Why is the Son of God named Jesus?

Names are important, aren’t they? They can be powerful, beautiful or terrifying.

John 1:19-29

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”He said, “I am not.”“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

This is the first time in John’s gospel that the Son of God is addressed by a person in the account. So far Jesus has been introduced to us readers as ‘the Word’, ‘the light’, ‘the true light’, ‘the one and only Son’, and ‘the Lord’. And now John the Baptist calls him ‘Jesus’. Why? What does ‘Jesus’ mean? What is the significance of his name? Why is the Son of God named Jesus?

Names are important, aren’t they? A few years ago I had the privilege of travelling to the Philippines to visit our cross cultural connect partners. Their names are Paul and Debbie and Jubab Howells. They’d arrived in 1987 and gone straight into an animistic culture, where there were many spirits and demons said to live in the jungles and villages up in the mountains. The people there had all sorts of names for things, and one stood out to Paul and Debbie: ‘Magbabayà’, which literally means “The One who does whatever He wants”. The people recognised Magbabayà as being the supreme spirit and creator – the one you don’t mess with. The one you can’t control. The one who does what he likes. Paul and Debbie decided to start with this name and explain the one, true and only God by explaining much more about who Magbabayà really is, and what he is really like: he is the one who does what he likes because he knows everything, is everywhere all the time, and has power over the whole of creation. His name became loaded with even meaning to the people.

Names are important in almost all cultures. Names can be powerful. Beautiful. Terrifying. I wonder what your name means. Do you know? My name is ‘David’, and it means ‘a man after God’s own heart’. I like that. It’s an aspirational name for me – I want to be the way I’ve been named, to have my heart ‘after God’s own’. My name is important to me, and not just because my parents liked it. 

In Jewish (Hebrew) culture, names are extremely important, dripping with meaning. ‘David’ is an ancient Hebrew name and hence the rich meaning it gives to those blessed by it. The name ‘Joshua’ is also an ancient Hebrew name, and means ‘the Lord saves’. When you know your Old Testament, you’ll come to know why: ‘Joshua’ was the agent of the Lord’s salvation. Following the death of Moses, he’d led the ancient Israelites across the river Jordan and into the original promised land. In a sense, ‘Joshua’ had embodied ‘the Lord’s salvation’.

The name ‘Jesus’ is simply the Greek word for ‘Joshua’ (in the common language of the time, which is called New Testament Greek). ‘Jesus’ literally means ‘the Lord saves’.

When we read in John’s gospel about John the Baptist baptising ‘on the other side of the Jordan river’, we’re now expecting a Joshua-like figure. Someone to lead the people. Someone to take them into a newer, greater promised land. Someone to ‘save them’ from their mortal enemies, the Romans. 

Well, that’s exactly what we get, but from the one, true God who really does do whatever he wants:

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

‘Jesus’ is the new Joshua. He has come to save. But he’s come to lead the people by dying for them (as we’ll see later in the gospel). Jesus has arrived to take people to a promised land far greater than just Israel. And he ‘saves’ people from the mortal enemy of sin, something far more dangerous than several, massive Roman armies. And to top it all off, Jesus’ is going to save people from all around the world. Jesus, the greater Joshua, is the Lord himself, who does what he likes… It’s Jesus, the Lord who saves!

Head: Have a think about your given name/s. What do they mean? Do you know? What do you think of your name?

Heart: Regardless of the names others have given you, how do you feel knowing that because Jesus lived up to his name, you have been given a new name – ‘a child of God’? (John 1:12-13)

Hands: Think about the names of people you work or meet with today. What are their names? What do they mean? How do they feel about their name? Be curious about people today. What might the Spirit of Jesus be doing in their life, as you ask them about their name?

Prayer:  Our Father in Heaven, thank you for giving us your one and only Son, that whoever believes in his name, Jesus – ‘The Lord saves’ – will be saved from your anger against us. Thank you for Jesus, who takes away our sin, so that your wrath no longer remains on us. Father, in Jesus, you have saved me and given me a whole new name – you now call me ‘a child of God’. Your love has changed everything! I praise you for the name of Jesus, and ask you to help me today to honour his name. In his name I pray, and by the power of your Spirit, Amen.

A song to listen to: Love Changes Everything

Dave Bailey

This Grow Daily was originally posted as part of a previous series called the Spirit of Jesus in 2016. During the School Holidays we take the opportunity to look back at the best of Grow Dailys over the years.