When the angel of the Lord appeared to Mary (who was betrothed to Joseph), the angel informed her that although she had never been with a man, she would be pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. The angel also appeared to Joseph and instructed him regarding his future wife: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The name “Jesus” is so familiar to us that we can easily overlook the significance of His name in light of redemptive history.
Our Lord’s name — “Jesus” — is indicative of the reason why He came to earth — to save His people from their sins. Yeshua (“Jesus”) in the Hebrew is a shortened form of “Joshua” (Yehoshua), which means “Yahweh is salvation.” Iesous is the name “Jesus” in Greek. This name further ties Jesus to one of the great figures in redemptive history — a man used by God to save His people and bring them into the Promised Land. That man was Yehoshua (or Iesous in Greek), a name that comes down to us in the Latin alphabet as “Joshua.”
Joshua is one of Israel’s greatest heroes. He first appears as a skilled commander who directs Israel’s army in battle against the Amelekites (Ex. 17:8–16). Joshua is identified as Moses’ assistant who is with him before Moses received the commandments of the Lord (24:13ff.). Joshua is said to have never departed from the tent where Moses led the Israelites (33:11), and he aided Moses in the governance of the nation (Num. 11:28).
Joshua is also one of the twelve Israelite spies who entered Canaan. Along with Caleb, Joshua never doubted God’s promise to give the Land of Promise to Israel, despite the ferocity of the Canaanites who lived there. God punished Israel because of the unbelief of the other ten scouts and the willingness of the people to accept their mistaken notion that God could not give Israel the promised victory. The Lord forced His unbelieving people to wander in the wilderness of Sinai until that unbelieving generation perished. Because he believed the promise, Joshua was granted entrance into the Promised Land
(Num. 14:30, 38; 26:65).
Joshua was never anointed to the offices of prophet, priest, or king, but he was consecrated to serve as Israel’s leader by Moses and more importantly, Yahweh, the Lord God Himself. Moses laid his hands upon Joshua before the people, giving him the authority to lead the people of God (27:20–23). When Moses died, Yahweh appeared to Joshua confirming him as the one to lead Israel into Canaan (Josh. 1:1–8).
Although Joshua was not a biological ancestor of Jesus, Joshua was in many ways a type of Christ. Joshua not only led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, he also represented the people before God and served them as a minister of Yahweh. Although not a king, Joshua functioned as the leader of Israel in a royal capacity. He carried out a number of messianic functions, prefiguring the kingly office of David. Although not a prophet in an official sense, Joshua communicated God’s will to the people of Israel. He stood not as a mediator of the covenant, but as a minister of the covenant, and in this sense reminded Israel of God’s Word, which had been revealed to them at Mount Sinai (Ex. 34) and again when the covenant was renewed on the plains of Horeb (Deut. 5:2).
Most importantly, however, Joshua led the people of God to a salvation of sorts — not from the guilt and power of sin but to victory over those Canaanite tribes that blocked Israel’s entrance into Canaan, preventing Israel from entering the Promised Land where they would be “saved” from their enemies and then enter into that good land flowing with milk and honey. While this was a wonderful blessing for Israel, which the people enjoyed as long as they obeyed the terms of the covenant, these temporal blessings were as fleeting as was the ministry of Joshua, who died at the age of 110. He was given a remarkable memorial: “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel” (Josh. 24:31).
There was good reason, therefore, why the angel commanded Joseph to name the child “Joshua” who was conceived in the womb of the Virgin. Although Joshua was a sinful man who himself needed a savior, his role in leading the people of God to victory over the Canaanites prefigured the coming of Jesus, who leads the people of God to victory over our greatest enemies — sin and death — through Jesus’ cross and empty tomb. While Joshua led the people of Israel into the land God had promised them, the greater Joshua, Jesus of Nazareth, will lead us to that heavenly city, a land of pure delight, where there are no more tears, suffering, or pain, and where we will dwell forever in the presence of God.