel by overthrowing the rule of the Romans and establishing an earthly kingdom (see Acts 1:6). It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection that His disciples finally began to understand what the prophecies in the Old Testament really meant the Messiah would do (see Luke 24:25–27). The Messiah was “anointed” first to deliver His people spiritually; that is, to redeem them from sin (John 8:31–36). He accomplished this salvation through His death and resurrection (John 12:32John 3:16). Later, Jesus the Messiah will deliver His people from their physical enemies, when He sets up His Kingdom on the earth (see Isaiah 9:1–7).

What does the word Christ mean?

Χριστόςa, οῦ m; Μεσσίας, ου m: (literally ‘one who has been anointed’) in the NT, titles for Jesus as the Messiah—‘Christ, Messiah’ (but in many contexts, and especially without an article, Χριστός becomes a part of the name of Jesus; see 93.387).

  • Χριστόςa: ἐπυνθάνετο παῤ αυ’τῶν ποῦ ὁ Χριστὸς γεννᾶται ‘he inquired where the Messiah was to be born’ Mt 2:4.
  • Μεσσίας: οἶδα ὅτι Μεσσίας ἔρχεται, ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός ‘I know that the Messiah, the one called Christ, will come’ Jn 4:25.
  • In a number of languages Χριστός (or Μεσσίας) as a reference to the Messiah occurs in a transliterated form based either on Χριστός in Greek or on Messiah in Hebrew. However, in some languages an attempt is made to represent the significance of the terms Χριστός and Μεσσίας by translating ‘God’s appointed one’ or ‘God’s specially chosen one’ or ‘the expected one,’ in the sense of one to whom everyone was looking for help and deliverance.[1]

Χριστός Christŏs, khris-tos´; from 5548; anointed, i.e. the Messiah, an epithet of Jesus:— Christ.[2]

Baker Encyclopedia

Christ. Official title given to Jesus in the NT. It signifies his office as anointed Savior and alludes to his spiritual qualifications for the task of saving his people. The word derives from Greek Christos, which translates Hebrew Messiah (Jn 1:41). Both terms come from verbs meaning “to anoint with sacred oil”; hence as titles they mean “the anointed one.” Applied to Jesus, they express the conviction that he had divine appointment for his office and function.

In the NT the title is used in combination with the given name; as “Jesus Christ” (Mt 1:1; Mk 1:1; Rom 1:4), and “Christ Jesus” (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1), or with the article “the Christ” (Rom 7:4), or with another title “Lord Christ” (Rom 16:18). It is also used alone as the one favored substitute name or title for Jesus (Jn 20:31; Rom 15:3; Heb 3:6; 5:5; 1 Pt 1:11, 19).

Jesus’ office and function were foreshadowed by the three groups of OT anointed officials: prophets, priests, and kings. Elisha’s anointing by Elijah (1 Kgs 19:19) shows anointing of prophets was practiced, although not required by OT law. Moses was the first OT prophet (Dt 18:18) whose ministry prompted the messianic hope for the coming of the Prophet (Jn 6:14; Heb 1:1). All priests, from Aaron on, were ordained by anointing with oil in required consecration rites (Ex 28:41; 29:7–9; 30:30). The kings of Israel, beginning with Saul and David, were anointed as a sign of divine choice and approval (1 Sm 9:15–17; 10:1; 16:13). Essential to the external ceremony was pouring of perfumed olive oil upon the person’s head (Ex 30:22–33). The internal reality was the gift of the Spirit to the recipient: “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power” (1 Sm 16:13 niv). The anointed person was not a free agent. As prophet, priest, or king he spoke, served, or ruled in the name of the Lord and as his representative to the people of God.

The Gospels portray Jesus as modestly accepting the title and role of Messiah-Christ. His baptism should be understood as his anointing to the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. At his baptism by John (the new Elijah, Mt 11:14) Jesus received the outpouring of the Spirit and God’s mandate to begin his ministry (Mt 3:16–4:17). John himself denied being the anointed one but tacitly identified Jesus as the Christ (Jn 1:20; Lk 3:15–17). Jesus’ first disciples followed him because they knew he was the Messiah (Jn 1:41). The demons recognized him as “the Holy One [anointed] of God” (Mk 1:24; cf. Mt 8:29). The crowds followed him as the Prophet, the new Moses (Jn 6:14, 32), but deserted him when they understood that his kingdom was a spiritual, not a political realm (Jn 6:66). The twelve remained loyal, saying, “We believe … you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69 niv). The confession of the disciples voiced by Peter and approved by Jesus as a divine revelation is: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). At his trials the decisive factor in Jesus’ condemnation was his claim to be the Christ (Mt 26:63, 64, 68; 27:11, 17, 22, 37).

An important feature in the earliest Christian preaching was the proclamation that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 2:36; 3:18, 20; 9:22; 28:23, 31). This remains the earliest (Mt 16:16) and most basic article of Christian confession (1 Cor 1:23; 1 Jn 5:1), affirming that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the role of anointed prophet, priest, and king as the servant of God for his people (Lk 7:16; 1 Cor 15:25; Heb 7:22–28; Rv 19:16).[3]

Eastman Bible Dictionary

Christ—anointed, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word rendered “Messiah” (q.v.), the official title of our Lord, occurring five hundred and fourteen times in the New Testament. It denotes that he was anointed or consecrated to his great redemptive work as Prophet, Priest, and King of his people. He is Jesus the Christ (Acts 17:3; 18:5; Matt. 22:42), the Anointed One. He is thus spoken of by Isaiah (61:1), and by Daniel (9:24–26), who styles him “Messiah the Prince.”

The Messiah is the same person as “the seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15), “the seed of Abraham” (Gen. 22:18), the “Prophet like unto Moses” (Deut. 18:15), “the priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4), “the rod out of the stem of Jesse” (Isa. 11:1, 10), the “Immanuel,” the virgin’s son (Isa. 7:14), “the branch of Jehovah” (Isa. 4:2), and “the messenger of the covenant” (Mal. 3:1). This is he “of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.” The Old Testament Scripture is full of prophetic declarations regarding the Great Deliverer and the work he was to accomplish. Jesus the Christ is Jesus the Great Deliverer, the Anointed One, the Saviour of men. This name denotes that Jesus was divinely appointed, commissioned, and accredited as the Saviour of men (Heb. 5:4; Isa. 11:2–4; 49:6; John 5:37; Acts 2:22).

To believe that “Jesus is the Christ” is to believe that he is the Anointed, the Messiah of the prophets, the Saviour sent of God, that he was, in a word, what he claimed to be. This is to believe the gospel, by the faith of which alone men can be brought unto God. That Jesus is the Christ is the testimony of God, and the faith of this constitutes a Christian (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 John 5:1).[4]

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 542.

[2] James Strong, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Christ,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 431.

[4] M. G. Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893), 142–143.