Names for Christ and His Congregation
NAMES are essential to designating persons or things. Names may also indicate certain qualities or show relationship to other things or persons. So, to describe the functions of the Christian congregation and its various relationships, it is given a number of names or designations in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Said the apostle John of the number included in this select group: “I saw, and, look! the Lamb standing upon the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.”—Rev. 14:1.
Bear in mind that, when a name or designation is used in one instance in a certain way, this does not mean that thereafter that name always designates exactly the same thing. Consideration must be given to the context and the sense intended at the time. A name may be used in a broad, inclusive sense or in a limited, restricted sense. For example, usually “the kingdom” in such expressions as “the kingdom of the heavens” has reference to Jesus Christ and those called from earth to heavenly life with him, or the complete 144,001 who are commissioned as kings. However, Jesus used the same designation to apply in a restricted or limited sense in connection with him alone when he said to his opposers: “Look! the kingdom of God is in your midst.” And on another occasion he used the term kingdom to refer to the realm over which he and his 144,000 joint heirs would rule.—Matt. 13:24-33; Luke 17:21; Matt. 25:34.
Another term that clearly applies to both Jesus and his body members, or the 144,001 together, as the heavenly ruling body appointed by God, is “new heavens.” “But there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.”—2 Pet. 3:13; also Phil. 3:20.
“Temple” is also used in a symbolic sense to include Jesus Christ and his body members, or the 144,001, as Jehovah’s arrangement for the carrying on of true worship, a sanctuary for God to inhabit by spirit. This can be clearly seen from reading Ephesians 2:20-22. Since this symbolic temple was represented by the anointed Christians on earth in his day, Paul could also use this name as applying in a representative way when he wrote to the congregation at Corinth: “Do you not know that the body of you people is the temple of the holy spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:19) And at Revelation 21:22 “temple” has yet another significance when Jehovah God and the Lamb Jesus Christ are said to be the temple of the New Jerusalem.
It was promised to Abraham that through his seed all nations of the earth would bless themselves. The designation “Abraham’s seed” in its broadest sense takes in the 144,001, but it has a primary and specific application to Christ Jesus alone, as shown by Galatians 3:16. It is in a secondary sense, because of belonging to Christ, that the 144,000 are also “Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (Gal. 3:29; Gen. 22:17, 18) So, while the inspired Christian writers used the same names or designations differently, they did not do so indiscriminately, but with due consideration to the thought to be conveyed.
Also referring to the 144,001 collectively are the terms “royal priesthood” and “holy nation,” found at 1 Peter 2:9. The expression “new creation” applies, not in a collective sense to the 144,001, but to each one as an individual, as indicated by the way the expression is used at 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in union with Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away, look! new things have come into existence.”—Gal. 6:15.
CONGREGATION OF GOD
Consider now the term most frequently used when speaking of Christians: “the congregation.” How is this to be understood? Does it in itself include Jesus Christ, so that the Christian congregation may be said to consist of 144,001 members? From the standpoint of Christ Jesus being included as the head or chief one, we could properly use the term “congregation” in this most inclusive sense, and this is in harmony with the application of Psalm 22:22 to Jesus. (Heb. 2:12) David, the writer of Psalm 22, was a member of the congregation in the midst of which he declared Jehovah’s name; so the one to whom this text is applied, Jesus Christ, could also be said to be one of the congregation, and in harmony with that, the others in the congregation are called his “brothers.” In David’s case, the congregation was that of Jehovah God, and for thirty-three and a half years Jesus Christ was a member of it and preached amidst it while on earth. A remnant of these became part of his congregation or spiritual body. However, generally when the Christian Greek Scriptures speak of the “congregation” in the broad sense, they are referring to the 144,000 as a body subject to the head Christ Jesus. Thus Paul, at Ephesians 1:22, 23, speaks of “the congregation, which is his body,” and later writes: “I am speaking with respect to Christ and the congregation.”—Eph. 5:32
In addition to the uses mentioned above, the word “congregation” (Greek: ekklesía) is also applied in other ways. One of these is illustrated at 1 Corinthians 10:32, where we read: “Keep from becoming causes for stumbling to Jews as well as Greeks and to the congregation of God.” Here the writer obviously does not have in mind the “congregation” in the broad sense of the entire 144,000. Rather, he uses the term as applying to the Christians living at that particular time.
But by far the most common use of the word “congregation” in the Christian Greek Scriptures is in referring to a local assembly of Christians. This may include all the Christians in one particular city, or may refer to an even smaller group meeting in a private home. So we find it recorded that “great persecution arose against the congregation that was in Jerusalem.” Also: “Greet the congregation that is in their house.” (Acts 8:1; Rom. 16:5) Accordingly it would be proper to speak of “congregations” in the plural, and this is often done in the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 11:16; Acts 15:41; 2 Thess. 1:4) Today, when applying to a local assembly, the term “congregation” would include all the dedicated Christians associated with it, regardless of what may be their hope or destiny.
Most of the Scriptural terms that apply to the 144,000 members of Christ’s body apart from their Head do so quite obviously. Among such are “Christ’s body,” “the body of the Christ,” “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And since the “Lamb’s wife” is also termed “the holy city, New Jerusalem,” it follows that this name also applies only to the 144,000 body members. This is borne out by the description of it in Revelation chapter 21.—1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12; Rev. 21:2, 9, 10.
Another Scriptural expression that refers to the 144,000 members of Christ’s body is “little flock.” Said Jesus: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” Since Jesus does not include himself, saying, ‘The Father has approved of giving us the kingdom,’ the expression “little flock” here applies only to the 144,000 members of his body who are heirs of the Kingdom with him. To these “sheep” and others Jesus is the Fine Shepherd.—Luke 12:32; John 10:11, 16.
Jesus used yet another distinctive term to refer to his anointed body members, namely, “faithful and discreet slave.” This is a designation that applies to the composite body of the anointed on earth at any time since Pentecost A.D. 33, when Christ’s followers, especially his apostles, were entrusted with his interests on earth. Since Christ is the one that takes an accounting with this “slave,” it clearly does not include him. At this accounting, after his entering into Kingdom power, Christ Jesus further blessed those making up the “faithful and discreet slave” at that time, giving them additional Kingdom privileges and responsibilities.—Matt. 24:45-47.
We come now to a consideration of those terms or titles that apply or are used to refer to Jesus Christ apart from his body members. Among those that might be mentioned as found in the Christian Greek Scriptures are “the Amen,” “Faithful and True,” “the Faithful Witness,” “King of kings and Lord of lords,” “the Lamb of God,” “Leader,” “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah,” “Lord,” “Potentate,” “Savior,” and “the Word.” Clearly, the designations here referred to apply, not to Jesus’ body members, but to Jesus himself, even as do his more commonly used names, “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ” and “Christ Jesus.”—Rev. 3:14; 19:11; 1:5; 19:16; John 1:29; Matt. 23:10; Rev. 5:5; 1 Pet. 3:15;1 Tim. 6:15; Luke 2:11; John 1:1; Matt. 1:21; Rom. 7:25; 8:1.
But what about the expressions “the Christ” and “Christ”? Does the use of the article with “Christ” designate something different from when no article is used? Might it be that, whereas the term “Christ” refers to Jesus Christ alone, the term “the Christ” could also include the 144,000 members of his body? Do the Scriptures support this thought or distinction?
No, they do not. Certainly Christ’s body members are not included in the words of Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then again, the 144,000 are said to rule “as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.” How could they be said to be reigning with the Christ if they were a part of the Christ? Yes, there are many scriptures that distinguish between “the Christ” and the members of his body.—Matt. 16:16; Rev. 20:4.
In fact, the expression “the Christ” of itself at no time includes the members of Christ’s body. So the title “Christ,” with or without the definite article, refers to Jesus Christ, the article serving to draw attention to or to emphasize his office as the Messiah. Christ is the Head and Bridegroom of the 144,000, his body or bride. That is why these ones are said to be “in union with Christ,” to “belong to Christ,” and to be “Christ’s body.”—Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 3:23; 12:27.
The fact that Christians are said to be “in union with Christ” does not mean that they can be spoken of as “the Christ,” anymore than the term “Lord” can be applied to them because children are told, “Be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord.”—Eph. 6:1.
How, then, are we to understand 1 Corinthians 12:12? This reads: “Just as the body is one but has many members, and all the members of that body, although being many, are one body, so also is the Christ.” Does not the term “the Christ” in this instance include the body members? No, apparently not, for what Paul is here discussing is the body of Christ separate and distinct from its Head. That is why he sums up his argument in 1Co 12 verse 27, saying: “Now you are Christ’s body, and members individually.” At 1Co 12 verse 12 Paul is evidently using an elliptical way of speaking in connection with the Christ, a form of speech not uncommon in the Scriptures. So we could paraphrase Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 12:12 this way: ‘Just as the body, though being a single entity, has many members, so it is with the body of Christ, that is, those associated with or belonging to Jesus Christ.’
In other words, the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures do not make a distinction between “the Christ” and Jesus Christ. Illustrating this point is Ephesians 2:13, which says: “But now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ.” Compare also Ephesians 1:10, 12, 20.
In view of the foregoing, how is Hebrews 11:26 to be understood? This tells us that Moses “esteemed the reproach of the Christ as riches greater than the treasures of Egypt.” To whom or what does “the Christ” refer in this instance? It does not seem that the “riches” Moses had in mind was in his being a type of “the Christ” to come, because he did not know that he was such. Rather, it appears to refer to the privilege he himself had of being God’s anointed one (Greek: christós) to serve as mediator and deliverer. This meant more to Moses than all the treasures of Egypt.
From this discussion we can see that a variety of terms are applied to Jesus Christ and his body members. Some apply exclusively to Jesus. Others, such as “new heavens,” always take in the composite number of the 144,001, Christ Jesus and his body. Still other names describe just the 144,000, though usually illustrating some relationship to their Head, Christ Jesus, such as “body of Christ,” “the bride,” “little flock,” and “New Jerusalem.” But, as we have noted, there are some designations that at times have a broad or inclusive sense, taking in the 144,000 as a body and sometimes including Christ, while at other times these same designations have a more limited or restricted sense. A good example of this is the word “congregation.” So it is important to consider the context so as to have clearly in mind the thought of the writer. Names are descriptive. When correctly understood and applied, they bring out the full value of things or persons, and are essential to an accurate knowledge of the Word of God.