The Name of Jesus

November 5, 2013

by Peter Amsterdam

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Throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, there are numerous references to the “name of the Lord.” People prayed, praised, swore oaths, fought battles, gave blessings, sang in, trusted in, prophesied in, feared, gave glory to, baptized in, assembled in, and called on the name of the Lord.

What’s in a name?

In Bible times a person’s name was considered much more than a way to distinguish one person from another. It was considered equivalent to the person himself; it represented the essence of the person. It signified their rank and authority, their worth, their character, their reputation, their deeds, what they owned, their command or will.

This is one reason why God’s name is praised and exalted throughout the Bible. By praising His name, people were praising Him, declaring His greatness, love, mercy, power, strength, holiness, awesomeness, authority, and all that He is and does.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.” Selah.[1]

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.[2]

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.[3]

The importance God gives to a name, as well as the name itself representing the essence of the one bearing the name, can be observed in the Old Testament when God revealed His name to Moses. He had appeared to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, centuries before Moses as God Almighty, but had never revealed His name, I AM, or YHWH (Yahweh). This was the first time He had ever revealed His name:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”[4]

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.”[5]

Speaking or writing in someone’s name meant speaking or writing in that person’s authority. Moses came to pharaoh in God’s name, meaning he was acting on God’s authority. King Ahasuerus told Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai to write a letter to the Jews throughout his kingdom, in his name, to give them permission to defend themselves against any who would attack them. Writing in the king’s name represented writing in his authority. Esther’s instructions were subsequently followed because she was acting in the king’s authority.

Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people…”[6]

Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew … “You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”[7]

The authority of a name

A person’s name was the equivalent of their character, which is why Scripture spoke of the extraordinary value of a good name.

A good name is better than precious ointment.[8]

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.[9]

Understanding the value and importance of someone’s name in ancient times helps to give a better understanding of the significance that invoking the name of Jesus carries. When something was being performed or carried out in someone’s name, it was understood that it was being done by the authority of the other person. It showed that the individual was authorized to take certain actions on behalf of another, not based on their personal authority but on the authority of the one who sent them.

This relationship or transaction can be seen as something like a power of attorney today. When someone gives a power of attorney to an individual, that individual can legally make decisions and take action in the name of the person they represent, within the parameters spelled out in the power of attorney. They have the legal power and authority to take specific action in the name of the other person. Another example would be the power conferred upon an ambassador of a country, who is authorized to act on the behalf of, or to represent, their country.

Jesus told His disciples that He was operating in His Father’s authority and that His Father was working through Him. He went on to say that His disciples would do even greater works than He did since He was going to the Father. He explained that He had chosen and appointed them to bear lasting fruit. In the context of fulfilling their task of carrying on His work and bringing the good news of the Gospel to the world, they could ask in the authority of His name for whatever they needed to do the job.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.[10]

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.[11]

His disciples acted on the authority Jesus gave them when doing miracles and casting out demons in His name.

Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.... And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.[12]

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.[13]

The early believers understood that the healings, signs, and wonders that were performed were done in the name of Jesus, through the authority granted them as His representatives.

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.[14]

When the high priest and other temple leaders questioned Peter and John about the healing of the man who had been lame since birth, they wanted to know by what name or authority they had done this.

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said … “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.”[15]

Praying in His name

By instructing His disciples, and ultimately all of us, to pray in His name, Jesus was telling us that we are authorized to present petitions to God in the authority of His name. We have the right to come boldly before God’s throne of grace, because we are members of God’s family through the acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.

While God did speak and interact with specific individuals throughout the Old Testament, and performed amazing miracles to protect and provide for His people, generally people didn’t have the level of direct access to God that we have today. They were not yet the sons and daughters of God through faith in His Son.[16] They didn’t have the same personal relationship that we can have today through being fully reconciled to God by receiving Jesus as our Savior and having the Spirit of God dwelling within us.[17]

Prior to the new covenant established by Jesus’ death on the cross, the faithful had access to God and redemption of sins through the sacrificial system of the temple. God was considered to be dwelling in the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the temple, which was divided from the rest of the temple by a thick curtain. Only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies, and only on one day of the year.

Upon Jesus’ death, that veil was torn in two. Since His death and resurrection and the imparting of the Holy Spirit, we have the privilege of accessing God directly.

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.[18]

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.[19]

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are invoking the power and authority of Jesus. Since His name represents His Person and character and all that He is, when we pray in His name, we should be praying in a manner that is consistent with all that Jesus is and stands for. Our prayers should reflect His character and His life and His will. We should pray with the attitude that Jesus had in the garden, when He said, “Not what I will, but what you will,” trusting that God knows best, and that our prayers are heard and answered according to His will. [20]

Praying in Jesus’ name isn’t simply adding the words “in Jesus’ name” after every prayer. Rather, it’s understanding that we are praying in His authority, that we have been given the right to make our requests known to God, because Jesus, who has redeemed us, has given us that authority. It’s like praying, “I come to You, Father, in the authority given to me by Your Son, I come not because of who I am, but because of who He is.” Or if you are praying directly to Jesus, “I ask this in the authority You’ve given me through Your name.” It doesn’t necessarily require saying any specific words or phrases, not even “in Jesus’ name, amen” at the end of every prayer, as long as you know in your heart that it is through Jesus that we have the ability to address our prayers to God.

Understanding more about the fuller meaning of a person’s name in ancient times provides greater insight into what Jesus meant when He empowered us to pray in His name or when the Father’s name is spoken about. When Jesus spoke of making known the Father’s name to the disciples, He was saying that He had made known the Father’s Person, who He was, what He was like. When Scripture speaks of believing on Jesus’ name, it means believing in who He is and what He has done.

“O righteous Father… I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”[21]

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God[22]

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”[23]

We are told that everything we do we should do in His name, which means that our actions should harmonize with His will, His character, His love, and His commands, and all that He is.—Whether we pray for the sick,[24] receive a child,[25] gather together,[26] witness,[27] and everything else we do.

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.[28]

Jesus has not only redeemed us and brought us into relationship with God, He has given us the privilege of praying and operating in His name, in His power and authority as we live our lives in accordance with His Word and His will, and as we share the message of His love and salvation with others. Jesus’ name, His character, everything He is, is above all others, and in His love, He has granted us the right to use His name, the most powerful name there is. What an honor.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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.[29]

The working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.[30]

[1] Psalm 66:1–4.

[2] Psalm 148:13.

[3] Psalm 145:1–3.

[4] Exodus 3:13–14.

[5] Exodus 6:2–3.

[6] Exodus 5:22–23.

[7] Esther 8:7–8.

[8] Ecclesiastes 7:1.

[9] Proverbs 22:1.

[10] John 14:10–14.

[11] John 15:16.

[12] Acts 3:6–7, 16.

[13] Acts 16:16–18.

[14] Acts 4:29–30.

[15] Acts 4:5–8, 10.

[16] John 1:12.

[17] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 1:19–22).

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16).

[18] Mark 15:37–38. See also Matthew 27:50–51, Luke 23:44–45.

[19] Hebrews 10:19–22.

[20] And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

[21] John 17:25–26.

[22] John 1:12.

[23] Matthew 18:20.

[24] Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14).

[25] And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me" (Mark 9:36–37).

[26] "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:20).

[27] That repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations (Luke 24:47).

[28] Colossians 3:17.

[29] Philippians 2:9–11.

[30] Ephesians 1:19–21.