What Do Christians Mean When They Say Maranatha?

Contributing Writer
What Do Christians Mean When They Say Maranatha?

Maranatha! The term appears in songs and the names of churches, schools, and music organizations. Maranatha Music (a trendsetting Contemporary Christian Music label) began in 1971 through the Jesus People in southern California.

Like "hallelujah," maranatha is one of those words we hear within Christian circles but may not know its meaning. When we look at its meaning and context, maranatha has an important message and origin for followers of Jesus across all times.

What Does Maranatha Mean?

Maranatha originates in the New Testament—specifically the apostle Paul's letters. The word is Aramaic—in Jesus' time, Aramaic was a common language across the Semitic peoples in Canaan. It differs from Hebrew and Greek but would have been widely understood, so Jesus' followers used it widely.

One must delve into its historical, linguistic, and theological dimensions to truly understand maranatha's meaning and significance.

Maranatha is often translated as "Come, Lord" or "Our Lord, come." Its roots can be traced to the Aramaic words maran, meaning "Lord," and atha, meaning "come." Paul used this Aramaic term to say, "Come, Lord!"

Therefore, using maranatha in Christian worship and prayer expresses anticipation and longing for Jesus Christ’s return. Maranatha embodies Christians' hope and faith that Jesus will someday return to fulfill his promises and establish the Kingdom of God.

Beyond its biblical context, maranatha has been adopted into various Christian liturgical practices, prayers, and hymns. It serves as a reminder of Christianity’s eschatological dimension—it emphasizes the belief in Christ’s eventual return when he will judge the living and the dead and fulfill God's promises of salvation.

The concept of maranatha is not limited to Christian traditions. It shares similarities with coming savior ideas in other religions—for example, the return of the Mahdi in Islam. These concepts all express a common human yearning for a savior or redeemer who will bring a better world.

Where Does the Bible Use the Word Maranatha?

The word maranatha appears in the New Testament. Its occurrence is somewhat limited, but its presence holds deep theological and eschatological meaning within the context of early Christian beliefs.

The New Testament primarily uses maranatha in Paul’s 1 Corinthians letter.

Paul writes, "If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!" (1 Corinthians 16:22). The sentiment is clear: a sincere call for Christ’s return. The passage also conveys something that motivates our love of God. Yes, we have a relationship with God, but we also seek the day Christ will set everything right. Those who don't love God (in heart, word, and deed) will be among the cursed on that day. Paul’s warning expresses urgency and longing for Christ’s Second Coming and the importance of loving and serving the Lord while awaiting His return.

While the word maranatha is not directly used in Revelation, its idea and sentiment appear in the closing verses of the book: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). Here, the verse expresses a longing for Christ’s imminent return and affirms the expectation that He will come soon to fulfill God's promises and establish His kingdom.

In addition to the specific instances mentioned above, early Christian communities may have used "maranatha" in their liturgical and communal prayers, given its association with the hope for Christ's return. While these mentions may not be found explicitly in the New Testament, they testify to this term's enduring significance and resonance in the early Christian tradition.

Why Did Christians Use Maranatha as an Expression?

Maranatha held significant meaning and purpose for Christians, and its usage can be understood through several key reasons.

At Christianity’s core is anticipating Christ’s Second Coming. Christians believe that Jesus, who came once as the Savior, will return to fulfill God's promises, establish His eternal kingdom, and judge the living and the dead. The expectation this event will come brings urgency to our relationship with God and our mission to spread the Gospel.

All people recognize the brokenness of this world, the abject sinfulness of people, and the oppression of the poor and innocent. Part of the Good News of Christianity is that God will set all of this right. He will personally come and remake our world into a paradise of peace and love. This gives us hope and motivation. God will end pain and suffering, oppression and evil empires. Jesus’ teaching and the apostolic letters often express this future day of judgment as a motivating factor for evangelism.

Maranatha provides a poignant expression of this anticipation and longing for the Lord’s return. It reminds believers that their faith is not limited to the past but extends into the future as they await the ultimate fulfillment of God's plan.

In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, maranatha is closely associated with God’s love. Love and devotion to the Lord are central to the Christian faith. If we love him, we will long for his return and all the good and wonderful things that will come. The root of our longing is love. Maranatha reminds believers to maintain their commitment to loving and serving the Lord while they await His return. It serves as a call to examine one's heart and ensure it is aligned with Christ’s teachings.

This hope of God’s return, where he will set everything right, is also loving toward others—the poor, the oppressed, and victims of evil empires. It is love to give others this hope, as well.

Longing is expressed in prayer and singing, crying out for the Lord we love to come and make things right. Maranatha was likely used within the early Christian communities as a unifying expression of faith and hope. It was employed in communal prayers, hymns, and liturgical practices, reinforcing the collective belief in Christ’s imminent return. In this way, it became a shared language that bound Christians together in common expectation and devotion.

In the context of early Christianity, there were challenges posed by false teachings and heresies that threatened to distort Christ’s message. Maranatha was a way for early Christians to resist such deviations by emphasizing the core tenets of their faith, particularly the belief in Christ’s return. It served as a reminder that Christianity’s true essence was rooted in the hope of Christ's second coming and not in alluring false teachings.

For individual believers, using maranatha becomes a way to maintain personal devotion and spiritual focus. It encouraged daily mindfulness of Christ's return, motivating believers to live faithfully and virtuously. It was a simple yet powerful prayer that expressed one's longing for the presence of the Lord in their lives.

What Can We Learn from Maranatha Today?

The term Maranatha holds enduring significance for Christians today. It carries timeless lessons and reminders to guide and inspire contemporary believers in their faith and walk with Christ.

  1. Hope and Anticipation. Maranatha reminds Christians to maintain a sense of hope and anticipation for Christ’s return. In a world marked by uncertainty, conflict, and challenges, this expression serves as a beacon of hope, reinforcing the belief that Christ's return will ultimately end suffering and usher in an era of peace and justice. It encourages us to keep our eyes on God's eternal promises even amid trials.
  2. Faithfulness and Devotion. Saying “maranatha!” echoes the call to remain faithful and devoted to the Lord. Just as the apostle Paul wrote concerning our love for God (or the curse of lack thereof), it underscores the importance of a deep and unwavering love for Jesus. Today, this reminder challenges Christians to examine the sincerity of their faith and devotion, urging them to love the Lord with all their heart, mind, and strength.
  3. Living in the Present with an Eye on Eternity. How we view the future hope changes how we live here today. Maranatha underscores the idea that faith is not solely about the past or the future but about how we choose what's important. The expression prompts us in urgency to live out our faith in practical ways, demonstrating love, compassion, and justice, all while looking forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God's plan.
  4. Unity in Faith. Maranatha was a unifying expression in the early Christian community. In today's diverse and often divided world, this term can inspire Christians to find common ground and unity in their shared belief in Christ’s return. It encourages believers to focus on their faith's essentials and work together in love and harmony.
  5. Resistance to False Teachings. As in the early Christian period, contemporary believers face many ideas, worldviews, and teachings that may challenge or distort their faith. Maranatha serves as a reminder to stay steadfast in Christianity’s core beliefs, especially expecting Christ's return. It encourages us to discern truth from falsehood and remain grounded in Christ's teachings.
  6. Personal Prayer and Reflection. We must cry out to God in prayer and praise. Maranatha can be a powerful tool for personal prayer and reflection. It encourages us to engage in daily conversations with God, expressing our longing for His presence and the fulfillment of His promises. We can cultivate a deep and personal relationship with Christ by incorporating maranatha into our prayer life.
  7. Eternal Perspective. Maranatha invites Christians to adopt an eternal perspective in their daily lives. We are often distracted and discouraged by the mundane activities or the sin and evil we see in the world. The eternal perspective lifts our vision to a Heavenly view of our problems. Eternal perspective doesn't tell us to dismiss pain or our problems. Still, it encourages us to see their challenges, successes, and interactions with others in the light of God's ultimate plan and victory. This perspective can offer comfort, meaning, and a sense of purpose, even in adversity.

In summary, maranatha continues to offer profound lessons and reminders for us today. Let us join the apostles and our brothers and sisters across two thousand years, crying out in prayer and praise for the wonderful day when Christ will return and fulfill all his promises, remove the evil, wipe every tear, and live with us forever.

Come, Lord!


Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Paul_974

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

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