This is the fourth article in my 2017 Christmas series, ‘The Christmas Names of Jesus‘, in which I’ll spend the last few weeks before Christmas looking at the various names for Jesus we find in the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke, but turning back time for four weeks to the prophecy of Isaiah to look at the child who “will be named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
At the end of the gospel of Matthew the author recounts Jesus’ last command to His disciples:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Matthew 28:19
In these words, Jesus recognises all three members of the Holy Trinity, the One God in three Persons – the Father God and creator, Himself – the Son who came to Earth as both man and God, and the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers and communicates us to God the Father.
So, when we look at a passage such as Isaiah 9:6 (as we have for a few weeks now) do we see confusion over who is the Father, or do we see something greater if we study Isaiah’s prophecy?
Which Father is Which?
Isaiah 9:6 is a prophecy that provided proof of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, some 700 years before He was born in Bethlehem. The child to be born would be named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. These were not names that the child would grow into, but were names the child was born with. These names might sound unusual for a child, but the child in question was God incarnate – come to Earth to save mankind.
Jesus, the Son, came to Earth sent by the Father (John 3:17, 17:18, 20:21), and when He returned to sit at God’s right hand (Ephesians 1:20) Jesus asked the Father to send the Holy Spirit to be with His believers and followers (John 14:15-18, 26).
And yet, in Isaiah 9 the child – who is Jesus Christ – is called Everlasting or Eternal Father.
God the Father
Throughout the Old Testament God was repeatedly called “father” – though primarily as “father of Israel” (Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 31:9). Israel was God’s chosen people – both God and His chosen knew this – and as such Israel would often refer to God as their “father”.
But the Jews of the Old Testament had not had the Holy Trinity of God revealed to them – this revelation would come only after Jesus came to Earth and began revealing more of His Father’s will to His followers. Instead, the Jews knew of God – almighty, creator, protector, and saviour.
So, when Isaiah prophesied of a child that would also be called Eternal Father, original hearers would not have imagined Isaiah was referring to their God Father, but to someone who had the same fatherly traits as their God Father.
Eternal and Everlasting
It’s important to remember that this child is not just called “Father” but “Eternal Father”, or “Everlasting Father” as many translations have it (and as I happen to prefer it).
God was and is the only truly “everlasting” thing in this universe – even the universe itself is not everlasting, but simply another of God’s many creations which will one day cease to exist.
But God is eternal and everlasting. He “is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:4) and “the High and Exalted One who lives forever” (Isaiah 57:15). There is a verse which hangs in a frame in my bedroom, and it is one of my favourites:
The God of old is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms. – Deuteronomy 33:27
Not only is God everlasting and eternal but His promise to protect us is everlasting – an everlasting promise which is eternally powerful.
A Father Who Points to the Father
When you put all of this together what we have is a perfect example of progressive revelation. To the original hearers of Isaiah’s prophecy, they may very well have expected and witnessed an immediate revelation of this prophecy in a child who was given these names – confusing though they may have been. Maybe they thought that the names were simply symbols which presaged something that would one day happen.
Fast-forward to the birth of Christ and instead of simply a symbol we find the fullest realisation of these verses. This child is not just a representation or temporary bearer of the names Isaiah wrote about, but the child is those names incarnate. He is a Wonderful Counsellor and He is the Mighty God incarnate. He is both eternal and everlasting – because, as the previous name explains, He is Mighty God – but He is also a Father to those people he comes to save. Alex Motyer explains that the word Father here “points to his concern for the helpless, care or discipline of his people, and their loyal, reverential response to him.” Meanwhile, Geoffrey Growan says that the name refers to “his fatherly care of his people”.
Jesus compared Himself to the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31) who ran to the lost son, “threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him” and then threw a tremendous party to celebrate the son’s return.
When we look this Christmas at the child who was born for us, do we remember that this child loves us and cares for us like a father does his children? Do we remember that this little child did not come to Earth only to then discover He was going to give up His life for us – but that He came specifically to do so, out of His boundless love for us?
Just as God was father to Israel and is to all of us, so too does Jesus father His people – for Jesus came to Earth to save us and to point us to His Father (John 14:7). This Christmas, remember that the Jesus Christ we celebrate cares for us like only an Everlasting Father can – beyond our wildest dreams.