Who Are “His People”?

Replacement Theology and the Meaning of Jesus' Name.

Some dear Messianic Jewish friends of ours recently had their third child. With each of their children, they thought long and hard about what names to give them. They talked about it. They prayed about it. They considered the state of the world we live in and their hopes for the future. With each name they decided on, the father, who is a young Messianic rabbi, wrote out an explanation for why they chose that particular name. These friends of ours did this so that their children, as well as their extended family and synagogue community, would understand that each child’s name had a meaning that pointed to a special calling to make a difference in this world. What the father wrote down about each child’s name represented the heart of this couple for each of their precious children. 

I would like to propose that our Father in heaven did something very similar to what this couple did when he sent his Son into the world. He thought about what name to give His Son. Out of all the possible names in this world, He came up with a name that reflected His heart and prophetic plan for the future. In other words, the name “Yeshua” is not just a nice sounding name but it is a name that reflects the very heart of our heavenly Father. 

What does Yeshua’s name (from which we get the English “Jesus”) tell us about our Father’s heart? In the same way that our friends expressed their heart, in writing, concerning the names of each of their children, so too, the Lord has written out, in the Scriptures, His heart behind the name Yeshua. And He did this so that Yeshua’s family, His community, and all future generations would know the Father’s heart behind this name. Where in the Scriptures does the Father tell us why he chose the name Yeshua?

It is written in Matthew 1:20-21:

“. . . an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Miryam home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Yeshua, because He will save His people from their sins.’” 

Let’s unpack the meaning of this text. To begin with, it says “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said…” 

When we hear the term “angel of the Lord” (in Hebrew malach Adonai), it’s important to understand that this angel was not speaking on his own. The angel of the Lord is the personal messenger or ambassador of our Father in heaven, and here he is conveying the Father’s heart to Joseph, and to all of us. 

Then the angel of the Lord goes on to say that Miryam will give birth to a son and he says in verse 21:

“‘…you are to give Him the name Yeshua, because He will save His people from their sins.'” 

Here we see our heavenly Father sharing with Joseph, and with all of us, His heart for why He chose this particular name for his Son. After considering all possible names, He chose to give His Son the Hebrew name Yeshua (which literally means “salvation,” “the Lord saves,” or as Philo puts it, “the salvation of the Lord”) because the heart of our Father is that Yeshua would yoshia (save) His people—the Jewish people, Israel—from their sins. 

In other words, the name Yeshua communicates to us the heart of the Father to see the salvation of Israel! 

I wonder how many of us are aware that this is the Father’s heart behind Yeshua’s name. Interestingly, I have met few Christians who know this. Why is that? I think the main reason is Replacement Theology. 

Replacement Theology is like a pair of glasses. When we put them on, we interpret what we read in the Scriptures in a way that deemphasizes or erases God’s special relationship with the Jewish people. 

For example, the angel of the Lord, representing the Father, says in Matthew 1:21:

  “You are to give Him the name Yeshua, because He will save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

But when we put on the Replacement Theology glasses, this is what we hear:

  You are to give Him the name Yeshua, because He will save people from their sins. (Mattew 1:21)

What’s missing? The angel of the Lord said, “His people,” not “people” in general. In other words, Replacement Theology ignores or downplays the words “His people.” 

Replacement Theology also sometimes reinterprets these words “His people.” For instance, Donald Hagner does this in his Word commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. He writes concerning Matthew 1:21:

“. . . whereas ‘His people,’ leads one to think initially of God’s people, Israel, both Matthew and his readers were capable of a deeper understanding of the expression wherein it includes both Jews and Gentiles, i.e., as the people of the messianic King who is both Son of David and Son of Abraham. We may thus finally equate ‘people,’ with the ‘Church’ . . .” (p. 20)

But is this what the angel of the Lord meant in Matthew 1:21? I don’t think so.

Who are “His people” in the context of Matthew 1? If we take off our Replacement Theology glasses, we can see clearly that Yeshua’s people are the Jewish people. Matthew highlights this point in verses 1-20, all the verses leading up to what the angel of the Lord says in verse 21. By providing Yeshua’s genealogy in chapter 1, Matthew communicates loudly and clearly that Yeshua’s people are the Jewish people. Yeshua’s family tree includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Josiah, Zerubbabel, the list goes on . . . This is Yeshua’s yichus (his lineage). Matthew actually gives the names of more than forty prominent Jewish ancestors and relatives of Yeshua to make his point that the Jewish people are Jesus’ people. 

A final way that Replacement Theology has historically prevented Christians from associating Jesus’ name with the Jewish people is by removing Matthew 1:21 from the Scriptures altogether. Did you know that there are Christian Bibles in which Matthew 1 has been completely taken out, including the angel’s explanation of the meaning of Yeshua’s name? 

During World War II, a number of evangelical denominations in Germany formed an organization called “The Institute for the Study and Elimination of Jewish Influence on German Church Life.” This Institute, which was headed up by Christian scholars and pastors, developed a Bible that did not include the Old Testament or Matthew 1. Why did they do this? It’s because they wanted to unhitch Jesus from his people Israel. As one leader of the Institute put it, “Into the oven with the part of the Bible that glorifies the Jews, so eternal flames will consume that which threatens our people.” Two hundred thousand copies of this Bible, without the Old Testament and Matthew 1, were distributed to Christians throughout Germany.  

The angel of the Lord said to Joseph son of David, “you are to give Him the name Yeshua, because He will save His people from their sins.” I think the Father wants all of us, in every generation, to know His heart behind the name He gave his Son, because knowing the Father’s heart will lead to a sincere love for Israel. 

What are the practical implications of what I’m saying? How can this be brought into our daily lives? How can this inform and bless the Church?

When we say the name Yeshua, or a translation of His name, such as Jesus (in English) or Hesus (in Spanish) or Isus (in Russian) or Yesu (in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese) or Yeshu (in Hindi) or Yesua (in Arabic), we should associate the meaning of His name with the Father’s heart and longing and vision to see the salvation of Israel.  

Think of how it would transform the Church if every time we say the name Yeshua, we remember the Father’s desire to see the salvation of Israel. What if every time we sat down to eat and said a blessing or prayer in the name of Jesus, we were reminded, at that moment, of the words of the angel of the Lord—“you are to give Him the name Yeshua, because He will save His people from their sins.” Would this not increase our desire to pray for the well being of Israel? Would it not inspire us to bear witness to Jewish friends and family since we know the heart of the Father? If we identify the Jewish people with Jesus’ people, what would happen to Replacement Theology and Christian antisemitism? I think they would vanish into thin air and be replaced with a deep and abiding love for the Jewish people. 

This is a huge revelation that we need to get. I encourage all of us to make it a point every time we say the name “Yeshua” or “Jesus,” or another translation of His name, to remember why the Father gave Him that name. Let us not forget that He gave His Son the Hebrew name “Yeshua” (which means “Salvation”) because He has longed and desired to see the salvation of Israel.  

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Dr. David Rudolph
Dr. David Rudolphhttp://collective.tku.edu
Dr. David Rudolph is professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies and director of the Messianic Jewish Studies program at The King's University in Southlake, Texas.