John 3:2 – This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
These days we often think and discuss of Jesus, among His many names, as “Teacher.” Which is an important trait; we always have more to learn as people, but especially so when it comes to embodying, applying, and sharing Scripture. But seeing as Christ came to earth among God’s people in Israel, it’s important to recognize how He did bring a radically different teaching that you could only come to God through faith in Christ Jesus, but that He was also an important teacher in their culture and time, earning Him the name “Rabbi” in many instances.
If you were like me before looking more into this matter, you may have considered Rabbi simply the Hebrew translation for “teacher.” Besides, as John 1:38 says, “And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” There’s a definite notion that Rabbis were the teachers of Scripture and God’s commands, and often enacted the law based on their interpretation of God’s word in the case of the courts such as the Sanhedrin. But that apparently was a miscommunication, more of a Western way of thinking about the student-teacher dichotomy. Turns out the original Hebrew רַבִּי has that implication, but ultimately means more along the lines of “master”, or “my master” specifically. And to think of referring to Jesus in that manner seems more fitting. In calling Jesus “Rabbi”, one would admit their submission: their future found in Christ and His teaching.
It’s worth noting too with this context in mind that it’s Nicodemus talking to Jesus here in John 3:2, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, acknowledging His sanctity. One of the spiritual and legal leaders of the Jewish people at the time was calling this man their teacher, their master; how fitting that even one who would lead and teach those of Christ would recognize His authority above their own. Though Nicodemus would eventually fail to sufficiently speak up for Jesus’s sake in regards to this belief (a failing Jesus would have surely anticipated here, even as he taught Nicodemus about being born again into the Kingdom of God), he still recognized and believed that only the Son of God can truly point the way to the Father.
So when we consider how Jesus is Rabbi, we can consider Him as our teacher, from whom we find wisdom about how to live in a holy manner, but that marks only the beginning. We consider Jesus our master, our mentor, our leader; someone we can look to to learn the lessons of Godly, sanctimonious living. Jesus took the Law based on following God’s commands, and turned it on its head, instead teaching that only through faith in Jesus Christ and our death and resurrection in Him could we be by God’s side. To call Jesus Rabbi is to follow His teachings; to submit to His interpretation of the Law that we read about in Scripture; to know the world is saved through Him; to know that “everyone who believe may have eternal life in Him.” (John 3:15) In doing this, we declare Jesus Christ is our master, our Lord, the Son of God. Consider today in what ways the life you lives reflects Jesus being your own master in this way. For as everyone sees how the Rabbi leads the student, so will the world learn about Christ through His students’ actions.