"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi' ..." (Matthew 23:8-10)

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah." (Matthew 23:8-10)

Why does Jesus not want his followers to be called 'Rabbi' or 'instructor'?

Jesus was called "Rabbi" by many. Why wouldn't he want his followers to also be called Rabbi should they go out and teach others?

And because "Rabbi" means, literally, "teacher" this also means that Jesus doesn't want them to call themselves "teacher."

Indeed, Jesus' followers were also sent out to teach, and they were also instructed to baptize others.

Jesus is making a symbolic point. He isn't literally teaching they cannot be called teacher or instructor. Certainly they will be, and we know this historically. Rather, Jesus is trying to impress on them that they are not the source of those teachings. That God is the ultimate teacher.

Jesus wants everyone to understand that the Supreme Being is the only real teacher. A person who becomes God's messenger is not being a teacher - they are passing on the teachings coming from the Supreme Being.

Jesus is also instructing his followers to rely upon the Supreme Being, rather than those posing as spiritual teachers. He is requesting his followers do not pose themselves as teacher because God is the only real teacher. This is because God teaches us from within and without.

And because Jesus is obviously referencing the Supreme Being in this statement, we can also know that he considers the Supreme Being to be the only real Messiah.

This creates somewhat of a problem, which those interpretations do not solve: Why is Jesus referred to as "Teacher" and "Christ" elsewhere in the scriptures?

Who is 'the Messiah' according to Jesus?

Who is Jesus referring to as the ultimate "Messiah," "Instructor," "Father" and "Rabbi"? Himself?

Jesus is instructing his followers not to be called, or refer to anyone other than the Supreme Being as any of these positions: "Rabbi," "Father," "Teacher," or "Messiah." We know Jesus is referring to the Supreme Being here because he says, "for you have one Father, and He is in heaven." This is an obvious reference to God.

This is reflected when he says the same thing about "Messiah" - "for you have one Instructor, the Messiah." Jesus is stating that all of these positions are ultimately assumed to be God's.

The Supreme Being is the only real spiritual Teacher, and those who represent God are speaking on His behalf. Jesus stated this clearly regarding himself:
“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me." (John 7:16)

Does Christ also mean Messiah?

Biblical translations are split - some translate the Greek word Χριστός (Kristos) to "Christ" and some translate it to "Messiah." Either is right.

Χριστός has been used in other statements by Jesus, but always in the third person. Χριστός may also be translated to "Anointed One." This is a synonym of the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (mashiyach) which is used throughout the Old Testament and Hebrew texts, and translated to either "Anointed One" or "Messiah." Consider some of the uses of this word in the Old Testament:
Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull's blood and carry it into the Tent of Meeting. (Lev. 4:5)

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD." (Samuel 16:6)

These are the last words of David: "The oracle of David son of Jesse, the oracle of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel's singer of songs: (Samuel 23:1)

"Do not touch My anointed ones; do My prophets no harm." (1 Chron 16:22)

"O LORD God, do not reject Your anointed one. Remember the great love promised to David your servant." (2 Chron 6:42)

The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for His anointed one. (Psalm 28:8)

"This is what the LORD says to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor..." (Isaiah 45:1)
All of these (in bold) are referred to using the word מָשִׁיחַ (mashiyach), meaning Messiah or Anointed One. David and others referred to David as Anointed one or Messiah (2 Chronicles 6:42 and Psalm 28:8), and Cyrus was considered God's Anointed one or Messiah (Isaiah 45:1), as was Eliab, by Samuel (Samuel 16:6). Furthermore, God directly refers to prophets and priests as being Anointed one or Messiah (Lev. 4:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:22). Again, each of these statements uses the same word, מָשִׁיחַ (mashiyach), which means Anointed one or Messiah.

Looking at these verses without understanding creates an apparent fundamental scriptural conflict with referring to Jesus as the only "Messiah" ("Anointed One," etc.). In fact, there seem to be conflicting uses of the word "Messiah" in general. Why is this? The solution lies within Jesus' statement.

Is Jesus the only Messiah?

Many have interpreted Jesus' statement to mean that Jesus is referring exclusively to himself when he says they have only one "Teacher," or "Messiah." But there are serious problems with this interpretation. First, Jesus is referring to Χριστός in the third person. If he were referring to himself, he would simply say: "I am the Christ." Why doesn't he simply say that?

Instead, he refers to Χριστός in the third person, not only here, but in many other statements, as we've discussed. Was Jesus prone to speaking about himself indirectly all the time? This would be equivalent to someone named Bob walking into the conference room at work, and saying "you should respect Bob." Who would do such a thing? We would immediately think Bob was a little nutty. Rather, if Bob were wanting us to respect him, he would simply say, "I am Bob and I need your respect." (We'd still think he was a little nutty though).

This also brings upon us another problem: This is found in the next statement by Jesus, where he follows this statement with:
"The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt. 23:11-12)
So would Jesus say this after he just exalted himself? Is he telling his followers that he is the only teacher and their only savior? Is Jesus claiming, in other words, to be the greatest, while at the same time saying that they should be humble? This also makes no sense.

Furthermore, it makes no sense that Jesus would be referring to "your Father in heaven" in the third person as being the only Master and Father (which is obviously not Jesus, since Jesus was standing in front of them), and then suddenly switch to talking about himself in the next sentence?

The only appropriate solution is that Jesus is referring to God not only as their only Master and their only Father but also as their only Teacher and the only Χριστός (Christ, Messiah, Anointed One, Savior).

Since Jesus refers to Master, Father, Teacher and Χριστός in the same third-person context, we can only assume that Jesus is referring to God as the Christ or Messiah.

Or is God the ultimate Messiah?

Consider, for example, these statements by Jesus:
"For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken." (John 12:49)

"For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38)
Could these be the words of God? If so, who is "the Father who sent me" and "Him who sent me" then?

Certainly, Jesus is referring to someone else here - the Supreme Being.

The only logical conclusion to draw from all these statements is that Jesus is referring to a person who is separate from him - the Supreme Being, the true Χριστός (Christ, Messiah, Savior or Anointed One).

So why did so many refer to Jesus as the Christ and Messiah? Are they all wrong?

And what about the references to God's other "Anointed ones," such as David, Eli, His priests and prophets?

There is a simple answer. Those who are serving God and empowered to represent Him, are also considered "Messiah" because God is working through them. Jesus explains how this works when he instructs his disciples to allow God to speak through them:
"At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matt. 10:19-20)
This is no different than sending any sort of messenger. If a president of a country sent his ambassador to another country to give the other country's government a message, the message would be received as coming from the president, not the ambassador. The ambassador is an emissary - a medium for his president.

In the same way, if God empowers one of His loving servants to represent Him, that person - as God's representative - this person has the power to save others because the Supreme Being is working through them. Thus they are not by themselves saving anyone - the Supreme Being is doing this through them.

And while a person may teach others about God, the Supreme Being is the only true Teacher, because all spiritual knowledge comes from Him. So those who are empowered by the Supreme Being to teach on His behalf also become real Spiritual Teachers - knowing, of course, that God is the only real Teacher, and they are simply acting as God's messengers. God is the real Messiah, and can empower and work through those who love and serve Him.

This also provides the key to Jesus' identity. While Jesus was often referred to correctly as "the Christ" - because he was God's representative - Jesus never referred to himself as such. He saw himself as a humble servant of the Supreme Being, and thus referred that title (Christ or Kristos) to the Supreme Being, whom he loved and served.