Jesus is Joshua in Hebrew, and Joshua means “Yahweh is salvation.” Joshua was the successor of Moses who led the Israelites to Canaan, the Promised Land. Joshua was only a representative of God in waging and winning the war against the Canaanites, who were bigger and stronger than them. Jesus is the new Joshua who waged war against Satan, became victorious, and led his people to the new Promised Land, heaven. Hence, this name is suitable for Jesus, the God who came to save us.
God, through Angel Gabriel, asked Joseph and Mary to name the child Jesus because “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Thus, the name Jesus expressed his special mission in this world.
2. MESSIAH / CHRIST
Jesus was also called Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek, which means the anointed. The anointed people in Israel were kings, prophets, and priests. Christ held all these positions together and accomplished his mission that his Father entrusted him. God the Father anointed Jesus through the Holy Spirit when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in river Jordan. That was why, on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). The baptizer heard Father’s voice declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus appearing as a dove.
Isaiah prophesied, “the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Isa 7:14). This was fulfilled in Jesus according to the angel of the Lord who appeared to Joseph in a dream (Mt 1:20-23).
Though the Prophet Isaiah said in 7:14 that Jesus shall be named Emmanuel, Jesus was never called by that name. Again, in Isaiah 9:5 we read, “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” These, including “Emmanuel” were given not as literal names but as the title that specifies the nature of the Messiah.
4. THE LORD
Kyrios (the Lord) was the Greek word used for the name of God. YHWH himself had revealed this to Moses. The title “Lord” shows the sovereignty of God. The same term “Lord” was used for Jesus in the New Testament, acknowledging his divinity. St. Thomas addressed Jesus, “My Lord, my God” (Jn 20:28) affirming his divinity.
5. JESUS OF NAZARETH
The ancient Jews used to have only one name and added either the father’s name or the name of their place of origin. This was to identify them from others with the same first name. Since Jesus (Joshua) was a popular name among the Jews, people used to refer to the name of the town where a person came from, along with the proper name. Jesus spent almost thirty years of his earthly life in a village called Nazareth in Galilee. So, he was also known as Jesus of Nazareth. Philip had introduced Jesus to Nathaniel, calling him “Jesus of Nazareth” (Jn 1:45). Since Jesus became popular among the public with that name, the people who answered to the blind man said “Jesus of Nazareth” was passing by (Lk 18:37).
Examples of Biblical characters with native names are Simon the Cyrene (Lk 23:26), Mary Magdalene (Mary from Magdala) (Lk 8:2), and Joseph of Arimathea (Lk 23:51). Since Jesus spent much of his private life in Nazareth and because he had no human father, he was also known as Jesus of Nazareth. However, Jesus was also known as Jesus, the son of Joseph (Lk 4:22, Jn 1:45, 6:42).
Another reason for calling Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth,” according to the Evangelist Matthew, was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies. “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazorean’” (Mt 2:23). However, there is no prophecy or even mention of Nazareth in the Old Testament. Matthew was associating the resemblance of the name Nazareth with some Biblical references to the Messiah. “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom” (Isa 11:1). The word for shoot or bud in the original text is nēser that has resemblance to Nazareth.
The annunciation of Samson’s birth, who delivered Israel from Philistines, was that he will be “a nazirite for God” (Judg 13:5,7). That also has resemblance to the native place of Jesus. Since Nazareth was a small village and not significant in the history of Israel, the association of that name with that of Jesus was also an expression of the humble origin of Jesus, like his birth in a manger. The insignificance of Nazareth is clear from the response of Nathaniel to Philip: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (Jn 1:46).
The name of a person has relevance in the Bible and in the Christian life. According to the Canon Law, “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given” (n. 855) to a child at the time of baptism. Let us honor and imitate the patron saint we gained through our baptismal name.