Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, snow, nativity scenes, the star of Bethlehem. These are some of the most common signs and symbols for Christmas. But perhaps we should think about fish. No, not halibut or salmon! I am talking about the sign of the fish. You know the one. You see it on the backs of cars. Sometimes it shows up on a business logo. While it is generally understood to be associated with Christianity, believe it or not, it really encapsulates the meaning of Christmas.
In the early church the sign of the fish was an important symbol. In Greek, the language of the early church, the word for fish is “IXOUS” (pronounced “ichthus”). It is the normal word for fish as recorded in the Gospels (cf. Matt. 7:10; 14:17; Mark 6:38, 41; Luke 5:6; 11:11; John 21:6, 8, 11). In short, the term became an acronym for four great truths of the faith.
“I” represents Iesous, which is translated “Jesus.” Luke recorded the words of the angel talking to Mary: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).
“X” portrays Xristos, which means “Christ.” Again Luke included the words of the angel spoken to the shepherds. In reference to the birth of Jesus the angel announced, “He is Christ the Lord” (2:11).
“O” represents theos, which is translated “God.” It is followed by “U,” which represents uios, “Son.” Taken together the title is understood as “Son of God.” Speaking to Mary the angel said, “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (1:35).
“S” identifies soter, which translates “Savior.” Remember the familiar words, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you” (2:11)?
So what does all this mean? It reminds us, as it did the early believers, that Jesus is the Christ, the very Son of God, and our Savior. As a perfect man, His name is “Jesus.” As the “Christ,” He is the anointed Messiah. As the “Son of God,” He is eternal. And as “Savior,” He is the one who redeems us from the penalty of sin and gives us eternal life through the power of His blood.
So when you see the fish symbol, let it remind you that this is the season in which we celebrate the day when Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, came to be our Savior. The fish is truly a symbol of the season—a sign of the time—Christmastime!
About the Contributors
Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word and His grace. A pastor at heart, Chuck has served as the founder and senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. His leadership as president and now chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry. Chuck and his wife Cynthia, have four grown children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.