Jesus is the human name given to the Son of God when He became incarnate and was born to Mary. Christ is a title, and it means “Messiah,” “Anointed One,” or “Chosen One.” In some passages, a New Testament writer will use the term Jesus Christ, placing the human name first (e.g., Jude 1:1); other times, a writer will use the term Christ Jesus, putting the title first (e.g., 2 Timothy 1:1). This has led some people to wonder if there is a difference between the two appellations: what is the significance of saying “Jesus Christ” versus “Christ Jesus”?
It is true that, in many languages, word order can be changed for emphasis. In English, words placed at the beginning or at the end of a sentence usually receive more attention than the words in between. For example, saying “We can only then be sure” slightly emphasizes the word sure; however, saying “Only then can we be sure” places a heavy stress on the condition of the surety: “only then.” Statements in Greek and Hebrew are also subject to shifts in emphasis based on word order, but the difference between “Jesus Christ” and “Christ Jesus” is slight. To use the title Christ on either side of the personal name Jesus is to attribute the same honor to Him.
In Philippians 2:5–11 Paul quotes what was most likely an early Christian hymn that was passed on orally to help believers keep their theology straight. In this passage Paul speaks of what we call the kenosis or the “emptying” of Jesus Christ as He took on human form. As He divested Himself of the independent use of His divine attributes in becoming fully man, the Son of God became the Suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah 52–53. Jesus did this to reconcile us to God and in doing so took on a new glory that everyone everywhere will one day acknowledge. In Philippians 2, the term Christ Jesus comes first, in verse 5, and Jesus Christ at the end of the hymn, in verse 11.
The switch from Christ Jesus to Jesus Christ in Philippians 2 aligns perfectly with the theme of the hymn Paul quotes. The hymn begins with God becoming man—thus, “Christ Jesus” (the heavenly title, then the human name). The hymn ends with the Lord ascending to glory—thus, “Jesus Christ” (the human name, then the heavenly title). The Lord’s designations reflect the direction He is taking.
Among the apostles, Paul uses the term Christ Jesus more frequently than the others, who usually say Jesus Christ. In contrast, John never writes “Christ Jesus,” but always puts the human name first. Some surmise that Paul, who never walked with Jesus physically, references him more than most as “Christ Jesus,” perhaps in a more formal way.
All this to say, the difference between Jesus Christ and Christ Jesus is subtle and in most contexts insignificant. Placing the human name first puts a slight emphasis on the Lord’s humanity; placing the divine title first puts a slight emphasis on the Lord’s deity. Either way, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Chosen One of God.