While I was on my way home from church today a friend asked me what the word Christ means. I replied that it’s the Greek version of the Hebrew word messiah. They both mean “anointed one”. The conversation went on a little bit more and then changed to something else, but that question was still in the back of my mind. What does Christ mean? As Christians we’re suppose to be striving to be “little Christs”, so it seems important to understand what exactly we’re striving to be. If Christ means anointed one, then what’s that? From what I understand, anointed ones in the Old Testament were mostly the Judges (think more leader, less robe and gavel) and Kings of Israel. They were the people God had appointed to lead his people. Another important thing I under these “anointed ones” to have done was save/liberate the people of Israel from the captivity, oppression, or other unfavorable circumstance they may have been in (usually self-inflicted because they disobeyed God’s “no other God’s” command).
Fast forward to the beginning of the first century and you have the Jewish people under the rule of Rome. This is where Jesus comes in and starts making claims to be an anointed one of God. I think the way a lot of Jews would have heard this was that Jesus is a messiah for the Jews, come to kick Rome’s butt and lead the people of God into political freedom (maybe a little fire from heaven, or separating of the sea like Old Testament heroes). The religious leaders didn’t like that idea because they knew Rome was tough and if a Jew starts saying he’s King over the Jewish people and going to set them free, Caesar would likely retaliate against the Jewish people to oppress a political upheaval that might attempt to challenge the empire of Rome. It seems to me that both Jesus’ opponents as well as many of his followers expected Jesus to reestablish the reign of Israel through political or military power, which is probably why his disciples were so distraught when Jesus told them he would be killed. Death at the hands of Rome was the mark of a failed “messiah”. If you read the Gospels (especially Mark) you’ll see the disciples continuously don’t get what Jesus is saying. They thought Jesus was going to work by the conventional power of the world, when he really works by the unconventional power of God. They thought Jesus had come to reestablish the kingdom of Israel for the Jews, when he has really come to establish the Kingdom of God for the world. They thought he had come to liberate them from the oppression of Rome, when he has really come to liberate the world from the power of sin and death. So, what does Christ mean? What claim am I making about my life when I embrace the title Christian? I am saying that I follow and imitate Jesus. I am saying that I devote my life to establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth like it is in Heaven, through the power of the Holy Spirit. I am saying that with the gifts and Spirit God has given me, I will be a blessing to those around me as I try to help liberate them from sin, injustice and pain. Jesus said that those who believe in him will do greater works than he did. That means we must continue the work Jesus was doing. A christ or messiah is someone who sets their people free, so to intimate the Christ or be a “little Christ” means promoting freedom to the glory of God, healing injustice in the name of our Lord, enduring suffering for the sake of bringing peace to the oppressed by the power of the Spirit. This is what I understand it to mean to be a Christian.