Many people addressed Jesus as Lord (Matt 20:33; Mark 7:28; Luke 7:6), but when his disciples used the title of him, or when he used the title of himself, ‘Lord’ had much more meaning (Luke 19:34; 24:34; John 11:27; 13:6,13-14; 20:28; 21:7). The early church developed the more meaningful usage of the word till it became one of the most distinctive expressions of the Christian community.

Hebrew and Greek backgrounds

The Greek word that is translated ‘Lord’ in the New Testament is kurios, the word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the Hebrew word yahweh (i.e. Jehovah) (cf. Ps 32:2 with Rom 4:8; cf. Isa 40:13 with Rom 11:34). Yahweh, the name of God, was a mysterious name that Jews of later times considered so sacred that they refused to speak it. Linguistically, the name was connected with the expression ‘I am’ and referred to the eternal, unchangeable, self-sufficient and ever-present God (Exod 3:13-16).

Jesus identified himself with Yahweh by calling himself ‘I am’ (John 8:58; see also John 4:26; 6:35; 8:12; 10:7,11; 11:25; 14:6; 18:5; Mark 14:62). The New Testament writers also identified Jesus with the God of the Old Testament, and repeatedly quoted Old Testament references to Yahweh as applying to Jesus (cf. Ps 16:8 with Acts 2:24-25; cf. Isa 40:3 with Mark 1:1-3; cf. Jer 9:23-24 with 1 Cor 1:30-31; cf.

Isa 8:13 with 1 Peter 3:15; cf. Ps 110:1 with Matt 22:41-45).

Both the words of Jesus and the quotations of the New Testament writers reflect the Hebrew background of the New Testament. According to that background, to call Jesus ‘Lord’ was to call him God. But most of the early Christians did not come from a Hebrew background. They were Gentiles, not Jews, and they had no history of the usage of the name Yahweh to influence their thinking. Yet to them also, to call Jesus ‘Lord’ (kurios) was to call him God. Their understanding of kurios came from its usage in the Greek-speaking Gentile world in which they lived.

In common speech, kurios may sometimes have meant no more than ‘sir’ or ‘master’ (Matt 21:30; Luke 12:36,45; John 12:21; Acts 25:26), but it was also used in relation to deity, such as when people referred to the Greek and Roman gods (1 Cor 8:5). The Greek-speaking Christians’ use of this word for Jesus showed that they considered him to be God – not just one of many gods, but the one true God. This one was the creator and ruler of the universe, and the controller of life and death (Acts 1:24; 13:10-12; 17:24; Rom 14:9,11; 1 Tim 6:15-16; Rev 17:14).

Glorified and triumphant

Through the glorious resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ, God declared dramatically the absolute lordship of Christ (Acts 2:36; Rom 1:4; Phil 2:9-11). Believers in Christ are also Christ’s servants and disciples. They gladly acknowledge him as Lord and willingly submit to him as to one who has complete authority over their lives. At the same time they love him as one who has saved them and given them new joy, peace and hope (John 20:28; Acts 10:36; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 1:2-3; Eph 1:22-23;

2 Thess 3:16; Rev 22:20).

When God’s chosen time comes, the lordship of Jesus Christ, at present unrecognized by the world, will be openly displayed (1 Cor 2:6-8; 15:24-26; cf. Heb 2:9; 9:28). He will return in power and glory, to enjoy the final fruits of the victory he won through his life, death and resurrection. In that great day there will be universal acknowledgment that he is indeed Lord (Phil 2:11; 1 Thess 4:15-17; 2 Thess 1:7; Rev 19:16).

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