In Matthew 1:18–21 Joseph was visited by an angel through a dream and was instructed to marry Mary. Joseph was of a mind to divorce her quietly, saving her from public disgrace, thinking she had become pregnant by another man. Yet the angel reassured Joseph that her pregnancy was from the Holy Spirit. Joseph was told, “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” (Matthew 1:20–21).
Joseph and Mary were both instructed by God through angels to name the child miraculously conceived Jesus (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31). The angel specifically told Joseph why they were to name Him Jesus: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, emphasis added). Jesus means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua. Jesus did not come to save the Jews from political oppression or social ills or wrong thinking. His mission in coming to earth was to save His people from their sins.
Jesus’ name not only proclaimed His mission, but it also confirmed His deity and the efficacy of His mission. “Yahweh saves.” Sin brought death and separated us from God (Romans 5:12). But Jesus’ “righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18). Jesus is God eternal (John 1:1–3), yet He became flesh, lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf (1 Corinthians 15:3; Colossians 1:22; Hebrews 10:10). Jesus’ death eternally conquered sin and death and provided the atoning sacrifice for the entire world (1 John 2:2). All who believe in Him will be saved (John 3:16; Acts 16:31). Since only God can save and Jesus came to save His people from their sin, Jesus’ name confirms He is God. And His purpose was successful: He provided the only way for people to be saved from their sins.
God intentionally sent Jesus to fulfill His plan of redemption “when the set time had fully come” (Galatians 4:45). The Messiah’s coming was prophesied long before He was born. Jesus’ mission and name are connected to the prophecy from Isaiah 7:14. Matthew makes the connection explicit: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:22–23). Jesus is not the same name as Immanuel. So how did naming Him Jesus (because He will save His people from their sins) fulfill the prophecy about calling Him Immanuel?
Immanuel is one of the many “names” or titles given to Jesus in the Old and New Testaments. Immanuel was not His given name, just as He was not named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Instead, Jesus was His given name. Jesus fulfilled the meaning of His given name while also fulfilling the meaning of Immanuel, “God with us.” Indeed, God became one of us (John 1:14) and provided the only way for people to be saved from their sins.
The name of Jesus is essential to who He is and His mission. Jesus was given His name because He would save His people from their sins. That is what He did and continues to do. Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Those who have been saved now live to proclaim this salvation (Matthew 28:19–20) and to glorify the One who came to save us: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).