While some understandably think Jesus has two names, the reality is he has only one – Jesus. Christ is not his last name, but it is one of the most used of many designations the Bible gives to him. If we were to write down all the designations for Jesus in the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) it would be a long list.
Two of the more prominent designations for Jesus in the New Testament are Son of God and Son of Man. In going to church as a youngster I learned that Son of God underscored the divinity of Jesus and Son of Man his humanity. While one of the basic Christian teachings about Jesus is that he was fully God and fully man at the same time, Son of Man does not necessarily point to his humanity.
In the Gospels Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. At that time Son of Man was not automatically thought of as a term of divinity, but was rather open to interpretation. Jesus used the term so that through his teaching and actions he could fill it with meaning. By the end of his ministry is was clear that his usage of the term was a claim to a special relationship with God similar to Son of God.
As important as Son of God and Son of Man are as designations for Jesus in the New Testament in terms of his identity, there are three other designations that have become my favorites. To me these three need to be held together in one’s personal understanding of who Jesus is.
The least used in the New Testament of these three is friend. And it is interesting that the label was first given to Jesus by his critics. Reflecting on their dissatisfaction with both John the Baptist and himself Jesus said, “For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds” (Matthew 11:18 and 19).
In John 15:13-15 Jesus uses the word friends to describe his followers. In verse 13 he declares, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In verse 14 he adds a condition: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” The fullest explanation is in verse 15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
In addition to friend, savior is also one of my favorite three designations for Jesus. While the term is used elsewhere as well, savior is prominent in the Christmas story as told by both Matthew and Luke. Savior speaks to the mission and work Jesus came to accomplish by going to the cross. Our friend is also our savior, and our savior is also our friend.
The third of my favorite designations for Jesus is lord. As a title lord suggests respect, but also authority. In many respects lord is synonymous with master. What is unique about lord as a title for Jesus is that we choose and accept him as Lord, he does not force it on us. Not only that, as our lord he does not use or take advantage of us; he wants only what is best for us.
Is it possible to hold these three designations together in our understanding of Jesus? I think so. All three are important and each contributes much to our relationship with him.
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