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The Names of Jesus

The Names of Jesus

by Rubel Shelly


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What's in a name?...In the case of Jesus Christ, rich insights, fresh perspectives, and pathways to intimacy. From "Good Shepherd" to "Lamb of God," Rubel Shelly explores the various names given to Christ in the Bible and reveals a Christ that will both surprise and challenge you. Shelly, a deeply respected scholar, uses his unique insight and fervent love for the Scriptures to develop a clear and unobstructed picture of Jesus through the biblical names that describe the One who invites the whole world to come to Him. What Shelly discovers and divulges is that these names and titles reveal the ultimate Savior, and the ultimate answer to your greatest struggles, fears, and failures.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781582293271
Publisher: Howard Books
Publication date: 02/01/2003
Edition description: Original
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 895,522
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Dr. Rubel Shelly has served as a minister for the Woodmont Hills church in Nashville for twenty years. He holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and has taught at David Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

He is a known community leader, serving with groups such as the AIDS Education Committee of the American Red Cross and the Metro Public Schools, and is the author of over twenty books, two of which are The Names of Jesus, and What Would Jesus Do Today? Shelly is widely published in religious journals and co-edits Wineskins magazine. He and his wonderful wife, Myra, make their home in Nashville, TN.

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The Names of Jesus

By Rubel Shelly

Howard Books

Copyright © 2003 Rubel Shelly
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781582293271

Chapter One


Matthew 1:21

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

How did you come to have your name? Were you named for a family member? A dear friend

of your parents? Some celebrity? If you have children, how did you choose their names?

The choice of a child's name is quite important to most parents. Some names just

won't do. Judas Jones, Jezebel Smith, Adolf Hitler Williams—surely nobody in his

right mind would attach those names to a child! It would be a cruel and irresponsible

thing to do. On the other hand, people have been known to do some pretty weird things in

selecting the names of their children.

For example, this short piece in USA Today, 8 September 1994, caught my eye when it first

appeared and hasn't left my mind since: "George and Tina Rollason say God had

nothing to do with the birth of their daughter on July 20, so they gave her a fitting

moniker: Atheist Evolution Rollason. The York, Pa., couple say her name is their answer to

other parents' use of biblical names. 'There's so many people named

Christian, or Christine,' George says. 'This is just one person named Atheist.

Whatthe heck's the difference?' The Rollasons have clashed with the school

district over angel decorations in the classroom and Bibles in the library."

In some situations, there really is "nothing in a name." But at other times,

people like the Rollasons intend a name to be a statement of conviction or perhaps a

commitment and pledge about their child's upbringing. In biblical literature, names

often have special meaning for someone's spiritual life and destiny. Adam, Abraham,

Sarah, Israel—most Bible students know the significance of these God-chosen names to

the roles played by the people bearing them.

When the time came for God to put the wheels in motion to bring his grand scheme of

redemption to fulfillment, the naming of the child born at Bethlehem was not left for

others to decide. The infant born in an animal stall was given a name from on high that

would pledge and foreshadow the work he would accomplish.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be

married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through

the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose

her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and

said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because

what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you

are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

(Matt. 1:18–21)

The Name Jesus

Jesus is the Greek form of the Old Testament Jewish name Yeshua. In English, most of us

know the name better in its biblical form as Joshua. This Hebrew name was translated into

Greek for the Septuagint as Iesous, from which we get our transliteration


Its Commonness

We know the name in the Old Testament principally from Joshua son of Nun, the successor to

Moses who led the Israelites into Canaan to possess and occupy it. As Moses was about to

end his career, God himself chose his successor: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Now

the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the Tent of Meeting,

where I will commission him.' So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at

the Tent of Meeting" (Deut. 31:14). Upon Moses' death, the people accepted him

as their new leader, and his name became established among the great personalities in

Israel's history (see Deut. 34:9; Josh. 1:16–18). The name Joshua also appears

following the Exile. A high priest named Joshua is the central figure in a dramatic

parable of redemption by grace in Zechariah 3:1–9.

Joshua came to be a very popular and common name among Jews of the pre-Christian era.

During the period that followed Alexander the Great, the dominance of the Greek language

throughout the Mediterranean world caused the name to appear as Jesus. In the writings of

Josephus, for example, he names nineteen different men who bore the name Jesus. The name

is also found on numerous grave markers and tombs found in and around

Jerusalem—sometimes in its Hebrew form Yeshua and sometimes in its Greek form


In the New Testament literature, the name appears a few times to identify persons other

than the Jesus who is central to Christian faith. Although translated as

"Joshua" in most English versions, the Greek name of an ancestor of Jesus of

Nazareth is, in the original text, Iesous at Luke 3:29. A certain "Jesus, who is

called Justus" is associated with Paul in Colossians 4:11. There is even good textual

evidence that the full name of the "notorious prisoner" released at the trial of

Jesus of Nazareth was Jesus Barabbas (Matt. 27:16–17).

Its Uniqueness

In its older Hebrew form, the name means "Yahweh is salvation" or "Yahweh

rescues." It testifies to the power and love of Yahweh. It points all who hear it to

look to the Lord for help and redemption. The oldest name known to us that contains the

divine name Yahweh, it affirms the uniqueness of Israel's God as the one in whom

humankind may safely trust for salvation. It declares that there is no one worthy of

comparison to Yahweh. No other name offers what his name promises.

Once a very common name, the name Jesus had become rare as a personal name by the end of

the first century. By that time, it had come to be associated with one man to the degree

that it was deemed uniquely his. That man, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ,

or the Lord Jesus. The name came to be held in such deep reverence by Christians that they

reserved it for him alone. And unbelievers, whether Jew or Gentile, avoided the name

because of its unique association with the one Christians confessed as their Christ and

Lord. Following is a discussion on why that happened—and why the name Jesus came to

mean something more than its respected etymology and history.

The Name As Theological Statement

When Matthew used the name Jesus while writing of Jesus' birth, he was aware of all

the Old Testament background we have just traced. A Jew writing the most Jewish of the

four gospels, Matthew knew the significance of names given to important figures in

God's sovereign agenda in history. So he certainly did not miss the significance of

the angel's words to Joseph, when Mary's husband-to-be was told, "She will

give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his

people from their sins" (1:21).

Jesus Saves

What significance would Matthew have seen in the angel's words? What did he mean for

his readers to see in them? Most simply stated, the theological significance of Matthew

1:21 is that the angel's words "attribute to Jesus what was formerly reserved

for God."

Whereas the name Jesus had till that time meant "Yahweh saves," the birth of the

child Jesus would hereafter affirm that "Jesus saves." It was as if the angel

had said to Joseph: "Joseph, you have always believed that salvation comes from

Yahweh. Certain of your forebears have even testified to that fact by wearing a name that

says as much. But in the unique child that Mary will bear, God will be personally present

and personally active in saving people. For you and Mary, then, know the heavenly mystery

that Jesus is heaven's instrument for salvation to all who will believe in him. God

will save all who come to Jesus and receive his favor. This child Jesus will be, in his

own person and deeds, the savior to whom others have testified and for whom they have


Yahweh Come among Us

Jesus is Israel's covenant God, Yahweh, come among us. Jesus is—as we will

discuss in the next chapter—Immanuel, God with us (see Matt. 1:23). For Christians,

the name Jesus does not point to an invisible, enthroned deity who can save—as the

name Yahweh did. To the contrary, it names the one in whom God became visible, incarnate,

and accessible. It names the one in whom we can be rescued from sin. As Peter would later

declare to the Sanhedrin: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other

name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

This same understanding and affirmation concerning Jesus is found not only in Matthew but

in Luke. Without couching the birth narrative in the unfamiliar terms of Hebrew names and

their meanings, Luke—a non-Jew writing to non-Jews—relates the announcement of

an angel to shepherds in the field this way: "The angel said to them, 'Do not be

afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the

town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to

you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger'" (Luke


Unlike Islam's claim for Mohammed that he is God's prophet, Christianity makes

the claim for Jesus that he is himself God. He is not merely a spokesman for God or a

prophet telling about God. He is God! He is God among us. He is God demonstrating his

holiness and power in our midst. He is God saving us. So his name is understood as a

promise of everything that was fulfilled in his life and ministry and that is even now

being preached to the ends of the earth.

A Gospel Event

Although Jesus made the direct and unambiguous claim to be divine in a number of

settings, one of the most intriguing texts on this point is couched in a miracle story in

the Gospel of Mark. It is the story of a lame man who was healed dramatically. More

important for our purposes, however, it contains a bold claim from Jesus that is either

blasphemy or self-disclosure.

Jesus was in Capernaum, and quite a crowd gathered to hear him. The house in which he was

teaching a few people quickly became a house that was packed full. And that created a

problem for four men who had a friend who was paralyzed. The friends—if not the man

himself—had heard of Jesus' miracle-working power and wanted them to meet. Their

obvious hope was that the paralyzed man would be made whole.

Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not

get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and,

after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw

their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does

this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God


Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their

hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to

say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take

your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth

to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take

your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them

all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything

like this!" (Mark 2:3–12)

When Jesus and the others in that hot, crowded room witnessed the curiosity of a man being

lowered through a hole in the roof, everyone's attention turned toward the paralyzed

man. Jesus also saw him, marveled at the faith of those who had gone to such trouble to

bring their friend, and said, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

This statement from Jesus has been the source of a great deal of speculation. Some have

thought that it shows Jesus attributed all sickness and disability to sin. The larger

record of his ministry clearly shows that is not so (see John 9; Luke 13:1–5). Others

have speculated that he started as he did in this case because he knew the paralysis of

this particular man was due to some sinful behavior. Perhaps, but even that does not

necessarily follow.

Jesus always pointed people from their immediate perceived need to their larger need for

salvation. Do you remember his conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well?

(John 4). She had come to draw water from the well, and Jesus engaged her in a

conversation about "living water" that led to her salvation—and the

conversion of many more people from her village. As great as this man's need for

bodily healing was, Jesus knew that his—and everyone's—greater need was for

spiritual healing. So Jesus' first response to the great faith he had just witnessed

was to invite the paralyzed man into the peace of forgiveness.

Before Jesus could go further with the man, his comment about forgiveness stirred many of

his hearers to negative thoughts. "Why does this fellow talk like that?" they

were saying to themselves. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

Jesus Claims Deity

Here is a case where Jesus' critics had their premises right but their conclusion

wrong. They were absolutely correct in their belief that God alone has the right to

forgive sins. They had also heard and understood Jesus to have claimed the right to

forgive sins himself when he addressed the paralyzed man. Only one of two conclusions was

possible for them to draw: Jesus was either God on earth or guilty of blasphemy. They drew

the second conclusion rather than the first.

If Jesus wasn't claiming to be deity here, he could have corrected the

"misunderstanding" of his hearers. He could have said, "Oh, please!

Don't hear me saying that I have the power to forgive sins personally. I was simply

reassuring this poor man that God loves him and wants him to be forgiven." But that

isn't what he said! Or he could have said, "Excuse me for leaving the wrong

impression, for I certainly don't want to blaspheme. Only God can forgive sins, and I

am merely a man among men." But he didn't say that either! He let it

stand—as spoken and as understood.

Jesus Claims the Ability to Forgive Sins

What is more, Jesus proceeded to give his bold claim credibility by asking, "Which is

easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get

up, take your mat and walk'?" In order to understand his question, emphasize the

word say as you read it. Of course, forgiving sins is a greater, harder, and far costlier

thing to God than healing legs. It was going to cost Jesus his life on a Roman cross! But

in terms of merely saying those two things in that house on that day, which was easier? As

a matter of fact, saying "Your sins are forgiven" was easier than "Get up,

take your mat and walk" because the latter was testable in a way the former was not.

The matter of forgiveness might never get beyond Jesus saying "They are

forgiven!" and his critics replying "No they aren't!" And that could

have gone on endlessly. If he told a paralyzed man to get up and walk, though, he would be

revealed—either as a heaven-verified man in all he said (including forgiveness and

identity) or as a fraud.

So Jesus turned to the man, told him he was healed, and sent him home. The once-paralyzed

man stood up, picked up the mat on which he had been carried, and walked out through the

crowd. Jesus wasn't a fraud. He was a healer. He was a truth-teller. He was anything

but a blasphemer in saying he could forgive sins. He was deity among humankind who could

save people from their sins!

Another way of saying all this about him is simply to quote the angel's words to

Joseph: "You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from

their sins." Yes, Yahweh saved. And he does so in Jesus. That is why the church in

Acts and believers today preach salvation "in the name of Jesus."

The very name of Jesus proclaims his deity. It declares that God loves us—not from a

great, safe distance but—up close and personal. It means that we understand much more

now about God's nature and saving work. And it means that we can know God.

John Grisham's novel The Street Lawyer tells a powerful story. Michael Brock is a

young lawyer on the fast track to partnership in an eight-hundred-member firm. But his

life gets yanked around by a dramatic hostage event in which he and some of his colleagues

are held and threatened by a homeless man. At one point, Brock thinks to himself: "A

gun in your face, the clock stops, priorities emerge at once—God, family, friends.

Income falls to the bottom. The firm and the career vanish as each awful second ticks by

and you realize this could be the last day of your life." Michael Brock abandons his

cushy job to be a "street lawyer," an advocate for the homeless.

Like Michael Brock, God left heaven's splendor to become the "Street

Savior" of all who will come to him.

We can't climb the stairs that lead to heaven. In spite of the fact that religion has

preached self-justification (and self-righteousness!) through law and good works for

centuries, the name Jesus reminds us that God came down heaven's stairway and saved

us at the end of the street that led from Pilate's judgment hall to Golgotha.

Go to Jesus' cross. Stand with him there. And he will be your defense attorney by

whose advocacy—and in whose name—you will be declared righteous.


Excerpted from The Names of Jesus by Rubel Shelly Copyright © 2003 by Rubel Shelly. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Author's Preface

1. Jesus

2. Immanuel

3. The Word

4. Lamb of God

5. Triumphal Passover Lamb

6. Good Shepherd

7. Lord

8. The Way

9. Great High Priest

10. Nazarene

11. Messiah / Christ

12. Son of God

13. Son of Man

14. Judge of the Living and the Dead


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