Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the road by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who live in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:15-16 referring to Isaiah 9:1-2)
And so, Matthew reveals his take on how an ancient prophecy foretold the location of Jesus’ formative years in the town of Nazareth.
Yes, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. After all, he was David’s descendant, destined by God to sit on David’s throne (Luke 1:32). According to the prophet Micah, Israel’s greatest king was to be born in Bethlehem, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me. His origin is from antiquity, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2, italics author and following). Such a description can only speak of Jesus.
Micah continued, “He will stand and shepherd them in the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord his God. They will live securely, for then his greatness will extend to the ends of the earth. He will be their peace” (Micah 5:4-5). Yup, that’s Jesus.
But King Herod caught wind of the true king of Israel’s birth and decided to assassinate his competition (Matthew 2:1-2, 16). After an angel warned Jesus’ father, Joseph, the family packed up and scooted next door to Egypt. After Herod died, an angel once again appeared to Joseph and gave him the “all clear” to return to his homeland, Israel. But with King Herod’s son, Archelaus, ruling over Judea and thus Bethlehem, Joseph feared another assassination attempt on his son. So he chose to travel north to Israel’s midsection (the Galilee area) and settle in O Little Town of Nazareth. The Galilee was nick-named “Galilee of the Gentiles” even though it was traditionally Jewish territory. I’ll explain why in my next piece on Isaiah’s prophecy.
Bible interpretation tip: When New Covenant writers refer to scriptures from the Hebrew side of the Bible, it’s always good to go back and read the entire context. If you read the context of Matthew’s quote of Isaiah 9:1-2, you see Isaiah picks up Messiah’s life where Micah leaves off.
Micah: Bethlehem’s newborn baby.
Isaiah: Nazareth’s maturing child.
Isaiah declares God will bring forth a great “light” from within the Galilee of the Gentiles region. This “light” will bring Israel joy and deliverance (Isaiah 9:3-5). This light will be a child. Let’s parse Isaiah’s prophecy, “For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us…” (vs. 6).
A child will be born. For the third time, Isaiah prophesies a human birth. The previous births are Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 and Maher-shalel-hash-baz in 8:1-4. Because the immediate context of the prophecy was the Assyrian onslaught against Israel in 722 B.C., some see this special child as Judah’s king Hezekiah (c. 715 to 686 B.C.) since the Assyrian tide was stopped during his reign. The problem is that the names and descriptions of Isaiah’s prophesied child and reign don’t match Hezekiah’s life. Therefore, Isaiah was referring to another God-promised son.
A son will be given. “Given” is the active word here. Because the child is prophesied, then God is doing the sending. Throughout the Bible we see God doing wildly special things to give children to parents. Against all circumstances, God activated wombs to send special children for special reasons. Examples of promised sons include Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac and Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John the Baptist. Mary conceived supernaturally to birth Jesus, the Promised Son of all Promised Sons. So what makes Isaiah’s prophesied son so special?
First of all, consider the huge length of time between God’s promise and the son’s birth. Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for Isaac. Zechariah and Elizabeth waited about a month before John was conceived. Likewise, Mary was pregnant not long after God’s messenger, Gabriel, brought her the stunning news of a soon-to-be pregnancy. And the Messiah, no less!
But the length of time from Isaiah’s prophecy to Jesus’ fulfillment was over 700 years before He was born!
In his amazing prophecy, Isaiah revealed what Jesus was going to be like and what Jesus was going to do. Those revelations are found in the names and titles Isaiah unveils.
As I’ve relentlessly shared with my classes, names in the Bible are extremely important. Names often reveal a person’s essential characteristics, who they are, or how they function, what they do. In the case of prophecy, it is revealed what they will do in the future. And this is a sure thing when God is doing the naming. So now let’s look at Isaiah’s names for Jesus.
Wonderful Counselor. The Hebrew word for “Wonderful” means “to marvel, to be amazed, to cause us wonder, to astound” (Kohlenberger/Mounce Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary). We could reword this to say the promised son would be wondrous. The Hebrew word for “Counselor” means “adviser, one who gives advice and direction, with the implication that the advice given is wise and valuable.” Put together, this God-sent human child will live and carry out the Father’s plans with marvelous and astounding wisdom.
As a side note, the original Hebrew text doesn’t have punctuation and “Wonderful” is not an adjective, it’s a noun, which leads some scholars to translate this as saying the promised son will be called “Wonder, Counselor.” Either way, Jesus is a wonder, a counselor, and an astonishingly wonderful counselor at that!
The people of Jesus’ day were astounded when he taught and they exclaimed, “Where did this man get this wisdom…? (Matthew 13:45). I’ll tell you where. Jesus is God’s wisdom in the flesh! God’s mind contains all knowledge and all wisdom and that same mind was in Jesus. In Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2b-3). Jesus is as wise as His Father since He shares His Father’s nature. Wait! How do we know that? Isaiah calls this promised son…
Mighty God. First, is God mighty? Duh! He’s omnipotent, meaning all-powerful. Do you know anybody else who can create a universe with a natural and supernatural realm? There’s nothing He can’t do. No one and no thing can match Him in power and might. Moses declared, “O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds?” (Deut. 3:24)
Secondly, according to God speaking through Isaiah, this human son sent from the Father will share the Father’s nature. You can’t apply the term “Mighty God” to a simple human, no matter how great they are. For a human being to carry this name, they would have to share the Mighty God’s nature. If not, then Mighty God he is not.
But Jesus is all-powerful and holds all authority in both the natural and supernatural dimensions (Matthew 28:18). Going back to Jesus’ astonished hearers, see what they said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” (Matthew 13:54, NKJV).
Paul echoed their words when he wrote, ”Christ (Jesus) is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). See? Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God! Both the Old and New Testaments say this prophesied son sent by God is God’s unequaled wisdom and “phenomenal cosmic powers in an itty-bitty living space” (with thanks to Robin Williams in Aladdin).
This shouldn’t surprise us since one of Jesus’ names is also Immanuel, God With Us. Jesus is God in the flesh as the Bethlehem baby. But now comes a twist. Isaiah calls the son…
Everlasting Father. What? Can we say Jesus is the Father? Not unless you want to be labeled a heretic. Over the first three centuries of Christianity, there were big struggles over theological issues. The early church struggled with Jesus’ human/divine nature as much as the Jews in Jesus’ day did. Was Jesus human and divine? How much of Jesus was divine? How much was human? Was He always divine or did He gain divinity later? Was Jesus human at all or just a spirit that appeared as if clothed in the flesh? And on and on it went. For the record, I hold to the long-established Jesus-is-both-fully-God-and-human position.
So if Jesus is not the Father, how can the Father use Isaiah to say the promised son will be called Everlasting Father? Since Jesus can’t be the Father, this means Jesus will be equal with the Father. And the Father can’t be Jesus, for the Father sent Jesus to us in human flesh.
Jesus revealed the answer to Israel’s teachers, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus is using the Hebraic idea of echad/“one”, as in a plural unity. Jesus and His Father are united because they are in essence one. And yet they are not so united as to be the same person. They are two separate persons, yet one in their divine nature. “That’s impossible!” you cry out. Yes. For us. But God doesn’t seem to mind making the impossible, possible.
After all, He is God.
Jesus also said to his disciple, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip ? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?” (John 14:9). Jesus is His Father in the sense of being the perfect representation of His Father. When we see a young man act or speak just like his dad, don’t we say, “You are your Father’s son!” How much more does this apply to Jesus who was more His Father’s Son than any human on earth will ever be with their earthly father?
However, there’s another take on this, a very Hebraically-thinking one. The word for “Father” here can refer to a king who is a “father” to His people and represents the Heavenly Father to his people. Isaiah reveals the promised son will be an enduring and compassionate “father” (king) to Israel as their provider and protector, the best king Israel could ever desire. This promised son would be the ultimate King David, the ultimate shepherd-king to His people.
The cool part is this promised son, the future king of Israel will be everlasting. “The Hebrew word translated ‘everlasting’ has the idea of ‘in perpetuity’ or ‘without end.’ Indeed, the next verse says of the Messiah, ‘Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end’” (Isaiah 9:7, from Gotquestions.org). Once Jesus takes the reigns of human government, it will never end! So the Son will be a “father” to His people while also a perfect representation of the Father. Question solved. And as Israel’s ruler, Jesus will be the…
Prince of Peace. This is the climactic title in this prophecy. The word for “peace” is the famous word “shalom.” Shalom is more than just peace as in the absence of strife or conflict or war. It also carries the meaning of complete wholeness and perfect well-being. As the Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) Isaiah’s prophesied son-sent-by-God will be the True Prince of Israel who will bring complete wholeness and well-being to everyone in His kingdom. The land of Israel will no longer have strife or conflict under Jesus’ reign.
But what of the rest of the nations? When Jesus reigns over Israel His reign will cover all other kingdoms for He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. When the Prince of Shalom reigns in Jerusalem, then absolute peace, wholeness, and well-being will blanket the earth as well. And considering the complete mess the world is in today, many of us are already yearning for the arrival of the Prince of Peace. For now, the Sar Shalom, Jesus, gives peace to us inside if we will have it.
At Christmas we sing the beautiful carol, What Child Is This? Well, Isaiah tells us exactly what this child is. Jesus is the God-sent Son, an astonishingly wise counselor who will wield divine power as His Father’s son, who will be a “Father” to His people forever and rule the entire world in complete shalom!
That is who this Child is.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts