Why is Jesus called Christ?

This is a question that was posed to me through a family member by someone curious about Christianity, and I immediately liked the question because it brought to my mind some oft-glossed over things in Christian circles.

We are so embedded in our own culture, which heavily prioritizes the “new” over the “old,” such that we gloss over really basic questions. I think, more than we realize, we can become slaves to the ways of thinking of our age and only haphazardly insert “Christian” ideas as they fit, or supply our own inferences and assumptions to fill the gaps in our understanding rather than trying to get “caught up” to what has already gone before us.

“Christ” to a lot of people is just a neat title that makes Jesus important. If you asked just an average Christian what it means, they’d probably have some elements of it in its historical context – his status as king, his “anointing” to save Israel as well as the rest of the world – but it certainly wouldn’t be the full meaning that the Jewish leaders or the people of Jesus’ day knew it to mean.

Mem-shin-yud-chet form the word “Mashiach,” or “anointed one.” The next obvious question is what an anointing means. Concretely, it meant someone who had an anointing by a recognized authority or authorities:

[Exo 28:41 ESV] 41 And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.

[Exo 29:1-7 ESV] 1 “Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. Take one bull of the herd and two rams without blemish, 2 and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil. You shall make them of fine wheat flour. 3 You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, and bring the bull and the two rams. 4 You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and wash them with water. 5 Then you shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the coat and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod. 6 And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. 7 You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.

This is the first instance of an anointing by oil in the bible, and, as we might expect from the type of language Hebrew is, the root of the Hebrew word for “anoint” above is “Mashach,” the same root from which “Maschiach” or Messiah is formed. The earliest use of the “maschach” root is actually here:

[Gen 31:13 ESV] 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.'”

But the first time oil was used on a human to consecrate/ordain/set apart for service is in Aaron’s case.

“Maschach” or “anointed one” essentially means “holy,” “consecrated to God,” “set apart.” But in the most general sense it means someone God elevates to responsibility over others – Aaron and his sons bore a high responsibility for the people of God and the fate of the people was partially in the hands of Moses, Aaron, and those other “anointed” ones. The Father is consecrated over the family. The Priests were consecrated over the sacrifices and ordinances of the Tabernacle and Temple during Israel’s existence as a covenant nation. The King was consecrated as ruler.

In all of this, the holiness of that ruler in this strict sense – not in the sense of their moral perfection, which was obviously lacking for many of them, and that by itself did not cede their anointing or authority except in specific cases – gave him authority that deserved recognition and the right to teach, to administer, to rule, to set in order, and to provide for the needs of a community.

Anointing was done in a formal sense for spiritual leaders, including the priests and the king, but in a less formal sense for all the people and for leaders of various communities and tribes. The responsibilities were similar, but the realms of influence and power were different.

This higher status was given in one hand, while in the other hand a responsibility was also bestowed. Rulers were directly responsible to God, who declared that if they oppressed the people, or “gleaned the corners of their fields” (essentially made sure they got every scrap of earnings from their crops and left none for the poor), that God would hear those cries and judge the rulers in time. Fathers are given higher status, but they are given that status to empower them to be responsible for the family, to provide for it, to protect it, and to lead it.

David respected this anointing so much he refused to kill King Saul by his own hands (despite Saul’s persistent attempts to kill David), because King Saul’s anointing was entirely legitimate, despite his moral errors and failure to lead:

[1Sa 26:8-11 ESV] 8 Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?” 10 And David said, “As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.”

Remember also that David had already been anointed by Samuel as a boy. He could have used that status to unseat Saul by force. But David knew that was not the way God wanted authority transferred. God is very much not into violent revolutions. David would not lose his own anointed status despite his arguably worse errors – such as with Bathsheba and his failure to judge his son Amnon for his sins (yet, his heart was always soft to God and ready to repent), which was also a failure to lead, and lay him open to Absalom’s attempt to unseat him.

So, this status as “anointed one” was given to the kings in the lineage of David whose responsibility it was not only to embody the will of the people as a head of state but as sort of the “son of God” on earth:

[Psa 2:1-3 ESV] 1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

If you read this at the time it was written, you would not have first thought of Jesus; that is a later reading based on our knowledge and context. In context, it refers to “his anointed” (Mashiach), against whom the rulers of the earth take counsel. And as for this King’s sonship:

[Psa 2:6-7 ESV] 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

The king is the avatar or the representative of God on earth. And this natural king was given a promise of rulership, if he was faithful:

[Psa 2:8-9 ESV] 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Verse 12 below is the sense of “give homage to the son,” literally stated as “kiss the son”:

[Psa 2:10-12 ESV] 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Relation to Moses and the Priesthood

So, we have this conception of the rightful king of Israel as the representative of God on earth, though he was a natural man, which has obvious implications as far as Jesus and his “Messiah” status go. But this isn’t the first time this concept of “representative of God on earth” or “anointed of God” emerged; Melchizedek was a priest to God before the law, who brought out bread and wine.

In a sense, anyone who is the “anointed” of God is his representative on earth. Melchizedek was that by his status as priest of the most high God. But there was a unique hierarchy to this “anointed” status that is affirmed in many places, particularly that of Korah’s rebellion, who took the concept of the “priesthood of all believers” to mean that he was equal to Moses or to Aaron:

[Exo 19:5-6 ESV] 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

[Num 16:1-5 ESV] 1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. 2 And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. 3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” 4 When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, 5 and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him.

Moses’ status as unique was elsewhere affirmed:

[Num 12:1-2, 4-9 ESV] 1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. 2 And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. … 4 And suddenly the LORD said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. 5 And the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. 6 And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7 Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed.

Moses had a unique status as representative of God to man on earth that was above and beyond the nation’s priesthood or anointed status, and above even the priesthood of Aaron or prophetic status of Miriam.

Even further back, the problematic verses in Genesis 6 concerning the “sons of God” has an obvious interpretation in light of scholarship of the era:

[Gen 6:1-2 ESV] 1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.

At some point, angels were charged with overseeing the people of the earth, and were responsible as a Father or an “anointed one” would be. Satan’s fall impacted this:

[Deu 32:8-9 ESV] 8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God*. 9 But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

*there are textual disputes (a few of the sources have “sons of Israel”, whereas the Qumran fragments and another witness has “sons of God”) regarding this passage, which are difficult to go into in much detail. Suffice it to say that I take the side that “the sons of God” is a much more likely rendering.

The angels were given responsibility and lost it, as attested in Psalm 82:

[Psa 82:1-8 ESV] 1 A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

Note the wording – “in the midst of the ‘gods’ he holds judgment.” Israelites were not polytheists (though some scholars believe they evolved into monotheism, which I think is wishful thinking on the part of unbelievers). The word “Elohim” has an array of meanings, and among those possible meanings is the idea of divine beings, such as angels. In the midst of this “divine council” of beings, God judged the Angels who fell for becoming wicked, and gave their authority to men. A number of verses support this idea:

[1Co 6:3 ESV] 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!

[Luk 20:34-36 ESV] 34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

This right to judge angels also extends to the Apostles judging the tribes of Israel, which were supposed to judge the angels as well:

[Luk 22:30 ESV] 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

More comparisons between what happened to the angels (“sons of God”) and what has been given in the message of the gospel:

[Heb 2:1-5 ESV] 1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. 5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.

So, when we talk about “anointed one”, we’re talking about a very specific, exalted status among the people of God that was conferred not only on Christ as the perfection of the “anointed one”, but also humans who served in some capacity as a part of that. The Kings in David’s lineage were meant to be the representative of God on earth, and to be, in a sense, “sons of God,” in the sense that the angels who fell were supposed to be sons of God – subduing the world and increasing the inheritance of the kingdom through the proper order bestowed upon them by revelation and by the works given (such as the daily, monthly, etc schedules of the various efficacious sacrifices and feasts).

So, this covenant, holy people, headed by an “anointed one” who was a human representative of God on earth, who was made lower than the angels but called to be exalted, is what Jesus is being called.

The Controversy of Peter

But, here’s where I get to the part where many will disagree. When Jesus imparted power on the Apostles, it was a unique impartation that has a parallel to that given from Moses to Aaron, and from Moses to the tribes of Israel. Jesus did not give them a fully written text, nor an individualistic notion of private belief. He re-birthed Israel from the roots and trunk that remained after he cut off those who refused to believe him:

[Rom 11:13-25 ESV] 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. 25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Jesus did not give a private belief system, meant to adhere to “Separation of Church and State,” or any such concept. He created a covenant community with a hierarchy no different than was given to Moses, complete with “anointed ones” set over the spiritual and natural affairs of men and women and families and nations. And this included a specific representative, who was given “the keys” as they are called:

[Mat 16:19 ESV] 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Remember that those who sat on “the seat of Moses” had authority which Jesus endorsed, which he said would be taken from them:

[Mat 23:2-3 ESV] 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.

Remember that I have already established Moses as a unique figure; someone whose authority was higher than any other person in the community. But the Pharisees and scribes still rightly bore the authority of the kingdom:

[Mat 21:42-45 ESV] 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

The Kingdom’s form was never changed so much as modern iterations of Protestantism have changed it. There were still a special group of men who only were trusted with specific liturgical, teaching, and administrative functions with regard to the Church, and the early history of the Church and the writings of the post-apostolic fathers bears this out. This includes the “mass,” or the sacrifice at which Christ is truly present.

So the concept of Mashiach is bound into the concept of the Kingdom of God as a whole and who is appointed to represent it in its affairs and dealings, and Peter’s reception of the keys is of the status of something like a Prime Minister. These keys imply succession, if we understand that the scribes and Pharisees, who had “Moses’ seat,” had that authority before they lost it:

[Luk 11:46-54 ESV] 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” 53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

The kingdom has two aspects; One is the exalted, heavenly nature of the kingdom, which the Hebrews understood through Jacob’s experience of the “ladder.” This is exemplified in statements such as these:

[Jhn 18:36 ESV] 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

There’s a part of the kingdom which is on earth, though it comes from the world. Note the timing here, also. The Jews themselves still “possessed” a portion of the kingdom. It was his own kingdom that delivered him to be crucified. He is not saying that his kingdom has no physical existence or physical representatives, or it exists in some realm of nominalism where things are whatever we call them. In that sense, he is like Joseph, whose own brothers delivered him over to Egypt, the dominant pagan empire at that point, which he eventually rose to the top of so he could save his brothers.

Jesus at many points uses Parables to describe what the kingdom was like:

[Mat 13:24-30, 36-43 ESV] 24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” … 36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Note that the seed are the “sons of the kingdom.” This cannot include modern Judaism, because it is a religion created after Christianity based on the Talmud and post-temple Judaism. It has hints of Temple Judaism, but it is a decidedly different system theologically.

Given the context of the later verses which indicate what the end of this kingdom would be, Jesus is saying that the kingdom itself would grow, but that there would be weeds intertwined within it which would be allowed to grow alongside the authentic until the end of the age. So there is no reason that we should expect some sudden cessation of this natural portion of representatives of the kingdom of God, for which Peter was given the keys. The Kingdom endures to the end, despite it being wrapped among the tares and weeds and sometimes having tares identified as the wheat and vice versa.

Jesus put forth a “New Israel,” which has its own calendar of sacrifices and offerings, and the essential character of a liturgical meeting is a re-enactment or rehearsal of Calvary that unites Christendom across time and space, place and culture. It does so in a real way by the sacrifice of the mass, as the mass is a sacrifice, but that argument is too detailed for this time:

[1Pe 2:4-5 ESV] 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Remember that a priesthood of all believers is not the same as a covenantal anointed priesthood.

Regarding Sacrifices

Also note that when Catholics say they “assist” at the mass, they are there, at the foot of Calvary; they are there, at the last supper, receiving the body and the blood worthily, not unworthily as Judas received it unworthily and stood condemned.

It has commonly been the Protestant interpretation of such verses as below that no sacrifice is any longer necessary:

[Heb 10:11 ESV] 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

But this is to not interpret these verses in their immediate context. Christians were still permitted and indeed did continue performing Temple practices, St. Paul himself paying for the resolution of Nazarite vows, which involved animal sacrifices:

[Act 21:17-26 ESV] 17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

If sacrifice itself was forbidden as an idolatrous or evil act, why do the scriptures report an Apostle paying for those offerings without any condemnation? It is known that the very early mission of the Apostles was primary to the Jews at the Temple and to the various synagogues. It is not that the sacrifices themselves were illicit; it is that the sacrifices had been fulfilled by the one sacrifice that would be offered in the “body and blood” of Jesus, offered each time the people gathered with a Bishop (since early on, only the Bishops consecrated “the eucharist”, and later this impartation was given to priests through the Bishops, as it is to this day) who was worthy to perform the Lord’s supper:

Ignatius of Antioch, contemporary of the Apostles:

“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.”

“Letter to the Smyrnaeans”, paragraph 6. circa 80-110 A.D.

“Come together in common, one and all without exception in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the son of man, and the Son of God, so that with undivided mind you may obey the bishop and the priests, and break one Bread which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ.”

-“Letter to the Ephesians”, paragraph 20, c. 80-110 A.D.

“I have no taste for the food that perishes nor for the pleasures of this life. I want the Bread of God which is the Flesh of Christ, who was the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood which is love that cannot be destroyed.”

-“Letter to the Romans”, paragraph 7, circa 80-110 A.D.

“Take care, then who belong to God and to Jesus Christ – they are with the bishop. And those who repent and come to the unity of the Church – they too shall be of God, and will be living according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any man walk about with strange doctrine, he cannot lie down with the passion. Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His Blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons.”

-Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3:2-4:1, 110 A.D.

Justin Martyr, beheaded between 163-167 A.D.

“This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”

“First Apology”, Ch. 66, inter A.D. 148-155.

“God has therefore announced in advance that all the sacrifices offered in His name, which Jesus Christ offered, that is, in the Eucharist of the Bread and of the Chalice, which are offered by us Christians in every part of the world, are pleasing to Him.”

“Dialogue with Trypho”, Ch. 117, circa 130-160 A.D.

Moreover, as I said before, concerning the sacrifices which you at that time offered, God speaks through Malachias, one of the twelve, as follows: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord; and I will not accept your sacrifices from your hands; for from the rising of the sun until its setting, my name has been glorified among the gentiles; and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a clean offering: for great is my name among the gentiles, says the Lord; but you profane it.’ It is of the sacrifices offered to Him in every place by us, the gentiles, that is, of the Bread of the Eucharist and likewise of the cup of the Eucharist, that He speaks at that time; and He says that we glorify His name, while you profane it.”

-“Dialogue with Trypho”, [41: 8-10]

[1Co 11:23-30 ESV] 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

To recall to memory the oft-misinterpreted verse in Hebrews:

[Heb 10:11 ESV] 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

The writer of Hebrews is not saying that sacrifice of all sorts is no longer needed if one merely assents to belief in Jesus; nor is Peter saying that sacrifices for sin are not necessary; they are saying that the physical act of sacrificing an animal has been replaced with the spiritual sacrifices offered at Christian liturgies, which are attested to in such works as “The Didache” and Church Fathers in the generation immediately subsequent to the Apostles; some of these works were treated by many Fathers as sacred scripture, but eventually excluded from the canon. The sacrifices of Jewish priests now had only a natural component and no effect on sin, and within 40 years the Temple was destroyed, and, in fulfillment of Christ’s words, he erected a new Temple, his body.

One might object that the thief on the cross had no chance to participate at a “mass” in the Catholic sense; but in truth, he was at a mass. He was at the actual sacrifice, in which he placed his trust.

The need for and nature of sacrifices as a continual act, pre-mosaic law, is shown in the Cain-Abel interaction, wherein Cain brought the fruit of the earth, whereas Abel brought a sacrifice of blood. Cain’s sacrifice was of pleasure and consumption; one might say that many buildings where Christians claim to worship God are instead places where consumption takes place. You consume the sermon, you consume the music, you interact socially. Not so at Catholic Churches, where mass happens; a sacrifice occurs, and that sacrifice is the central event – not any consumptive activity. So, the act and need for sacrifice pre-dates the law of Moses to which the people were bound and which is often used to “nominalize” the need for the real presence of Christ upon the altar.

Throughout the history of God, sacrifices of various kinds have been taking place under a hierarchy of anointing stretching back to Moses himself, and the essential nature of sacrifice as necessary for communion with God was affirmed, all until the 1500s. At that point, the rejection of the need for sacrifice was replaced by a view that belief alone, if authentic, was sufficient, and a real sacrifice through Calvary as the continual act of faith “whenever you are gathered together in my name” was no longer necessary. To affirm this required a rejection of Christian patrimony from as early as the immediate successors of the Apostles, and a break in continuity from Christianity after 1500 years, which we now refer to as the “Protestant Reformation.”

The Protestant Reformation in the Old Testament

Interestingly, this has happened before. After Solomon’s death, 10 tribes revolted and turned the clock back to the “Torah only” by rejecting the Temple, the Priesthood and its daily and regular sacrifices and festivals, and rule of the son of David. In its place, Jeroboam set up a new kingdom, a new priesthood run by the various tribes among themselves of “whomever wished to be a priest.” These people became the Samaritans, who even in Jesus’ day only accepted the first 5 books of Moses because they had rejected the later history and the primacy of Jerusalem, the son of David, and the Aaronic priesthood.

They rejected, for example, David’s choice to move the Ark to Jerusalem and make it the central location for the people of Israel. In the Torah, it was written that “God will choose a place to worship, and you will only do sacrifices there”. David used authority given to him to place the Ark on Zion, and charged Solomon his son to build a Temple on mount Moriah, where the Ark was then moved and rested until Judah went into captivity in Bablyon. This act was rejected by the Samaritans, and leads us to the Samaritan woman’s question to Jesus:

[Jhn 4:19-22 ESV] 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews…”

By this statement, Jesus is legitimizing the Jews against the Samaritans, but telling the woman that there is a new dispensation coming that is even greater than that which binds the Jews to Jerusalem and the Temple.

The Samaritans, like the Protestants, simply defer to local practices and the Torah as sufficient. But God gave them more than the Torah, he gave them a physical representative on earth – the “son of David” in many psalms is described as “the son of God,” because they saw him as representing God’s authority on earth in some way.

How, exactly, the Papacy resembles the authority structures of the Aaronic Priesthood and the Davidic kingship is a much deeper topic for another time…

If the Jeroboam theory is interesting to you, I’ve written more extensively regarding the Jeroboam schism from Judah in two parts, here, and here.

2 thoughts on “Why is Jesus called Christ?

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