‘JESUS IS LORD’ – What does that mean?

Dies auch in Deutsh erhaertlich  

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

This is the foundation of the Christian faith. It is the confession by which we are saved and it is therefore essential to understand what it really means to confess that “Jesus is Lord”.

Jesus himself confirmed that in order to be saved we must believe he is who he claimed to be: “. . . if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Perhaps the force of this confession is not fully appreciated in the modern world. When we say “Jesus is Lord” are we merely acknowledging his rulership or are we saying “Jesus is God”? Whereas the confession, “Jesus is Lord” can be accommodated in our minds with relative ease as an acknowledgement of his position of authority, to say “Jesus is God” goes to the very essence of his being and nature.

Today monotheism is almost taken for granted, so much so that many people assume that everyone worships the same God, even if the god they worship is called by some other name. In the ancient world the idea of monotheism was uncommon and people worshipped many gods. The Israelites worshipped the one true God, YHWH, the creator of all things and they knew that the gods of the nations were in reality dumb idols – they had no illusions that the gentiles worshipped the same god.

It is against this backdrop that we must consider what the confession “Jesus is Lord” meant to first century Jews who were surrounded by a pagan world in which many gods were worshipped and in which Caesar was also proclaimed as Lord. We must consider the witness of the old testament Scriptures concerning the deity of the Messiah, Jesus’ own revelation of who he is, and how the apostles, raised and nurtured in strict Jewish monotheism, present him to us.

The question of who Jesus is has occupied the minds of theologians and ordinary people from the days of his earthly sojourn to the present day. Jesus is called both “Son of God” and “Son of man” and these two titles encapsulate the difficulties we have in bringing these two concepts together in order to understand the essence of his nature – true God and true man. We may be tempted to dismiss questions concerning the deity of Jesus with a list of proof texts, but, for the person who is genuinely seeking understanding, glib answers will not suffice. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh.” We are face to face with the mystery of God incarnate, and who can fully fathom the depths of the revelation of God, come to us in the form of a man. A short article like this cannot do justice to such an inquiry, but we hope that it will be, at the very least, a small pointer in the way of truth.


God revealed himself to Moses as YHWH, meaning, “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be.” His name expresses the essence of his being as the eternally existing One and the very source of all life. YHWH also revealed himself as the only Saviour and Redeemer of his people.

“I AM YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Saviour except me” (Hosea 13:4).

“Then all flesh shall know that I, YHWH, am your Saviour, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” ( Isaiah 49:26 cf. Isaiah 54:5).

At the same time, the promise of a Saviour and Redeemer, who would be born from among the people of Israel and who would save them from their sins, was given right from the beginning when man fell and was exiled from God’s presence. A literal translation of Genesis 4:1 indicates that Eve expected that she would bring forth the Redeemer, but she did not realize that it was not yet the time for the Redeemer to be born among his people: Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten the man YHWH.’

The prophets also hinted at the mystery of godliness – Isaiah identifies the coming Messiah, who will be born to the virgin, as “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.” He also reveals the miraculous nature of this child: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Micah speaks of the mystery of the ruler who will be born in Bethlehem, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

Even as YHWH’s existence is eternal, the Messiah’s existence is also revealed to be from everlasting. Furthermore the prophets reveal that YHWH will bring salvation through his own arm (the Messiah): And he (YHWH) saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his own arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him (Isaiah 59:16).

Thousands of years later, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream to inform him that the virgin to whom he was engaged to be married had conceived a child by the Holy Spirit who would be the saviour of his people. The angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus (“Yeshua” – literally “YHWH our Saviour”), because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).


Did Jesus claim to be God? Many people deny this, claiming that it was the early church, under the influence of Hellenism, that “deified” Jesus after his death.

The gospels record several incidents where Jesus offended his audience by making claims or exercising authority in a way that they certainly interpreted as blasphemous. He claimed authority over the Sabbath (Mt. 12:8), which, being instituted by God, was the preserve of God alone. He claimed the authority to forgive sins (Mt. 9:2), the right of which belongs to God alone. He exercised authority over angels and demons. He claimed the authority to judge all men (Acts 10:42), and he claimed that his authority extended not only over the entire earth, but even in heaven (Mt.28:18).

Jesus also claimed pre-existence. Just as YHWH had revealed himself to Moses in a way that expressed his eternal being as the very source of life Jesus claimed pre-existence and claimed to “have life in himself” (Jn. 5:26), indeed, to be “the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25). When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees he answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Everyone who heard this knew that he was alluding to the way that God had revealed himself to Moses as, “I am,” which is why they picked up stones to stone him. John’s gospel records his prayer to the Father in anticipation of the trial that he was about to endure. He speaks plainly of his existence with the Father before creation itself and of the glory he shared with the Father, indicating both his equality and unity with the Father: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:5).

He claimed to be the full representation of God to man: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He claimed oneness with God: “I and the Father are one”(John 10:30), and he claimed a mutual and exclusive knowledge with the Father that could only originate from his essential oneness and unique relationship to the Father: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt. 11:27). His relationship as “the Son of God” is not merely in the sense that we might speak of a person as being a child of God. He is the eternal, pre-existent Son of God, of one nature with the Father, sent by Him to become man, in order to accomplish the Father’s will and purpose for mankind. Their unity of being and purpose cannot be separated: “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).

The title that he used most frequently as a self-designation was “Son of man.” Although some have interpreted this as merely designating his humanity, when he was charged under oath by the high priest to say whether he was the Christ, the Son of God, it is clear that he identified himself with the Son of man in Daniel’s vision (7:13), who comes upon the clouds of heaven (exercising judgement) and who is led into the presence of the Ancient of days to receive an everlasting dominion and universal worship. This was certainly interpreted as blasphemy by the high priest: “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy!” (Matt. 26:63-65).

The revelation of who Jesus is, is essential to our salvation and is the foundational truth of Christianity – Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh, the fullest revelation of the eternal “I am,” who appeared as the Saviour and Redeemer of his people in fulfilment of what God had promised. Jesus indeed claimed to be God, but, in appearing among his people in the lowly form of a man and a servant, he demonstrated complete humility as an example for us to follow. As the prophet Isaiah said, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him… On the contrary, he was destined to be despised and rejected! Isaiah wrote prophetically, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3).


How do the Apostles present Jesus to us in the light of their Jewish understanding of God? There are many passages in the writings of the apostles that demonstrate that the apostles regarded Jesus as the incarnation of YHWH, but for the purposes of this article we will select some that are, perhaps, less immediately obvious.

Jews often think that the Sh’ma (“Hear O Israel the Lord our God is one…”), stands in total opposition to the Christian confession that “Jesus is Lord.” Paul, a zealous Jew, was fully accustomed to the recital of the Sh’ma three times per day as the foundational confession of Judaism, a confession that affirms that there is only one Lord, in contrast to the heathen who worship many gods.

Paul, writing in this very context, i.e. the worship of the one true God as opposed to the many gods of the heathen, wrote; “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6).

N.T Wright points out that Paul is taking the Sh’ma, the central confession of Judaism, and placing Jesus firmly in the middle of it! He is acknowledging the absolute unity (echad) or oneness of the one true God, who is revealed to us as God the Father, from whom all things come, and the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things come:

Deuteronomy 6:4 (The Sh’ma)
YHWH our God (literally Gods)
YHWH is One

1 Corinthians 8:6
One God the Father…
One Lord, Jesus Christ…

Many Jews recoil at the very idea that YHWH would appear among his people in the lowly form and likeness of a man. The pagans worshipped many gods, each representing some or other facet of their lives and of the forces of nature etc., but YHWH revealed himself to Israel as one (echad). This word does not mean one as in singular, but one as in perfect unity. In Genesis YHWH reveals this unity by saying, “Let us make man in our image.” Jesus confirmed this unity saying, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Philippians is probably one of the most familiar passages attesting that “Jesus is Lord.” This is taken from Isaiah (45:23) where YHWH declares that every knee will bow and every tongue will swear allegiance to Him! Again we see how Paul places Jesus in the context of Jewish monotheism, declaring the unity and equality of Jesus with God the Father:

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php. 2:9-11).

Paul takes the quotation from the prophet Joel (2:32), “Everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved”, and applies it directly to Jesus. Jesus is the one upon whom we must call in order to be saved. His very name, Yehoshua, means “Yahweh is salvation.” “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . . for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9;13).

In understanding what the title “Lord” implied in the early church it is worth noting that Kyrios (Lord) was regularly used to translate the name YHWH in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures that were in common use at the time of Christ.

The apostle Peter, exhorting the believers to remain steadfast even in the face of unjust suffering and persecution, quotes from a passage in Isaiah 8:12 13: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” However, Peter quotes it as follows: “Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened, but in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:14-15). Peter identifies Christ as the one we should regard as holy (set apart means holy), equating Jesus Christ with YHWH the LORD of hosts! Peter urges the believers not to fear what man can do but to trust in God who is sovereign and to fear him only. This is precisely what Jesus had taught his disciples during his time with them: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). When our very lives are threatened we must remain faithful and trust in God out of a holy reverence and fear — The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27)

It was in this very context (i.e. Isaiah 8:12-15), that YHWH Almighty said that he would become a sanctuary among his people, but at the same time a rock of offense and a stone of stumbling. How did he become a sanctuary (dwelling place for his Spirit) among his people? The apostle John answers quite plainly: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling place (sanctuary) among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1;14). Referring to his earthly body, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple (sanctuary), and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19-22).

Peter plainly identifies YHWH of hosts who, in the prophecy in Isaiah, “will become a sanctuary and a stone of stumbling and rock of offense to the people of Israel,” as Jesus. He wrote; “Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame, . . . but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense’” (1 Peter 2:6 8). The revelation that YHWH made his dwelling among his people in the person of Jesus the Messiah is without doubt the very thing over which so many of the Jewish people took offense and stumbled.

YHWH, the Creator of all things, the eternal King of kings, humbled himself and veiled his glory by appearing among his people in the person of Jesus Christ – and then made atonement through the shedding of his own blood on the cross.

He is the sanctuary for those who trust in him, but those who do not believe he is who he claimed to be and do not regard him as holy are destined to stumble and fall and be destroyed. Jesus said, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Matt. 21:44). This is what the LORD Almighty warned the people of centuries earlier through the prophet Isaiah: “He (YHWH) will be a trap and a snare for the people of Jerusalem. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured (Isaiah 8:14-15). It was the rejection of Jesus Christ as YHWH (Lord) which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Jesus said of the pending destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (See Luke 19:44 and Luke 21:20).


Christianity faced a dual challenge – with paganism on the one hand and with a Judaism that, in its zeal to resist paganism and idolatry, had developed a hedge around the law that produced a false piety and made God quite unapproachable. Though Jews often accused Christians of being idolaters, of “worshipping a man,” true Christians were as zealous to resist the forces of paganism and idolatry as were the Jews.

The confession that “Jesus is Lord” flew directly in the face of the claims of the Caesars. The Pagan world had no problem in “deifying a man,” which is what it really meant when loyal subjects were required to show their allegiance by confessing that “Caesar is Lord.” It is important to realise that saying “Caesar is Lord” was not merely an acknowledgment that he was the reigning head of state. It was an acknowledgment of his claim to be a god. Modern man may scoff at such primitive ideas, but he practically deifies himself!

Judaism had acquired the status of a legal religion, and, out of deference to their laws prohibiting idolatry, Jews were exempted from having to make any gestures that would be considered idolatrous. Christianity was regarded as an illegal religion and its adherents enjoyed no such protection. Christians were compelled to confess “Caesar as Lord” or face the consequences, but such a confession would be a denial of their faith and confession that “Jesus is Lord.” Many Christians were martyred for refusing to acknowledge Caesar as Lord. These martyrs knew that their Lord is the only supreme King and Judge who is able to give eternal life.

“Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am YHWH, and apart from me there is no saviour” (Isaiah 43:10-11).Only YHWH can redeem his people:“No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him– the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough– that he should live on forever and not see decay” (Psalm 49:7-9). The gospel which we proclaim is not that Jesus “became a god.” The gospel, in accord with the Hebrew prophets who foretold this great and wonderful mystery, is that God became man! YHWH, the only God of Israel, became Israel’s Saviour, Redeemer and King appearing among his people in the form and likeness of a man, “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, cf. 1 Tim. 2:6, Heb. 9:15, see also Isaiah 63:8-10).

“You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Saviour except me” (Hosea 13:4). The only way for Israel to be saved from their sins is to acknowledge that God alone is their Saviour and that he has revealed himself in Jesus the Messiah.

When Jesus asked Peter the question, “Who do you say I am?” he answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:16).

Jesus confronts every person with this same question, “Who do you say I am?”

When we truly comprehend the gospel, the mystery of God incarnate, we bow in reverent worship and declare with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”