The significance of Advent
The vision of life that Advent gives us is twofold; it looks back to the first coming of Christ at Bethlehem, and it looks to the future when Christ will come again. In the interval between these two events we find meaning for our life as a Christian.
First we celebrate Christ-become-human. We view his life and experience his presence as a human being in our history. Christ came to show us what life can and should be. He gave us true and valid principles by which we can live god exalting lives. More importantly, He modeled the life that pleases God and, in His perfect obedience and substitutionary death, He purchased our vicarious atonement.
When Christ left this earth, he did not abandon us. He remains with us through the indwelling and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Ordinances, the Scriptures and each other. He lives in community with us and keeps his vision of life before us through the faithful preaching of the Word. When Christ comes again, his presence will no longer be hidden behind the signs and symbols of various liturgies or the words of the Scriptures. His presence among us will be revealed in all its fullness, a presence that will never end, a presence that will perfect and complete our community.
7:1, 2. The Immanuel Prophecy (7:1—12:6) introduces the hope of the future in spite of pending judgment. Ahaz ruled Judah from 736 to 720 b.c. He was an ungodly king who refused Isaiah’s words of encouragement. Rezin was the last king of Syria to reign in Damascus. He was later killed by Tiglath-pileser of Assyria. Pekah was the king of northern Israel from 740 to 732 b.c. He usurped the throne by assassinating his predecessor, Pekahiah, and was later murdered by his successor, Hoshea, the last king of Israel. Syria is confederate with Ephraim refers to the fact that they had formed an alliance against Ahaz to force him into an alliance with them against Assyria. This event is generally dated at 734 b.c. What Ahaz fears is an invasion of Judah by Syria and Israel.
7:3–9. Isaiah is sent by the Lord to warn Ahaz not to form an alliance with Assyria, but to trust Him to rid the land of its enemies. Accompanying the prophet was Shear-jashub (“A Remnant Shall Return”), his son, whose name was indicative of hope. The location at the end of the conduit of the upper pool is the same place that the Assyrian Rabshakeh would later defy Hezekiah (36:2). The invading kings are described as smoking firebrands (lit., “smoldering sticks”). The prophet predicts that the threatened invasion will not succeed and that within threescore and five years (65 years) the northern kingdom will fall into captivity.
Ask for a Sign
Isaiah told Ahaz to ask God for a “sign.” Old Testament prophets often authenticated their messages by making a prediction or performing a miracle which proved God spoke through them.
Word Study: Virgin
Isaiah 7:14 This prophecy of the virgin is declared in Matt 1:22, 23 to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. There has been a great deal of discussion over the Hebrew word found here for virgin (almah) and the word that Matthew uses (parthenos). The latter refers unambiguously to a virgin, while the former (almah) has been said to refer to a young woman, in contrast to the Hebrew word bethulah, which is the equivalent of the Greek parthenos. It has also been noted that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, has parthenos here for almah, and that Matt 1:23 is taken from the Septuagint. Some have wondered why the Septuagint translators used the more specific word parthenos. It is fair to say that this question is the result of oversimplifying the vocabulary and misinterpreting the distinctions.
The Hebrew words almah and bethulah can actually refer to the same kind of woman; almah is a youthful woman of marriageable age, one who has not yet had her first child, while bethulah is one who has not been touched in an intimate way. Furthermore, in the present context it would be unthinkable to infer that the woman might have had sexual relations outside of marriage. So the well-known translation of “young woman” for almah, while technically not incorrect, can be viewed as too ambiguous for the Hebrew word and the context. Parthenos was an appropriate choice in the Greek. Another word, kore (for “girl”) could have been used, but it has a wider range of meaning than the Hebrew almah (Mark uses a related word, korasion, to translate Jesus’ Aramaic word talitha). It should also be acknowledged from a theological perspective that when Matthew cites the verse with parthenos (Matthew 1:23), he thereby authenticates it as inspired by virtue of his apostolic office.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son: The far or ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy goes far beyond Ahaz, to announce the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Remember, in many cases, the Hebrew Prophets spoke to both near and far off events in their prophecies
This word is unusual. We might render it, to give it its true emphasis, “WITH US is God!” Thus the construction of this name captures the wonder of the Incarnation itself, that the God of glory would actually become a Man.
How do we know the prophecy speaks of Jesus?
We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the Holy Spirit says so through Matthew: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the prophecy is addressed not only to Ahaz, but also to David’s entire house (O house of David!).
We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says the virgin shall conceive, and that conception would be a sign to David’s entire house. Those who deny the virgin birth of Jesus like to point out that the Hebrew word translated virgin (almah) can also be translated as “young woman.” The idea is that Isaiah was simply saying that a “young woman” would give birth, not a virgin. While the near fulfillment may have reference to a young woman giving birth, the far or ultimate fulfillment clearly points to a woman miraculously conceiving and giving birth. This is especially clear because the Old Testament never uses the word in a context other than virgin and because the Septuagint translates it categorically virgin (parthenos).
We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says He will be known as Immanuel, meaning “God with Us.” This was true of Jesus in fact, not only as a title. Immanuel speaks both of the deity of Jesus (God with us) and His identification and nearness to man (God with us).
Call His name Immanuel: Jesus is truly Immanuel, God with us. “Christ, indeed, was not called by this name Immanuel that we anywhere read of… but the import of this name is most truly affirmed and acknowledged to be fully made good in him.” (Trapp)
“He is, therefore, called God with us, or united to us; which cannot apply to a man who is not God… it denotes not only the power of God, such as he usually displays by his servant, but a union of person, by which Christ became God-man.” (Calvin)
“In what sense then, is Christ GOD WITH US? Jesus is called Immanuel, or God with us, in his incarnation; God with us, by the influences of his Holy Spirit, in the holy sacrament, in the preaching of his word, in private prayer. And God with us, through every action of our life, that we begin, continue, and end in his name. He is God with us, to comfort, enlighten, protect, and defend us, in every time of temptation and trial, in the hour of death, in the day of judgment; and God with us and in us, and we with and in him, to all eternity.” (Clarke)
The significance of the Advent Promise
God has determined to act in human history. Petty kings’ dreams of conquest, or their fears for preservation, are meaningless. This scenario does deal with an immediate deliverance but also looks forward to a greater deliverance; one day the true King, God Himself, would take on human form. When God became Man with us, then the fears of Ahaz and all the glory of the kingdoms of this world would dissolve in the revelation of God’s true glory. The King would enter history as a Man, born of a virgin. When He, the ultimate sign, appeared, all nations would recognize the majesty and wisdom of the Sovereign God.
YHWH, Himself is the sign
Human parthenogenesis, a virgin birth, is a statistical impossibility. In fact, outside of Divine intervention, the odds of parthenogenesis are so small that I have a better chance of winning the Powerball while standing on the side of I-10 in a rainstorm getting struck by lightning simultaneous with being hit by a Mack Truck. In point of fact, the only way this could happen is found in Matthew 1:18 (NLT), “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
God with Us
If you have a problem with the “virgin” conceiving and bearing a child that should be nothing in comparison to the thought of Immanuel––God with us in the flesh. That is the greatest feat. How else could the “Word become flesh and dwell among us” than by means of a virgin becoming pregnant and bearing a son? God in the flesh means “God with us.” The child to be born will be called Immanuel; therefore, the translation “virgin” is demanded in the sentence. It is nothing short of a miracle, and that is exactly where the problem lies with those who want to reject “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14.
The child called Immanuel will be a special child and will embody the truth, “God with us.” This special child born of a virgin will be God among His people. Only as we look into His face, listen to His voice and see Him in action do we know what God is really like (Hebrews 1:1–3).
All of Christianity rests upon the foundation of this prophecy in Isaiah chapter seven. God meant the sign to be earth shaking. God meant it to be such a sign that when it was actually fulfilled in history men would stand back and say, I saw God do it! It is something only God can do.
The sign of Immanuel, “God with us,” is the coming of the child of a virgin. That sign was fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Nothing in history approaches the mystery, beauty and glory of the LORD God coming to be with His people.
God sent Gabriel to Mary and said, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him, Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:31–33).
Mary got rather upset with the angel. “How can this be, since I am a virgin,” she demanded (Luke 1:34). There is no question about the Greek word she used. The word for “virgin” always means a marriageable young woman who had preserved the purity of her body. She kept herself sexually pure. If the child were illegitimate it could not be a sign. The whole context of the Bible rules it out. If the birth was out of the ordinary, and unusual because she was a virgin then it is of such a magnitude that God has come to be with His people and deal with their sins. There is only one person in history of whom it can be said that He was God incarnate, God with His people, and that is Jesus Christ. The very presence of this child, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem cannot be applied to anyone else. Jesus the Christ is the Son of the Virgin and the Mighty God.
The deity and preexistence of Christ demanded this miraculous conception and Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.
“And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. . . For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:35, 37).
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. . . . And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sin. . . . And Joseph . . . kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:18–25, et passim; cf. Luke 2:1–21). They named Him “Jesus.” They named Him after His Father! They called Him Joshua. The original full form is Jehoshua, meaning “Yahweh our salvation,” “Yahweh saves,” Yahweh’s salvation.”
“God with us.” Now we know what He is like. This could only be true when the Word became flesh and dwelt among His people in the person of the Anointed of God. Oh, the wonder of wonder, God in the corporeal self–manifestation to His people. He is a super–human person. He is the incarnation of deity. This coming child would be God among His people. John 1:1–3, 18, 18; 14:14–20; Colossians 2:9–10;