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What’s in a Name?


Celebrities often bestow unusual names on their children, and actress Gwyneth Paltrow raised eyebrows around the world when she chose the name Apple for her newborn daughter. She later explained the choice this way: “It sounded so sweet and it conjured such a lovely picture for me—you know, apples are so sweet and they’re wholesome and it’s biblical—and I just thought it sounded so lovely and clean!”

In today’s reading, we see that the names given to Jesus reveal something about His identity and work. First, we see the title Messiah (v. 18), the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word translated Christ, which means “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were all anointed as the way to consecrate them for service. By their anointing, they were set aside for a specific purpose. In the same way, Christ, or the Messiah, was The Anointed One, set apart for God’s special purpose of redemption.

Second, He was given the personal name Jesus. That name is the Greek version of the name Joshua, which means “the Lord saves.” The name Mary and Joseph were told to give to their son was not random but full of meaning. He was to be called Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Jesus’ name conveys something about His identity and purpose: He would be the promised Savior!

The third name given in our reading is Immanuel. In fulfillment of God’s promise of a virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14, Jesus was to be known as Immanuel, “which means ‘God with us’” (v. 23). In other words, the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, was not just a servant like the prophets of old. This was Immanuel; this was God with us!

Apply the Word

Scripture provides us with a multitude of names and titles for God and Christ. Consider buying a colorful poster depicting these names, or even creating your own. Display it as a reminder of the identity and saving power of our God. Spend time this week reflecting on what the names Christ, Jesus, and Immanuel mean for your relationship with God.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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