Why does the Bible stress the power of Jesus’s name? The question comes from a listener named Jared. “Hello, Pastor John. I have a question for you that my wife and I have wondered about for a while now. Why the biblical emphasis on praising the name of Jesus? And praying in the name of Jesus? Of course we want to, and it’s a pattern we see all over the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts (2:38; 3:6, 3:16; 4:10, 18; 5:40–41; 8:12; 9:27; 10:48; 16:18; 19:13; 26:9) and in Paul (1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 2:10). To ask it another way: Why is there power in Christ’s name rather than saying there’s power in Christ’s person?” What would you say to Jared and his wife?
Well, the answer to that last question is easy: There isn’t. There isn’t power in Christ’s name, rather than saying there’s power in Christ’s person. There is power in Christ’s name because there is power in Christ’s person. But Jared knows that. That was just strange wording.
What he really wants to know, I think, is what he said at the beginning: Why do we see such an emphasis on praising the name of Jesus and praying in the name of Jesus, doing all of these things in the name of Jesus? What does the focus on name imply in the New Testament? So let me try to answer that in maybe three steps.
What’s in a Name?
The fact that in the Old Testament God went out of his way to make a connection between someone’s God-given name and the essentially important thing about that person is significant. For example, Genesis 17:5: Abram changed to Abraham. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Or Sarai changed to Sarah: “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations” (Genesis 17:15–16) And then Jacob changed to Israel when God says, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).
And most important is God’s own name. He names himself. This is one of the most important passages in the Bible, I think. Exodus 3:13–14:
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.’”
“Jesus is Yahweh, and whatever was true of that name is now true of the name Jesus.”
So Yahweh, the name that’s used over six thousand times for God in the Old Testament — it’s usually capitalized L-O-R-D in our English translations — is built on that phrase: “I Am Who I Am.” In other words, every time we read the name of God, the proper name Yahweh, he wants us to remember his essence. That’s the point. “When you say my name, remember my essence. I absolutely am. That’s why I gave myself a name with a meaning. No beginning, no ending, no becoming, no changing. I absolutely am. I am true. I am reliable.” Every time you say L-O-R-D, all caps, Yahweh, remember that. That’s the first observation.
Represent the Reality
Second, when the Son of God came into the world as the very presence of God himself, he was given a name: Jesus. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus means savior. He’s more, but he’s not less. “‘They shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). We should call his name Christ because he’s the Son of the living God. Matthew 16:16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In Philippians 2:10, Jesus replaces the very name of Yahweh, echoing Isaiah 45:23. When he quotes that text, Paul puts Jesus’s name in there: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” The Old Testament says that every knee is going to bow to Yahweh. So, boldly, Paul is saying that Jesus is Yahweh, and that whatever was true of that name is now true of the name Jesus.
So just as Jared said in his question at the beginning, the name refers to the essence, the defining reality of the person. And you see it repeatedly that the word stands in the place of some defining aspect of the person. You see again and again where the name and the person are interchangeable.
For example, in Colossians 3:17, it says, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” And then it continues like this: “giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Instead of saying the name of Jesus again, which he could have said, he said, “through him.” So, do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through him because him and the name of the Lord Jesus are interchangeable in that verse. That’s observation number two.
A World Without Titles
Jared’s real question, my real question, is, Why? We can all see this in the Bible, that the name really matters, and the name really stands for the essence. And we’ve adapted our language to that. We don’t even blink when we pray in Jesus’s name or do something in Jesus’s name. But why this remarkably frequent reference to the name? And here’s my effort at an answer, since the Bible doesn’t come right out in a theological, systematic way and say, “Here’s the explanation for why I use name so many times.”
Try to imagine what would happen if there were no names. There are no designations, not even numbers. You don’t have a number. You’re not designated 72389. What would we miss if nobody had a name, nobody had a number, and nobody had any personal designation? What would we miss?
Well, it seems to me we would miss the ease of talking to someone personally. How would you get their attention? It’s not very personal to say, “Hey, you.” And it’s hard to say, “Hey, you,” so many times. And you couldn’t endear yourself to anybody in conversation by constantly saying, “Hey, you,” and never, never using any personal designation for who they are individually. So that’s number one. We’d miss that personal way of talking.
Second, we would have a hard time talking about someone if we wanted to discuss them. I don’t mean talking about them in the kind of gossipy way. I just mean normally talking in a positive way about somebody. We couldn’t even name them. How would we even know who we’re talking about if we couldn’t name somebody? We couldn’t talk about them, even to praise them.
“The name of Jesus goes hand in hand with the fame of Jesus.”
Third, we would have a hard time singing anybody’s praises if we could never name them. So without names, all of this collapses — all this relational communication collapses. And God knew that, and he began the world by naming things. Then after God named things, Adam named things; he named all the animals and gave his wife a name. And that makes communication possible. And early on, God gave names that corresponded to something important that a person had or would have.
By the way, just a little passing comment here, I would just encourage parents to think hard when they name their children, to give them names that have meaning, that they can grow into. Don’t just think, “Oh, that’s a cool sound.” Surely, life is more than a cool sound. Close that parenthesis. That’s another APJ for another time.
For the Fame of His Name
So here’s the implication: Referring to the name of Jesus so often is a way of saying, “This person is not to be dealt with in private. He is not to be hidden, a hidden essence in your heart or in your closet. He is to be public, globally known, acknowledged as a person with an identity that people talk to and people talk about — that people praise and sing about.” The emphasis on his name goes with an emphasis on his public, outward, global claim on people’s attention.
- Romans 1:5: “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”
- Romans 9:17: “That my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
- Romans 15:9: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
- Romans 10:13: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
So one way to think about it is that the name of Jesus goes hand in hand with the fame of Jesus. I think that might be the shorthand way to remember what I’m trying to say. The name of Jesus goes hand in hand with the fame of Jesus. A name is a way of communicating with, and a way of communicating about, to all of the world, whom you’re talking about. And Jesus exists to be known; he exists to be addressed and praised all over the world. The word name calls attention repeatedly to the public, verbal goal of his fame.