By John Timmerman
Have you noticed that names in the U.S. are given a different importance than names in our Chinese culture? In the U.S. there are many family names, but only a few given names. In China, of course, the reverse is true. Parents and grandparents spend a great deal of time selecting an appropriate given name for a new baby, a name that will express what they hope will be his character and role in life.
The God of the Bible is much like a Chinese parent in that He, too, took great care in selecting a name for His only Son. During December, Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of that child, whom His Father named Jesus. In this excerpt from a book by Dr. John Timmerman, we can learn much about Jesus by studying His name.
– Wang Jiapu
What’s in a name?
A name does more than simply identify one among many. Often a name evokes the image of a person, as well as event, hopes, and joys tied to that person. When we call to mind, for example, the name of a childhood friend, suddenly a whole time filled with meaning is called forth in our memory.
What’s in a name? At the name of Jesus, our faith, hope, salvation, and expectation of eternal life are called forth in our thoughts.
Jesus, however, was not such an unusual name in scriptural times. In the Old Testament, Hebrew names such as Joshua, Jehoshua, and Jeshua are simply linguistic variations of Jesus…
While the name itself is fairly common, meaning “God’s salvation” or “God is my help,” the person of Jesus the Messiah is unique, for here in fact is God’s salvation. The name at once emphasizes Jesus’ commonness – He is born the Son of Man, a man among men – and Jesus’ uniqueness. This man Jesus is born to redeem man to eternal life.
The name Jesus was appointed by God for His Son and was so announced by angelic messengers before His birth: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 RSV).
This Jesus is the One who has been looked for, the One who finally comes to fulfill prophecy and expectation, the One whose birth is announced with joy and the acclamation of angels. This Jesus comes as the fulfillment of certain names known to expectant people for centuries: the Rock, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd. And He comes as the bearer of certain titles – equally familiar – draped about His human shoulders with royal, divine significance: the Messiah, the High Priest, the King, the Son of Man, and Son of God.
William Barclay, the great theologian who has studied the life and work of Jesus in keen detail, says in Jesus As They Saw Him (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman, 1978):
“It is no accident that our Lord was called by the name Jesus. That name sums up the things which He came into the world to do and which only He can do. He came to be the divine Rescuer who alone can deliver men from the consequences and from the grip of sin; He came to be the divine Physician who alone can bring healing to the bodies and souls of men.”
The Holy Scripture is a resonant proclamation of that great name, Jesus, and the promises it carries for His people.
In His name is power. “If you ask anything in My name,” Jesus says to His disciples and to us, “I will do it” (John 14:14 RSV).
In His name is healing. Demons are cast out in Jesus’ name. The lame run with joy, the blind see. And, in the greatest healing, the dead in Christ are raised to eternal life (John 10:28 RSV).
In His name is joy. “These things I have spoken to you,” says Jesus, “that My joy may be in you” (John 15:11 RSV). Jesus can banish all sorrow, all darkness, if only we ask.
In His name is remission of sins. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins,” says Jesus, “should be preached in [Christ’s] name to all nations” (Luke 24:47 RSV).
In His name there is new life. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31 RSV).
In His name is praise. Jesus has come “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy” (Romans 15:9 RSV). Surely there is promise in the name of Jesus – the very promise of God Himself.
From A Layman Looks at the Names of Jesus, by John Timmerman, © 1985, Tyndale House Publishers. Used with permission.
John Timmerman, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Calvin College. He is the former editor of Christianity and Literature, and the author of several books and articles.