Is that Prophecy Really About Jesus?
December 10, 2020 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
This is updated version of the same article published in Touchpoint on December 6, 2018.
During the season of Advent we hear many Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Some, like Micah 5:2 (“O Bethlehem…from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel”), are explicit in their connection with Jesus. Others are not so explicit. If you ever looked up these prophecies in their OT context you might even scratch your head and wonder how that particular prophecy speaks to Jesus. Let me highlight one such prophecy.
Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 when he explains the significance of Mary’s pregnancy. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.’” (1:22). Clearly, a virgin birth can only refer to the birth of Jesus!
When we read Isaiah 7, however, we learn about how king Ahaz feared the imminent attacks from Syria and Ephraim (v. 5-6). The Lord, in his mercy, promises deliverance. And then he gives Ahaz a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (v. 14). The Lord continues to speak of this son and says in verse 16, “Before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” Certainly God was not telling Ahaz that he needed to wait for the birth of Jesus, over 700 years later, to be delivered from Syria and Ephraim. In fact, we can read the historical account in 2 Kings 16 & 17 how the Assyrian Empire destroys both Syria and Ephraim (Israel), thus fulfilling Isaiah 7:16.
But, what about the “virgin”? Could there have been a virgin birth in the time of Ahaz? Perhaps. A more likely explanation, though, is found in the understanding of the broad meaning of the Hebrew word for “virgin.” It could mean a “young woman,” even a newly wed woman.
Coupling the historical context and the meaning of the word virgin seems to limit the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 to the 8th century BC. How can Matthew state that it is fulfilled in Christ? What place does this prophecy have in our Advent celebrations?
- Fulfillments of Old Testament Prophecies are Like a Mountain Range. I heard this analogy from John Piper and I think it is helpful and makes sense. When you are driving out west on I-70 and are approaching Denver, you begin to see mountains on the horizon. If you knew nothing of the geography of the Rocky Mountains, you may suspect that there is one single ridge of mountains just west of Denver. That’s all you can see on the east side of Denver. Once you climb that first mountain and see beyond you find there are more mountains, many peaks. The OT prophecies are similar. When we first hear them (think Ahaz) we look for one fulfillment (that first mountain peak). God, however, is not restricted to a singular fulfillment of his prophecies. Many prophecies that we see fulfilled in Israel in the OT find fulfillment (perhaps we can say a fuller fulfillment, see below) again in Christ, the church, and the future New Heavens and New Earth. There is more than one peak to those prophecies.
- Much of the Old Testament Serves as Types and Shadows for what God Does Through Jesus Christ. The Exodus out of Egypt. The Tabernacle/Temple worship. The kingship. The promised land. Restoration out of Exile. These stories and promises all point to Christ and the greater fulfillments that come in Christ. Jesus leads us out of our slavery to sin. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice and high priest. Jesus is our eternal king who brings peace and justice. Jesus leads us to our eternal home. While we await the second coming of Christ, we live like exiles in a foreign land, waiting for our final restoration.
In Isaiah 7, Ahaz was looking for rescue from foreign powers. God gives him a miraculous sign that says “I am with you.” Much like Ahaz, we are looking for rescue from the foreign powers of Satan, sin, and death. And just like Ahaz, perhaps our hearts shake “as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Is. 7:2), especially in a year like 2020. We need the promise of God. And he graciously gives us hope in Jesus. He says his name is Immanuel, promising to be with us and to save us. That is good news of great joy!