What do we mean when we say “Jesus Christ is Lord”?

Many people trifle with the word “Lord.” Greeting cards and banners declaim, “Lordy, Lordy, look whose 40!” I’m sure you’ve heard: “Lord almighty” or even “Jesus” is a quasi-curse word when someone smashes their thumb or accidentally backs into another car.

But what do the words “Jesus is Lord” mean according to the Bible?

In Greek, “Lord” often refers to absolute rulers of antiquity. The Roman emperors and Persians kings were called “Lord.” It means sovereign, absolute monarch or king.

Christians use “Jesus is Lord” to describe Jesus as the absolute ruler of everything. As creator, he holds the atoms of the universe together (Hebrews 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6). He owns every square inch of ground. He owns your body, the air you breathe, the electricity in your nerves, the ground underneath your feet, the food in your mouth and the very seconds you pass each day.

Paul presents himself as a “slave” to Jesus. Christians should regularly pray, “Thy kingdom come!” God’s sovereign rule is a treasure worth any price (Matthew 13:44).

Christ presents the gospel as a call to accept the good news of God’s rule (Luke 4:43).

“Calling on the name of the Lord” is not an appeal for Christ simply to take part in one’s life. Rather, it is an appeal for Christ to take over.

Wanting God’s rule is a necessary part of repentance from one’s sins (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 14:29). Repentance is an utterly helpless, spiritually bankrupt person turning away from self-rule and coming to a perfect, sovereign, powerful, loving and holy King who promises to love his people out of their sins.

But “Jesus is Lord” means more than even that.

In the Old Testament, Lord sometimes appears in all capital letters, “LORD.” There, it represents God’s most sacred name, Yahweh/Jehovah. The New Testament applies Yahweh/LORD texts to Jesus (Isaiah 45:23; Joel 2:32; Isaiah 40:3 in Philippians 2:11; Romans 10:13; and Mark 1:2).

Jesus is not simply any Lord. He is the LORD, Yahweh incarnate. He is YHWH having come to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Jesus even bears “the name, the one above every name”, and monotheistic texts like Isaiah 45:23 and Deuteronomy 6:4 apply to him.

Jesus affirms that the Father has given him his sacred name (John 17:11-12). Thus, Jesus shares the name YHWH with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Joel 2:32 proclaims, “All who call on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Christians call on the name of the Lord Jesus for salvation (Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; 1 Corinthians 1:2).

Even so, “Come, LORD Jesus!”