God’s Spirit moved in the hearts of the prophets, proclaiming His truth and foretelling HIs glorious work in history. An Anointed One (Hebrew: Messiah; Greek: Christ) is coming who will establish God’s Kingdom of shalom (wellbeing and peace) forever.
Reading the prophets can be tricky. Many times the things they write that relate to their historical situation also relate to God’s redemption story in history. A prophecy can have multiple references and multiple fulfillments. Such was the announcement of Immanuel (alt. Emmanuel), the in-breaking of “God with us.”
Ahaz was the King of Judah, was up against it. Two kings had joined forces to attack Jerusalem — Rezin, king of Aram and Pekah, king of the northern kingdom of Israel. God sent Isaiah to King Ahaz with his infant son in his arms and a message for him. Isaiah asked Ahaz to seek a sign from God. But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” (Isaiah 7:12 NIV) Isaiah’s response applies to Ahaz and Judah, and to God’s great plan of redemption:
Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 7:13-17 NIV)
The application to Ahaz is this: before the boy (literal Hebrew is “this boy whom I hold in my arms”) is four or five years old, God will act through the king of Assyria to depose the two kings who attack you. The application to the plan of redemption is much more powerful and far-reaching. God speaks through Isaiah to proclaim the coming of His Messiah — His Son, Jesus of Nazareth who will be born of a virgin (maiden). The Living God is going to break into human history in flesh and blood, so as to become Immanuel — God with us.
In Isaiah, chapter 53, God gives the prophet a vision of Messiah as a suffering servant. Jesus would come to be Israel’s redeemer, laying down His life on a Roman cross as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for the sin of humanity. After His suffering and death, He would become King of kings and Lord of lords when God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to the place of authority at His right hand in heaven. But first would come the suffering.
Israel focused on the prophecies about Messiah’s glory and eternal kingdom, and so most people, including the religious leaders, could not wrap their minds around the humble carpenter’s son being the King of kings. John says it directly in the first chapter of his Gospel:
The true Light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. (John 1:9-11 NIV)
Today is New Year’s Day on the Church calendar. It is the first Sunday of Advent — the first Sunday of his coming. Advent is the brief, four-week season leading up to Christmas and the coming of our Savior to become God with us. It is a season to remember the longings of the centuries as Messiah’s coming was anticipated, and to look forward to the promise of His second coming to receive His church into glory and fully establish the Kingdom of God for eternity. Jesus is coming again! Redemption will be completed. One day, we shall see Him with our own eyes and live with Him forever.
The hope of Christmas — the birth of our Savior — is the same hope as the hope of His second coming — the return of our Lord. Things will not remain the same. The downward spiral of wars, hunger, poverty, disease and death will not continue forever. Jesus is coming to put an end to all that and begin a new thing. It is the guarantee of our faith in Christ. What a day that will be!
The last words of John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, were simple and profound: Best of all, God is with us. Best of all is Immanuel. Best of all is the hope of living with God forever in eternal life. Giving my life to Jesus Christ was the single most significant thing I have ever done in my life, because it results in eternity with Him. Glory to God!