I’ve got a crystal clear memory of the first time I’d really heard the verse Revelation 2:17. I was walking with one of my best friends at a campus ministry retreat at Canter’s Cave, and he was talking about how excited he was about this passage and the impact of our identity. I think our discussion was, if you were giving a talk on a passage of Scripture or topic, what would it be? At that point, I’d read that verse maybe a time or two before, but hadn’t really thought much about it. Since then, I’ve occasionally thought about it and recently I heard a speaker who is passionate about what God has revealed to us in through that verse, and all of Scripture.
To be honest, I’d heard a brief summary of Kary Oberbrunner’s talk that he gave at Otterbein College, and thought it was a little weird. Give me a break, it was a very very brief summary and I’d never really heard of the Bible mentioning “a secret name.” It had a sound of gnosticism to me). However, during week 9 of my Perspectives class, Kary was the speaker and shared for about 20 minutes on the topic of his upcoming book, “Your Secret Name.” I loved it. He spoke about the importance of identity, and having a right understanding of who we are, and through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, who we are in God’s eyes.
His talk was based primarily upon Revelation 2:17 (cross reference Acts 26:10):
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
God wants to redeem you and use your story to redeem others. We often think a flawless message requires a flawless messenger. That’s not true. The perfect God uses flawless people in a powerful way.
In earlier traditions, in legal proceedings, a black stone meant guilty, a white stone meant innocent.
We see in Revelation 19:12 (“His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself”) that Jesus also has a “secret name.”
Revelation 3:12 (“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of Heaven, and my own new name.”)
We also need to remember that in the Old Testament, and in biblical times in general, names were very important. Your name was very much tied in to your identity. We see in Revelation 22:4 that Christ’s name will be on the foreheads of all believers. (“They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”)
(the points Oberbrunner makes concerning names, or lack of names, in Genesis, I’m not sure about)
Genesis 1-2 shows a world without human names. Genesis 2:20 shows the only name before sin (“the man”).
All people ask four general questions (life’s origin, purpose, meaning, destiny)
Why am I here?
Where am I going?
What’s my purpose?
When sin happened, we were ripped from God. Oberbrunner says that we didn’t have names when Adam and Eve walked with God, we didn’t need human names. In Genesis 3:20, Adam named his wife Eve, the first time names happened. Prior to sin, Adam only names things, not people (Genesis 3:19-20).
In the story of the Tower of Babel, Genesis 11:4 records that people are trying “to make a name for themselves.” Outside of our relationship with God, we try to make a name for ourselves.
Many people in Scripture are given a new name by God. In Revelation 12, we see Satan whispering our “old name.”
We all have 3 names: our birth name, given name, and secret name. After the Fall, God curses man in his work, and woman he curses in childbirth and relationships. God opposes us where we think we can receive our identity outside of Him.
In Genesis 16, Haggar is the first person to “name” God. She calls Him “El-Roi,” the God who sees. Abraham calls God “Jehovah Jirah”, the God who provides. God says, “I am who I will reveal myself to be.”
Oberbrunner tells us that “the place where you have been wounded is where God wants to heal you.” Jacob is a great example of a character who is given a new name by God. When he deceives his father by saying his name was Esau, he was living out his name/identity (“deceiver”). Later, Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord. (it’s also interesting that Oberbrunner points out that the prophet Hosea tells us that the angel of the Lord who wrestled with Jacob was actually God. I suppose there’s always been speculation that this “theophany” was God wrestling with Jacob.)
“Before God can use greatly, He must wound him deeply.” -Oswald Chambers
Jacob owns up to his name when the angel of the Lord asks him his name. Then he is given a new name, “Israel,” (Genesis 35:9-11). (by the way, Israel means “one who conquers/overcomes”, interesting how that fits into Revelation 2:17 and Revelation 3:12, “to the one who overcomes.”). Oberbrunner asserts that from Genesis to Revelation, God tells us that He wants to give each one of us a new name.
Here’s what the book summary says: We all have one–a Secret Name that is. The Bible tells us so. Yet few of us know ours. Ignorantly, we’re stuck, caught up in the ‘Name Game.’ Using the story of the biblical patriarch Jacob as a backdrop, author Kary Oberbrunner calls us to stop accepting the world’s labels and start wrestling with God to discover our true identity. Jacob spent years living out the meaning of his earthly name: ‘deceiver.’ Caught up in pretending to be someone he wasn’t, he was unaware that God would build a nation through him, unaware that Jesus would be one of his descendents, unaware of the lands he would inherit. Then he heard God speak his true name and the future God had for him unfolded. Oberbrunner reminds us that we’ll be unable to discern what God wants to build through us until we discover how God has seen us all along. In Your Secret Name, readers will find the courage to abandon what they know in order to become who they were born to be.
Here’s a link to a video trailer for the upcoming book.