I once had the opportunity to work with a hero of the Vietnam War. His name was Gordon. That is what I called him. However, I learned that the friends he went to war with did not call him that. They called him “Bird Dog.”
My knowledge about dogs is very limited. I wondered if this nickname was a derogatory one. It doesn’t seem too flattering to me to be called a dog, no matter the breed. Maybe in Vietnam he didn’t bathe often and was smelly like a dog?
I later learned that he earned this nickname in Vietnam because he would often lead his unit through the jungles of Vietnam, just like a bird dog leads its owner when hunting. A bird dog is able to track things down and see things that humans often miss. Gordon was known to have a keen eye in spotting the enemy and booby traps set by them. His friends called him Bird Dog as a sign of great respect. They recognized that his bravery and abilities had saved many of their lives. The name also only had meaning for those who had served in combat with him. I never called him that. It would have no significance coming from my lips.
It seems to me that when we are given nicknames by those closest to us, such names are always positive ones. That is true even if those outside the group of intimate friends don’t understand the significance of the name. Even if a name seems to be negative to outsiders, a nickname given by friends expresses some kind of fondness towards the person who bears it.
It occurred to me recently that the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples was given nicknames. Peter’s name at birth was Simon. But when the Lord met him, He said he would be called Peter, which means “rock.” This is clearly a positive name, as he would become a rock the others could lean on. The Lord was indicating that He knew Peter would become a leader among His chosen disciples.
The brothers James and John obtained the nickname “sons of thunder.” Some believe this is a negative designation because they were hot-tempered. However, given the nature of nicknames among close friends, it seems best to see it in another light. A more likely reason for the name is that these brothers were bold in proclaiming what they learned from the Lord. They were loud and fearless preachers. This certainly fits with their history. James became the first apostle to be martyred, no doubt because of the message he preached. John was exiled to a remote island for teaching the word of God.
Free Grace theology rightly promotes the doctrine of rewards in the coming kingdom of God. The NT is full of this teaching. These rewards will come in various forms. Some believers will be given authority over many cities. Some will be given different kinds of crowns. Even the clothes believers will wear will be determined by the rewards given to them by the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
One reward that has always fascinated me is the one where Jesus will give a nickname to those who have been faithful to Him (Rev 2:17). This name will be only for a very select group to use. Only the person receiving it and the Lord will know it. Nobody else will call the one who receives it by that name.
When we talk about eternal rewards, I think this one gets short changed. It doesn’t sound so exciting. We might have a tendency to say that getting a new name is all right, but it doesn’t compare to getting a crown or being given authority over ten cities forever.
Some have suggested that this new name will allow the recipient to enjoy certain privileges in the kingdom. Perhaps it will allow him to attend certain events where his faithfulness to the Lord will be recognized. I don’t know. Any guesses as to what it will mean are speculation. I think we can safely say, however, that it will be a valuable reward. All rewards from the Lord will be.
I also think it is safe to say that one of the primary benefits of this new name will be that it will indicate a closer relationship with the Lord. It will be a way that the Lord honors those who honored Him. What more could a believer ask for?
I wonder what Gordon thought when he would see an old friend from Vietnam and that friend would call him “Bird Dog.” There was an instant connection. I am sure there was a flood of memories, perhaps even one in which Gordon had saved that friend’s life. What an honor it was for Gordon to be called that by his friend. But it was an honor that the two of them understood. It sprung from the shared experiences they had. Guys like me, listening to their conversation, would not understand.
Of course, Jesus is the greatest Friend of any believer. I speculate that the name He gives to His faithful friends will have something to do with the character they exhibited. The name will show that He recognizes what they did for Him. That is often the case with nicknames we give, such as Bird Dog.
It was certainly true for Peter, James, and John. In the life of Peter, we often concentrate on the time when he denied the Lord. We use him as an example of what we should avoid. I am sure that Peter often dealt with that episode in his life as he traveled and taught others. I am sure he often brought it up.
But what joy he must have had every time somebody called him Peter. It would remind him that the Lord had given him that name. The Lord knew that Peter would deny Him. But He also knew that Simon loved Him and would be a rock for others. The Lord showed that He valued what Peter would become. No doubt, Peter highly valued his nickname.
The same was true for John. On the island of Patmos, he was being punished by the government of Rome for proclaiming the word of God and being a faithful witness of Christ (Rev 1:9). I can’t imagine that such an existence was a pleasant one. But at the same time, we know he realized he was there because he was, after all, a “son of thunder.” That would bring a smile to his face. I don’t know if others were still calling John by that name while on Patmos, but I do know he knew that is what the Lord called him. What comfort it must have been for him to realize he was there because that is what the Lord said he would be for Him.
Close friends call each other by special names. Whatever getting one of these names from the Lord will mean when we see Him, I hope He considers me such a friend and sees fit to give me one.