Each name of God is really a representation of some aspect of His character. For example, Adonai means, “Lord,” and emphasizes the fact that He is the supreme authority in the lives of His people. “El Shaddai” means “the Almighty” and emphasizes the fact that He is able to do all things and that those who worship Him need fear nothing in the world. “Jehovah” of course, indicates that He is the “I Am,” the eternal, self-existent one who lives forever and depends on nothing for His existence. “Elohim” refers to His majesty and greatness.
At different times, people have added a suffix to the name of God, reflecting some aspect of His character which had special significance to them. For example, Abraham referred to God as “Jehovah-Jireh,” “the Lord my provider,” after God provided a ram for him to sacrifice in place of Isaac. Moses referred to Him as “Jehovah-Nissi,” “the Lord is my banner,” after God gave him victory over Israel's enemies.
Each name was actually a revelation of some aspect of God's character, authority, or nature.
First and Last Names
Most people have both a first and a last name. In many cases some have more than two names. Is there a difference between the first and last name in terms of the message which they convey? Well, usually the surname, or the family name is something which we automatically receive at birth. This is not something which we, or our parents choose, it is something which is ours just by virtue of the fact that we are born and it tells which family we belong to. When people share the same surname because they belong to the same family, then immediately we can tell that they have certain things in common. They share the same genetic heritage, they often have similar features and inborn traits. They often have similar talents, likes and dislikes and sometimes even share the same illnesses! In other words, the surname or the family name tells you about a person's genetic makeup, his inborn nature.
The given name, however, is different. The given name usually expresses the desires of the person who named the child. It usually expressed either the character which the parents hoped that the child would develop or the character which they believed he would develop later in life. For example, when Jacob was still not completely born, he pushed his hand out of his mother's belly and grabbed on to the foot of his brother Esau who had just been born. His parents saw this strange act as a sign of the kind of person he would be and they concluded that this indicated that in the future he would take what belonged to his brother. So they named him “Jacob,” which means, “the supplanter.” Later Jacob fulfilled his name when he took his brother's birthright. However, later in life his character was changed after wrestling with God. Then God changed his name and called him, “Israel,” which means, “prince of God.”
When I was born, I was a Clayton. Neither my parents nor I chose that aspect of my name. However, my father and mother named me “David.” I think that in giving me this name, they hoped in their hearts that somehow I would develop the kind of faith and loyalty to God which was manifested in the life of the biblical David.
It is interesting that in parts of Europe, Africa and many countries of the “old world,” the order of the given name and the surname is different from in the western world. In many cultures it is more customary to give the family name first, and to state the given name, or the personal name last. This way of stating the name seems to be more logical. Why is this so? Because we received the family name first. The family name is the one which gives the most information concerning our origins and the traits which we possess by nature. The given name only expresses what somebody hoped we would become and which in many cases speaks of a hope which is never realized. In other words, the family name indicates lineage, nature . The personal name signifies the peculiar character of the individual. The family name indicates inborn qualities, the given name indicates character traits developed subsequent to birth.
In this article we will use the old world order and will recognize the first name as the family name, the name one is born with, and the last name as the given name, the one which indicates the character developed during one's lifetime.
The names of Jesus.
When we consider this, it is interesting to consider what the Bible says concerning the names of Jesus. In Hebrews 1:4 we read,
Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. (Heb 1:4)
Here we see that Jesus received a certain name “by inheritance.” If it was by inheritance, then this would have to be His family name, the name He received at birth. Verse 8 tells us what this name is:
But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. (Heb 1:8)
This name which Jesus received by inheritance was the name, “God.” This is His family name, or His first name and indicates that He is of the family of God. His nature is the nature of God and His inborn qualities are those of God. However, He also received the name, “Jesus” when He became a human being. This refers to the personal characteristic of the work which He came to do and the personal character which He developed when He was on earth. As the angel stated to Mary when he announced the birth of Jesus,
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Mat 1:21)
He was to be named, “Jesus,” which signifies “Saviour.” What was the reason for Him being given this name? “He shall save His people from their sins.” Therefore, the name referred to His personal character, the work which He personally and He alone could accomplish.
A name in the forehead
In Revelation chapters 7 and 14, we are given a view of a group called the 144,000. Revelation 14:1-5 gives a detailed description of the characteristics of these people and reveals them to be a unique group of Christians, who are different in several ways from any other Christians who have ever lived on this earth. One of the striking marks of these Christians is that they have “the Father's name,” written in their foreheads. What does this signify? What are we being told about these people? What name of God is this which is written on their foreheads, does this refer to God's first (family) name, or does it refer to one of His other names (referring to His personal character)?
A little thought will make it clear that this name refers to God's character (His personal name) rather than to His nature or His intrinsic qualities (His family name). Notice that this fact, that they have the Father's name in their foreheads is stated as one of the peculiar marks of these Christians which sets them apart from all Christians. This name of the Father written in their foreheads is not something which all Christians possess or else there would be no special significance in mentioning it as one of the characteristics of these special people.
Yet, all Christians do have the Father's nature which would be signified by God's family name or His first name. As the apostle Peter tells us,
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet 1:4)
All Christians do have the Father's nature. The moment a person truly believes the exceeding great and precious promises in the word of God, then he truly becomes a partaker of the divine nature of God, and so becomes a member of the family of God. He receives God's family name and as a recipient of the divine nature he truly has received salvation. At the very moment when a person receives this name of God, this nature of God, he has the assurance that he is a child of God and has received eternal life.
But let us consider something: Every new-born baby is a member of his family. From the moment he is born he receives the family name. The family has certain unique characteristics which are his, he has no choice about them, they are his, just by virtue of the fact that he was born. Nothing can change this reality, nothing can make him not a family member, as long as he is born into the family. However, no new-born baby is qualified to represent the family. In fact, many persons who are in their teens and even older are not qualified to represent their family and the father or mother would not choose such a person to represent them. Why not? Because in order to represent the family, a person needs to have a proper understanding of what the family stands for. He needs to understand the principles which characterize the family.
In the same way, every new-born Christian is assured of salvation. He has received the nature of divinity which is a perfect nature. His instinct is to do good and only to do good and in this sense, he has a perfect nature. This must be, because he has partaken of the divine nature and the divine nature is a perfect nature. There is no imperfection in God. Let us note, however, that a perfect nature does not necessarily mean a perfect character . Nature and character are two different things. Nature is what we are born with, character is what we develop as we pass through the experiences of life. Although every Christian has the divine nature of God (God's first name), not every Christian has the perfect character of God (God's last name).
Not required for salvation
Yet it is important for us to know that perfection of character is not a requirement for salvation. Perfection of character is a process and requires time. If perfection of character was the requirement for salvation, the thief on the cross could never have been saved, Rahab could not have been saved, they, and many others would have fallen short of the mark and been lost. Yet all of these are represented in the Scriptures as being people who will be in heaven. On what basis have they been saved? They have been saved because they all, through faith, became partakers of the divine nature. They were born again through faith and truly became the children of God. They never learned enough about God and His ways to perfectly represent Him, but they were truly His children nevertheless and on this basis they will be saved. They did not develop perfect characters, few men ever did, but they had the perfect nature of God. When they surrendered to God, they gave Him their lives in all things which they knew to be His will and in this sense, they were perfect. This is the only kind of perfection which is required for salvation and they had it.
Character of the 144,000
The state of the 144,000 is different, however. It is clear that in describing these people God is focusing on perfection of character, rather than perfection of nature. These are not simply born-again Christians, qualified for salvation and no more. These are people who are fit to represent God in the world. These are mature members of the divine family, fully aware of the will and the ways of God and well able to reveal His character to the world. The have the Father's name in their foreheads and it is clear that this represents His last name. The focus is on His character as opposed to His nature. Revelation 14 is talking about character development, not the new birth.
The difference between these and other Christians is apparent. It is clear that in focusing on these people, God is not pointing to the qualifications necessary for salvation, but rather to the character which will be developed in those who will finally represent Him on earth in the final moments of time. It is qualification for a job, not qualification for salvation .
The fact is, many Christians will be saved who were defiled with women, that is, who were involved with false religious systems. But the 144,000 are entirely free from such defilement. Many will be saved who did not follow the Lamb perfectly, but the 144,000 will follow Him without deviation. Many will be saved who had character faults even up to the moment of death, but there will be no such blemish on the 144,000.
It is clear that God has a special purpose for the 144,000 and that this purpose makes it necessary for them to have perfect characters. They must be people who perfectly express the principles of God's character in the world, but we must not make the mistake of thinking that this is a necessity for salvation. Many persons have become very discouraged and confused because they misunderstood this fact.
It is good that every Christian should desire character perfection. This is the natural concern of a person who is born again and possesses the life of Christ. His desire is to more perfectly represent God in this world, to be more like Christ in every way. However, when this concern about character perfection has been perverted into the thinking that character perfection is necessary for salvation, then it becomes a bad thing, and unfortunately, this has been the misconception which many professing Christians have embraced. What have been the consequences of this false idea?
Firstly, every Christian is aware of the fact that he is not perfect. In fact, the closer we come to Christ, the more aware we become of our own imperfections. If we believe that character perfection is necessary for us to be saved, then of course, we can never ever come to the place where we are ever assured that we have salvation. We are doomed to a life of perpetual uneasiness while we strive and struggle to become perfect, with no real hope of ever being ready for death, or for the coming of Christ. We can only be certain when we are perfect and yet we are always aware that we are not perfect, so, effectively, we have no hope of salvation. This is what this misconception does to us and unfortunately, there are many of us who hold to this wrong idea.
Secondly, this misconception leads inevitably to a focus on what man must do, rather than on what God has done. Many of us still labour under the false idea that there are some aspects of the Christian life which God leaves up to us and which depend upon our own hard work. Unfortunately, we see this as the road which embraces the rest of our lives. We think that although God gives us the new birth, it is we who must perfect the character. The consequence is that the pressure is on us and we spend our days in a state of uneasiness, focusing on what we must do, rather than on what God has done for us in Christ. But if we focus on ourselves, how can we ever overcome sin? What good is there in us, where will we find enabling power if our eyes are on ourselves?
Thirdly, this wrong idea leads to an emphasis on the law above the spirit. Perfection is seen as relating to our behaviour as measured by the law. It is only natural then that the attention is constantly focused on the law and our relationship to it rather than on Christ and our relationship to Him. The result is legalism, or, religion which is focused on the demands of the law rather than on the enabling of the spirit.
Fourthly, this misunderstanding results in a downplaying of the new birth experience. If man is saved only when his character has been perfected rather than when he is born again, then of course, the really important issue is character perfection. In fact, the new birth hardly seems to be significant and is something which is only of secondary importance.
We are preserved from these false perspectives when we understand that man is saved by being born again, but that he is prepared to represent God properly in the world by the process of character development, leading ultimately to character perfection in the final generation of Christians who live on this earth.