This is the sixth 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, and the prophecies of Isaiah.
Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel – Isaiah 7:14
We have touched on the name Immanuel several times already, given its close proximity and importance in understanding the prophecy from Isaiah 9, but it is worth looking at it on its own merits as well. If Immanuel means “God with us”, what does that mean when we remember the child Jesus in the manger, and what does it mean for us today?
And how do we understand the original prophecy made by Isaiah to King Ahaz in light of the Apostle Matthew’s interpretation?
Prediction and Prefiguring
One of God’s go-to tools to teach mankind about His plans for us is to use a person or situation as a prefiguration. There are two ways to explain this idea. First, the Oxford English Dictionary describes “prefigure” as “an early indication or version of (something)”.
Secondly, we can look at the example of Adam, who the Apostle Paul describes as a prefigure of Jesus. Adam is what Jesus had to be, and Jesus is what Adam could not be. German theologian Leonard Goppelt explains, “Adam and Christ are related to one another as a photographic negative to its positive print or as a mold to the plastic shaped by it.” Adam – as well as others like King David, Melchizedek, and Jonah – are pale shadows, “early indications” of Jesus Christ, the Saviour God who came to save us.
Similarly, God sometimes prefigured the coming of His Son in events many hundreds or thousands of years in advance. The prophecy to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah is one such example of this. “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel,” Isaiah said to King Ahaz, and according to Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “The prophecy came true not in one but in two ways.” It first predicted a birth that would happen within Ahaz’s lifetime – though there is significant discussion as to just who that child was. “But secondly, Isaiah 7:14 prefigured the birth of Jesus Christ.”
Long in the Making
I cannot stress just how important it is to take into account the role the Apostle Matthew has in properly interpreting Isaiah 7:14. If the Apostle Paul was correct when he told his young friend Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis mine) then both the book of Isaiah and the book of Matthew are “inspired by God”. This means that God had a hand in their creation – both by orchestrating the events within, providing the words spoken by Isaiah, and inspiring the human authors who put pen to paper.
In writing his Gospel account, Matthew wrote to Jews and, as such, would often highlight an event’s significance in light of its Old Testament prophecy. Matthew must therefore not only have been inspired by the Holy Spirit in his writing tasks, but have been learned of the Old Testament.
This is proof enough (for me) – despite the furious debate over how to properly interpret Isaiah 7:14 (not to mention Isaiah 9:6) – that the Immanuel referred to in Isaiah’s prophecy is ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ, an arrival promised long ago and long in the making.
God With Us Then
What width and breadth must God’s imagination run to in order to envision sending His Own Son, His very being, into the form of a human – made in His image, yes, but now fallen and sinful by nature – as the means by which to reclaim His creations from the grasp of death and sin?
In the name Immanuel and the child upon whom it was bestowed, we have this promise and this fulfilment. Leon Morris says that, based on the information we have available to us, nobody ever called Jesus by the name Immanuel (or as he writes it, Emmanuel). Rather, “Matthew surely intends his readers to understand that ‘Emmanuel’ was his name in the sense that all that was involved in that name found its fulfilment in him.”
God promised humanity that He would send salvation, that the Messiah would come for the Jews and for the Gentiles, “a light for all nations, to be [God’s] salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) The promise that God made over and over to His people to be with them is suddenly born in the flesh in a manger, fulfilling countless of His Father’s promises.
God With Us Now
The same Jesus that came to earth to fulfill His Father’s promises two-thousand years ago has not stopped being Immanuel – He remains “with us” to this day. Before Jesus was taken back up into heaven and after He gave His disciples what is now known as The Great Commission, Jesus promised that “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Putting aside the beautiful rendering of Jesus’ words, this is a promise that holds true for all Jesus’ disciples – everyone who puts their trust in Him.
And this isn’t just idle reassurance, either. Jesus’ promise took the form of the Holy Spirit, the third aspect of God, who Jesus promised would come after He had left.
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this verse. God made Himself known through the prophets in the Old Testament, through His Son in the New Testament, and through the Holy Spirit after Jesus was raised up to heaven. Only through Jesus’ coming to earth and dying for us could the Holy Spirit come and be “with us”.
Immanuel, born into a manger in a stable because there was no room in the inn. Heralded by hundreds of years of prophecy, a star in the sky, and worshipped by Gentile kings and lowly shepherds. All so that God could fulfil the promise of Immanuel, God with us.
Praise God that Jesus came, for He is with us forever.
 Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New, Leonhard Goppelt, p. 129
 Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., p. 90
 ibid, p. 91
 The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, p. 31