If you were to ask the average person today who claims to be a Christian: “Who is Jesus?” Chances are you will hear them refer to Jesus as the “Savior!” Many would even claim him as their “personal Savior.” (I’m still trying to figure that one out because I wonder what is meant by the use of the term: “personal?” What is the difference between Christ being your “personal Savior” as opposed to being your “Savior?” Is there such a thing as an “Impersonal Savior?” Oh well! That’s beside the point, I was just thinking out loud.) But, I did some exegetical research on the references in the New Testament to Jesus, where he is directly and/or indirectly referred to as “Savior” and contrasted those findings with the direct and/or indirect references where he is referred to as “Lord” and I found a surprising result! In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to, directly and/or indirectly as “Savior” less than 20 times! Contrastingly, he is referred to as “Lord” nearly 250 times! The numbers reveal a startling fact! Modern Christianity knows Jesus today, primarily as “Savior,” but the original and 1st century Christians knew him primarily as “Lord!”
Now you might wonder what the point is; what difference does it make whether we know him as Lord or as Savior? It makes all the difference in the world! But before I discuss that, we need to be clear on the meaning of the term: “Lord.” In the Greek text, the word translated as “lord” is the word: “kurios.” There were four primary usages of this word in the New Testament times. First, it was used as a term of respect, much in the same way we use the term: “mister” or “sir.” Secondly, it referred to, “he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he had power of deciding; the possessor and disposer of a thing, the owner; one who has control of the person, the master.” Thirdly, it was a political reference to the chief sovereign of the state; the Roman Emperor. And then lastly, it was a title given to God and the Messiah, an expression of deity.
We must note that every person who called Jesus “Lord” in the Bible was not talking about same concept. For instance, when Jesus met the woman at the well in John 4, when she told Jesus he didn’t have any utensil to draw the water with, she addressed him as “kurios,” which is translated in the English translations as “sir.” It was obvious, at that point in the conversation, she didn’t know who Jesus was. Therefore, she was just being polite in addressing him. However, when his disciples called him “kurios,” they were referring to the fact that he was their master. It is fairly obvious that they also, at that point, prior to the resurrection, had no concept of Jesus being God! They were still trying to figure out his identity. When he calmed the raging sea in Galilee, they exclaimed: “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Mat 8:27 KJV) When the martyrs proclaimed: “Jesus is Lord!” during the height of the Roman persecution, such a statement was considered an act of treason because it was directly contrary to the statement of allegiance to the Roman state: “Caesar is Lord!”
But, what should it mean for us to know him as “Lord” today? And why am I advocating that we should know him as “Lord” more so than knowing him as “Savior?” Well, it’s not really a matter of one term being right while the other one is wrong. It’s a matter of understanding who Jesus really is! According to the Scriptures, he is not the “Savior” who saves: He is the “Lord” who saves! The term “Lord” signifies who he is while the term “Savior” indicates what he did and what he does! He is not just the Savior! He is the Lord who saves! He is the Lord who is the Savior! But what does it mean: He is the Lord? Is it a reference to the fact that he is God? Yes! But that is not the primary emphasis I want to stress! The primary emphasis I want us to see is the fact that he is the master, the owner, the supreme sovereign! Jesus is Lord! Period! I’ve heard people tell new converts: “Now that you are saved, you need to make Jesus Lord of your life!” But how can we make him what he already is? He’s Lord whether we acknowledge him or not! And since when did we get the authority to “make” Jesus Lord? God has already done that! Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Act 2:36 KJV) Jesus is Lord! It is not a matter of us “making him Lord of our lives” it’s a matter of us submitting to his lordship authority!
I know I’m about to get in trouble now! But I believe the Bible teaches that Jesus must be our Lord in order to be our Savior! (I know that there are some who teach that a person can be saved and Jesus may or may not become “Lord of their lives” later on! <optional lordship, but not necessarily necessary> But, I haven’t found any scriptural basis for such teaching! How can you have one without the other? Can you split a coin and have “tails” without the “heads” and still have a legitimate coin? Is Christ divided? How can he be our Savior without being our Lord?) Consider a staple scripture that is often used to lead people to salvation:
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Rom 10:9 KJV)
“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 ESV)
“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 NASB)
Note that the first requirement is confessing (the Greek word is “homolegeo” it means; “to say or speak the same thing as another, to agree”) Jesus as Lord. Who and What are you agreeing with? You are agreeing with God and with what He says about Jesus being Lord. (When we “confess” our sins, it is not just a matter of us acknowledging or admitting that we are wrong, it’s also agreeing with whatever God says about our sins! It is calling our sins what God calls them!) In this text, we confess or acknowledge Jesus, not as Savior; but as Lord! Then we believe in our heart; that is we have faith, we trust in and rely upon the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead! It is then, only after we’ve confessed Jesus as (is) Lord, only after we believed that God raised Jesus from the dead, it is only then, that Paul says we will be saved!
The Bible says out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, let every word be established. So that was Paul, let’s hear Peter! It was Peter who made one-third of the less than twenty direct references to Jesus as Savior. There are five references to “Savior Jesus Christ” in 2nd Peter. But of those five references, four are: “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In the New Testament, Jesus is rarely referred to as just, “Savior” Most of the time (nearly 250), he is referred to as “Lord!”
Well, we’ve heard from Paul and Peter, let’s hear from Jesus! Jesus said to those who would come after (that is, follow him or be saved) him: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 KJV) That’s Lordship talk! He said: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:28-30 KJV) That’s Lordship talk! How did Jesus understand himself as Lord? He asked, one day: “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? (Luke 6:46 NLT) On another occasion he said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21 ESV) Clearly Jesus understood that his “lordship” warranted obedience from those who would claim him as such. The fact that he is Lord is the basis of his authority in issuing the Great Commission: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:18-20 ESV) The marching order of the church is based on the authority, not of Jesus the Savior, but of Jesus the Lord!
The evidence is overwhelming! We might want to know him primarily as Savior, but they knew him as Lord!
Comments are welcomed!