A few years ago I was talking with someone about names. This woman told me that she feels that parents today just take a hat full of letters, pull some out, and whatever they spell, that’s what they name their child. This woman was commenting about how, these days, there seems to be a number of names that have some rather odd spellings.
This makes me think: has the naming of children changed over time? It appears that today, many parents choose names because they like how they sound. Yet, when you look back in history, many names were chosen not because of how they sounded, but rather they were chosen because of the meaning of the name. One such example is found in the angel’s announcement to Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). The name Jesus is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew name Joshua. Both names mean, “the Lord saves.”
Joseph was told to give the child born to Mary the name Jesus because of what he would do. This child, born by the miraculous virgin birth, would save the world from sin.
If you keep reading in the Gospel of Matthew you hear another name for Jesus. Matthew 1:22-23 says, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the Prophet [Isaiah 7:14]: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.’” Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us on the earth. Jesus was born in a miraculous way with a human mother but no human father. And it had to be this way. In order for Jesus to save us from our sins, he had to be both God and man in one person. He had to be man so that he could live under the law for us. He had to be God so that he could follow that law perfectly. He had to be man so that he could die. He had to be God so that his death could count not for himself but for the world.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus told his disciples, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). In these words we find another name for Jesus: Messiah. Messiah is the Hebrew form of the Greek word Christ. Both of these words mean “the anointed one.” Messiah and Christ really aren’t names but they are titles. In Bible times, when people were anointed, they were set apart for a specific task or purpose. What was the Messiah’s (the Christ’s) purpose? Jesus was the anointed one. He was the one who (as his name tells us) would save the world from sin.
Understanding the fact that Christ is a title and not a name also helps us understand why the word Christ is sometimes found before and sometimes after the name of Jesus. Sometimes the Bible says, “Christ Jesus” and other times it says, “Jesus Christ.” Since Christ is not a name but a title, it can be placed either before or after the name of Jesus.
There are many other names and titles for Jesus given in the Bible. Although this article will not attempt to list nor explain them all, hopefully each time you read a name or title for Jesus you can ask “What does this name mean?”! Even though parents today may not be concerned about the meaning of the names they give their children, when we look at the names of our Savior listed in the Bible, each name has great meaning.
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