by Gina, Steppes of Faith
“Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14
About 700 years before the birth of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah spoke to King Ahaz of Judea about the Lord coming. It was meant to be a message of reassurance that God would save Jerusalem from its enemies. Isaiah told Ahaz to choose whichever sign of proof he wanted, but Ahaz wouldn’t choose one. So, God chose for him. He chose the sign He had planned long ago ̶ His son, Jesus. Isaiah told Ahaz that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
This prophecy about the birth of Jesus is recounted in Matthew 1:23 which says, “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”
You might have noticed that when you back up to Matthew 1:21, you find an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream telling him to go ahead and marry Mary because the baby inside her was from the Holy Spirit. The angel also tells him what to name the baby.
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
As you might expect, many people have thought that maybe Mary and Joseph didn’t quite get their new baby’s name right. Wasn’t He supposed to be called Immanuel? Why did God tell Isaiah the Messiah’s name would be Immanuel, but the angel told Joseph it would be Jesus?
The answer lies in the difference between His name and His nature.
What’s in A Name?
You probably know lots of people. Some of them might be named Richard, Susan, Thomas, or Deborah. You might call them by those names or you might call them by Rich or Rick, Susie, Tom or Tommy, or Debbie or Deb. Maybe your kids call their friends “bestie” or “bro” or “dude.” They have what we call nicknames.
How about your spouse or the one you’re dating? Do you sometimes call them “honey,” “sweetie,” or “babe?” Those are terms of endearment, another kind of nickname. It’s the same with Jesus.
A few chapters after Isaiah was talking with Ahaz (9:6), Isaiah went on to describe the Lord as “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Was Isaiah telling us that the Son of God’s actual given name is “Wonderful” or “Everlasting Father?” No. Isaiah is telling us certain terms of endearment for the Lord. These names describe His nature, His attributes. They describe His power and glory.
American theologian of the 1800s, Albert Barnes, once commented on what Isaiah was trying to say.
“His [the Messiah’s — EL] attributes shall be such as to make all these applications appropriate descriptions of his power and work. To be called, and to be, in the Hebrew, often mean the same thing…. Such a use of a verb is not uncommon in Isaiah. ‘One calls him,’ is, according to the usage in Isaiah, as ranch as to say [the equivalent of saying — EL], he will justly bear this name; or simply, he will be (1997).”
What Barnes is saying is that it was common language in Isaiah’s time to use the same verb to mean both “to be called” and “to be.” So, Immanuel is what the Messiah is supposed “to be called” or what He is. It’s like a nickname, one that describes His nature.
In the New Testament, Luke describes the Lord as “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High.” Others called Him Master and Teacher. Many even call Him the Christ thinking it’s Jesus’s last name (which it isn’t). Christ means “chosen one” or “anointed one.”
Yes, He is the Son of God and He is certainly the Anointed One, but none of these is His actual name. His real name is Jesus, and everything else, including Immanuel, describes His nature or character.
Jesus is Immanuel
Jesus took on human flesh and came to dwell among us (John 1:1,14), but He was always Immanuel. God was and is always with us. By stepping out of heaven and into a sinful world, Jesus proved God’s character, that He is with us everywhere we are, and He walks with us through every circumstance to bring us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). He loves us with such an everlasting love that He would, in every sense, move heaven and earth to save us from eternal death and punishment.
Jesus is His name, but His character, His essence, is Immanuel. He is forever with us.