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Over the past 2000 years, more people on planet earth have known the name of Jesus than any other name. Since 33 AD, over 8 billion people, by one estimate, have claimed to be followers of this Jesus—or Jésus or Isus or whatever the Christ is called in your language. Billions more have heard of his name. Presently, the name of Jesus can be found in over 6000 languages and more are being added every year.

On the one hand, it’s strange that this single name has dominated the last 2000 years of world history, especially Western history.  For most of us, Jesus has a sacred ring to it; it sounds holy and divine.  But this wasn’t the case when Mary and Joseph followed the angel’s instructions and gave their baby his name.  Granted, it had a special meaning, but it was not an unusual name.  The first century Jewish historian Josephus mentions at least twelve different people he knew with the name Jesus, including four High Priests.  In Acts 9 we read of the Jewish false prophet, Bar-Jesus.  In Colossians 4, Paul mentions one of his fellow workers, Jesus, called Justus.  And some ancient manuscripts of the gospel of Matthew call the robber released by Pilate, Jesus Barabbas, which can be translated, ironically enough, “Jesus Son of the Father.”

Jesus was a common name, like Jim or John or Jerry.  When Mary and Joseph called their son Jesus, there were no prayers in his name.  No one used it as a swear word.  No one sang songs about this name, just like there is no religion I am aware of that sings songs to Jim (except that he’s not to be messed around with).  We don’t name our sons John with the expectation that over the next 2000 years 8 billion people will pray in his name. We don’t croon, “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, there’s just something about that name!”

But common as it was, Jesus was “Jesus” by design. In Greek it is Iesous, in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, Yesu.  Both are derived from the Hebrew, the name is Yeshua or Joshua.  Joshua is made up of two parts: Ya which is short for Yahweh, and hoshea which means salvation.  Hence, Mary and Joseph give their little baby the name Jesus, “Yahweh is salvation.”

Which he was. And is. Through Christ alone. Ever since the first Christmas, Jesus has been more than just a name. It’s been our only comfort in life and in death, our only hope in a hopeless world. When you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, you may life in his name (John 20:31). There is, in fact, no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved (Acts 4:12). So naturally, whatever we do, in word or deed, we ought to do in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). For God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11-12).

But let’s be clear: the name of Jesus is not a magic wand.  Chanting it does not give one special powers.  The power in the name is the person behind the name.  In the Old Testament, names meant something.  They were more than badges of identification.  They often told others who you were and what purpose God had for your life.  So Adam was the first man.  Eve was the mother of all living things.  Abraham was the father of many nations.  Benjamin was the son of his father’s right hand.  Moses was drawn out of the water.  Peter was the rock.  Barnabas was the son of encouragement.

And what about Jesus?

“And you shall call his name Jesus,” the angel told Joseph, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  More than a great teacher, more than an enlightened man, more than a worker of miracles, more than giving us meaning in life, more than a self-help guru, more than a self-esteem builder, more a political liberator, more than a caring friend, more than a transformer of cultures, more than a purpose for the purposeless, Jesus is a Savior of sinners.

“The name of Jesus charms our fears and bids our sorrows cease; tis music in the sinner’s ears, tis life and health and peace.”  That’ll sing. “All hail the power of Jesus’ name!  Let angels prostrate fall.  Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all.” That’ll work too.

I guess there really is just something about that name.

No, not just something: make that everything.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Tabletalk.

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16 thoughts on “The Name of Jesus”

  1. Rose says:

    Upon hearing such discussions, my mind regularly turns to Psalm 138:2, “I will worship toward your holy temple, and praise your name for your lovingkindness and for your truth: for you have magnified your word above all your name.” Different translations handle this verse differently, but it reminds me of the authority and excellence of God’s Word, set even above his name. Of course, this is not the paper and ink, but God’s promises, warnings, and revelation of himself.

  2. Bob says:

    Great job Kevin. I am always thankful that Jesus name is short and easy to say. Can you imagine if it was “Methuselah”. Sure would make the Christmas Carols sound strange:-)

  3. Ann Metcalf says:

    @Bob. Good point. I am thankful Jesus is easy to say too!

  4. Mike Gantt says:

    Blessed be His name!

    Thanks for writing about it.

    By the way, though not everyone who is talking about Tim Tebow is talking about the name of Jesus, Tim Tebow probably has more people in America talking about the name of Jesus than anyone else in recent memory. Let’s pray that His name will transcend Tebowing as a trend.

  5. Tom says:

    There is a little, almost obscure comment about the name of Jesus in Luke 2:21: “…he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” And that has intrigued me for some time. I ask myself, Why is that important for Luke to mention to us? The name was given to Him not before He was BORN, but before He was even CONCEIVED! It is quite a specific statement. And why is it important that it was given by an angel? Is this just Luke’s way of giving us the facts of the account, but there is nothing further to ponder here?

    I think there is a reason why Luke says this, and it is connected to what Matthew records that Jesus was given His name because He will “save His people from their sins.” Jesus’ name itself was given because of the purpose He had to be faithful to His people. And so, I think Luke tells us that His name was given by the angel prior to conception to tell us that Jesus’ faithfulness to His people was not an after-thought on God’s part! It wasn’t like Jesus was born, and then God had to figure out what a good mission for Him to accomplish would be. God commanded that angel to give Him that name even prior to conception! God was being faithful to His people in the person of Jesus Christ!

  6. Alex Daher says:

    Great article, Mr. DeYoung. We are translating it for a Reformed Brazilian blog, by the way, pointing it to your original post, off course.
    Just one more brief comment: It seems that Barjesus is mentioned in Acts 13 and not in Acts 9. :-)
    Merry Christmas for you all. God bless you and your ministry.

  7. Matt Shockey says:

    Love the Jim Croce reference :)

  8. Christian Mann says:

    Thx Kevin!
    There you wrote “[Jesus is] more than giving us meaning in life, more than a self-help guru, more than a self-esteem builder”.

    Wouldn’t it be correct, however, to say that Jesus is the destroyer of *our* meaning of life; the opposite of “self-help” (Like the üsalms say: where does my help come from?); and the self-esteem destroyer?

    Jesus *is* the meaning of our life (for to me to live *is* Christ); he *is* our savior – the ultimate “help”; we decrease that he may increase – he is our only esteem, without the “self”!

    my 2 cents

  9. Soule says:

    Great article, Mr. DeYoung. We recently wrote a beautiful article about the Name of Jesus. I find their to be just something sweet about the Name of Jesus. It is beautiful, and at the same time it makes our enemies tremble. Check out our article here “The Name of Jesus”:

  10. lJ says:

    well,, again I’ll say this it is written,my people perish by the lack of knowledge,,psalms state knowledge is power,,now research is the key to understand the manuscripts instead of the many bibles. but as I always said, people will believe what they want. Spirits know the difference, the name will again do nothing if one has little faith, the spirits will test you, you take this with a grain of salt,,ok ,,I’ll keep my knowledge and pass it on, like jonah, God told him to tell those people the prophesy, he did.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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