The phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” is used throughout the epistles of the Apostle Paul (some 60+ times). For instance, you find it in the beginning of most of his letters to the churches (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2-3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1-2; Philemon 1:3), and you will also find it in the ending of most of his letters (Rom. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 6:18; Eph. 6:24; Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 3:18; Philemon 1:25). In a rather significant way, the phrase serves as bookends to the letters to the churches. Everyone knows that the things people remember the most are at the beginning and at the end of a message or letter, so it stands to reason why Paul would employ this phrase when speaking about Jesus, and in particular what he may intentionally be drawing to their remembrance.
Furthermore, Paul employs this phrase in reference to the past, presence, and future work of Christ. In a gospel sense, Paul uses this phrase regarding the work of Christ in his first coming (Acts 20:21; 1 Cor. 6:11; 15:57; 2 Cor. 8:9; 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:14) as well as the work of Christ in his second coming (1 Cor. 1:7-8 Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Pet. 1:16). And in the practical outworking of the gospel , Paul makes the phrase the grounds for his appeal to fellow believers (Rom. 15:30; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Thess. 3:6; 3:12). Whether looking back (at the cross), looking forward (at his coming), or looking around at everyday situations in life, Paul invokes the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ.”
Having given a cursory summary of the ways Paul uses the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ,” we should look at the phrase itself, and I would argue from a triperspectival manner. I argue that each word in the phrase refers to a perspective on the way in which Christ mediates the presence of God to human beings. Each perspectives shows a role or office that Christ fulfills for us, namely as prophet, priest, and king. As Vern Poythress explains in his book Symphonic Theology, “Each of the roles can be used as perspectives on the whole of Christ’s life. We cannot ultimately isolate one piece from another” (40). Therefore, the perspectives, though each illumining the excellencies of Christ, are to be held together to represent the person and work of God’s Son, the “Lord Jesus Christ.”
When we speak of God’s Son as Lord, we are referring to the kingly nature of his mediation. When we come to embrace Jesus, we embrace Him as Lord, submitting to his reign and rule as King over our lives. When he began his earthly ministry, he began speaking of his kingdom, and when he returns, he will fully consummate his kingdom populated with glad worshippers of all who are fully submitted to his sovereign will. Jesus came to deliver us from unjust rulers and authorities, including our own selves. He is unwilling to have any rivals to his throne, for he alone has bought us and has rights to our lives as master, ruler, and king.
When we speak of God’s Son as Jesus, we are referring to the priestly nature of his mediation. The angel told Mary and Joseph that they should call his name Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus literally means “Yahweh saves,” and he saves by giving up his own Son to be a sacrificial substitute on the cross for sinners. Jesus is both the perfect spotless offering and the great high priest making the offering once and for all. Furthermore, Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us, that we might be holy, that we might be one, that we might be entirely his.
When we speak of God’s Son as Christ, we are referring to the prophetic nature of his mediation. As the Messiah, he is the coming one of whom all the prophets wrote and prophesied. Jesus came not only to teach the truth, but to be the truth (John 14:6). Jesus did not come merely to testify to the Word of God, but Jesus is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1, 14). At every point when the first Adam failed, Jesus as the last Adam succeeded. When Israel wandered in Israel not listening to God’s Word through their prophet Moses, Jesus, the true Israel, lived on account of God’s Word (Matt. 4:1-11) as the true Prophet, by whom God has spoken to us in these last days (Heb. 1:1-2).
Together, one can see that Paul’s continual usage of the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” carries incredibly encouraging realities for us as sinners before a holy God. There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). What joy, what comfort, what renewal in the gospel should be derived when we begin and end our conversations centered on the “Lord Jesus Christ”! Paul, I believed, knew this, and it makes perfect sense as one who was continually pressing on to make it his own (Phil. 3:12) that he would take advantage of every opportunity to lay before his readers and listeners the glory of Christ in all his offices as mediator, so that with each perspective of prophet, priest, and king, the Lord Jesus Christ would be worshipped and adored with perpetual discoveries of the depths of his grace.