Q&A: The Meaning of "Jesus is Lord"

The Meaning of "Jesus is Lord"

Question

What does "Jesus is Lord" mean?

Answer

The word "Lord" is an important one. So important it's worth dying for. Polycarp (69-155 A.D.), a disciple of the apostle John and a second-century bishop of Smyrna, refused to confess that Caesar was Lord." Doing this could have saved his life, but instead, he was willingly martyred. For his faith and calling only one person Lord — the Lord Jesus Christ — Polycarp was burned at the stake. Of Polycarp it is written:

According to observers, as the flames grew, they did not consume Polycarp as expected. The fire formed a circle around him, but his body did not burn. Since the fire did not have its intended effect on Polycarp’s body, an executioner was ordered to stab him to death with a dagger. [1]

What is it about this name that is enough to die for?

Depending on the context, "lord" may mean numerous things, such as owner (Matt. 10:24), sir (Matt. 27:63), husband (1 Pet. 3:6), or even idol (1 Cor. 8:5). However, generally speaking, we can say that the word refers to someone with authority or power over others and is normally a title of respect. By New Testament times, the word had evolved and Rome’s caesars began to claim worship as a deity — "Caesar is Lord!" [2] Coins were minted and circulated throughout the Roman Empire proclaiming the emperor’s divinity.

In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Yahweh (speaking mainly of God’s covenant faithfulness; Exod. 3:14) and Adonai (speaking mainly of God’s sovereignty; Psa. 8:9 [O Yahweh, our Adonai …]) is translated as kurios meaning "Lord" throughout the entire New Testament. There are 6790 usages of Lord/lord in the Bible, but the question here is specifically about the statement, "Jesus is Lord."

If you really think about it, the shortest and most important creed within Scripture is "Jesus is Lord" (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3). Each time we see this phrase it ought to stop us in our tracks. There should be awe and wonder in our souls. We should ponder its full import because Jesus is more than just our Savior, he is also our Lord (Phil. 3:20; 2 Pet. 1:1-2, 11; 2 Pet. 2:20; 3:2, 18; Jude 1:25). Jesus is divine; he is God (John 1:1). He is God the Son who came in the flesh to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21; John 1:14). Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). After his resurrection, Thomas said to Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). He is "the Lord of lords" (Rev. 17:14; 19:16; cf. 1 Tim. 6:14-15). Jesus is "Lord of all" (Acts 10:36).

The Old Testament refers to Jesus as LORD. In Isaiah 6:1-10 we observe a glimpse of the LORD high and lifted up (cf. Mark 9:2-3), and John informs us in John 12:40-41 that this vision revealed the glory of Jesus. Isaiah 40:3 speaks about preparing the way of the LORD, and in Matthew 3:3 we see that Jesus is this same LORD for whom the way was prepared. In Isaiah 44:6, the LORD says of himself, "I am the first and I am the last." The same is said of Jesus in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:8, 17; 2:8; 22:13). The Old Testament LORD is clearly Jesus. Zechariah 12:10 states it would be the one who was pierced — the one we now know was Jesus on the cross (Psa. 22:16; John 19:34. 37; Rev. 1:7). Joel 2:32 says, "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved," and both Luke and Paul tell us who this LORD is — the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13).

Jesus even referred to himself as Lord (Luke 19:31). And he affirmed his disciples when they called him Lord: "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:13-14). Even the demons submit to his Lordship (Matt. 8:28-29; Luke 10:17). His is the name above every other name (Phil. 2:9-10). Jesus Christ, the only redeemer of God’s elect, is Lord.

A person regenerated by the Holy Spirit will confess Jesus as Lord in their conversion (Acts 16:31-34; Rom. 10:9-10). And no one can genuinely say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3; cf. Matt. 7:21). This confession shouldn’t be taken lightly because, as Lord, Jesus has "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18). He is our only Master and Lord (Jude 1:4). We are his (John 6:37; 10:28; 17:6, 9) and so should obey him (Luke 6:46). It is because this Lord is so good, we would sell all that we have to be his (Matt. 13:44-46; cf. 2 Thess. 1:10), yet the Lord Jesus gave his all that we would be his (1 Tim. 2:6; cf. Matt. 20:28; Gal. 1:4). He is the Lord that loves us and gives us eternal comfort and good hope through grace (2 Thess. 2:16).

As in Polycarp’s day, many today don’t believe that Jesus is Lord. But Polycarp believed and died for what he believed. He understood that only the truly divine Lord, unlike Caesar, was worthy of worship and one day every tongue would confess that this Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).

And so here I ask the reader, "Who or what is your Lord?"

Footnotes

[1] For further reading: Polycarp: An Early Christian Martyr. Taken from "Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship," by Charles E. Moore (Plough Publishing House, 2016). (https://www.plough.com/en/topics/faith/witness/polycarp). Last Accessed 20 October 2020 and “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff, et al., translated by Marcus Dods (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996). (https://ccel.org/ccel/s/schaff/anf01.xml). Last Accessed 20 October 2020.

[2] "The Roman worship of rulers began with Julius Caesar. Divine honors were paid to him during his lifetime… The senate formally conferred upon Caesar the title of Divus, 'the deified,' and ordered a temple to be erected for his [Augustus’] worship." Henry Fairfield Burton. The Worship of the Roman Emperors. (The University of Chicago Press, 1912).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).