What's In a Name?

It’s usually left to parents to decide what to call their kids, but when God sent an angel to announce the birth of the Messiah, his parents were denied the right to name their son. Both Joseph and Mary were specifically instructed to name their child “Jesus” (Matt. 1:21, Luke 1:31).Why the name Jesus? Jesus (Yeshuain Hebrew, the same as the name “Joshua”) was a common name in first century Israel. It is essentially the compound of two Hebrew words – YHWH (the covenant name of God) and yasha(a verb that means to rescue, to save, or to deliver.) Basically, the name Jesus means: “God saves.”

The angel who announced Christ’s birth to Joseph explained that the child’s name was specifically linked to the name’s meaning. He said: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Here are three thingswe learn about the Messiah from the giving of his name – we learn about his person, his purpose, and his power.


Throughout the Old Testament the nation of Israel is referred to as “the people of the LORD,” or “God’s people,” or (by God) as “my people.” But surprisingly, as the angel foretells the birth of Jesus, he refers to Israel as “his people” (Matt. 1:21). “He will save his peoplefrom their sins.” Amazingly, the nation formerly said to belong to God is now said to belong to Jesus.

What does this imply about the identity of Jesus? Many would see this as a clear reference to Christ’s divine nature. Lest we miss this hint, Matthew hastens to add, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matt. 1:22-23). To have Jesus with us is, mysteriously, to experience the very presence of God.


The name Jesus (“God saves”) also points to the reason for which Christ came. He did not come to teach us, to condemn us, to coach us, to nag us, to exhort us, or to set an example for how we should live. Jesus came to save. He came on a rescue mission. 

The Greek word translated “save” in Matthew 1:21 means: “to keep safe and sound,” “to rescue from danger or destruction,” or “to make well or restore to health.” All these ideas point to deliverance offered to people who are powerless to help themselves.

This is the good news about Christ. Jesus did not come to pace us through a self-improvement program. What help would that be for sinners like us? Jesus “gave himself for our sins to rescue us” (Gal. 1:4). 


It is encouraging to note that the angel did not say, “He mightsave his people from their sins,” or “he couldsave his people from their sins,” or “Jesus will try his bestto save his people from their sins.” The angel boldly declared, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he willsave his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

If the One who comes to rescue his people is none other than God himself in human flesh, can there be any doubt that he will succeed in his mission? This should bring great hope to those of us who are weak and unstable. If it were up to us to have the goodness and fortitude to keep ourselves faithful to the Lord, what hope would we have of being saved? As preacher John MacArthur said, “If you could lose your salvation, you would.” But thank the Lord! The one who came to save us, willget the job done!