It is an excellent Bible study technique to take special note of the first occurrence of a given word in Scripture. Often many clues to the hidden wisdom of certain concepts can be ferreted out by exploring their first use very carefully. I was reminded of this as I read Luke Chapter One today. Let’s take “Jesus 101” Class together, shall we? You know the textbook – and the tuition is free! 😊
I am approaching Luke as though it is our first introduction to the Gospel. You likely realize that the first occurrence of our Savior’s name, Jesus, appears in verse 31. His name is spoken by the mighty angel, Gabriel – (“he who stands in the presence of God”). Gabriel reveals to Mary the fact that she will become the mother of a unique child. She is the favored handmaid – the one to bear the long-awaited Messiah. Her position is enviable among Jewish women who knew such a one would “be counted blessed by all generations.” v.48
Let’s put on our figurative x-ray vision goggles then, to explore the message encapsulating this first revelation of the actual name of the Messiah. Here is the passage under consideration:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.
The first proclamation Gabriel makes about Messiah is that he is to be a son conceived in a womb – Mary’s womb. This is highly significant to note. I’d like us to consider for a moment what Mary’s reception of this news might be. She, a young Jewish woman, is told she will bear a son. We know that “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33), so I ask once again, what does she think? That God is going to morph into a human embryo in her womb? Or, simply what the angel said – that she is going to be the mother of a special son? I’d say the latter makes much more sense, especially given the fact that she is a devout Jew and her next question is very practical. “How can this be since I am a virgin?” v.34
Take this excerpt from Wikipedia’s “The Messiah in Judaism” to help understand where she is coming from:
Orthodox views have generally held that the Messiah will be descended from his father through the line of King David, and will gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel, usher in an era of peace, build the Third Temple, father a male heir, re-institute the Sanhedrin, and so on.
– Wikipedia: The Messiah in Judaism
So I assert that Mary believed at face value what was said when this other-worldly angel tells her she will bear a son.
Next she is told his name, the name she is to give this child – Jesus. It means “savior”. Surely her heart thrills as she realizes that SHE is the chosen mother of Messiah! She knew her own heritage was from the tribe of Judah, in the lineage of David – but now she knows she also will be the one, THE ONE! to bear the promised savior-son! How she must have been bursting with joy (and trepidation, no doubt) at Gabriel’s words!
Gabriel goes on to tell her that her son will be great, and he will be the Son of God Himself. He deliberately uses the name for God (first!) used by Melchizedek – the King of Salem (Jerusalem – David’s future throne) and the priest of the Most High God. (Genesis 14) The priest to whom Abraham (progenitor of the Jewish people) tithed an offering to honor this God that he, too, worshipped! The depth of meaning was surely not lost on Mary, who certainly knew these Old Testament stories from childhood.
Gabriel elaborates on this by proceeding to tell her that her son will sit on the ancient throne of the venerated King – his FATHER, David. Of necessity, this son must be genetically a descendent of David, to fulfill the prophecy/promise found in 2 Samuel 7:11-29. Note particularly verse 12 here, where God states that David’s descendent would be “from his bowels” (i.e. literal) – NOT God come down in human flesh.
The next good news from Gabriel is that her son, Jesus, will reign over the house of Jacob (i.e. Israel) forever. He repeats this remarkable fact by stating that this incredible Kingdom Jesus establishes “will have no end.” The pending reality of this revelation must have taken her breath away!
I would submit that there is much to mull over and challenge commonly held Christian doctrine in these first words that Luke uses to introduce Jesus. Mary received and understood the angel’s promises from the perspective of a scripturally well-grounded, practicing Jew. Trinitarian gods and gods-in-human-flesh were not implied in any way – since these things are anathema to Judaic belief. Perhaps this was why Jesus so often called himself, “Son of Man” and “Son of God” – thereby to emphasize both his Godly, as well as his human heritage through Mary. These combined aspects of his origins caused consternation to Jew and Gentile – both in his day, and all the way through to modern times as well.
This first occurrence of Jesus’ name in Luke, then, is pointing us to the very heart of true Christianity. So often we can tend to gloss over familiar, accepted religious doctrines or passages, without really, truly reading the words as God succinctly states them. This message from angels cuts to the core of what this wondrous baby would bring to the world. We should carefully consider Luke 1 in this light.
Here is the message I see in a brief summary:
- Jesus was the Son of God and the Son of Man (cp. Gal. 4:4 – But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law…)
- He was named “Savior” because he was the prophesied Messiah of the Jewish Old Testament
- He was to be the rightful heir to the Throne of David as King of Israel and will someday reign from Jerusalem
- His Kingdom will last forever
These words are provocative for believer and unbeliever alike. They are widely impactful definitions of Jesus’ nature, purpose and action in the future. May we all approach it with “eyes that see, and ears that hear” – to quote Jesus’ own call to pay attention to important messages.
It is imperative to wake up and heed this call. Why? Because that same great angel, Gabriel, will one day soon be heralding the fulfillment of his message to Mary so long ago. He will shout to proclaim the return of King Jesus to take over his rulership of the Kingdoms of men. (1 Thess. 4:16) The Lion of the Tribe of Judah will subdue the nations of the world and institute a righteous reign of peace that lasts forever. And we likely will want to be on the good side of this exciting era that has been promised to the faithful from ancient times. Promised by a God who has always had salvation and love at the heart of His plan for His creation. And that love was made manifest to the world most clearly through sending His Son, Mary’s son. It’s as profoundly simple as this, my friends:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.