What does it mean to be the Christ? The simplest answer is: The Christ is what the Christ does. Let me illustrate this idea with a practical example. If I claim to be an artist that means I do art. An artist is what an artist does. I’m not an artist if I’ve never made any art. If I say I’m a pitcher what does that mean I do? It means I play baseball. A pitcher is what a pitcher does. If I say I’m a pilot that means I fly planes. You could identify me by my title pilot, pitcher, artist or by my actions flying planes while throwing balls and painting a picture of the action. These two ways of identification are equivalent. This leads us into a topic we need to cover concerning Jesus.
Christ, Son of God, Messiah, and Savior are all titles. Like artist, pitcher, or pilot these imply a set of actions which we will get to in a moment. First, you need to see that Christ, Son of God, Messiah, and Savior are used interchangeably. We gather this from the context of the Gospel of John. In the fourth chapter alone we find three out of four of these titles for Jesus. The woman at the well acknowledges:
“Messiah is coming,” who is called Christ. (John 4:25)
John, acting as a good narrator, tells his audience what Messiah means. He explains that the word Messiah is another word for Christ. In the same chapter we find another term that is a synonym for both Messiah and Christ:
Now we believe… this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world. (John 4:42)
Savior is one of my favorite titles for Jesus, because modern readers know what it means. This is the most accessible and understandable title that is given to Him. So, if someone believes in Jesus as the Savior then they have also believed in him as the Christ and Messiah. This is assuming that the person understands the biblical definition. Once again, in the Gospel of John we discover another synonymous title for Jesus. It appears multiple times but one of the clearest is when Martha says to Him:
You are the Christ, the Son of God. (John 11:27)
These two concepts often come together; He is the Christ, which is the Son of God. The titles are unified, and as it seems, the original audience knew that the Christ would be the Son of God, and vice versa. What’s interesting is that sometimes only one title is used, and in other places multiple titles are used.
This has a hint of His kingly status. Royalty often have multiple titles to describe their office. A great example of this is the queen of England. We can call her the queen, Queen Elizabeth, or the Queen of Great Britain and all of those titles are accurate. However, you may be surprised to find that she has an official title, or actually an official set of titles. It’s a little long so I’ll put it in a drop quote. Elizebeth’s official title is:
Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
That represents her full title, but it’s not used very often. What’s kind of fun to think about is what Jesus’ full title in the Kingdom of Heaven will be. There are so many titles for Jesus in the New Testament, I think I’ll limit this exercise to the titles that are used in John’s Gospel. Jesus’ titles include:
Jesus of Nazareth, who is Eternal word, written of by Moses and the prophets, The Light Of Men, The Life, The Resurrection, Lamb of God, Christ, Messiah, Savior of the world, Son of the Living God, Lord and God.
As I think through the Gospel of John it occurs to me that there are many more titles than these, but I think you get the idea. Jesus has titles. It is an accurate and acceptable way to express your belief to say, “I believe in Jesus as the Christ.”
It’s important to understand that there are two different ways to express saving belief. You can say that you’ve believed that He is the Christ, Son of God, Messiah, or Savior. This is believing in his title, or as John puts it believing in His name. (John 1:12) This expression is acknowledging His identity. However, for a modern audience which does not know what those titles meant to the biblical audience, there is another way to express saving belief.
What is really fascinating is that there are these places in the Gospel of John where Jesus essentially says, “believe in me so that you can have eternal life.” Then the person who believes says, “I believe in you as the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus tells people to believe in Him for what He can do. They respond by saying they believe in who He is. This is why we said, the Christ is what the Christ does. There is no place where this can be seen more clearly than in John 11. Jesus, in talking to Martha, says:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
Jesus reveals His identity by explaining His ability. He is the one who will bring about the resurrection. He is also the one who ensures that those who take part in the resurrection of believers will remain alive forever. This is another way of saying He gives eternal life. He then explains that this gift of resurrection and life is given on one condition, that the person believe in Him for it. If one believes, then Jesus gives this gift.
At the end of this statement, Jesus then asks a pointed question. “Do you believe this?” This is a pivotal moment for Martha. Martha answers simply, but in so doing she restates Jesus’ description of what she must believe:
“Yes, Lord, I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27)
With these words, Martha has done us a huge favor. She has given us a precise definition of the title Christ, Son of God. Martha shows what is meant when Jesus claims the title. To be the Christ, the Son of God, means to be the one who gives resurrection and eternal life to believers. These two concepts define each other. The Christ is what the Christ does.
I’m so glad that Martha restated Jesus’ words, and I’m so glad that John included this dialogue. In the Gospel of John, the Christ is the one who gives free eternal life to those who believe in Him.
Though this is probably the most clear example, it is not the only occurrence. In the sixth chapter of John almost the same thing occurs, but this time with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus is having a conversation with a number of followers who are getting restless. They are about to leave Him for good. In the conversation Jesus is trying to get them to understand. He says:
Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)
The crowd finds much of Jesus’ speech too difficult to believe so a large number stop following Him. They abandon Him. Jesus turns to His twelve closest disciples and asks them if they wish to keep following. (John 6:68) Peter, speaking on behalf of the twelve, says:
We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (John 6:69)
Notice that essentially the same thing that happened with Martha happens here with Peter and the other disciples. First Jesus says that people need to believe in Him to receive eternal life. They then synthesize that as we believe you’re the Christ and Son of God.
So, when Jesus describes the specifics of what one must believe, he explains that they have to believe in His ability to eternally save them. However, Martha and the disciples don’t respond by saying they believe in His ability, they respond by saying they believe in His Identity, the Christ. That’s because the Christ is what the Christ does. If he can’t save then He’s not the Christ. If He can save then He is the Christ.
In expressing your belief in Jesus, it’s great to use His titles, but it is also acceptable to express your belief by describing what you believe Jesus can do. There is an example in the New Testament of someone who expresses his belief in Jesus in terms of Jesus’ ability. Paul says he’s:
…an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16)
Paul explains that he has believed in Jesus for eternal life. This is the same as believing in Jesus as the Christ, Messiah, Savior, or Son of God. It is acceptable to express your belief either by saying, “I believe in Jesus as Christ,” or by saying, “I believe in Jesus for eternal life.” In fact, there’s nothing wrong with expressing both. The point is that to believe in Jesus as the Christ, is to believe in Jesus for eternal life. They are one and the same concept, expressed from two different angles.
With all this talk about eternal life, this may leave you wondering, “What is it?” That’s what we’ll look at next.