Why Was Jesus Named Jesus?
One of the common reasons given is that the Hebrew form means Yah(weh) is Salvation. And while that’s certainly true, whenever you name someone a famous person’s named there’s always more going on than simply the etymology.
For instance, if you had a Catholic family who named their daughter Theresa because the name means harvester and they said they did this because she will harvest many souls for God. I would say, I think there’s another reason too. [flash a photo of Mother Theresa]. And Jesus was named after a famous person, Joshua.
Before we get into why Jesus was named after Joshua we need to talk about little translational issue. That is, Jesus means Joshua, it’s the same word. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua. It's like Juan and John, the same name in different languages. This is important because most people who would be reading the Old Testament would be reading the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. For instance most of the quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament are from the Septuagint. This means that whenever the name Joshua shows up in the Old Testament it literally says “Jesus”. So, Jesus and Joshua are the same name. Okay, back to the meaning.
There are two famous Joshua‘s in the Old Testament and Jesus was named after both of them. The first one was the Joshua who was Moses' successor, the one who has a book named after him, the book of Joshua. So as the Christians are reading their Old Testament and the book of Joshua they are just reading the book of Jesus and Jesus is doing all of those things, like leading God’s people into the land, and that’s not by happenstance.
The book and life of Joshua/Jesus is designed to foreshadow Jesus’ life. In the broadest strokes, both of them begin their ministry with a baptism in the Jordan river and both spend their ministry conquering Canaan.
But before we get into some of the details of the foreshadowing, let’s talk about the other famous Joshua. The other Joshua was the high priest in the post-exilic period, after the Israelites went back into the land of Israel after their exile in Babylon, things we learn about in Ezra-Nehemiah. You can read about this Joshua in two places: first, Ezra, there his name is sometimes translated as Jeshua, just a later vocalization of the same name, and second, most importantly for us, Zechariah 3 and 6.
But before we get to Zechariah 3, here’s a question, why was the post-exilic Joshua named after the exodus Joshua? Why do these two men have the same name? There is one big similarity between the two. Both are leading the people in the conquest of the land. The first Joshua lead the people originally into the land. And the second Joshua lead the people in the land when they returned back to the land in the post-exilic period. So we could say a Joshua, a Jesus always leads his people into the land at the beginning of the conquest.
But there is a difference in the conquest, each has a different character. In the first conquest has a different character each time, the post-exiled period is a foreshadowing of the new covenant era, teaching us what will be the same and different. Joshua 1 was about fighting for land, Joshua 2 was about fighting against sin and for purity.
Let’s look at Zechariah 3 and 6 so that we can see who this second Joshua is. Zechariah 3 is the 4th of 7 or 8 night visions, there’s debate about how many visions there are, in which God shows Zechariah images or visions at night. The episode is only 10 verses so let’s read it:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.
And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”
So the scene is in heaven with four characters: Joshua, an angel, God, and Satan. Satan accuses Joshua of sin, or Israel of sin because Joshua as the high priest represents the people, and God rebukes Satan because God does not count the sin because he removes it. And he symbolizes the removal of sin by removing Joshua’s dirty cloths and giving him clean closes, that is the action that occurs once a year on the day of atonement.
Interestingly, the first Joshua had an encounter with an angel that involved the removal of clothes in Joshua chapter 4. So also, God put stones in front of both Joshuas to remind them of God’s great act of salvation, the crossing of the Jordan River in Joshua 4 and here the stone that is engraved. And that stone will be a remembrance of the removal of sin in a single day.
In Zechariah 6, a crown is placed on Joshua’s head and he will be a priest king who will rebuild the temple.
So both Joshuas are concerned with God’s place, the land with the first Joshua and the temple with the second, both are concerned with God’s salvation and both lead the people at the beginning of the giving of or the conquest of the land.
So why is Jesus named after these two Joshua’s? Because he does the same things. When Jesus comes, he is bringing the people back from exile, beginning the conquest of the land. There’s so much that has been written on this but think about a few details. When Jesus begins his public ministry he goes out to the Jordan river for baptism. That is, his ministry starts where the Israelites ministry started, implying that the land needs reconquering. And reconquering he does because right after his baptism he battle’s Satan, just like Joshua in Zechariah.
And Jesus’ ministry is a battle throughout the land, a battle against the ravages of sin and sickness, Satan and his army.
And at the end of his life, just like Joshua in Zechariah, he will have his clothes removed and have a crown and clothes put back on. Matthew 28 says, “And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns.” And after he was killed there was stone that was rolled in front of the tomb, just like the stones in the first two Joshuas.
Both of these acts, the replacing of clothes and the covering of the tomb with a stone, were intended by Jesus’ enemies to act against him, not knowing that these were antique prophetic images of salvation.
And Jesus will also build the temple. In John 2, Jesus refers to the tearing down and the rebuilding of the temple of his body. And in another video I talked about the symbolism of gold, frankincense and myrrh being temple images as they were brought to the temple just like they are brought to Jesus, the new temple, at his birth.
And like Joshua in Zechariah, Jesus will bring about the removal of sin in a single day as the priest and king of Israel.