“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” — Isaiah 9:6
“What’s in a name?” is a question that is often asked. Does a person’s name have any special significance? Parents of a child soon to be born often spend much time and effort in choosing a name for their child. Whole books are devoted to indexes of names and their meanings. Many fathers choose to name their firstborn sons after themselves (as the relatives of Zacharias and Elisabeth fully expected of their baby boy, the Savior’s forerunner, Luke 1:59-64). Some simply choose a name for its popularity, some for its sound in combination with the family surname, some for its ethnicity; some name their children after actors and even characters in movies, popular singers, celebrity icons, politicians, and sports figures. And some want the name to fit certain high expectations they have for their offspring.
Among Christians a Biblical name is often chosen with special reverence for the Holy Scriptures, for “heroes of the faith” (Hebrews chapter 11), for believers of both the Old and New Testament whose “works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13) in the annals of the Bible as examples of Godly piety, faithfulness, diligence, courage, and constancy, to whom they wish to point their children as role models as they grow up. Many of those Biblical names simply remind us of God’s people of old and their heritage of grace centered in the Old Testament promises of a Savior from sin and their fulfillment in the coming of Christ in the New Testament era. Throughout the centuries, for example, the names of the Gospel-writers and of the Savior’s apostles have been chosen as particularly meaningful to Christian parents, for they have called their sons Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and also Paul, the name of the great apostle and missionary to the Gentiles, Peter and Jude, and then also Timothy and Titus. And some parents name their little ones after other faithful Christian men and women mentioned in the Bible, whose faith and whose fruits of faith were exemplary.
What is the special significance of a name? We will shortly consider in particular the five names for the new-born Savior that are listed in Isaiah 9:6, but there are more than three-hundred and forty names and titles of God’s only-begotten Son listed in the Bible. We cannot list all of them here, but we will consider only examples of them and how meaningful they are because of how they describe some particular facet of the person and work of our Savior!
First we list some that may or may not be familiar, depending upon how well-versed one is in the Holy Scriptures. Particularly those from the Old Testament may not be readily recognized, although the names contained in specific Messianic prophecies well-known to informed Christians should surely “ring a bell.” Among Old Testament names are: “her Seed” (Genesis 3:15); “Thy Seed” (Genesis 22:18; cf. Galatians 3:16); “Shiloh” (Genesis 49:10; cf. “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah 9:6); the “Apple Tree” (Song of Solomon 2:3); “Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5 and Zechariah 6:12); “Builder” (Zechariah 6:13); “Bundle of Myrrh” (Song of Solomon 1:13); “Dew” (Hosea 14:5); “Holy One of Israel” and “Savior” (Isaiah 43:3); “Husband” (Isaiah 54:5; cf. II Corinthians 11:2); “Mighty to Save” (Isaiah 63:1); “Ointment” (Song of Solomon 1:3); “Refiner and Purifier” (Malachi 3:3); “Roe” and “young Hart” (Song of Solomon 2:9); “Rod” and “Branch” (Isaiah 11:1); the “Wall of Fire” (Zechariah 2:5); “the Desire of all Nations” (Haggai 2:7); “The Lord, our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6); and “the Messiah” (Daniel 9:25), the anointed Redeemer of mankind, the “Christ” of God.
Somewhat more familiar to us tend to be names and titles from the New Testament, such as “The Word” (John 1:1); “the Apostle and High Priest of our Profession” (Hebrews 3:1); “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2); “Only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:14); “the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6); “Bread of Life” (John 6:48); “Chosen of God” (I Peter 2:4); “the Power of God and the Wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:24); “Chief Cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20); “Day-Spring from on High” (Luke 1:78); “Door of the Sheep” (John 10:7); “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11); “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and Ending” (Revelation 1:8); “Beginning of Creation of God” (Revelation 3:14); “Firstborn of every creature” (Colossians 1:15); “Friend of Sinners” (Matthew 11:19); “Head of the Corner” (Matthew 21:42); “Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24); “I am” (John 8:58); “the Light” (John 1:6-9); “Lord of All” (Acts 10:36); “Son of Man” (Matthew 8:20); and “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
Especially at Christmas time, when we review the Messianic prophecies of the Savior to come and the promises of redemption, justification and salvation through His Name (Acts 10:43), many of those Old Testament names in particular stand out to us (as they did to Old Testament believers) as “sign-posts” along the way — less clear earlier-on and explicitly clear toward the end of the prophecies — pointing to and giving marks of identification to Jesus of Nazareth as the true Messiah: The “Seed,” the “Branch,” “The Holy One of Israel,” “The Lord, our Righteousness,” the “Son of David,” the virgin-born “Immanuel,” to come out of “Bethlehem Ephratha,” the city of David, as God’s “Anointed One,” — “THE Christ, the Son of the Living God,” as Peter later confessed Him to be by the revelation of the Father (Matthew 16:16-17).
The beloved Messianic prophecy that stands out to us for its clarity and particularly for its series of Messianic NAMES is Isaiah 9:6, our title-text, which reads in its entirety: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Besides the names themselves, the real cause of our Christian joy this Christmas season and all through our lives is expressed by the Prophet in two little words, “Unto us.” He said: “Unto US a Child is born, unto US a Son is given.” In the Savior’s birth God fulfilled all those precious promises which from the beginning of the world He had given concerning the coming of the Deliverer from sin and its consequences. In the Savior’s birth, God has come down to US from heaven and visited our fallen race (“Emmanuel” – “God with us,” Matthew 1:23). “The only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” “was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The greatest cause of our joy “unto US a Child is born and unto US a Son is given,” the “Savior, which is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11), is God’s GIFT to us (John 3:16; II Corinthians 9:15), the manifestation of His LOVE (I John 4:9), sent to be the PROPITIATION (the fully-satisfactory ransom payment) for our sins (v. 10), so that, His justice having been completely satisfied by Christ, God RECONCILED the world of poor sinners unto Himself, “not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19). That’s what this “Child” is all about. He was “born” to be “under the Law to redeem them that were under the Law” (Galatians 4:4-5); that’s why this “Son” was “given” — “unto US”! Could God have shown greater love to us poor sinners? Could God have given us a greater gift than His own dear Son? “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (I John 4:9-10).
Now we have before us in our title-text some very special names that He “shall be called” as indicative of who He really is in His person and work, in His Messianic office. “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” writes St. Paul in Colossians 2:9. When the eternal Son of the Father “was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), when He as “a Child” was “born” unto us of a human mother, He surrendered none of His Godhead which He had from all eternity. But, when He became incarnate in the virgin Mary, all of His divine attributes were communicated to (or shared with) His human nature, including His divine authority, power, might and dominion over all things in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, even as a child in His state of humiliation, Isaiah says: “The government shall be upon His shoulder,” to rule over all things for the particular benefit of His believers. Even as a child, having humbled Himself to be laid in a manger, this “Son” was the King of all kings and Lord of all lords for US!
“His name shall be called Wonderful,” literally, a miracle, not only because He was the only child ever to have been born of a virgin mother — the “sign” given to God’s people that He was the true Messiah (Isaiah 7:14) — but a miracle as to who He was from His conception, is, and ever shall be: “True God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the virgin Mary…[our] Lord” (Luther), His divine and human natures together forming one undivided and indivisible person — the Personal Union (See: Cat. Q/A 128).
“His name shall be called…Counselor,” the all-wise, all-knowing God, whose purpose from all eternity to redeem fallen mankind from the curse of the Law was carried out in time (Galatians 4:4-5) and whose primary will that all men be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4) has been published to all (Romans 10:18ff.). His counsel unto salvation is essential to be both heard and heeded (Revelation 3:17-20).
“He shall be called…the Mighty God” — the God-Man, identical with Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), “the only wise God, our Savior” (Jude 1:25), “the Word was God” (John 1:1), “Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever” (Romans 9:5), whom all men should honor, “even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). Christ had to be true God in order to be our Savior (See: Cat. Q/A 130).
“He shall be called…the Everlasting Father,” whose fatherly, loving care extends especially over His believing children (John 10:27, 28, 30; 14:8-11).
“He shall be called…the Prince of Peace,” — God’s own “Shiloh” (Genesis 49:10), the peace-maker, the peace-restorer between God and those who were His enemies since the Fall into sin, who were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12) until in Christ we were reconciled to God by His blood (v. 13); “for He is our PEACE, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity…so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby; and came and preached peace to you which were afar off and to them that were nigh” (Ephesians 2:14-17).
What more, then, could we want as our perpetual Christmas Gift?? “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift” (II Corinthians 9:15)! “For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given” — “to be the Propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). “Peace on earth and mercy mild: God and sinners reconciled!” — the cause of a truly HAPPY and PEACE-FILLED CHRISTMAS to all people! Let us cling with grateful hearts to the Child of Bethlehem and receive Him personally by sincere faith as our “Prince of Peace,” so that “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1) as the fruit of His redemptive work on our behalf!
—D. G. R.