We may use the phrase “Jesus is Lord”, or hear others do so. However, I suspect that a lot of people have just heard it as a “church word”, and wonder what it really means. For an academic, linguistic, or exegetical study, I invite you to talk with a pastor, Bible college professor, or historian. Until you can set up some time with one of them (or just Google it, but I can’t guarantee if what you find will be accurate, though), here are some thoughts to get you started.
In the Star Wars movies, members of the Empire would refer to the villain as “Lord Vader”. This was a title, and a form of address, but sometimes it seems to have just been meant to pacify him – to keep him from force-choking hapless officers.
Some people think of God like this. They fear that He is waiting for them to fail, so that He can smite them. In the Bible, though, we find that God loves us and wants us to spend eternity with Him.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
John 3:16-17 NASB
(See also Romans 3:26, although that passage might take some explaining.)
In medieval times, a lord was generally someone who owned property or buildings. In this case, others would be dependent upon what this lord would provide, including protection from hostile forces.
Those who call upon God in time of emergency are familiar with this concept. When God springs to mind as our only source of deliverance in difficult situations, we are inherently acknowledging our limitations, and our dependence upon God for, well, everything.
The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
Psalms 24:1 NASB
In modern-day English politics, a lord is someone with a title, conferred upon them by someone else. Here, the title confers some level of legislative or judicial authority, and is bestowed by someone else of greater authority.
In this case, the parallel holds up, to a point: Jesus had authority, as well, and it was given to Him by God the Father.
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Acts 2:36 NASB
However, note that Jesus didn’t receive His authority from a human king or queen (see Romans 13:1 for the source of all authority). Jesus received His authority from God, Himself.
So, Jesus’ Lordship has similarities to what we can relate to. However, His is a special case, greater than any lord that we may know here on earth. As Romans reminds us, recognizing Jesus as our Lord is not just right, but is an important part of our salvation:
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Romans 10:9-10 NASB
So, what does it mean to refer to Jesus as Lord?
- We acknowledge Him as all-powerful (omnipotent), although we don’t have to live in fear of this power once we have accepted His payment as the means of reconciling us from our disobedient state.
- We depend upon Him for protection and provision. As those who are neither the creators nor the owners of the earth, we use the resources of the earth (which He has provided), within the laws of physics, to serve Him and others.
- We recognize Him as having authority, given by God (see Romans 13:1).
- We acknowledge Him as one whom we are dependent upon, even for our salvation. It is not uncommon to refer to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
May we each recognize Jesus as our Lord, and not be afraid to tell others about it.
Some information in this article based on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord, as of the time of its writing. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_God#Christianity.