When did Jesus become "Lord Jesus"?
“And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” (Acts 7.59)
The question of “When?” in regards to the ascension of Jesus to the position of Lord is obviously not a valid one, since implied in the question is the assumption of a previous, not-lord, state. John 1.1, Genesis 1.26, and numerous other passages refute the concept that Jesus was ever not God, Lord, etc. We even see that Jesus Himself recognizes His own lordship in different statements to both His disciples, the crowds, and even the Pharisees. One clear example of this is found in John 8, where after describing how God has already glorified Him in v.54, Jesus makes it clear exactly who He is: “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (v.58) It is also valuable to note that the Jews understood precisely what Jesus meant, based on their attempt to stone Him for blasphemy in the following verse.
However, the question of “When did Jesus become Lord Jesus?” is a valuable one to think about. This is not a question of whether or not Jesus was Lord before the disciples recognized Him as such, but rather when (and more importantly, why) did the disciples and apostles begin calling Jesus by the name “Lord Jesus” (which would also include references to “Lord Jesus Christ” and all other similar constructions)?
The disciples of Jesus, as well as the crowds and even some of the Jewish leadership recognized Jesus as a teacher, or Rabbi, very early on. (cf. John 1.38; Mark 9.5, Matthew 8.19, 9.11) Later on, Peter famously identifies Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16.16, which is certainly a progression in His thinking about who He is. Jesus is also called “Lord” repeatedly in the gospel accounts by his disciples and many others. (this happens numerous times in Matthew 8, for example). But one thing that is remarkably amiss in the Gospels that is overwhelmingly present in almost every New Testament book afterwards is the description of Jesus as “Lord Jesus”.
There is more to this than just a simple name change. The phrase “Lord Jesus” occurs 100 times in the New Testament. Paul refers to “Jesus our Lord” another 10 times, and this does not even account for all the various ways “Lord” and “Jesus” are packaged together throughout the Acts and Epistles. (Example: “As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all). (Acts 10.36)). The last two verses of the Revelation both identify Jesus in this fashion: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (22.20-21)
So to the curious mind this begs a simple question: why the change? What happened to cause those closest to Jesus (and in the case of Paul and others, those who would learn better who Jesus was) to suddenly be compelled to connect Jesus with Lord over and over again?
Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the first instances of this occurrence. Out of the 100 times “Lord Jesus” is used to refer to Jesus in the ESV and other translations (even the original Greek), only two of those occur in the Gospel accounts, and both of those in the same place in the story of Jesus’ life: Mark 16.19 and Luke 24.3.
“So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16.19)
“And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” (Luke 24.2-3)
Notice the timing of which the name of Jesus is connected to the term Lord in both verses: after the Resurrection! It is a remarkable thing to see how before the Resurrection this connection is NEVER made, and then afterwards it is made OVER AND OVER AGAIN!
So convinced and convicted were the disciples of the Lordship of Jesus that Stephen utters the phrase “Lord Jesus” while being stoned to death! Paul, through inspiration, includes the phrase “Lord Jesus/Lord Jesus Christ” in every epistle except for Titus and 2nd Timothy. In fact, every N.T. writer uses the phrase at least once.
So what makes this more than just an interesting change in vocabulary?
The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the spark, the motivation, the raging fire lit under the disciples, apostles, and Christians of the 1st century. The Resurrection stirred them so deeply, and so securely cemented their faith that it changed how they spoke of Jesus, how they wrote of Jesus, and what they preached about Jesus. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2.36)
Christians, has Jesus’ death and resurrection changed our life in this drastic fashion? Has the Resurrection of Jesus changed even the way you think and speak about Jesus? The change observed in the disciples’ faith after the Resurrection is compelling and deeply challenging.
Has the Resurrection changed you?