After the title Christ the second most used name or title given to Jesus is the title Lord. Actually the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the first creed or confession of the early Church. This was not only the first creed of the early Church, the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the confession that put the early Church in serious conflict with the Roman Empire, because Caesar was known as Lord. So for the Church to claim another Lord than Caesar was no small offense, it was high treason.
This is why so many Christians were killed in the early Church, because they would no longer say ‘Caesar is Lord’ but would boldly proclaim the truth before their executioners ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Jesus Himself even does this at one point in His ministry when answering a question about taxes. In Mark 12:13-17 Jesus is asked, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ This person was obviously laying a trap for Jesus but Jesus answered wisely saying, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ In this brief statement Jesus made a clear distinction between the true God, His Father, and Caesar, a man who was wrongly held to be a god.
You should be aware though, that the Greek word for Lord, kurios, is not always used in royal language. It had three common uses.
First, the word was used as a polite address. So when someone today uses the word ‘sir’ they are being polite and respectful. In the first century the word kurios was used just like that.
Second, the word was used as a greeting for wealthy landowners who owned and employed slaves. When used in this manner the word kurios was intended to provide a distinction between slave owner and slave. So the landowner would be referred to as Lord while the slave was called ‘doulos’ which is often translated as servant or slave.
Third and lastly, the word was used as an imperial title. This is where the usage of Caesar is Lord comes into play. The Caesar chose the loftiest title to accompany his name, so Augustus was not merely called Augustus or even Emperor Augustus, as Caesar Augustus demanded to be called kurios, or Lord. This last usage is the usage being employed when we say Jesus is Lord. We do not intend to communicate politeness or even that Jesus is a person of means, no, we intend that Jesus is majestic, He is Lord over all.
This is what Peter meant to convey in John 6. After Jesus saw many people leave Him He posed a question to the disciples, ‘Are you going to leave too?’ Peter responds, ‘Lord, to whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ This imperial usage is what Thomas meant to convey in John 20. Remember he had doubted the resurrection because he couldn’t see it but when Jesus revealed Himself to him and he saw His wounds Thomas cried out, ‘My Lord, and my God!’ Perhaps the most famous use of the this title is found in Philippians 2:5-11 where Paul writes some of the most memorable words in Scripture (read passage). In this passage you really can make the argument that the name God gives Jesus that is above all names, the name at which every name will bow isn’t the name Jesus, but Lord.
(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox Photography)