Q. 29. Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is a Savior?
A. Because he saveth us, and delivereth us from our sins; and likewise, because we ought not to seek, neither can find salvation in any other.
Q. 30. Do such then believe in Jesus the only Savior, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?
A. They do not; for though they boast of him in words, yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Savior; for one of these two things must be true, that either Jesus is not a complete Savior; or that they, who by a true faith receive this Savior, must find all things in him necessary to their salvation.
In this eleventh Lord’s Day the Heidelberg Catechism begins the discussion of the second article of the Apostolicum, and thereby introduces the discussion of the second main part of that Confession of faith, the part containing the profession of what the Church of old believed concerning “God the Son”, but not now as the second Person of the Holy Trinity, but as the
Mediator of God and men. This second main division covers articles two to seven inclusive. And although it is very brief, it is remarkable for its fullness of expression, mentioning as it does all the chief points of doctrine concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks of His person and work, of His divine and of His human nature, of His conception by the Holy Ghost and of His virgin birth, of His humiliation, His suffering, crucifixion, death, burial and descension into hell, and of His exaltation, resurrection, ascension, sitting at the right hand of God, and return to judgment; and it mentions His names: Jesus, Christ, Lord, Son of God. In general, we may say that this part of the Apostolicum speaks of our Lord’s names, His natures, and His states, while under the name Christ the Heidelberg Catechism naturally explains the offices of the Mediator. Three Lord’s Days are devoted to a discussion of the names of our Lord, as contained in the second article of the Credo; three Lord’s Days cover the state of humiliation as described in articles three and four; and, finally, three Lord’s Days discuss the state of exaltation of the Savior, mentioned in articles five to seven of the Apostles’ Creed. In the present Lord’s Day, the eleventh, of the Catechism a beginning is made with the explanation of the second article: “And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.”
“Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is Savior?” With this question the Catechism introduces its explanation of the names of Christ. The question, and that, too, exactly in this form, is significant, and may well demand a moment of our attention. Especially in modern times it is important to put the question concerning the Savior precisely thus, and before any other question. One may also ask: “Why is Jesus called the Son of God?” And in the thirteenth Lord’s Day we may find the answer to this question. But before we can properly discuss why Jesus, the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the man Jesus, is called the Son of God, we must ask this: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is Savior?” To ask this question first, and to put it in these words, is the method of faith. Philosophy, and modern theology, would strenuously object to this method. They would refuse to begin with this question. They would object that it is guilty of begging the question. They would have no objection to begin with the problem of Jesus’ being called the Son of God. For then, thus they would argue, we take our starting point in a historical fact. Jesus was a historical person, as we may learn from the gospel narratives. And it is certain, too, that he was called the Son of God. Now, we must first of all investigate the meaning of this fact not that He is, but that He was called the Son of God, and determine just in how far this claim is true, and what is the exact meaning of this claim. And having thus investigated the meaning of, and given definite content to the name Son of God, we may, perhaps, also ask why this Son of God is called Jesus. But to ask first of all “Why is the Son of God called Jesus?” is begging the main question and proceeds from the supposition that He really is the Son of God, and that, too, even before He is Jesus. However, the Catechism is not proposing a philosophical question, but discussing the Credo of the Church. It does not employ the language, neither follow the method of rationalism, but speaks from faith. And for the faith of the Church it is an indubitable truth that Jesus is the true, essential, only begotten Son of God. He is this first. He is not first Jesus, a man who somehow was called Son of God. On the contrary, He is first Son of God. In fact, unless He is first Son of God, the eternal God begotten of the Father, we are in no wise interested in His name Jesus. Son of God He is in eternity; the name Jesus brings Him to us in time, but still as Son of God. The question, therefore, is not at all how it came about that Jesus was called the Son of God, but is very really this: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus?”
Besides, we must understand that the Catechism, in asking this question ‘does not express a certain curiosity as to the reason why men called this Son of God Jesus, for then the question would have no significance whatever. We are dealing here with the contents of the Christian faith, with one of those matters that are “necessary for a Christian to believe.” The Heidelberger would instruct us in the knowledge of the holy gospel, of the Meditator that can and does save us from our sin and deliver us from all our misery. That is the reason why this question is asked. It is based on the assumption that the answer to this question will inform us about the Savior, that His name answers the question Who He is. Modern theology would probably smile somewhat sympathetically at. this obsolete method of attempting to elicit knowledge about the Christ from a study of His name. It would consider this method altogether inadequate. How can you find out anything about a man by asking for his name? And what good does it do to make a study of the names of Christ ? We must gather all the facts we can about this Jesus of Nazareth, compare them and study them critically, learn to know what He did, what was His teaching, how He reacted toward His contemporaries, and then write His biography, a “Life of Jesus,” especially also in order that we may bring out His “character.” Then we have something. The result of such a thorough study will be the knowledge of a real Christ, Whose teachings may be to our advantage, and Whose example may be followed! But to study His names is vain and fruitless.
However, faith m not at all interested in a “Life of Jesus.” And what is more, the Scriptures do not furnish us with the necessary material to construe a biography of our Lord, nor do they offer us a sketch of His character. In the Bible we have four gospel narratives, and they together record the gospel of Jesus Christ, but in all of them together we have no “life of Jesus,” and as far as they are concerned our Lord may have had no “character” at all. If you read these gospel narratives with a view to finding out what sort of man Jesus of Nazareth was in regard to His physical stature and psychological inclinations, whether He was tall and powerful or weak and of a frail frame, whether he had blue eyes or brown, was strikingly beautiful or common in appearance, whether he was of a phlegmatic or sanguineous temperament, whether He was an accomplished student and profound thinker, or a man of average mentality; or even with the end in view to discover what He accomplished to make this world better, and to advance civilization,—you will not only search in vain, and find the gospel narratives very inadequate, but you will also be deeply disappointed at every step of your investigation. What they narrate about His birth is so strange, that you can deduce nothing from His descent with a view to His character. Of the first thirty years of His life they tell you next to nothing. What influence His early training had upon His life and career seems to be of no concern to these gospel writers. His birth, three years of activity and teaching, His death and His resurrection,—this appears to be all that matters. And any attempt to construe a “life of Jesus” from these gospel narratives, or to determine His character, must needs fail. He does not appear as a mere man among men, but as the Son of man. This does not mean that He was no specific individual, and that He had a sort of “general human nature,” but it does mean that the Scriptures are not interested in His individual life and character, but give us the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, the God of our salvation. And if this is understood, it will also be plain that we are not concerned with what men called Him, but with what God revealed to us of Him. God called Him Jesus. And if God called Him Jesus, there is significance in the name, and there is real sense in the question: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is Savior?”
Great significance is attached to a name in Scripture. In fact, the name of anything is its real essence, its sense, its meaning, the denotation of that which it is in itself and with relation to everything else. With us this is different. A name of a person or thing is hardly more than a sign by which we distinguish one person or thing from others. It is one of the effects of sin that we no longer discern the real nature and meaning of things, and are no longer able to express the true sense of anything in a name. We see some external phenomena, and from these we deduce some characteristics of the objects to which these phenomena belong. We discern the difference between one object and another, between a bird and a tree, a lake and a river, between one star and another, between a sheep and a lion, an animal and a man. But we do not intuitively discern the essence and nature of anything, even though we bring it within the range of our telescope, or minutely examine and analyze it under the microscope. And so, our names at the very most express some external characteristics of the object named. But originally this was different. Adam in the sit ate of rectitude intuitively looked in the essence of things, saw their real meaning, and was able to express this sense of all things in their proper names. This is very evident from the fact that God brought the animals to him, to see how he would name them, “and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” And the real Scriptural meaning of a name is exactly that it is the denotation of the true nature of the thing named.
The underlying reason for this is evident. For all things were called into existence by the Word of God. God, Who calls the things that are not as if they were, spoke creatively, and by that creative Word of God all things received being. And when God speaks, even when He speaks creatively, He always speaks concerning Himself, so that His Word is His self-revelation. It follows that the real essence of any creature is that Word of God by which it was called into being, and through which it continues to exist. Not its outward form, not its material substance, not its chemical composition, not its biological structure, but the Word of God in the creature is its real nature. Its sense, its meaning, is its essence. And that meaning it derives only from the Word of God, through which every creature is but an integral part of the speech of God concerning Himself in all the universe, and all creatures together unite in spelling the Name of God. That Word of God in every creature is its real name. And that name man in his original state of righteousness could read, in order that thus he might read the Name of the Lord his God in creation, and glorify Him in adoration. In this light we can understand what the Scriptures declare in such passages as Eph. 3:14, 15: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” All things are names, because God has put His Word in them. And originally all these names were interpreted intuitively by man, that he might behold and declare the glory of the Name of his God. But this power is lost through sin. Nor can it be regained even by means of telescope or microscope. However, though in the world of our very dim understanding the “name” has no longer its original significance, the Bible still speaks of the name in that sense. This is especially evident from the way in which it speaks of the Name of God. God’s Name is Himself as He is revealed to us. By His name He came down to us, is near us, surrounds us on all sides. His name is in all the works of His hands as the psalmist sings in Ps. 8:1-9. And that His name is near, His wondrous works declare. Ps. 75:1. To fear His name is to fear Him, to glorify His name is to glorify Him, to trust in His name is to trust in Him, to believe on His name is to believe on Him. The Name of God is revealed. Besides, that the Scriptures use “name” in its original sense, may also be gathered from the fact that names are sometimes changed intentionally so as to have proper meaning. Abram is changed to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Oshea to Jehoshua. The name denotes the essence. And it is on the ground of this truth that the Catechism asks the question concerning the Christ: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is Savior?”
The meaning of this question, therefore, is, that God called His Son Jesus, and that because God called Him thus, Jesus is His name. We may, and by grace do also call Him Jesus, when by the intuitive knowledge of faith we discern Him in His real significance. And when we do so that Name becomes to us the only name given under heaven whereby we may be and are saved. Then we believe in that Name, trust on that Name, find our only comfort in life and in death in that Name, have all our salvation in that Name, love, worship, and adore it. But all this is only true and has sense only if it be true that God called His name Jesus. If God did not call His only begotten Son Jesus, our faith and trust and adoration have no basis, no sense, are vain. And that God called His Son Jesus, signifies that from all eternity the triune God so called Him. It means that the name Jesus, revealed in time, has its roots in eternity, that it is eternal, that the Son of God is eternally called Jesus. It signifies that the Son of God is called Jesus by a free act of the sovereign God, and by the determination of the good pleasure of God “who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Even as the act of creation is not the necessary effluence of God’s being, but the free and determinate act of His sovereign will, roofed in His counsel, so also this naming of the Son of God as Jesus is the eternal act of God’s good pleasure. And as all God’s works are acts of the triune God, so also this naming of the Son of God. We may not so present the matter as if the first Person of the Holy Trinity called the second Person Jesus, for all God’s works are of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. All the three Persons of the Godhead, each according to His own place and relation in the economy of the Holy Trinity, willed from eternity that the Son should be called Jesus! “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is Savior?” Because from all eternity He was so called according to a free and sovereign determination of God triune! And on the basis of the revelation of that eternal act of God, we, too, may call Him Jesus!
That this is true is evident not only from Scripture in general, and from the revelation of this Jesus in the old dispensation, but also very specifically from the testimony of Holy Writ concerning the way in which the Savior received His name in time. Exactly because the child Jesus had a name before He was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, the giving of His name to Him in time may not be left to the determination of Joseph and Mary: His eternal name must be revealed, and by that name He must be known to men. And so, when Joseph, naturally misinterpreting the condition of his espoused wife, contemplated putting her away privily, “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” And mark you well, “all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall cab his name Emmanuel which being interpreted is God with us.” And so, Joseph “did as the angel had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.” Matt. 1:19-25. And also the gospel according to Luke refers to this revelation of the name in Luke 2:21: “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” For not only to Joseph, but also to Marry, who preferred to keep things “pondering them in her heart,” it was revealed by the angel Gabriel that the name of the Son, whom she should bring forth, must be called Jesus. Luke. 1:31. And so the apostles can preach that “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12. The name Jesus is of divine origin, and is the revelation of an eternal purpose and act of God. The question is, therefore, a perfectly proper one: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is Savior?” And the true answer to this question is indeed the gospel of God concerning His Son. He is called Jesus because He is Jesus, the God of our salvation reaching down to us in our misery, to redeem us, and to deliver us from death!