The word Rabbi comes from the Aramaic word “rabi,” which means “my great one.” In our modern language, it is comparable to the word “sir.” But in Bible times, it was used as a name of respect addressed to those who were generally teachers of the law (Matt. 23:7). In the gospel of John, “rabbi” was the term used for calling Jesus. The synoptic writers do not differentiate between the titles Rabbi and Lord as the apostle John does.
The term “rabbi” was used by those who saw Jesus as a teacher or a prophet, but who either did not know His true nature or were not ready to acknowledge Him as the Messiah (John 1:38, 49; 3:2; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8). But those for whom Jesus performed supernatural healings and acts of mercy, they often called Him “Lord” (John 9:36; 11:3, 21, 27, 32). The disciples of John the Baptist’s first addressed Jesus as “rabbi” (John 3:26).
Even the disciples, in the early part of their fellowship with Jesus addressed Him as “Rabbi,” but as they spent time with Him and saw His divinity flash through His humanity, they were convinced that He was the Son of God. And they later called Him “Lord” (John 6:68; 11:12; 13:6, 25; 14:5, 8, 22; 21:15, 20; etc.).
After the resurrection, the title “Lord” was permanently used among the believers to address Jesus and never “Rabbi.” The apostle Paul showed that in his writings saying, “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 6:22). Acknowledging Jesus as Lord meant accepting Him as the Savior.
Thus, we can see that those who addressed Jesus as “Rabbi” showed their readiness to learn of Him, whereas those who addressed Him as “Lord” showed either general respect, or their whole-hearted submission as servants to their divine Master.
In His service,
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