There are four common titles to watch for when people addressed Jesus:
1. Teacher or Rabbi – Addressing Jesus by this title showed the person respected Jesus as a good teacher and was willing to listen to His words.
2. Prophet – When people referred to Jesus as a prophet they were acknowledging He was a special messenger sent from God. Many times they used this title after Jesus had performed some type of miracle or sign. Since there had not been any prophet in Israel for over 400 years, this was an honored name.
3. Lord – Whenever someone referred to Jesus as Lord it showed that they acknowledged His highly exalted position. More than just listening to His words, they were showing that they were willing to submit to His authority. Some of those who addressed Jesus as Lord understood that His kingdom was a heavenly, eternal kingdom. Unfortunately, many just wanted Jesus to be lord on earth as the leader who vanquished the hated Romans.
4. Christ, Messiah, Anointed One – There were some people who completely understood that Jesus was the Messiah, the Promised One, sent from God to redeem His people. These are the people who truly understood the rightful power and authority of Jesus as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Here are some good examples:
Jesus was at the home of a Pharisee. A woman, identified as a sinner, came and anointed Jesus’ feet. This led the Pharisee to label Jesus as merely a teacher and not a prophet:
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” (Luke 7:39–40)
The chief priests and Pharisees wanted to seize Jesus because He condemned them with His teaching. However, they were hesitant to do so because the people regarded Jesus as a prophet.
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:45–46)
Matthew 8 tells us about two men who both referred to Jesus as Lord. In both cases these men were in a desperate situation. However, their position in life could not have been any different. The first man was an outcast, a leper. The second man, a Roman centurion, was accustom to giving orders to solders and servants.
And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2)
And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” (Matthew 8:5–6)
When Lazarus died Jesus came and spoke to Martha. Her statement of faith and declaration of His authority was absolutely correct:
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11:30)
These are just a few examples. You will find many, many times in the Gospels when people approached Jesus and referred to Him by one of these four titles. Not every time, but most of the time, the title by which they addressed Jesus tells you something about their situation and their understanding of Jesus’ identity.