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The Names of Jesus and Their Significance in Acts 3–4

Acts 3–4 records how Peter and John healed a lame man. As their spokesman, Peter explained to the Jewish people (Acts 3:12–26) and their leaders (Acts 4:8–12) that the healing took place by faith in Jesus’ name, that is, that by believing in the one named Jesus who has the power to give salvation and heal. Within his explanations, he gave several names for Jesus, which are listed and briefly explained below.

Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:6; 4:10; cf. 3:18, 20)

In speaking to the Israelites, Peter did not just name Jesus but specified Him as the Messiah, the prophesied Christ of the OT. He at times simply called Him “the Christ” and “His Christ,” that is, the Christ sent by the Father. He is described as “of Nazareth,” His hometown (cf. Luke 4:16).

His Servant Jesus (Acts 3:13, 26)

Jesus is “his servant,” that is, the servant of the Father. In both mentions of Jesus as “servant,” He is said to have been “raised from the dead” or “raised up” (Acts 3:15, 26), and the first of these two descriptions parallels the idea of God having “glorified” Jesus (Acts 3:13).1 Tracing these themes to the OT, Isaiah quoted the Father’s words and prophesied, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted” (Isa 53:10 ESV), an interesting notion when Isaiah would go on to describe in this “servant song” how the Messiah would suffer (cf. Isa 52:13–53;12 with Acts 3:13–15; cf. also Luke 22:37 with Isa 53:12). Having just a snapshot of Peter’s words, we at least have enough in concept and terminology to assume he explained Jesus in terms of Isaiah’s prophecy, the Servant who suffered for us and has now been glorified through the resurrection (not to mention His sharing the Father’s throne; cf. Acts 2:33–36).

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The Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14)

Jesus was perfectly holy, as acknowledged by Himself (Rev 3:7), His own (John 6:69; Heb 7:26), and even demons (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). He was the prophesied Messiah who was perfect and right and thus righteous in all His doings (Isa 11:4; 32:11; 53:11; Jer 23:5; Zech 9:9; 1 John 2:1).

The Author of Life (Acts 3:15)

Whereas Hebrews emphasizes the example of Jesus as our “author” or “founder” of salvation and faith (Heb 2:10; 12:2; cf. Acts 5:31; archēgos is the same term in each verse though variously translated), Peter uses the term here to emphasize Jesus as the giver of life. He not only restored a man to “perfect health” (Acts 3:16), but His second coming would bring about the prophesied “times of refreshing” and “restoring all the things” as well (Acts 3:19, 21).

A Prophet (Acts 3:22)

Jesus was not just a prophet but the Prophet to whom His people would listen, as Moses prophesied long ago (Deut 18:15, 18, 19). Peter identified Jesus as this prophet, and the Israelites were thus warned that failure to listen to His words and obey Him would lead to their destruction (Acts 3:23).

The Cornerstone (Acts 4:11)

Peter identified Jesus as the rejected cornerstone of Ps 118:22. Though the builders (Israelites) had rejected the stone (i.e., they killed Him), the Father made Him the cornerstone (i.e., He raised Him up and exalted Him). Whereas the psalm described the nations as opposing Israel’s king (Ps 118:10), here it is the leaders of Israel. Nonetheless, the church would be built upon Christ (Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:5–6) and a renewed Israel in time to come (Matt 21:42–44; cf. Mark 12:9–11; Luke 20:16–17).

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Two themes stand out from Peter’s use of these titles. First, in using these titles and likely explaining their meaning from the OT, Peter was able to explain both the sufferings and glories of Christ (cf. 1 Pet 1:10–12). As the Servant, Jesus suffered but was exalted. As a stone, Jesus was rejected but then made the cornerstone. As a Prophet, some would not listen, but they would ultimately be destroyed and not Him.

Second, in using these titles, Peter’s Israelite audience was sorely rebuked. They killed this Jesus, the Christ from Nazareth through conspiracy and the cross. He was the Servant who would suffer, and they were the ones to make Him suffer. He did not deserve their giving Him a criminal’s death, for He was perfectly holy and righteous. In killing him, they gave death to Him who gives life. And in doing so, they egregiously disobeyed the prophesied Prophet to whom they were supposed to listen.

In the wisdom of God, it was through suffering that Jesus would find Himself exalted. And in the mercy of God, here these Israelites heard another appeal to turn to God through Christ and know forgiveness from sin.

David Huffstutler

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.



Endnotes:

  1. Acts 3:13–15 seems to have somewhat of a chiasm. God glorified His Servant (Acts 3:13a), the Jews denied Him (Acts 3:13b–14a), the Jews killed him (Acts 3:15a), and God raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 3:15b). The first and last of the descriptions of Jesus go together. []

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