I've been reading a lot of New Testament Paul lately, and one of the things that strikes me is the way he seamlessly bounces back and forth between referring to Jesus as Jesus Christ and referring to the same man as Christ Jesus.
It left me with the lingering question of a big ol' "HUH?" I mean, c'mon, Paul. Pick a Lord, already.
Throughout Paul's many letters, this seeming discrepancy continued to gnaw at me. It had to have meant something to the first-century crowd, to those early Christians. They must have seen a difference between this Jesus Christ and this Christ Jesus, but for the life of me, I wasn't finding it.
Maybe I was overthinking the whole verbage. Because after weeks of rolling this annoying little thought around in my head, I think I've got it. And I think it's beautiful. And I think it's absolutely necessary. And I can't believe it took me this long to come to this conclusion. After all, it's just English, and I'm fairly fluent (sometimes) in this language.
It is basic English. In each of these references, one word is the object; the other, the modifier. He refers to the Man, Jesus (object) who is the Christ (modifier) and also to the Christ (object) who happens to be the Man, Jesus (modifier).
When Paul says Jesus Christ, he's referring to the tangible experience of the presence of Jesus in the flesh. He's referring to the stories and the testimonies and the eyewitness accounts of what it meant to have this Man walking these lands. To have Him here. To have Him in this same body that we're all trapped in. To have Him experiencing the same world that we're reckoning with. To have Him knowing our struggles, our trials, our pains, and our griefs. To have Him knowing our joys, our glories, our celebrations. The emphasis is on the Man and all that we can relate to in Him through that body.
The Man is modified by the sacrifice, the Christ, to remind us of the greater meaning and mission of God in the Flesh, which was more than simply to identify with us; He came to save us.
But lest we forget, there is also Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus, Paul is referring to the sacrifice. He is referring to the promise, to the Messiah, to the saving work of the God who loves us so greatly as to send His Son to atone for our sins. He is referring to the redemption found in the Crucifix. He is playing to the reader's need for a saving God, for a powerful God, for a God who is so much bigger than the troubles here and whose love is beyond imagination. He's speaking to people who are looking for a God.
Christ is modified by the Man, Jesus, to remind us how intimately God is created with His creation, how personally He knows what man endures. To remind us that we, man, were created in His image and lest we forget, there was a God-Man to help us remember.
Confusing at first, but I think it's brilliant. There are times in my life when I need a God and times in my life when I need to know He gets it. Times in my life when I'm longing for someone to walk beside me and times when I'm searching for someone bigger. I desperately need both Jesus Christ and Christ Jesus.
While the difference may seem simple, maybe even trite, it's radically powerful. This Man, Jesus, modified by the mission of the Christ....and this sacrifice, Christ, modified by the meaning of the Man, Jesus...it's incredible.
And I am modified by both. Christ Jesus and Jesus Christ. One embodiment. The Modifier.