By Maddy Rager, Crosswalk.com
Over the years, many churches, ministries, and groups, including a well-known music record label, have used the name “Maranatha.” Although only mentioned once in the Bible, this widely-known term has influenced Christianity from the church’s birth until now. Today, almost two thousand years later, the weight and meaning of this word couldn’t be more important to understand and apply to our lives.
There is a lot of debate surrounding the exact interpretation of the phrase. Many have translated it as “Our Lord, come!” or “Come, Lord!”. This interpretation appeals as a prayer or cry for the return of Jesus to this earth. However, some believe it means, “Our Lord has come!” In this case, the term exists as a reminder that Jesus indeed has come, and we have hope because of Him. Christianity.com contributor Jessica Udell writes, “Regardless of how we choose to interpret it, it is a reference to some of the most important truths of our faith: Christ has come, and Christ will come again!”
In the early church, believers would greet one another with “maranatha.”
As J. Dwight Anderson reminds us, this was a time of great oppression and persecution for Christians under Roman and Jewish rule, and therefore, the greeting existed as a hope-filled declaration and reminder that their Lord had come and was coming again. They lived with a conscious expectation that the Lord would come at any time, and in light of that imminent hope, they found it to be a transforming truth. Additionally, BibleInfo.com reports that maranatha may have been a secret “watchword” that Christians used to identify each other due to it being an Aramaic word within a Greek text.
What Does Maranatha Mean in Its Original Language?
As mentioned earlier, maranatha is an Aramaic word meaning “our Lord cometh or will come.” BibleStudyTools.com contributor Britt Mooney points out that the word’s root goes back to the Aramaic words maran, meaning “Lord,” and atha, meaning “come.”
The debate about the correct translation of maranatha involves two possible breakdowns of the Aramaic words. Gospel Coalition contributor Trevin Wax explains that some translators read it as maran-atha, “Our Lord has come!” Others read it as marana-tha, meaning “Our Lord, come!”
These varying translations can be seen if we compare different renditions of 1 Corinthians 16:22. Several English Bibles, including the ESV translation, read, “Our Lord, come!” Others, such as the KJV, do not translate the word to English, keeping the original Aramaic. The well-respected Strong’s Concordance defines maranatha (Strong’s number G3134) as: “of Chaldee origin (meaning our Lord has come); i.e. an exclamation of the approaching divine judgment.” Similarly, Smith’s Bible Dictionary defines it as an expression signifying “our Lord cometh.” For this article, we will follow this future tense definition.
Where Does Paul Use Maranatha in His New Testament Letters?
We find the word maranatha at the end of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 16:22, he writes, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (ESV).” In the KJV, this verse reads, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.”
Anathema is a Greek word meaning “accursed or excommunicated.” As the Enduring Word Commentary describes it, anathema was the third of three levels of discipline among the ancient Jews. Anathema indicated that all hope of reconciliation and repentance was lost. In fact, the man was no longer considered a Jew at all. John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible argues that within the 1 Corinthians 16 passage, maranatha is best understood as a reminder or a wake-up call to the coming of Christ, “when all the wicked of the earth shall be accursed by him, and all such that love him not will be bid to depart from him.”
Many scholars and teachers believe these two words should be rightly interpreted together, not separately. In this context, maranatha points to the second coming of Christ, and Paul refers to the great and terrible day when He comes back to judge the living and the dead. On this day, those who do not love him will be accursed. Charles Spurgeon speaks to the severity of this when he says,
“It were better for you that you had never been born than that you should live and die without love to Christ. Remember that startling sentence of the Apostle Paul which is so solemn that I can scarcely quote it without tears, ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let Him be Anathema Maranatha,’ that is, ‘let Him be accursed at the coming of the Lord.’”
Spurgeon elsewhere describes these words as “perhaps the most terrible words in sacred Scripture.” Therefore, maranatha declares hope in light of the return of Jesus for those who love him, but a sobering reality and warning for those who do not. In his commentary, Warren Wiersbe says that not to love Christ means not to believe in Him, but if a person loves Jesus Christ, he will also love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8 ESV).
What Can We Learn from the Word of Maranatha Today?
There is no greater hope to live for than the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In light of his return, we are challenged to lead lives of holiness and purity before him. 1 John 3:2-3 says, “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (ESV).
Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). Sanctification and purification are directly linked to His coming as we prepare to see Him face to face and present ourselves blameless before him.
We must always be ready because the Bible makes clear that we do not know the hour when He is coming. The Bible repeatedly uses language such as “stay awake” (Matthew 24:42) and ��watch yourselves” (Luke 21:34) when referring to His coming. Matthew 24:44 says, “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (ESV). Properly understanding and living in light of his imminent return produces righteousness and should, therefore, be a significant part of the life of the Christian.
How would we live differently if he was coming—today? In the words of Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost,
“How different today would be if our first thought in the morning would be, ‘Perhaps today. Maranatha’. Or when we go to sleep at night, before our eyelids close, we anticipate the night and said, ‘Maranatha. Perhaps before sunrise.”
The Bible clarifies the importance of eagerly waiting and preparing for His return. Luke 12:37 says, “Blessed are the servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (ESV). Jesus promises to bless those who stay awake and anticipate his coming. Furthermore, Timothy says there is a “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 ESV). Not only should we expect his coming. We should love and long for his return, crying “Maranatha!” Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20).
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/James Coleman
Maddy Rager is a copywriter who recently launched her own freelance business. She has always had a passion for writing and conveying the truths of God's word to compel others to know Him more deeply. She also loves to write music and released a personal EP in 2020. Maddy and her husband live in Franklin, TN and are actively involved in their church and community where they lead worship together in various contexts. You can learn more about her work at www.ragercreative.com.
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