How to Think About the Names of Christ
The key to Scripture is the Person of Christ, and the key to understanding Christ is through His names. Many factors rise or fall based on our understanding of this concept. So then, here are 10 presuppositions (assumptions) that will educate our pursuit of studying Christ’s names. They are taken from the first twelve chapters of Genesis, and while they are not the ten first mentions of the word “name,” they are among them. God has established early in His Word the principles of what a name means; we must be diligent to observe them.
Presupposition #1: A name embodies a person or thing, who or what they are in themselves.
Scripture: Genesis 2:14 – “And the name of the third river is Tigris: it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”
Explanation: Notice what exists in the first part of the verse: a mention of the river’s name specifically. “And the NAME of the third is Tigris.” But notice the last part of the verse: there is no mention of a name. It was simply “The fourth river IS Euphrates.” Even though we clearly know that Euphrates is but a name, it is still proper to say that it is its name. Why? Because a name represents what the thing is in itself. It is perfectly acceptable to say the river is what its name is because the name is simply that which stands for the actual thing.
Application: When we study Scripture and come across a phrase such as “believe in His name,” we could ask ourselves “Why is His name so significant?” It is significant because it is linked directly to His Person. When the name is detached from the Person, it is utterly meaningless, just as Acts 19:13-20 with the incident of failed exorcism shows. The man invoked the name of Jesus yet had no power over the demon. Why? Because he detached it from the significance and glory of his Person. So then, when we are studying a name of Christ, we must understand the direct link to His Person. Otherwise, we miss the point entirely.
Presupposition #2: A name is that by which something is referred to and known.
Scripture: Genesis 2:19 – “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.”
Explanation: When one thinks of a giraffe, a mental image forms of a tall-necked, brownish-yellow mammal with small horns on its head. Obviously, Adam’s names for the animals were different than we have today, but the purpose of their having names still carries on. Their names allow us to refer to them without having to describe what they look like, what they do, and where they live in order to convey a picture of what we are talking about. What the animal was to Adam was that which its name conveyed.
Application: When we study Christ’s Person and come to a name such as “Shepherd,” we should ask ourselves why He is referred to as such. In this case, it would be because He is known for caring for, feeding, and sacrificing Himself for the sheep. We refer to Him as Shepherd because we know Him for that. This can be applied to many other names of Christ. Also, when coming to a generic reference such as “a name which is above every other name,” we could see this as implying that He is known and will be known to be the highest of all, even though it implies other things as well.
Presupposition #3: A name denotes the position or office of a person.
Scripture: Genesis 3:20 – “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.”
Explanation: Eve had a unique position as the mother of all living: no one else could claim that. Therefore, her name singled her out because of her distinction. The same applies to titles. CEO denotes the position of the chief of a certain corporation. CFO denotes the position of the head of a business’s finance. And when someone comes “in the name” of one of those men with the office, there is tremendous authority implied.
Application: When we come to a name of the Saviour such as “Priest,” “Christ,” “King,” or “Prophet,” we understand that it is not arbitrary, but rather conveys a specific office which He performs. Also, when we see the name of Jesus Christ invoked, we understand that it is also His authority being invoked. So then, when Peter and John said “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk,” they were really declaring that it was really in His authority and power that they did the miracle.
Presupposition #4: A name can be borne by another, perhaps a person, place, or thing.
Scripture: Genesis 4:17 – “Cain had relations with his wife and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city Enoch, after the name of his son.”
Explanation: If this city had a history book, the first words on its pages would refer back to its founder and the man for whom it was named—Enoch, the son of Cain. That would preserve the glory of that man’s name. The city’s name would also be a means of commemoration.
Application: This is significant in that Christ’s name is borne by other things—by the assembly (Gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ), by individuals (Christians), and even by the Scriptures (“The Word of God”). This tells us that what bears His name is that which must represent Him, uphold His glory, commemorate Him, and reflect Him in every way. When we see a name of Christ that is also applied to believers elsewhere in Scripture (Light of the world, Son, Shepherd, etc.), although there are huge limitations on how we can reflect Him, we know that we are called to pattern our role after His. For an elder, he can never become the door of the sheep as Christ did (John 10), but he still must pattern his role after the “Chief Shepherd” as Peter lays out in chapter 5 of his first epistle. As the light of the world (John 9:5 / Matthew 5:14), we cannot illuminate hearts to the Truth of God, but we can at least shine the Truth of God in the same pattern as Christ. As sons, we cannot ever claim eternal Sonship as Christ can (obviously not!), but carrying the principle over, we should pattern our communion life with our Father after what we see of Christ’s communion life here on earth. These are but examples, and no doubt more could be given.
Presupposition #5: A name is to be called upon. It is an item of address.
Scripture: Genesis 4:26 – “To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”
Explanation: It is important to note that this is the first mention in all of Scripture of any “name” of the Lord. And in its first use, it was that which men used to address God’s Person. In practical life, people do not address each other by description. To be more specific, they call each other by name. Now, the use of a Person’s name varies from circumstance to circumstance. In a light conversation, one could use a pronoun to address the other person, such as “you.” In perhaps a more intense conversation, one might invoke the name of the person he addresses. In an official setting, one may invoke the formal name of the person, perhaps including his surname. And in a very serious setting, one would refer to the subject by his full name. We can see the principle, then, of names varying according to setting and circumstance.
Application: In our relationship with Christ, there are various names we can apply to Him, and each would be appropriate for a different theme. Within a theme of Christ and His Church “our Beloved” would be appropriate to use. But in need for guidance, it would be more appropriate to use “Shepherd” or “Counsellor” because they emphasize a different aspect of His Person that is especially relevant. And in gospel preaching, we would not want to say, “Come to the Priest,” though it would be true: we would be more focused in saying “Come to the Saviour.” Thus, things would be clearer to the sinner. For the believer, the fact that the Lord has so many names and titles should be precious: it allows us to appreciate so many facets of relationship with Him. Truly our hearts are drawn closer to Him when we learn the multifaceted nature of our relationship with Christ. While we are in the good of all His roles positionally, we still have yet to enjoy each of them individually. May we be diligent in searching them out.
Presupposition #6: A name denotes headship (and in turn denotes authority).
Scripture: Genesis 5:2 – “He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.”
Explanation: Notice that “their name” was Man, not simply “his name.” At the time of Adam’s creation, he was alone, yet Eve was still in him, because she came from him (a picture of the Church being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, despite its lack of existence). Even after she was formed from his rib, they were still “one flesh,” because Eve was not only part of Adam physically, but was under Adam’s Headship spiritually. This is also why Adam is considered the one who sinned in the garden, even though Eve took the fruit. Because Eve was under Adam’s Headship, He was accountable for her and represented her: thus, he was held responsible for taking the fruit. Though male and female, they were united under one name: Man.
Application: When we consider what it means to be gathered to His name or acting in His name, of course there are multiple aspects to these things, but let us not forget the aspect of Headship. Gathering to His name in the assembly denotes His Headship displayed there. Acting in His name means that we are acting in accordance with our federal Head. We are in Christ: what a glorious truth! And in our rejoicing over that truth, let us not forget to act in accordance of what we see in our Head: wherever we see a name of His, let us be sure to walk worthy of its implications.
Presupposition #7: A name can be given because of an action one would accomplish and be known for.
Scripture: Genesis 5:29 – “Now he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.’”
Explanation: Noah sounds similar to the Hebrew word for “comfort” or “rest.” Lamech used that name to express his desire for Noah’s future and accomplishments. Even today, many believers name their children hoping for them to live up to their names. No doubt each parent wants to see their boy named Michael to be “one who is like God,” which the name means.
Application: Our thoughts can become extremely devotional as we consider what Christ has accomplished and how His names display that. Why was His name called Jesus? “For He shall save His People from their sins.” It is a glorious thing to consider that when God gives a name to His Son, it is not simply a high hope, but an expression of His delight in what He would accomplish. We as God’s people are thankful for what He has accomplished, and we rejoice to consider His names as representing that.
Presupposition #8: A name can be based on an event/circumstance.
Scripture: Genesis 10:25 – “Two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brothers’ name was Joktan.”
Explanation: Peleg sounds like the Hebrew word for “division” or “divide.” Thus, it stood for a specific event regarding the division of the earth.
Application: An example of this is in 1 John 2 where the Lord Jesus is called “the Propitiation.” Of course, that is His current identity, but it was based off a one-time event: those hours in which He offered Himself once that the wrath of God might be fully satisfied. If Calvary was never in the mind of God, then Christ would not be called “the Propitiation” because He would never have propitiated. Similarly, the name “Christ our Passover” could never be true if He did not literally fulfill that role. We appreciate such names because they preserve the true historicity of the events which they point back to and tell us that God is satisfied with those events.
Presupposition #9: A name denotes that which a people can be known by (their reputation) and unified by.
Scripture: Genesis 11:4 – “They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’”
Explanation: The name at Babel served a two-fold purpose. It firstly was a means of spreading the reputation of that place according to its accomplishments. The people there wanted a reputation of fame amongst the world. Secondly, in that reputation, the people were unified by the name, because they formed a part of it in a way. For instance, consider the example of a family. They have a last name (for instance, “Smith”). When people think of the name Smith, in their minds they think of a certain character and notoriety about the family included within that name. Each individual has a part in that reputation because he shares the name; yet even with that, they collectively share the name, because they are one family.
Application: Christ’s “name” is that which represents His reputation and that which is knowable by those whom He affects. We are now linked with that, but it also has practical effects. It produces a unity amongst God’s people because we are of a common name. We share the notoriety of being “Christians,” and because we have that common ground of following Christ. We are in the family of God. Christ shows forth the collective reputation and representation of that family as Head.
Presupposition #10 – God alone is the great Suppressor and Exalter of a name. He alone defines which shall be great. And when he exalts a name, he blesses it and those who are found under it.
Scripture: Genesis 12:2 – “An I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing.”
Explanation: In the last section, we saw a people trying to make a name for themselves. What happened? God struck that name down and scattered the people. They were unified for a short time, but once the validity of the reputation collapsed, their unity was destroyed. Then we see in the next narrative a simple man from Ur. He never wanted to establish a reputation for himself, and yet God in pure grace stepped down to give him one worth having. And not surprisingly, that reputation has remained great, because the power of God Almighty by His will has preserved it. As a result, those who in some way come under Abraham’s “name,” whether by faith or by promise, are blessed because of the greatness of his name. The people at Babel would have been blessed if their name became great, but they weren’t because of God’s disapproval.
Application: When Scripture speaks of God’s giving the Lord Jesus a name which is above any other name, it establishes this truth. God is totally sovereign over the whole thing. Notice also what follows that truth “that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” It is a complete non-issue when someone challenges Christ’s authority because in the eyes of the eternal God it stands unquestioned and irrevocable. God has gloriously exalted His Son because He decreed it: His decision is final; there is no need for the consent of any other. And so, dear believer, we are under the Headship of the highest name in all of infinite eternity, and nothing will revoke that, ever! Not only does this truth grant great peace, but it secures tremendous blessing. If those affected by the reputation of Abraham were blessed, how much more shall we invariably be blessed when we are linked with the Highest of all, the King of kings, the Lord of Lords, the man with the name above ALL! Surely, we can be confident that God has established His name forever, and that in doing this He has established our blessing. Surely we can also be confident that if we are linked with the highest name, there can be no greater blessing than that which is our own. Thank God for the blessed name of the Lord Jesus Christ.