Have you ever heard someone talk about Jesus Christ, as if “Christ” is his last name, or surname? The name “Jesus Christ” has become so culturally familiar, perhaps most often used as an expletive. What does his name mean? Continue reading, as our study through 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 during this first week of Advent will seek to understand the name of Jesus.
After confirming to the Thessalonian Christians that they are the church, connected to the larger Christian family, Paul continues encouraging them in verse 1 by declaring that they are “in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, they should see themselves as a distinctly Christian church. There were plenty of other religions in the Roman Empire, and we have already seen evidence of that by the presence of aggressive Jews in Thessalonica. Paul emphasizes here the fact that the Christian Church is different. The Christian church is uniquely rooted in both God as Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jews would agree with the first part, not the second. Romans would struggle with all of it. Calling Jesus “Lord” and “Christ” is very intentional on Paul’s part, then.
First, what does Paul mean when he says that Jesus is “Lord”? Paul is saying that Jesus is Lord, not the Roman emperor, the Caesar, who thought of himself as deity and required people to say, “Caesar is Lord.” Paul, calling Jesus “Lord,” as he also does in verse 2, as if to really drive the point home, is directly confronting the empire in this letter. Just the greeting of the letter is a subversive act. Paul is saying, “Christians, Jesus is your Lord, no matter what the emperor says.”
Second, not only would Romans bristle at the suggestion, Jews would be upset at the Messiah part. Paul is saying that Jesus is the Messiah. That word “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” The Messiah shows up in Old Testament prophecies as a coming king, of the line of the great King David, whom God would send as the fulfillment of the prophets’ message, which said that he would rescue Israel and restore her to prominence, just like in the days of King Solomon. Reading those prophecies, the Jews in the first century believed that the Messiah would free their land from their Roman overlords. So when Jesus came along saying he was the Messiah, but he did not rise to become a military leader, the Jewish leaders deemed him a fraud and blasphemer, and they crucified him. The earliest Christians, however, taught something different. They said that Jesus actually was the Messiah, and that the Jewish leaders had a faulty understanding of the prophecies about the Messiah. The Messiah was not going to be a government leader of an earthly kingdom, but was instead he was king of the Kingdom of heaven, a Kingdom that Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It was a surprising kingdom that was among us and in us, and could be advanced through us. So Paul, attributing that title “Messiah” to Jesus is also directly confronting the Jews.
Third, the name “Jesus” is his given name. In Aramaic, it would be Yeshua, or transliterated to English, Joshua, which means “God is salvation.” Fitting, isn’t it?
You and I are so used to the name “Lord Jesus Christ.” But in Paul’s day, especially there in Thessalonica with pressures from both the Romans and the Jews, that name was nothing short of revolutionary. They were the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. If they would have put that name out on their church sign, they would have gotten all kinds of abuse. It would be like my church putting the name “Communist Church of Atheism” on our sign. Imagine how that would go over here in the conservative Lancaster County Bible Belt?
So Paul has begun his letter to these new Christians by grounding them in what is true. They were a church of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They were believing a new way, a different reality, that put them in conflict with the culture around them. Paul knew that those Thessalonian Christians’ choice to be disciples of Jesus was neither an easy choice nor one that would result in an easy life. He himself had experienced the painful result of following Jesus. Jews and Greeks breathing down his neck, stoning him, rioting because of him and his message. He was well aware of how difficult it could be to be a Christian, let a brand new one, in their town. He knows he needs to help them. What will he say next to help them keep the faith?
In verse 2 he gives them his standard greeting of grace and peace, which he uses in nearly all of his letters. But he isn’t just using a throwaway greeting. Grace and peace are two theologically-rich words for Christians. Our entire relationship with God is based on grace. As Paul would later write in Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God.” Grace points us to God’s amazing love, mercy and forgiveness to us in Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. Therefore, we not only receive his grace, but we also share grace with one another, and with those outside the church. We are a grace-soaked people.
Second, peace is so important for Christians. Especially for Christians who are living in the middle of unrest, such as the Thessalonians were. Jesus came to bring peace. In his birth, the angels announce “Peace on earth, good will to all humanity.” This word, too, is a direct confrontation to the empire. In the Roman Empire, it was declared that the Caesar would bring peace. But just like the angels, Paul says that peace is available to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. No human can really bring lasting peace. But Jesus can.
So how about you? Do you know Jesus as Lord and Christ? Have you received his grace and peace? Please comment below if you want to talk about that!
Then we continue in the next post, taking a look at what Paul will say after his greeting.