Who was Jesus of Nazareth?
Mt 1 23 “Behold, the virgin will be pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Immanuel,” which is translated “God with us.”
We’ve previously discussed the various OT promises Jesus was fulfilling as we’ve seen already in the opening verses of Mt. In v 1 we saw Jesus fulfilling the promise of the Christ (the ultimate Davidic king), fulfilling the Davidic covenant, fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant, fulfilling his genesis (his birth), fulfilling the promise of the renewal and restoration of all Creation, and fulfilling the new covenant.[Remember, Christ and Messiah are both titles meaning the same thing. Christ comes from the Greek Cristo,j Christos and Messiah comes from the Hebrew tyvm mashiah (also mashiach). They both mean the anointed one.
In various places the OT foretells a coming deliverer “anointed” by God to initiate God’s coming kingdom and reign, God’s coming rule of righteousness and peace. This “anointed one” would ultimately rule the world in its new divine order as we see, for instance, famously in Pp 2 5-11, the “Christ Hymn”.
Through the centuries the OT people of God continued in anticipation of this Messiah promised to come. Then, in NT times when the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world was Greek, this long-expected Messiah figure was called “the Christ”. Since Jesus of Nazareth had fulfilled that OT hope and expectation of a Messiah, he was called “Jesus, the Christ” (Jesus, the anointed One). In the Greek they don’t use the article “the” as we do in the English, and so this comes to us straight from the Greek NT as “Jesus Christ”. So when you see “Jesus Christ” in the text, in the Greek it’s actually “Jesus, the Christ” ( VIhsou/ Cristou/ ).
We see this all over the NT at such places as Mk 8 29; Jn 1 41, 4 25; Ac 2 31-36; Ac 5 42; Ac 18 5, 28; Ro 1 1, 7-8 and Ro 5 6, 8.]
In OT thought the Exile was understood to continue on until such time as the birth of this one who was called Christ fulfilled the promise of the new Exodus. Jesus was fulfilling all of these promises, and yet there was one promise we’ve not yet talked about in connection with Christ fulfilling it, and it was another promise that Mt was stressing and fulfilling here. Hence, we get the phrase identifying Jesus as “the child of promise.” Mt really stressed it throughout the story but especially at the climax of the story that we just read and here in v 23. In v 23 Jesus’ words echoed the prophet Isaiah himself who said in Is 7 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Is 7 14:
Scholars call this text the Immanuel sign. It’s one of the most famous prophecies in the Bible, the prophecy of Immanuel.
The sign of Immanuel within Isaiah’s prophecy will have two stages: the near fulfillment and the ultimate fulfillment, with the near fulfillment coming first and the ultimate fulfillment coming later in Is. The near fulfillment is in a child given birth to by the prophetess later in Is 8 3. Before this child is old enough to tell the good from the bad, the Northern Kingdom will be destroyed and forsaken by the prophecy – but then also look at Is 8 8.
It’s not until the NT that the true meaning of this Immanuel sign prophecy of Is 7 14 will be more fully known. That will happen at Mt 1 23, and there we’ll learn that the true, ontological Son of God would be born of the virgin Mary through the work of the Holy Spirit.
There is much discussion about the Hebrew and Greek words in v 23 for the English word virgin. The Greek word definitely means virgin; she’s virginal, not having had a husband or had sexual relations with a man. The Hebrew word is almah which, unlike the Greek word parthenos parqe,noj, can only be used of a virgin who has had no sexual relations with a man. almah is a word just meaning young maiden. However, within Jewish culture of the time, a young maiden would normally be virginal. It’s really a point without a point when people say that almah in the Hebrew means young maiden or young girl because our Septuagint translators, who were Jewish and knew their culture best, when they chose a Greek word for the Hebrew in their translation, they chose the word in Greek that can only mean virgin parqe,noj. Therefore, that’s our best clue as to what almah means there in the Hebrew Bible. You can show that the evangelists normally used the Septuagint because that’s the one their hearers / readers would have been able to use. We now know that there are actually many versions of the Hebrew text in antiquity. They would have used one of those whereas someone like Paul might have been using one of the Greek translations or translating himself directly from the Hebrew Bible.
Mt specifically translates Immanuel for us right there in the Greek text with the phrase which is translated “God with us.” So scripture says Jesus is God with us. Jesus was actually born as a human being, as a little child, but he was God with us. [See also Jn 1 1-3, 14-17.] The name Immanuel comes from the Hebrew word Immann meaning with us and from the Hebrew word El meaning God. So this is Jesus’ other name. [He was given the name Jesus in v 21. Jesus (which means God saves) is the human name Jesus will always have but here in v 23 they will call his name “Immanuel” (which is not actually what Jesus will be called!). That is, when Matthew here in v 23 said that they will call his name Immanuel, he was making a theological point about who Jesus was. Mt was bringing out that Jesus was fulfilling this promise of Immanuel, God with us that we know from Is 7 14]
Thus, Matthew had already told us right up front in Mt 1 1 that Jesus was the Christ but here he was telling us that Jesus was the fulfillment of the hope of the coming of YHWH to Zion. [Again, the two streams of expectation!] Through the Incarnation Jesus was now God with us.
We know from Scripture and from the extrabiblical literature of the time that the people of Israel expected God to come to them in a wonderful way even though they didn’t know how that would happen. How more wonderful could it have happened than this? Jesus coming as God with us affirmed both Creation as well as our very humanity. In other words, in the Incarnation the creator God of all Creation took on human flesh and human nature in order to redeem and restore and renew humanity!
We, in fact, have this same message in all the gospels in all of their wonderful variety of ways in which they gave the message about who Jesus really was. [for example, cf. Mk 1 1-2.] So we have the same concept here in Mt as we have in Mk. Jesus was the Christ as we saw in Mt 1 1 and in Mk 1 1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But not only did Jesus fulfill the expectation of the ultimate Davidic king, he also fulfilled the expectation of the coming of YHWH to Zion in our story behind the Story. We see that also in Jn where Jesus was the Word made flesh, the Word who was God made flesh. (Jn 1 14). Again, here in Mt 1 23 God is with us makes explicit the fulfillment of the expectation of the coming of YHWH to Zion. In Jesus the divine expectation had been fulfilled.
Therefore, Mk 1, Mt 1 and Jn 1, each in their very different ways have this central announcement, this good news message they want to make about the coming of YHWH to Zion, this surprising fulfillment of the scriptures. And that core announcement was that this kingdom of God had come in this surprising way in which Jesus of Nazareth had come, not only as the messianic king (fulfilling the first – human – stream of expectation) but also as the coming of YHWH to Zion (fulfilling the second – divine – stream of expectation). As such, the two streams of expectation found all through our OT were both fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, and, importantly, all of this occurred through the Incarnation. Jesus was no ordinary human being; Jesus was this human being who was (and is) God. Jesus was God in human flesh. The Incarnation! The real reason for our Advent season in the Church.
Remember how in our various discussions of the story behind the Story we always found these various promises of God cascading throughout the oracles. [Oracles are the various ways by which God speaks or is uniquely revealed to humanity such as in the Incarnation, in scripture, in redemptive history, in preaching and in the sacraments.] There would be not just the one promise cascading throughout the text but several of them and sometimes even all of them – such as in Is or Ek – cascading together in Scripture.
Remember also that the promise that almost always climaxed all of these texts was the promise of the coming of YHWH to Zion because “the Fall” of Ge 3 was all about being disconnected from God. “The Fall” had separated humanity from God. As such, salvation, in turn, would be all about being reconnected with God. Everything that flowed from that, the resurrection of the dead and so on, all of that was wonderful but it was sort of gravy because the most wonderful thing of all was being reconnected to your creator God and knowing God. [In fact, that’s at the core of what we pray for everyday, for example, in the Lord’s Prayer.] So the coming of YHWH to Zion was and will always remain the greatest hope of the OT – even into the time of the NT and beyond, into the time of the Church. And that’s what awaits the faithful when Jesus returns in his role as judge to consummate the kingdom of God that he inaugurated during his earthly ministry now almost 2,000 years ago.
Here, in v 23 notice these things.
- Jesus fulfilled that hope that we read of in v 22 this all[Jesus’ incarnate birth] came to pass so that the things spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin will be pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Immanuel,” which is translated “God with us.” That is, Jesus is God with us. It was not just that Jesus was God but that he was God with us which very well expressed that he was the coming of YHWH to Zion; he had come to be with us. The first Christians would have understood God with us with an exclamation point! The Jewish people had only been waiting for the fulfillment of this promise for over a thousand years already.
- Just as in the OT prophecies we find that the promise of the coming of YHWH to Zion was at the climax of it all. We have all these promises cascading but the truth that Jesus was YHWH come to Zion was at the climax of it.
- Further, this coming of YHWH to Zion that we see all through the OT happened in this shocking way that no one could have predicted or known: God himself became a human being; God himself became a little child. The Incarnation. No one saw that one coming. No where in Scripture nor in the extrabiblical literature did anyone ever offer that up as either a prophecy or as even a possibility. NO WHERE!!! God had come in a way entirely unexpected and mysterious but nevertheless still wonderful. Know that this was not expected by the people of Israel; it was not explicit anywhere in the OT. Therefore, it was a surprise that God himself had become human like one of us. And it was only in the resurrection that they finally started to “get it”.
Again, we have the two streams of expectation in the OT. The NT authors would tell you that the surprise of the fulfillment was that they were awaiting a Messiah and that they were awaiting the coming of YHWH to Zion. They would tell you they were awaiting these two different figures: one human and one divine. They were not awaiting a figure Jesus of Nazareth who would fulfill both streams of expectation! That was not on their radar. But that’s what happened. In Jesus and his Incarnation God was truly God with us. The Incarnation!!!
- Notice the way in which YHWH came to Zion corresponded with the whole story because he came to Zion not only to save Israel but to save all humanityas promised and foretold in the Abrahamic covenant. YHWH came as Jesus, God in the flesh, in order to renew and restore humanity to be the image-bearing creatures of God we were created to be in Ge 1-2. YHWH came to save us and to renew us. And YHWH did this by becoming one of us, by becoming a child. The wonder of the Incarnation.
This introduces another central Christian theological term, the Incarnation, which means enfleshment. God himself had become human. The Incarnation itself was based on these and numerous other passages. It referred to the fact that Jesus was YHWH come in the flesh. Through this concept of the Incarnation Jesus of Nazareth was God come in the flesh. He was truly human but he was truly God (the doctrine of the Trinity at work!). God had come to his people in a way that was entirely unexpected. No one saw that coming nor did they more fully understand it until when? The Resurrection!
The Incarnation does two things.
- The Incarnation affirms the goodness of our humanity. We were loved by God so much that God gave his only Son, that he actually lowered himself (the state of humiliation) and became human for our sakes. It was not evil to be human; it was not bad to have a body; it was not wrong to be male or female like many religions teach. Our fallenness did not involve the fact that we were “physical” human beings.
For instance, Hinduism teaches that what is wrong with the world is that we are physical beings and we have to get beyond this facade of this physical world in order to transcend it. Other religions such as the ancient Gnostics taught that our sexuality was wrong, that our genderness was wrong. Therefore, as being born as one of us in the person of Jesus, God was affirming our humanness which fits with the story because we were created as the creatures of God; God created our humanness, our physical bodies and our genderness. This was all affirmed as good when God became a little child in the Incarnation. The Incarnation affirmed the goodness of our humanity.
- Through “the Fall” we had lost our humanity; we had become dehumanized. That’s the language theologians use to talk about “the Fall”. In other words, our humanity came out of our relationship with God. In the biblical understanding God gave us life and made us who we are. Therefore, without God in our life we didn’t have “life” in the biblical sense. In the Incarnation God had come to restore our humanity, not to make us something different than human beings but to make us God’s image-bearing humans as we were meant to be in God’s original good Creation.
Therefore, the Incarnation both affirmed the goodness of the created order and the goodness our humanity. But the Incarnation also renewed and restored our humanity and the created order which had fallen away from God and into sin and evil. In fact, God himself became a little child. Mark tells us in Mk 10 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Therefore, we must become a little child to enter the kingdom of God. Most would point out that v 15 focuses on that we enter this kingdom of God through trust in God and believing in Christ like a child, with a child-like faith. It’s interesting that God himself became a child. The one who said that was Jesus himself who was once a child.
Notice how this all ties together with the story behind the Story. When this little baby Jesus is born, he will one day do Messianic things to show he’s the Davidic Messiah. However, Jesus will do things the Davidic Messiah could never do. That is, Jesus was a human which would limit what he would do but Jesus was also divine, the Son of God, which would put him in the position of doing whatever he wanted and willed to do. Again, the two streams of OT expectation.
For instance, most centrally of all, he was going to rise from the dead and conquer death. He would do things that in Israel’s scriptures YHWH promised he YHWH would do, things that YHWH said only he could do. So both here in the scriptures and in the things that Jesus did, he did the things that only YHWH could do. He did things that YHWH promised that he (YHWH) and only he would do. We see that both in his name and his actions (his praxis).
Therefore, Jesus truly was not only the [Symbol] Messiah but he was also [Symbol] YHWH come in the flesh. (Remember the two streams of expectation here.) At the center of the church’s life and faith has always been the Incarnation, the climax of the story. Therefore, we see that Jesus in one person fulfilled both of the two great streams of expectation in the OT: that of the (human) Davidic Messiah and that of the (divine) coming of YHWH to Zion. That was the great surprise.
For more information regarding the Incarnation see notes in Jn 1 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. With these words we see the latest of the gospel writers, John, is the most explicit of them all. See notes there.
The salutation of vv 1-7 reveals the key themes of the letter. All of these themes will be fleshed out as we move along in Ro. A thematic summary would include:
Theme 1. V 1. Paul states the theme of the letter – the good news of God – which he will fully develop as the letter moves along. [The good news goes back to the story behind the Story in Is 40 9 where the phrase good news was used for the first time in Scripture.] When we get to the opening of the body we will see that this good news is the subject there as well. Many scholars have pointed out that Paul deals with the gospel – the good news – most fully and systematically in Ro. In no other letter does Paul say his subject is the good news of God. One can see that is introduced right from the beginning – the good news of God is the subject.
Theme 2. v 2. The key theme we see here – that we saw in Lk-Ac and Mk – is the good news of God is the fulfillment of the scriptures, ie, the story behind the Story.
Theme 3. v 3. Jesus is the ultimate Davidic king – the Davidic Messiah, the messianic Davidic king. Jesus is the fulfillment of the human stream of expectation found all through the OT.
Theme 4. v 4. Jesus as the incarnate Lord is marked out as Son of God through the resurrection from the dead. Jesus is the fulfillment of the divine stream of expectation found all through the OT.