Why didn’t Mary call Jesus Immanuel?

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By BibleAsk Team


The prophecy of Isaiah and its fulfillment in the New Testament regarding the name “Immanuel” often raises the question: why didn’t Mary, the mother of Jesus, call Him by this name? This essay will explore the significance of the prophecy, the use of names in biblical contexts, and the theological implications of Jesus being called “Immanuel.”

Understanding the Prophecy

  1. The Prophecy in Isaiah

The prophecy concerning the name “Immanuel” is found in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV): “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

This prophecy was given to King Ahaz as a sign from God, signifying that God would be with His people.

  1. Fulfillment in the New Testament

The Gospel of Matthew explicitly connects this prophecy to the birth of Jesus.

Matthew 1:22-23 (NKJV): “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.'”

Matthew’s Gospel interprets the prophecy of Isaiah as being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, indicating His divine nature and mission.

The Significance of Names in the Bible

  1. Names and Their Meanings

In biblical times, names were often given to reflect circumstances of birth, prophetic declarations, or characteristics of the person.

Genesis 17:5 (NKJV): “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.”

Exodus 3:14 (NKJV): “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”‘”

These examples show how names carried deep significance, often revealing something about God’s intentions or the person’s destiny.

  1. Jesus and His Many Names

Jesus is referred to by many names and titles throughout the Bible, each reflecting different aspects of His identity and mission.

Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV): “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

John 1:29 (NKJV): “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

Each of these names and titles—Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Lamb of God—reveals different facets of who Jesus is.

The Name “Immanuel”

  1. Meaning of Immanuel

The Greek transliteration of the Hebrew ‘Immanu’ El, means literally, “God with us.” That is to deliver us from our enemies. The Son of God came to dwell, not only among us, but to be identified with the human family (John 1:1–3, 14; Romans 8:1–4; Philippians 2:6–8; Hebrews 2:16, 17). The name Immanuel was a sign name ordained of God to testify to God’s presence with His people to guide, to protect, and to bless.

The term “God with us” is also seen in the Old Testament.  While other nations went down in defeat, Judah would be sustained; while Israel was to perish, Judah would live. When Sennacherib came against the land of Judah to destroy it, Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, no doubt found in Isaiah’s words regarding Immanuel a source of confidence and strength. In his message of encouragement to the people of Jerusalem Hezekiah assures them, “with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:7, 8).

To better understand what Isaiah meant by the name Immanuel, it is helpful to consider what the prophet wrote two chapters later. In prophesying about the Messiah, Isaiah wrote: “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Did Isaiah mean by this that the Messiah would literally have as His given name “Wonderful,” “Counselor,” or “Everlasting Father”?

These names were given to describe the nature of the Messiah, not serve as literal, given names. Likewise, “Emmanuel” was not so much a personal name as it was a title descriptive of Christ’s mission (Isaiah 9:6, 7; 1 Corinthians 10:4). The name Jesus was a literal name while “Immanuel” characterized Christ’s essence.

John 1:14 (NKJV): “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The essence of the name “Immanuel” is encapsulated in the incarnation of Jesus, God becoming flesh and living among humanity.

  1. Immanuel as a Title Rather Than a Personal Name

The name “Immanuel” is more of a title or a description rather than a personal name. It describes the role and nature of Jesus rather than being a name that would be used in everyday conversation.

Matthew 28:20 (NKJV): “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”

This assurance from Jesus after His resurrection reflects the ongoing presence of “God with us,” fulfilling the meaning of “Immanuel.”

Why Mary Called Him Jesus?

  1. The Angel’s Instruction

Mary called her son Jesus based on the explicit instruction given by the angel Gabriel.

Matthew 1:21 (NKJV): “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

The name “Jesus” (Yeshua) means “The Lord is salvation,” highlighting His mission to save humanity from sin.

  1. Significance of the Name Jesus

The name “Jesus” was chosen by God to reflect His mission and purpose on earth. It was a common name in Hebrew culture but carried profound theological meaning in this context.

Philippians 2:9-11 (NKJV): “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The exaltation of the name of Jesus above all others underscores its significance in God’s redemptive plan.

Theological Implications of “Immanuel”

  1. God’s Presence with Humanity

The title “Immanuel” emphasizes the incarnation—God becoming man and living among us. This is central to Christian theology.

Colossians 2:9 (NKJV): “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”

Jesus embodies the presence of God on earth, fulfilling the prophecy of “Immanuel.”

  1. Jesus as the Mediator

Jesus, being “God with us,” serves as the mediator between God and humanity.

1 Timothy 2:5 (NKJV): “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”

His role as mediator highlights the unique way in which He fulfills the prophecy of “Immanuel.”

Understanding Prophecy and Fulfillment

  1. Literal vs. Symbolic Fulfillment

Biblical prophecies often have layers of meaning, with both literal and symbolic fulfillments. The prophecy in Isaiah has a broader fulfillment in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Hosea 11:1 (NKJV): “When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.”

This prophecy originally referred to Israel but is also seen as fulfilled in Jesus, as noted in Matthew 2:15.

  1. Names as Prophetic Symbols

Names in prophecies often serve as symbols or signs rather than literal labels. “Immanuel” is a prophetic name signifying God’s presence rather than a name to be used in everyday life.

Isaiah 8:18 (NKJV): “Here am I and the children whom the Lord has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel From the Lord of hosts, Who dwells in Mount Zion.”

This reflects how names and actions of prophets and their children often carried deeper symbolic meanings.

Practical Applications for Believers

  1. Living in the Awareness of “God with Us”

Understanding Jesus as “Immanuel” encourages believers to live in the constant awareness of God’s presence.

Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV): “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'”

This promise of God’s abiding presence brings comfort and assurance.

  1. Embracing the Salvation in Jesus

Acknowledging the name “Jesus” as “The Lord is salvation” calls believers to fully embrace the salvation He offers and share this message with others.

Acts 4:12 (NKJV): “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

This reinforces the exclusivity and necessity of salvation through Jesus.

Conclusion

Mary did not call Jesus “Immanuel” because “Immanuel” is a title that describes who Jesus is—God with us—rather than a personal name to be used in everyday interactions. The angel Gabriel instructed Mary and Joseph to name the child “Jesus,” a name that reflects His mission to save humanity from sin. The prophecy of “Immanuel” is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who embodies the presence of God among His people.

The various names and titles of Jesus, including “Immanuel,” reveal different aspects of His identity and mission. Understanding these helps believers appreciate the depth of God’s revelation and the multifaceted nature of Jesus’ role as Savior. By embracing the significance of these names, Christians can deepen their faith and live with the assurance that God is indeed with them, now and forever.

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