The Meaning of Jesus’ Name

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.[1]

Juliet asks the oft quoted question, What’s in a name? Her answer is that names do not really matter. They are mere outward conventions that bear no intrinsic relation to what an object or person really is. Romeo would still be the perfect guy if he were named Steve.

The Bible however takes a very different stance on names. In the Bible, names are very significant and are representative of spiritual realities related to a person. This is seen in a number of cases where a person’s name is changed, signifying a change in that person.

Famous name changes include:

  1. Abram → Abraham
  2. Sarai → Sarah
  3. Jacob → Israel
  4. Joseph → Zaphenath-Paneah
  5. Daniel → Belteshazzar
  6. Simon → Peter
  7. Saul → Paul

In fact, in the kingdom, the overcomers are promised a new name (Rev. 2:17) and even the Lord Himself will have a new name (Rev. 3:12). Why would the Bible mention this, and mention this as a reward, if a name weren’t significant? The name here is “the interpretation of the experience of the one who has been transformed.”[2] What we are, is designated by our name (of course I don’t mean this literally with whatever name you were given at birth).

This comes into clearest focus with the name of Jehovah and with the name of Jesus.

The Name of Jehovah

Jehovah (YHWH) is the revealed, personal name of God forever.

Then Moses said to God, If I come to the children of Israel and say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they say to me, What is His name? what shall I say to them?  And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM. And He said, Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you… Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, Jehovah… has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial from generation to generation. –Exo. 3:13-15

Moses anticipates the awkward situation of coming to the children of Israel as their redeemer and then fumbling with an answer when asked what the name of this God is who is delivering them. The Lord reveals for the first time to Moses His personal name, Jehovah. This name is basically a conjugated form of the verb “to be”, denoting God’s self-existence, ever-existence, and all-inclusiveness.

That this is the revealed divine name is incredible because it embodies two fundamental aspects of God—God in His transcendence and God in His economy. The first is rather straight forward and well-known. God is eternal, perfect, self-sufficient. Only God is in the absolute sense. The second aspect however embodies God’s purpose and economy, what some have called “God for us.” God wants to be or become something to us. The New Testament reveals two great “becomings” of Christ. Through the incarnation, God became a man (John 1:14) and through resurrection, this God-man became the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). Now in His great communicability, God in Christ can become wisdom to us for our full salvation—righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). God applies what He is in His all-inclusiveness to our being for our full salvation. He does this through the divine dispensing. In this way, the entire purpose of God is embodied in the name Jehovah.

The Name of Jesus

The name of Jesus is the highest name in the universe. It is above every name (Phil. 2:9). But let’s ask for a moment with Juliet, what’s in this name? Three primary things really. The name Jesus, means “Jehovah our Savior” or “the salvation of Jehovah”. These are the three components of the name Jesus—Jehovah, the Savior, and salvation itself.

Three verses bring out the three components within the name Jesus:

Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham came into being, I am. –John 8:58

And she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins. –Matt. 1:21

…When the parents brought in the little child Jesus for them to do according to the custom of the law concerning Him, Simeon received Him into his arms and blessed God and said, Now You release Your slave, Master, according to Your word, in peace; for my eyes have seen Your salvation. –Luke 2:27-30

In John 8, Jesus makes a startling claim. This man from Nazareth, in His early thirties, a carpenter by trade, is I AM—Jehovah, the eternal God, who appeared to Moses in the thornbush. The monumentality of the claim wasn’t lost on the Jews either. They immediately picked up stones to stone Him (John 8:59). Jesus didn’t say, “Before Abraham came into being, I was.” That would have been correct grammatically, but incorrect theologically. Jesus wasn’t merely making a claim about His age, but about His identity. He is the self-existing and ever-existing God.

But the Gospel of John further demonstrates that Jesus is I AM in a predicated sense, in His all-inclusiveness:

  1. I am the bread of life (6:35)
  2. I am the light of the world (8:12)
  3. I am the door of the sheep (10:9)
  4. I am the good Shepherd (10:11)
  5. I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
  6. I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6)
  7. I am the true vine (15:1)

All this is in the name of Jesus. As the I AM, He is whatever we need. The Old Testament Jehovah is the New Testament Jesus. In the Old Testament it was prophesied that the Lord Jehovah would come (Isa. 40:10) and in the New Testament it is preached that Jesus is Lord (2 Cor. 4:5). The fact that there is continuity in these names indicates that all that God is to us, He is in Jesus Christ. Paul says that, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). God has embodied Himself in all His riches in Christ and Christ is accessed for full salvation through His name. We take the cup of salvation by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus.

I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of Jehovah. –Psalm 116:13

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord [Jesus] is Lord of all and rich to all who call upon Him; for “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” –Rom. 10:12-13

In giving us the name of Jesus, God has given us everything. We should call on this name, pray in this name, and do all things in this name (Col. 3:17). Sorry Juliet (and Shakespeare), there’s a lot in a name.

1. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, (II, ii, 1-2)
2. Witness Lee, Recovery Version Footnotes, Revelation 2:17, note 4

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