…To him that overcometh will I give…a new name
— Revelation 2:17
Very often in ancient society, a person received a “new name” when he achieved a new status or advanced to a higher level of society. The bestowal of a new name normally accompanied a person’s elevation, ennoblement, or social promotion, and with it came rank, privilege, and, frequently, the right of inheritance. That new name marked a distinct change in an individual’s status, which could potentially impact his lineage for generations to come.
We see this many times in Scripture. The Bible records many accounts of God conferring new names upon believers when they underwent life-changing spiritual transformations. Take, for instance, the Old Testament examples of Abraham and Sarah. When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, it marked a new beginning in his life — a spiritual advancement or elevation.
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The name Abram means father, which reflected his status as the head of his household. However, when Abram entered into a covenant with God, God changed his name to Abraham, meaning a father of many nations. This new name memorialized their covenant together and reflected Abraham’s new, God-ordained status in life (see Genesis 17:4).
As further affirmation of His promise to Abraham, God also changed the name of Abraham’s wife from Sarai, which means quarrelsome, to Sarah, meaning princess. Genesis 17:15,16 records this event: “And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai, thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.” The new names that God gave to Abraham and Sarah did not in itself change them. Rather, it reflected the change God was performing in them. It marked the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new life. Consider that Abraham was 99 years old when God gave him a new name, and Sarah was 90. If anyone’s life demonstrates that it’s never too late to change, it is the life of Abraham or Sarah.
We find another powerful example of God bestowing a new name in the story of Jacob. The name Jacob means supplanter, and it denoted the mischievousness of this man’s original character. In fact, when Jacob and his twin brother Esau were born, Jacob came out of the womb gripping Esau’s heel in his hand — demonstrating the intense competition that existed between the two brothers even while they were still in the womb. However, after Jacob’s encounter with the angel at Peniel, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.
Genesis 32:27 and 28 records: “And he [the angel] said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The name Israel means one who is triumphant with God or one who prevails with God. Some scholars even translate it as God rules, God judges, or prince of God. Thus, it is clear that the new name, Israel, signified a moment of surrender in this man’s life and his character. Like Abraham and Sarah, the “new name” in itself didn’t change Jacob, but it marked the moment when one chapter permanently closed and a new chapter opened that would affect the entire history of mankind.
We can even see instances of new names that were bestowed upon individuals in the New Testament. First, there was Simon, whose name was changed to Peter after he had a revelation of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 16:18). The day Simon was given the new name Peter, which comes from the Greek word petra, for rock, marked a transformational moment in this disciple’s life. He is not remembered as Simon, but by his newly given name Peter.
We find a New Testament example in the story Saul of Tarsus. Prior to his conversion, Saul was an extremely arrogant man. To get a sense of how prideful he was before he came to Christ, we can look to his own words in Philippians 3:4, where he essentially stated that no one had more reason to boast in the natural than himself. However, at some point after his life-transforming experience with Jesus Christ, God changed his name from Saul to Paul, meaning small or humble. On the other side of his divine encounter on the road to Damascus, Saul was clothed with a new identity — and today we remember this apostle not as Saul of Tarsus, but by his new name Paul.
Then there is Joses — a Levite from Cyprus — who was an unknown believer until he gave a large financial contribution to the church in Jerusalem, which brought him to the attention of the apostles. They changed his name to Barnabas to reflect what he had become to them (see Acts 4:36,37). The name Barnabas meant encourager. The changing of Joses’ name didn’t change him, but it reflected a new status he had obtained as an “encouragement” to the apostles. Today he is not remembered as Joses of Cyprus, a name no one even recognizes, but by the new name bestowed upon him — Barnabas — a name that defined the gifts and calling God had placed on his life.
Each of the new names from these Old and New Testament examples marked new beginnings and profound changes of character in the lives of the individuals who received them. Likewise, we experienced a transformational shift in our lives when we surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus. Although our names might not have been legally changed, Jesus dramatically redefined our lives when we chose to follow Him — and we are not the same people we used to be!
Today as I wrote this Sparkling Gem, I asked my wife Denise, “If God gave you a new name to reflect who you are, what do you think your new name would be?” She reflected for a few moments and then answered, “If God gave me a new name, I think my name would be Redeemed!” What name do you think God would give you to describe who you are today in His eyes?
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I thank You for the transformational change You have worked in my life since I committed my life to Jesus. You have worked so many miracles in my life and changed me so much. I give you all the honor and glory for what you have done. When I think about how my life used to be and compare it to how my life is today, I cannot imagine living without You. Thank You for redeeming me, saving me from destruction, and giving me a new spiritual status in Your family!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I declare that I am totally different from how I used to be. Since I’ve committed myself wholly to Christ, He has worked miracles in my life and character. I thankfully confess that since I’ve belonged to Jesus, I’ve had multiple transformational moments in my life. The Holy Spirit is working inside me continuously — to change me and to take me to a higher dimension in every aspect of my life. If anyone needs to thank God for working miracles in his or her life, it’s certainly me! I thank You, Heavenly Father, for the dramatic changes that You have worked in me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of anyone else in the Old or New Testament who had a name change that reflected a transformational moment in their lives?
- If you were to receive a new name to describe who you are now, what do you think that name would be? What name do you think would describe you, your gifts, and your calling? What would you want that new name to reflect about you?
- Can you think of five names that God calls us in the Bible? For example, the Bible calls you beloved (see Philippians 2:12) and called (see Romans 1:6). What other words does God use in the Bible to denote who you are since that transformational moment when you surrendered your life to Christ?