Matthew 16:13-23 (ESV) has this account of a week of special significance to the Biblical understanding of Jesus:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[d] in heaven.”  Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord![e] This shall never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance[f] to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” ...... (text omitted)
Matthew 17:1-9 (ESV) And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Once again I am putting up a snippet, albeit a lengthy one (and even then leaving out the end of chapter 16). I think it best for you to read the entire record for yourself.

Seems to me it would be unsurprising that by the time of this Caesarea Philippi visit, the “Hebrew” people would be forming opinions about the erstwhile carpenter, originally connected to Nazareth. Had Jesus heard whisperings? (There were those who were ready to give Jesus the “Hebrew Imperium”. See further below on John chapter 6, the first part - note also the last part. Power given by us would never be acceptable - it was not in the divine plan to establish [or renovate] a kingdom in the everyday sense as they knew it, and as we know it.)

That Jesus would truly be Christ is clear in the testimony of the witnesses. All the synoptic Gospels report the reply Peter spoke. (And John 6: 67-69 may be compared.) How could such an un-contemporary grasp of God's Christ come about amongst these "unlettered" men? There is no human explanation - this was the work of God's Spirit (even though at this stage Jesus does not use that word). Surely today it is the same. To the "open" heart God makes himself known: God welcomes all who ask, seek, knock.

Peter (above), speaking, I imagine, for the disciple group, says Jesus is “the Christ”. This word is used more than 500 times and in two different ways in the NT. “Christ” is actually a transliteration of the Greek ("christos"). Translated, it essentially means “anointed”.  That is a concept the Jews connected to the “Messiah”. (Used of Jesus, the English Standard Version appears to maintain consistency in using the transliteration.)

At the start of his Gospel Matthew places Jesus in Hebrew (Israelite) ancestry, and there we first encounter the word used both in naming Jesus and in giving him “the Christ” designation (Matthew 1:1, 16-18 ESV):

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…..
and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

The first occurrence here has the “Christ” coupled with “Jesus” and no article (ie, no “the”). It is the familiar use of the expression as a name, in two words, “Jesus Christ”. The expression sounds to us like a first name and last name. Whilst many names have meanings, both of these words are capable of carrying great significance.

Quite plainly the second use of “Christ” is as a title - “called Christ”. The article is present - I might render as “the called Christ one”. Similarly the third use includes the article and the words may be rendered as ‘the Christ”. The fourth occurrence has the article and the name (“Jesus”) coupled with the title (“Christ”). In that location some of the ancient witnesses solve any question by not including the name, only the title.

“Christ” was certainly not a family name. If a family name was required it would have been Jesus ben Joseph.

In English this may seem a little unclear? Suffice it to say the “Christ” word is used in two different ways. Various translations take different approaches to rendering the text and many at times render the "christos" word as ‘Messiah” to convey the significance of being the chosen and anointed.

(Strictly speaking, the Hebrew word “Messiah” appears in the NT text only twice. Both are in John’s Gospel. 1:12
[Andrew] first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” [which is translated Anointed{a}]. NRSV. In other words “Christ” = “Messiah” = anointed. In John we also read of a Samaritan woman saying to Jesus: “I know that Messiah is coming” [who is called Christ]. “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us. Jesus said to her, “I am he,{d} the one who is speaking to you.”” [John 4:25-26, NRSV]. Jesus lays claim to the Hebrew designation. A little later we find the woman raising the question which is recorded using the Greek ["christos"] word: Can this be the Christ?”[verse 49].)

(People expected an anointed one to come, sent by God. Some of this may be considered in the Old Testament [OT]. Some older translations have the word “Messiah” in Daniel 9:25-26. This question deserves more attention than I am giving it here.)

Not long before our current era, in an unidentifiable year BC (BCE), some strangers arrived in Jerusalem and stirred things up by (unintentionally?) triggering Messianic expectations, the hoped for arrival of “the Christ”. Matthew 2 has them inquiring:
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born (RSV). The visitors sought a king; the throne's occupant wanted information about "the Christ". The potential for upheaval was real.

Long before, David of Bethlehem, son of Jesse, was anointed to be king in place of Saul. David became an outlaw (1 Samuel 16). Eventually he was anointed as king in Judah - part of the "Hebrew" domain (2 Samuel 2). After a time of war and politics King David, with the "consent of the governed", was anointed king over all the tribes (2 Samuel 5) and began a dynasty which inherited the throne for about 400 years.

According to long precedent, Queen Elizabeth (UK Monarch) was anointed at the time of her coronation. This mimicked the ancient practice of marking a chosen individual by anointing. The anointing carried the notion of being divinely appointed and above human choice! Having the crown was proof positive of unassailable right to it. Jesus is unlikely to have been ceremonially anointed as anyone’s ruler, but the contemporary political implication of the title was clear to him and to his peers, and was used against him.

In the final hours of the account of Jesus, the Rabbi/Carpenter from Nazareth, we find the religious authority demanding just such an identification:
  But Jesus remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62 ESV.) That was enough! The death penalty was sought from the Roman governor (Pontius Pilate).

And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king.”  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” (Luke 23:2-3 RSV). History shows uprisings in Judaea were a live possibility. A Jewish insurrection in favour of “Messiah Jesus” no longer needed to averted - who would follow a condemned Christ? There had been a dangerous moment Jesus nipped in the bud - this is mentioned in John 6. (Had Pilate heard about that threat to Rome?) I wonder if there were also other times...

Why did Pilate spend so much time on the “Jesus matter” when it came before him (for example, in John 18, 19, Luke 23)? I can not imagine a reason other than taking opportunity to frustrate the Jews. The man actually had discussion with the prisoner, Jesus (presumably in Greek - the common market-place language). It could hardly have been Pilate’s usual behaviour and for sure his own future had priority. He wanted to be a Caesar’s Friend. If Jesus were a kingship claimant with swords, treasury, property, suicidal partisans, hierarchy, heirs and a plan for domination, that Roman governor would have no hesitation in a final solution. Crucifixion was readily used. He must have been satisfied that Jesus was not a threat. Pilate labelled crucified Jesus their “king”, no doubt to taunt the vexatious and unhappy Jews. Jesus did claim to be Christ, a king - but not of any kind that was meaningful to that governor that day.

Sentence was duly carried out. There was an inevitability in the scornful words they flung back to Jesus as he died on the cross:
Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:32 RSV.) How could such a one be their Christ? They would not have it.

So the original Good Friday took its course. (Curious that label, "good", is so strongly attached to this day.) “Good” for you and for me; “good” for God’s salvation plan. But - death could not hold him. Still there is more - much more.

Is it possible today to appreciate the dismay and confusion the first followers felt as they came to terms with the reality of a sacrificed Christ (Messiah)? On the road to Emmaus that first day, maybe Jesus was a little exasperated in the exchange with the two:
“You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.  Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah (ie "christos") would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26 NLT.) 

Just a short period later we find Peter, now energised by the Spirit of God, saying to the disturbed Jerusalem crowd:  “…Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36 RSV) The hearers would have been clear on this claim about Jesus. He is Lord - he holds authority to command obedience and he is the Christ, the one and only God’s chosen.

King? Yes. More than that - "Lord of Lords and only ruler of princes".

Soon after, Peter and John were hauled before the Jewish authorities to give an account of their public actions; their reply includes: “..let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,[a] whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.  This Jesus[b] is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’[c] There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12 NRSV) They use the word “Christ” in a way which in our eyes may just look like a family name.

Despite the allegations of the authorities, I can not imagine that Jesus went about using the title “Christ” (or, “Messiah”) of himself. That title was not to be proclaimed during his public period. 

Leaving aside the question of language (Messiah/Christ), the impression from Acts is that the “Christ” word was firmly connected to Jesus right from the start of the spread of the “Good News”. If we turn to the rest of the NT it is inescapable. To take just one example, the first chapter of Galatians contains the word 7 times; one of those with the definite article.

Galatians will hold special interest if in fact it was the first written NT document; it apparently was early. In Galatians Paul used the word “Jesus” 17 times, each time with “Christ” (either “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus”). About 21 times he uses “Christ” on its own, clearly also referring to Jesus the Christ. In Galatians 3:13 (NLT) we find:
But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. It is quite clear that Paul is writing about Jesus. Notice that translators here do not substitute "Messiah" for Christ.

(It seems passing strange that transliterated Greek word, “Christ”, became such a convenient expletive in English. I wonder why?)

For sure the early followers of Jesus were constantly using the “Christ” word. It is not really surprising that people would start identifying them as (something like) “those Christ-ies”. So the word we know as “Christian” was coined (Acts 11:26). I do not know what the “Christ” word conveyed to the populace if they were unfamiliar with the Greek OT. That is a consideration for another time. I know of no reason to think a common word was coined based on "Messiah" - the disciples were not known as "Messiah-ians", though if we follow the practice of English translations that would be how the word would be represented.

In our day? What does it mean to say: Jesus is the Christ? Does it give some more cause for thought than simple use as though a (family) name? Saying “Jesus the Christ” does point to something about him, as does “Jesus the Messiah”. (Especially given that the King James Bible included “Messiah” only twice [Daniel], to me it is a little odd that the “messiah” idea is part of our culture, more so than “the Christ”. Is that down to G.F. Handel?)

It was God’s own anointed one, his only Son, whose life was forfeit for our salvation. The offer is available and genuine. The consequences of acceptance are not distasteful to those who allow their minds to be moulded by his Spirit.

Addendum re edits:
A substantial recent scholarly article by N. T. Wright explores the central issue of the Gospels'Jesus (the Christ) as King/Lord of all:

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (RSV) are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Bible text accessed through

No comments: