What’s In a Title?

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Ezek. 2:1 π Dan. 7:13-14 π Mt. 4:8-9 π Mt. 7:21-23 π Mt. 13:38 π Mt. 16:13-17 π Mt. 16:20 π Mk. 10:44 π Jn. 6:15 π Jn. 6:68-69 π Jn. 8:44 π Jn. 10:5 π Acts 20:29-30 π 1 Cor. 2:8 π 1 Cor. 8:1 π 2 Cor. 3:5 π 2 Cor. 11:13-15 π 1 Tim. 2:5 π Heb. 5:12-13 π 2 Pet. 2:1 π 1 Jn. 2:20 π 1 Jn. 2:27 π Rev. 1:6

Jesus the Christ. There is no combination of name and title more familiar to us than this. No one, except those who use the name blasphemously or those who don’t know what Jesus did or what the title means, would deny that this name and this title belong together.

There are a few who do not know what “Christ” means – some even think it’s Jesus’ last name! “Christ” means “anointed one” and is the same thing as the Hebrew word that is transliterated “Messiah.” According to prophecies given by God to the Hebrews, the Christ or Messiah was to come and deliver His people. The Jews had waited for centuries looking for the promises of God to be fulfilled in this one Man – the Messiah, the Christ. If any one word encapsulates the feeling stirred in the human heart by that word “Messiah,” it would be expectation - expectation of rescue, reward, glory, salvation from the many evils rampant in the world.

The predominant hope in Israel at the time of Jesus of Nazareth was that Messiah would be a warrior king like David had been. Messiah would surely overthrow the hated Roman oppressors and taskmasters. Almost everyone who looked for Messiah had this expectation. Jesus knew this and “when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king [of Israel], He departed again to a mountain by Himself alone.” ( Jn. 6:15 ) The title and position of Messiah and Christ and the role of conqueror-king over Israel were His for the taking. But this was only a more subtle presentation on a smaller scale of the devil’s offer of the kingdoms of this world. ( Mt. 4:8-9; top ) Most likely, it would have simply brought about His crucifixion prematurely and on the wrong basis!

Jesus once asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” But “then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.” ( Mt. 16:13-17 , 20; top )

Why was Jesus so reluctant to allow Himself to be recognized as the Messiah? Because the popular idea of Messiah was different from God’s plan and purpose for the Messiah’s mission. The Messiah was not going to root out only one or a few strands of evil. He was going to destroy all the works of evil in one blow. The root of evil is not found just in oppressive empires and in idolatrous Gentile nations. The “disease” of sin and evil lies in the heart of every man and until this pervasive root is entirely killed and removed, oppression and idolatry will always rise up in our midst. We are the worst carriers of this “disease” and fortunately for mankind, complete annihilation and destruction of the human race was not God’s plan for the destruction of all the works of evil! Through the work of the Messiah, God would separate sin from the human race forever.

Since Christ came to remove the root of evil, any widespread, indiscriminate use of the title Messiah or Christ would have interfered with and even contradicted His ultimate goal and objective. The word “Messiah” stirred up false expectations because no one, not even the evil principalities and powers understood His real mission “for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” ( 1 Cor. 2:8; top ) Jesus came to call His people to repentance from the dead works within their own hearts – not to stir them up to a different kind of dead works.

Fast Forward Two Thousand Years

Now let us “fast forward” to our own day and time and consider the rampant usage of titles. “Pastor” Jones. “Apostle” Smith. “Prophet” Davis. What do these titles do? They stir up an expectation, an expectation that we have come into the presence of “a man of God,” supposedly a superior specimen of spiritual humanity.

However, the title is a lie on two fronts:

  1. the man is rarely any better at following Christ than anyone else is – he is merely in possession of more religious knowledge than most people have, knowledge that may actually prevent his following Christ more than it helps him follow Christ! (see 1 Cor. 8:1 , etc.)

  2. We are all supposed to be kings and priests to our God! ( Rev. 1:6 , etc.) There is no superior class of “men of God” – we all “have an anointing from the Holy One” ( 1 Jn. 2:20 ) and “the same anointing teaches you concerning all things…just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” ( 1 Jn. 2:27 - emphasis added; top) We are, each one of us, all supposed to be the man of God!

Today’s rampant use of titles is just as misleading as it would have been for Jesus – in reality, even more so. In Jesus’ case, the title (in it’s correct understanding – see Jn. 6:68-69 , etc.) was truly His and He was and is the ultimate fulfillment of the true expectations for Messiah. But today’s titles do little more than give the tares, the sons of the devil ( Mt. 13:38 ) who disguise themselves as “apostles of Christ” and “workers of righteousness” ( 2 Cor. 11:13-15 ), a place in which to hide, from which they can secretly (see 2 Pet. 2:1; top ) introduce and wield the power of their father, the devil.

The true apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, shepherd, elder, overseer, deacon (or whatever other transliterated Greek word might be construed into some form of title) does not need a title or rank. He already has one – he is the lowest slave of all. ( Mk. 10:44 ) If he receives, expects or especially demands treatment that belongs to a higher class or rank, then his “servanthood” is merely a deception, yet another sign that the devil is his real father. (see Jn. 8:44 ) No, the true servant of Christ does not need a title or rank or the approval of men. He has Christ and Christ is more than sufficient in all things. ( 2 Cor. 3:5; top )

Why did Jesus adopt the phrase “Son of Man” and reject the title “Messiah”? To a Bible scholar, the phrase might be recognized as coming from Daniel’s prophecy that “the Son of Man” would be “given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” ( Dan. 7:13-14 ) More likely, however, Jesus probably counted on the phrase being more associated with its usage in Ezekiel where God referred to the prophet as “the son of man.” ( Ezek. 2:1 , etc.; top)

Jesus did not rely on His title but instead relied on the fact that “the Son of Man” did all (and not just a more readily visible portion) that had been prophesied of Him. This provided all who would come after Him with a point for their faith to attach to – that He who was the promised Messiah came and did all that was written of Him so that we might believe that He was the anointed and sent Mediator from God the Father. ( 1 Tim. 2:5; top )

Today’s “leaders” would be wise to step away from their reliance on titles to “prove” their place of “superiority.” If they are genuine leaders who have gone further in Christ than the other believers around them, Christ’s sheep will recognize them because Christ is so prevalent in their lives (and not just in their “sermons” and monologues – see Jn. 10:5 ) And if they are genuine leaders in Christ, they will not be drawing followers after themselves ( Acts 20:29-30 ) or seeking to “feed” the flock indefinitely. ( Heb. 5:12-13 ) If they are not genuine leaders in Christ, the sheep are both wise and right to step away from such men, no matter how lofty their title, and these false “leaders” will be faced with a most unpleasant surprise on judgment day. ( Mt. 7:21-23; top ) Their titles will only serve as evidence that they had been exposed to and acquainted with the truth that could have brought them both liberty and eternal life. This evidence – the title they have so confidently and presumptively appended to their name – will be their condemnation.

What’s in a title? In a word, deception. It is a demonically-inspired, man-made label of some role God gave men to live. The subtle substitution of meanings only signifies that a similar substitution of source has occurred on at least some levels. Don’t be deceived by lofty titles when the man’s life is unavailable for inspection and review.

Let he who has ears hear.

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