The Man With Two Names: How Jesus is the Fulfillment of Immanuel

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We celebrate and sing the name “Immanuel” at Christmas, and rightly so. “Immanuel” means “God with us,” and in one sense this is the story of the entire Bible. It is certainly the story of Advent.

But a Bible search for the word “Immanuel” doesn’t return many results. Aside from its appearance in Matthew 1, we only find this name twice in the early chapters of Isaiah.

Matthew 1

When the angel of the Lord visits Joseph in Matthew 1, he tells Joseph to name Mary’s baby Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Matthew comments:

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’ (which means, God with us).” (vv. 22–23)

Since “all this” which took place must include the angel revealing Jesus’ name to Joseph, then the name “Jesus” fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy. But in Isaiah’s prophecy, the son would be called “Immanuel.”

This passage raises a question: How does the name “Jesus” fulfill the prophecy that this son would be named “Immanuel”?

Isaiah 7

We need some background before we land on an answer. After King Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel splintered. The 10 northern tribes formed their own country with the capital of Samaria. This country was then referred to as “Israel” while the two southern tribes formed the country called “Judah.”

During the time of Isaiah, the Assyrian empire was gaining power, and the other nations in the area were scrambling. Israel joined Syria in a pact of mutual defense against Assyria, and they pressed Judah to join them. As Ahaz, king of Judah, resisted, Israel and Syria threatened to attack Judah and replace Ahaz with their own king.

Isaiah 7:10–17 is one of the best-known passages in all the Prophets. God told Ahaz to ask for a sign that God would protect Judah from their enemies. Ahaz refused, so God promised his own sign—the sign of Immanuel.

We know that the prophecy about the virgin bearing a son (v. 14) is fulfilled when Jesus is born. Matthew says so! But many biblical prophecies have both immediate and ultimate fulfillments. Is this prophecy fulfilled before Jesus is born?

Isaiah reveals the answer as we read on. One key is that the Hebrew word often translated “virgin” can also be rendered “young woman” or “maiden.” Thus, a miraculous birth is not necessary for an immediate fulfillment. Verse 16 also contains language pointing to a not-long-from-now fulfillment. And the beginning of the next chapter brings this first fulfillment into focus.

Isaiah 8

In Isaiah 8:1–8 we read of the way God will bring about his thorough judgment.

One of the striking features of this passage is the strangeness of Isaiah’s son’s name: Maher-shalal-hash-baz (v. 4). This name means “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens.” Through this name God was communicating his plan to break the Israel-Syria alliance by the coming of Assyria.

Isaiah was used to giving his children names with messages. In Isaiah 7:3, God told Isaiah to take his (older) son Shear-jashub with him to speak to Ahaz. This name means “a remnant shall return.” This son carried his name as a reassuring message to Ahaz, designed to give him confidence in God.

It’s impossible to miss the parallels between Isaiah 7:16 and Isaiah 8:4. The birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz is tied to the victory of Assyria over Israel and Syria. As Immanuel comes, Judah will be free from the immediate threat of these nearby nations.

But how should we understand the meaning of “Immanuel” in Isaiah 8:8?

Even when defeat looks near and the Assyrian army is filling the land, it is still Immanuel’s land. God will not abandon his people, even in their darkest hour. Assyria will come in like a flood, sweeping Syria and Israel away. But Assyria will eventually fade from history. Judah will remain in the land of Immanuel. God will be with them.

There is one final mention of Immanuel in this chapter. Though not a title, Isaiah specifically refers to “God with us” in verse 10:

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
speak a word, but it will not stand,
for God is with us. (Isaiah 8:9–10)

Isaiah was speaking to those who would attack Judah in the future. He dared them and warned them that they would be broken and shattered. The reason all their counsel will come to nothing and none of their words will stand is because God is with them.

Putting It Together

What does this background to the name “Immanuel” add to our reading of Matthew 1?

“Immanuel” in Isaiah is a sign for God’s people that they will see victory over their enemies. Despite the doom and devastation, God will be with them, and they will be victorious. Isaiah’s son was a first, imperfect version of Immanuel, pointing to God’s victory over military enemies through his presence.

Notice how the announcement to Joseph fulfills this prophecy. Jesus will “save his people from their sins.” For God’s people then and for us now, our sins are an enemy. They are worse than any menacing country. We are no match for them on our own, and we dare not make peace or an alliance with these scoundrels.

Sometimes our sins seem overwhelming and damnable. These rise to our necks and threaten to drown us—

But Jesus is Immanuel, God with us! He will save us from our sins!

For those who trust in him, he has taken away the punishment our sins deserve. And he will strip our sins of their power over us, taking away their allure, appeal, and longevity.

The more we see the strength and rebellion of our sin, the more we see the glory and love involved in the work of Jesus for us. He is God with us, and this is good news worth celebrating, not just at Christmas but all year long.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Aaron Burden (2016), public domain

 

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Does God Just Tolerate Me?

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I have some close friends at church who are grandparents. For them, the cliché is true—they are over the moon about their grandchildren!

My friends would move mountains to spend time with their grandchildren. They soak up every moment of each visit and anticipate the next. They delight in their grandchildren.

Something that delights us does more than make us momentarily happy. It stirs our hearts, and the ripples wash lightness through our bodies. You might delight in a favorite place, a dear friend, or a treasured book or movie.

Have you ever pondered what delights God? The Bible provides a surprising answer.

The Anointed One

Our answer comes from the book of Isaiah. Aside from the Lord himself, the major characters in Isaiah are the Coming King, the Coming Servant, and the Coming Anointed One (the Messiah). We see pieces of Jesus’ mission in each of these prophetic figures.

At the end of Isaiah 61, the Anointed One rejoices in the task set before him (v. 10). He is dressed in “garments of salvation” in the same way that a couple prepares themselves for their wedding. These clothes mark the Messiah for his momentous work.

It’s no secret—the task of the Anointed One is salvation for God’s people (61:1) and the glory of God’s name (61:3). As surely as the earth brings forth plants, God guarantees that the Messiah’s mission will succeed (61:11).

Despite God’s promise, the Anointed One is not passive. He is determined, zealous, and vocal that the righteousness and glory of God’s people be displayed before all nations and kings (62:1–2).

God’s Delight

The results of the work of the Anointed One are astonishing and life-changing:

The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 61:2–5)

God’s people will be a “crown of beauty” in his hand (v. 3). A king’s crown is the physical sign of his royal position and glory. Amazingly, God’s people are a sign of his kingship and evidence that he is glorious. It’s hard to believe when looking around (or in the mirror), but God says it will be so.

Perhaps even more dramatic is the renaming in verses 2 and 4. The people shall go from “Forsaken” to “My Delight Is in Her,” and the land will go from “Desolate” to “Married.” Why the change? Is it because of all the good the people have done, all the yield the land has produced? Not hardly.

God changes the people’s name for a simple, profound reason: love. “For the Lord delights in you” (v. 4). To highlight this in the brightest colors, Isaiah writes that God will rejoice over his people as a groom rejoices over his bride (v. 5).

What was predicted long ago is our reality now. What a reality!

I rarely imagine God rejoicing over me. I think he occasionally disapproves of me and that he mostly tolerates me. I can be persuaded that he loves me at times. But to delight in me? That seems too outlandish, too fantastic to believe. But it’s true!

For Isaiah, the good news has never been just for Israel. God is eager for others to join his family; Israel must “prepare the way” and “build up the highway” (v. 10). The references to “the people” and “the peoples” (v. 10) show how God welcomes both Israelites and Gentiles to his holy city. They will all be called “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord” (v. 12).

At the end of this chapter, God wraps all his people together, giving them the same name. In a nod back to verse 4, they will be called “A City Not Forsaken” (v. 12). The Lord delights in his people, and their new name reflects his abiding, promise-backed love.

The Forsaken One

It’s hard to read this passage without wondering about this dramatic change. Why will the people no longer be forsaken?

Over many years and in many ways, Israel sinned against God. Though God turned away from them for a time, his covenant promise pulsed in the background of history. Through his Anointed One, God would fulfill this promise at the pinnacle of his justice and mercy.

God delighted in his Son, but in his hour of greatest need, the Father turned away. Jesus felt this abandonment like a hot knife tearing into his soul. On the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

We deserve to be forsaken. But our name is “Forsaken” no longer because Jesus was forsaken for us. God delights in us because his Son—the one in whom he delighted the most—became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Loved Ones

What difference would it make if we absorbed these truths into our bones? How would our lives change if we were sure of God’s delight in us?

Two applications come to mind.

First, we’d be more willing to take gospel-driven risks. If the delight of our heavenly Father is secure, then the potential harm to our reputations or social networks won’t be scary. If God smiles, we can shrug off others’ frowns.

We would also be more likely to trust God in uncertain times. God is not only sovereign and wise, he is good and loving. Even if we cannot connect the dots between our circumstances and God’s intentions, we can be sure there is a straight line from his heart to his providence in our lives.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain