Revelation Teaches that We’ll All Get a New Name?
…I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
This peculiar promise is the final line of Jesus’ letter to the Church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17. We’ll be investigating this passage together in the sermon on Sunday, but we won’t have time to dig into the meaning of this line. So, I thought I’d take some time to dig into it with you here. This final line is actually part of a larger promise that Jesus gives to encourage the Christians in Pergamum to be faithful (Revelation 2:14-16). But again, what exactly is Jesus promising here?
When I first became a Christian, I remember hearing a prominent American Teacher use this verse to say that Jesus has a new name for each of us and that we need to pray and ask Him what it is. He probably meant well, but I don’t think he got that idea from studying the verse closely. Most if not all the promises Jesus makes to the seven churches in Revelation are future promises that they will receive if they persevere to the end. And in fact, this idea of a ‘name that nobody knows’ appears elsewhere in Revelation and also in the Old Testament. This background helps us understand the meaning of the promise. In Revelation 3:12 Jesus promises something similar to the Christians in Philadelphia, “I will also write on them my new name.”
The ‘new name’ of Jesus comes up again in Revelation 19:12 where it says, “He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.” One thing to know about Revelation is that it is packed with imagery and allusions to the Old Testament. If you want to read Revelation well, you need to know the Old Testament well. Now I could pretend I know the Old Testament so well that Isaiah 62 came to mind on this topic, but I’d be lying to you! Some helpful Bible scholars pointed out to me that Isaiah 62 is probably the main background for this idea of God’s people being given a new name here. In Isaiah 62:2-4 it says to Israel,
2 The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
Ok, so… what does this all mean (my head is starting to hurt a little!). Revelation is full of imagery, so I don’t believe the new name is literal, but rather symbolises these things:
- It symbolises belonging to Jesus (see also Revelation 22:4).
- It symbolises intimacy with Jesus (our new name has strong links to his own new name, which only he knows), a greater understanding of Jesus’ identity and a special relationship with Jesus (notice the link to marriage in Isaiah 62:4 and the fact that marriage also features in Revelation 19).
Isn’t that wonderful? Jesus promised the believers in Pergamum and everyone who has an ear to hear that they will have special access to Him and a deeper understanding of Him if they persevere in this life. And I think that’s a bit better than receiving some kind of legal name change.
With you on the journey,