Here is the latest installation of brief reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism.  As a way to mark the 450th anniversary the publication of one of the most significant documents in the Reformed tradition, I’m offering these bi-weekly thoughts. (For some background and the entire document, check this out). 

Lord’s Day 11

Q. 29. Why is the Son of God called “Jesus”, which means Savior?

A. Because he saves us, and delivers us from our sins; and likewise, because we ought not to seek, neither can find salvation in any other.

Q. 30. Do such then believe in Jesus the only Savior, who seek salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?

A. They do not; for though they boast of him in words, yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Savior; for one of these two things must be true, that either Jesus is not a complete Savior; or that they, who by true faith receive this Savior, must find all things in him necessary to their salvation.

Lord’s Day 12

Q. 31. Why is he called “Christ”, which means anointed?

A. Because he is ordained of God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and to be our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body, has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us; and also to be our eternal King, who governs us by his word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in that salvation which he has purchased for us.

Q. 32. But why are you called a Christian?

A. Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of his anointing; and that so I may confess his name, and present myself as a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life and afterwards I reign with him eternally, over all creatures.

Does Jesus Christ's name mean anything?

Does Jesus Christ’s name mean anything?

Lest we start going through the Apostles’ Creed too quickly, the catechism here shows us that even something as seemingly innocuous and familiar as the name “Jesus Christ” carries with it huge significance. We’ve heard the name so many times (and often not in appropriate ways!) that we may not stop to think about what it means and why the Savior was given this name.

It is not a random or arbitrary name. It’s also not a first and last name. It’s more than that.

As Matthew records, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph during Mary’s pregnancy 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” (1:20-21). ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’, which means ‘the LORD saves’, and comes from the same root as the Hebrew verb for ‘salvation’. Thus, as the catechism says, his very name shows us his purpose.

The follow-up question to that was especially needed during the Protestant Reformation when the catechism was written. Seeking God through the mediation of Mary or other saints fundamentally undermines the unique office of Jesus Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). We must see that all things necessary for our salvation are found in him, and the name ‘Jesus’ reminds us of that.

Likewise, the title ‘Christ’ is redolent with meaning. It is the Greek word for the Hebrew term “Messiah”,both of which mean “anointed one”. It is a description of office and purpose, further revealing to us who this Mediator is (Luke 1:11).

In the Old Testament, there were three classes of people who were anointed to fulfill divinely appointed tasks: prophets, priests, and kings. Prophets were anointed to speak the Word of God to the people and reveal his will to the. Priests were anointed to represent the people before God, to represent God to the people, and to offer sacrifices and prayers on behalf of God’s people. Kings were anointed to govern, rule, and protect in the name of the LORD.

Scripture teaches us that Jesus Christ is the true, eternal, and perfect Prophet, Priest, and King–the reality of whom all others were imperfect and preparatory shadows (Hebrews 10:1). This is sometimes called the munus triplex (‘three-fold office’) of Jesus Christ, and further reveals to us who he is and what he does. Hebrews 1:1-3 shows all three aspects of Christ’s work:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers though the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [prophet], whom he has appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins [priest], he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven [king].”

The final important point comes regarding our identification as “Christians”. By grace, through faith, we are united to Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we become, in and of ourselves, the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King, but that in Christ we share in his anointing and are therefore called and enabled to proclaim his Word faithfully (prophet), offer praises to him joyfully (priest), and will one day rule with him eternally (king). The title ‘Christian’, too, carries more weight than we often realize.

So what’s in a name? A lot, if that name is the one given to the eternal Son. As Paul put it,

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 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 2:9-11).

One thought on “What’s in a name? (Or, Does “Jesus Christ” mean anything?)

  1. Pingback: The unity of Christ’s threefold office | a pattern of sound words

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s