33) He Knows My Name! (Revelation 3:5-6)
I’m amazed at how seemingly little things in life can have such a massive impact on other people. Take, for example, when someone remembers your name. Perhaps it’s a person you admire greatly, whom you’ve only met once before, but they instantly smile when they see your face and say, “Hey, Mike, how are you? It’s good to see you again.” You feel affirmed and honored that someone who is well-known and successful actually knows who you are. Maybe that’s because it strokes your ego and awakens personal pride. Whatever the case, no one can deny how good it feels.
Or consider the converse, when you find yourself in the presence of a person who has either forgotten your name or, for whatever reason, has little desire to be seen with you. We’ve all been in these situations (at least I have!) and they are undeniably painful. You get the distinct impression that you’re an embarrassment to them. When someone walks up they pretend to be occupied with other matters, perhaps even turning their back on you. The discomfort is almost tangible. If pressed about who you are, they quickly divert the focus of the conversation to something less threatening. Ouch!
It’s precisely this sort of relational phenomenon that makes the words of Jesus in Revelation 3:5 so powerful and so glorious. Here we find the fourth and final promise to the faithful in Sardis. He’s already assured them they will “walk” with him “in white,” that they will “be clothed in white garments,” and that he will never, by no means ever, blot their names out of the book of life. To these Jesus adds: “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev. 3:5b).
Revelation 3:5 actually appears to be a combination of two statements found on the lips of Jesus in the gospels. In Matthew 10:32 he declared, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” Again, in Luke 12:8, we read, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.”
Let’s unpack this remarkable promise with several observations.
First, this is no grudging concession on the part of Jesus, but a joyful and heartfelt proclamation to the Father and the myriads of angelic beings: “He’s mine! She belongs to me! They are worthy!” The words “acknowledge” or “confess” often suggest a reluctant admission on the part of the person speaking, less a willing declaration than a concession to the unavoidable.
That’s not what Jesus has in mind when he uses these words! These names are on his lips because they are first in his heart. Jesus isn’t embarrassed by those whom he confesses before the Father. He doesn’t worry what the angels might think that he would dare speak your name or mine in their presence.
We all know what it’s like to feel embarrassed to be in someone’s company, fearful they might bring reproach on us or cost us standing in the sight of our peers (I’m not suggesting that’s a good thing). Whatever the reasons that make us hesitant to be seen with them, it happens. Not Jesus! He “is not ashamed” (Hebrews 2:11) to call us brethren. He rejoices that we are his and he happily speaks each name with delight and satisfaction.
A second thing to note is that Jesus evidently will speak each of our names individually. Yes, we are the body of Christ, the church, the Bride whom he loves with an everlasting love. Our corporate identity as the people of God is an indescribable blessing. But according to Revelation 3:5 Jesus says, “I will confess his name [singular]”, not merely “their name” before the Father and the angels. People on earth may forget your name or feel uneasy in your presence or reluctantly concede your accomplishments. But Jesus knows your name and will say to the Father, “This is Steve. He is righteous in me. Father, this is Susan. She is mine!”
How does one put in words the thrill and life-giving power of hearing Jesus speak your name? Mary Magdalene has been much in the news of late, especially with the release of Dan Brown’s book and then the movie by the same title, The Da Vinci Code. Were she present today I hardly think she would care that everyone knew her name, and certainly not for that reason. But there was one occasion when it meant more than all the world to her.
Following the resurrection of Jesus, she stood outside the tomb, weeping. Turning around, she “saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’ (!). She turned and said to him in Aramaic,
‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)” (John 20:14b-16).
Do you know the difference between being called “Woman” and being called “Mary”? One lady did! This woman, at one time indwelt and tormented by seven demons (Luke 8:2), filled with shame and reproach, hears the sweetest and most comforting word imaginable, her name: “Mary!” But it wasn’t the name so much as the man on whose lips it was willfully, happily, and confidently found: Jesus! “He knows my name! He remembers me! I’m not an embarrassment to him. He’s not ashamed of me!”
This is what each of us who know him will experience one day, without reservation or qualification. He will speak your name and my name before his Father and the angels.
But this is more than merely hearing your name called as if a teacher is taking roll. This is no perfunctory ritual as Jesus reels off one name after another, to which you respond, “Here,” “Yo!” or “Present”. This is an open, glad-hearted, public acknowledgment, an owning by Jesus of you and me. “Father, these are the ones you gave me out of all flesh (John 17:2). I declare them to you now. I proclaim their names as those who have come to faith and have rested in what I’ve done alone, without looking to another lover, another savior, or another ‘god’.”
Third, could it be that Jesus speaks our names as he reads them from the book of life? In view of the immediately preceding context (Rev. 3:5a), we can’t dismiss the possibility that the names he speaks, one after another, were those who had been written down in that glorious volume from before the foundation of the world (cf. Rev. 13:8; 17:8).
But won’t Satan be present to object, to bring up every sin and failure and fault, reminding God and the angels of how often we fell short, repented, only then to fall short again? Well, I’m not sure Satan will be present on that day, but if he were, let your fears be put to rest, for “who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:33-34).
Fourth, there may well be a legal or forensic dimension to this declaration by Jesus of the names of those in the book of life. This isn’t at all to diminish the personal and relational reality of what will occur, but only to emphasize that this is our final vindication from all charges; it is Christ’s declaration that we are righteous through faith in him alone. It is, in a word, our ultimate and eternal “justification”!
Fifth, and finally, given the context of both the two references in the gospels where this statement is found (see above on Matthew 10:32 and Luke 12:8) and the situation envisioned among the churches in Asia Minor, it may be that the emphasis is on “confessing the name” of the Christian who has bravely confessed the name of Christ in the face of persecution. His confessing our name comes only after we, by the grace of God, have confessed his name to an unbelieving world, willing to endure whatever negative consequences that might bring (cf. Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9).
Envision the scene. You are standing in the blazing presence of the immeasurable and unfathomable God, an all-consuming fire, the God of infinite and unending glory, the God of unsearchable and incomparable righteousness. Small, frail, weak as you are, Jesus takes hold of your hand and leads you “before” his Father and beneath the penetrating gaze of myriads of angels. Then he proudly and happily and joyfully and confidently declares: “Father, Sam is mine! I am his! He is clothed in white! I’ve paid his debt. I suffered his penalty. He is clean. He is pure. He is in me and I in him. Sam is righteous!”
He knows my name! And if you know his, he also knows yours!