Who is Jesus? Conflicting answers to this question have echoed through history. Ancient Gnostics taught that Jesus was a spirit who only appeared to be human. The Arian heresy said that He was a creation of God. Islam reduced Him to a mere human prophet. Much of medieval Roman Catholicism represented Him as an austere king, only approachable through mediators. If we fast forward to today, heresy and error have multiplied. Theological liberals claim that He is mainly a myth, while neo-pagans seek an affirming spirit guide, or now even an interdimensional alien. Popular songs seem to present Him as an imaginary friend who always guides us away from trials. Sadly, many others seem to know His name only as a curse word. To sweep these falsehoods away, we must to go back to the Bible. To know Jesus’ true identity, we must understand His name as it is revealed in the Word of God.
Who is Jesus? In ancient times, the names given to children had to do with the testimony their parents wanted them to have. In our culture, many think of baby names first being associated with the way they sound. But in Jewish antiquity, it was customary to give children meaningful names that testified to God’s character. In Matthew 1, an angel of the Lord brought a message to Joseph, who was Jesus’ earthly father:
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). (Matt. 1:20–23)
The Greek name Jesus is a combination of the divine name Jehovah and the verb to save. He is “Jehovah saves.” In the Old Testament, Joshua is the Hebrew name with the same meaning. Joshua saved by conquering the promised land and providing rest. But notice what Jesus Christ saves from. The very foundation of His identity is to “save his people from their sins.” He saves not just from the symptoms of our problems, but He deals with the very root cause.
Many do not think that they need to be saved from sin. They want help with self-improvement or desire a shortcut to better spiritual experiences. They are looking for saviors that will prop up their own prideful identity. Some pick and choose from a mix of heresies and half-truths, developing their own “personal Jesus.” This is idolatry. We should not be surprised that false teachers would promote these ideas. The church has been warned again and again that they would arrive (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:30; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:18).
Since Jesus saves His people from their sin, we must know ourselves if we are to truly know Jesus. In historical Reformed churches, they would say, “You must become a sinner.” They did not mean that we need to start sinning more, but that we need to recognize our identity as a sinner (Luke 18:13). The gritty history of the Bible lines up with our own experience: God’s people had to learn through stumbling, wandering, backsliding, slavery, exile, and denials that they could not save themselves from their sins. We are by nature rebels and enemies of God. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). If we truly know that we are sinners, we know that we need the Savior who alone can rescue us from sin.
Only Jesus can save us because He is truly God and truly man. We are mere creatures. He is Creator (John 1:1–3). We are flawed and fallen images of God. He is the “express image of God” (Heb. 1:3). His title is Christ, which means “the anointed one.” He is the Spirit-anointed Prophet, Priest, and King. He perfectly declared the truth, paid the price for sin at the cross, and accomplished victory over sin and death in His resurrection. His glorious identity as “God with us” makes Him the only Savior who gives eternal life to those who trust in Him.
Matthew’s gospel refers to Isaiah 7:14 when it says, “‘They shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:20–23). Why this second name? Who calls Him Immanuel? We do. The redeemed church of all ages and places continues to fulfill this prophecy. Knowing ourselves to be sinners saved by grace and having the Word, we insist that He is “God-with-us.” The true identity of Jesus has been at the very heart of church history. It was heresy and error about Him that led to the councils, creeds, reformations, and confessions that restated this truth. When false teachings denied Him, sinners who had been saved by grace proclaimed: “Immanuel!” Though we may live in an age of errors, we live in an age of the same opportunity. Let us continue to boldly confess Jesus Christ as “God with us.”