The Name of the Messiah

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‘She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you shall give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21)

My wife, an Egyptian, once knew a gentleman called, ‘Mr Gamil.’ Hilariously (for English speakers), his name literally means, “Mr Beautiful” in Arabic. In many parts of the world names are often chosen because of their meaning. This was particularly true in the ancient world. It was hoped that the child would one day grow to signify the name they had been given. I am not sure that Mr Gamil fulfilled his parent’s hopes in this regard, but you get my meaning.

Jesus’ name literally means, “God Saves.” Christians believe his name was entirely prophetic: Jesus was God incarnate, and His mission was to save humankind from the eternal consequences of their sins, by giving himself as a perfect sacrifice on their behalf.

Few people realise, however, that the name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name, “Yeshua” (“Joshua” in English). Joshua was an important Old Testament figure who lived over a thousand years before Jesus. It was Joshua who led the twelve tribes of Israel from their wanderings in the desert of Egypt into the land promised to them by God.

Joshua metaphorically foreshadowed the life of the new Joshua (Jesus). Just as the Old Testament Joshua led his people from their aimless wanderings out of the desert into the Promised Land, so does the new Joshua (Jesus) lead His people out of an aimless existence into the true Promised Land – The Kingdom of God. And just as Israel was founded by its twelve tribes, so too did Jesus begin his ministry very deliberately with twelve disciples as the foundation of a new and true Israel.

How remarkable that Jesus’ name identified His very mission! How remarkable that His name corresponded so perfectly with the name and mission of his Old Testament predecessor! And how remarkable that Jesus chose twelve disciples, corresponding to the twelve founding tribes of Israel!

Some contend that the Bible is a constructed history, because the narrative is too beautiful to be true. Reality, they argue, is much messier. Things don’t fall into place and in beautiful patterns as they do in the Bible. But they forget that God is an artist.

Just as God set about creating the complex (and often-times messy) beauty of nature, is it so difficult for him to add the beautiful patterns, the symmetries and colour to the flow of human history? To be sure, the biblical authors are selective in their aggregation of the narrative material. But aren’t all authors selecting appropriate material with a purpose in view? How much more the Divine Author? What is remarkable is that the Divine Author has used multiple human vessels, spanning distant centuries, to paint His canvas. That the “human” work of the biblical authors creates a beautiful and coherent canvas is nothing short of a divine miracle.

For Prayer and Reflection: Thank God for sending Jesus to “save us” from our sins. Meditate on the significance of the parallels between the Old Testament Joshua’s mission and the mission of Jesus. Thank God also for the majesty of the Scriptures that point to Jesus being God’s saviour.

 For Further Reading: Joshua 1