“Jesus Christ” is such a familiar phrase that many of us have come to think of it as Jesus’s name. First name: Jesus. Last name: Christ. In fact, Jesus Christ is not a name at all, but a title. The word “Christ” is a Greek word which means ‘anointed one.’ It was the term the New Testament writers used to refer to the Jewish Messiah. Therefore, to say “Jesus Christ” is to hail Jesus as Messiah, the One anointed by God to accomplish God’s saving work for Israel and for the world.
This raises an interesting question. If Jesus Christ was not Jesus’s name, what was? What name would people have called him, and what significance did it have?
The answer is even more interesting. Opponents called Jesus the son of Mary (Mk 6:3), possibly a shameful slur referring to the belief that his father was illegitimate (Jn 8:48). His followers knew his adopted father was Joseph, and for that reason referred to him as the son of Joseph (Lk 4:22, Jn 1:45). Most people, however, knew Jesus by a different name: Jesus of Nazareth.
The significance of this name is easy to miss, but extremely important. In biblical times, like today, a person’s home played a major role in how they were received. If you were from a place of honor and wealth, you could expect to receive a great deal of respect. For instance, Saul mentions that he is a citizen Tarsus, an important and well-known Roman city (Acts 21:6).
On the other hand, those with humble origins had to overcome a stigma. When Phillip claims to have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, his friend Nathaniel quickly retorts, “From Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? (Jn 1:46)”
Nazareth was a small agricultural community in Northern Israel home to fewer than 500 people. To the Romans, the entire nation of Israel was a nuisance to be managed. To the Jews, Nazareth was obscure enough to never merit mention in the Old Testament (and let’s be honest, a lot of obscure towns made the cut) or any other Jewish literature outside of the New Testament. Nathaniel’s thoughts probably captured the common view of the day. Nazareth was a place from which nothing and no one of consequence would come. Poor. Insignificant. Undesirable. If fact, followers of Jesus were insulted as “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
What a shame it would be if we made the same mistake today. Nazareth may have seemed an armpit town to some, but it would go down as one of the most important places in the history of the world. Demons shuttered at the name of Jesus of Nazareth (Lk 4:34). In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, Peter healed a man lame from birth (Acts 3:6). An angel heralded that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified, but rose to cheat death and hell (Mk16:6). As Christians, we believe that when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, they will hail the man from Nazareth.
What was Jesus’s name? Jesus of Nazareth. Why does it matter? Because through Jesus of Nazareth, God showed us that power, honor, and importance do not come from the place we call home, but from the One we call Father.