The name Jesus means Yahweh saves. It was a common name in Israel, and is actually the same name as the Old Testament hero Joshua. It carries the hope of Israel that God would save them, although they generally thought in material terms. But Jesus’ name is more than just identifying a future hope. The angel tells Joseph that Jesus is actually the one who will save his people.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”Matthew 1:21 NIV
This is a passage that is so familiar that we often fail to understand just what it is that Matthew is saying to us. And this is especially true today because names have little meaning beyond a tag to identify us. But Matthew’s word play in this verse is significant. Right off the bat he is identifying just who Jesus is. He is not as obvious as John, but the identification is no less real.
Jesus’ name means Yahweh saves. And the announcement from the angel was that Jesus would be that savior. Yahweh saves. Jesus saves. Matthew is not just proclaiming that Jesus will save us. He is announcing that Jesus is God. Jesus is God come to save his people. Not from subjugation by the Romans. But from bondage to sin.
In case it was not clear who Matthew considered Jesus to be, he identifies him with another name, this one from Isaiah. He will be called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Jesus is God, living and working among us. The incarnation, God in the flesh. That is who Jesus is.