This is the second 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 the next 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.”
If we’re going to be looking at the Christmas names of Jesus, then there is one passage we must absolutely look to. It is one of my favourite passages in the whole Bible for the way it is written and for the grandeur that slowly builds and comes to a crashing climax in this great pronouncement:
“For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6
Four names that, according to Alex Motyer, sums up the character and “declares the person” of the one named. What makes this even more amazing is that the one so-named will be a child – a child born for us. More so, this “son will be given to us” – a gift not through human achievement or effort, but a child born “born for us” and “given to us.”
This child will be “a great light” that “has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” (9:2) This son will take the government upon His shoulders (9:6), relieving the burden of the “oppressive yoke and the rod” on the shoulders of His people (9:4).
Such a cavalcade of names might sound a little excessive – especially for a child whose birth is the focus of this prophecy, and not what the child will go on to do – but this is a special child. “It is true that monarchs of the Near East often received exaggerated adulation from their subjects, especially at their enthronement and at subsequent kingdom renewal ceremonies,” writes Geoffrey W. Grogan. “This is not Mesopotamia, however, but Judah, and Hebrew prophecy was founded on truth, not on flattery.”
This child is something different. Something special and amazing.
A Temporary Theological Tangent
This series is not intended to indulge my love of the obscure and theological, however (there’s always a however), I want to take just a few moments to address an interpretation of these verses that has become exceedingly fashionable of late.
Namely, that these names do not refer to Jesus Christ, but rather to God the Father.
Andrew T. Abernathy explains in his book, The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom, that “An increasingly favoured view is that these names primarily describe God rather than the human king.” Further, he explains that “The names of this Davidic ruler, then, point beyond the human office to King YHWH, who will wondrously save his people and establish a Davidic ruler in their midst.”
Briefly in response to this, Geoffrey W. Grogan explains that “the first three name can certainly designate God himself” but “this is hardly true of the last of them” – Prince of Peace, a name which inherently designates a captain or administrator, not the King Himself. Further, I would suggest that this title is fleshed out more fully in Ephesians 2, in which the Apostle Paul explains the peace Christ bought between us and the Father, and created between Jew and Gentile.
More than that, however, we must be careful to remember – as we did in last week’s study of Son of the Most High – that these are not human words, limited by human knowledge and experience. They are words “inspired by God and … profitable for teaching,” etc (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but they are also divinely-inspired prophetic words that reveal God’s authority over human history and reveal a coming day in which the Messiah will be born.
As such, it seems somewhat convoluted to determine whether Isaiah intended to refer to a coming child-king, or was pointing the way to God. Consider Jesus’ own words many years later: “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) The very purpose of Jesus was to point the way to God, so the names Isaiah prophecies will be given to this child inherently belong to Jesus Christ, who by His very nature points “beyond the human office to King YHWH”.
As Timothy Keller says, this child “is not just some kind of avatar of the divine principle. He is God!”
When we look at a name like Wonderful Counsellor we can see, on the surface, a seemingly pedestrian concept – but only if we relegate ourselves to using modern-day definitions for English words. Isaiah was not referring to an “extremely good … person trained to give guidance on personal or psychological problems” or a “marvellous … senior official in the diplomatic service”.
The word translated here ‘Wonderful’ stems from the Hebrew word pele’, a noun which is part of a word-set that in the 80 times it was used in the Old Testament “refer to the Lord, himself and his works.” Motyer further explains that pele’ “is the nearest word Hebrew has to the idea of ‘supernatural’, here bringing a wisdom far above the human.” Grogan adds that the word “has overtones of deity”.
This child is from His very birth considered to be a Wonderful Counsellor, but Motyer explains that this need not necessarily mean He was a supernatural counsellor, but maybe a counsellor of the supernatural. Consider that, in the immediately following verse, Isaiah writes that this child’s “dominion will be vast and its prosperity will never end” and “He will reign on the throne of David … with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.”
If, as Motyer teases out, “The decisions of a king make or break a kingdom” then “a kingdom designed to be everlasting demands a wisdom like that of the everlasting God.”
As I tend to do in such situations, I think the real answer lies somewhere in the middle – a supernatural counsellor of the supernatural. Only a supernatural counsellor could understand the mysteries of God the Father, and only such a counsellor could reveal the supernatural to us.
The Foolishness of the Counsellor
Consider Jesus’ prayer to His father in Matthew 11:
“I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants.”
The Apostle Paul similarly dismissed earthly wisdom:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.
Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish?” – 1 Corinthians 1:18-20
Where does Paul take that quote in the middle? Unsurprisingly, it comes from Isaiah 29:14:
“Because these people approach Me with their mouths
to honor Me with lip-service—
yet their hearts are far from Me,
and their worship consists of man-made rules
learned by rote—
therefore I will again confound these people
with wonder after wonder.
The wisdom of their wise men will vanish,
and the understanding of the perceptive will be hidden.”
Consider the underlying premise that Isaiah 9:1-7 is outlining: God is describing a child to be born who will save Israel – though the child in question will come for the salvation of all mankind. “God’s answer to everything that has ever terrorised us is a child,” said Raymond C. Ortlund Jr . What earthly wisdom would conjure up the idea of a child bringing salvation – not least of all a child that ends up being born in a manger, unlooked for, and to a world that “was created through Him” but that “did not recognise Him.” (John 1:10)
What wisdom is this, that “the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16) What wisdom is this, that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:26-27)
How important, therefore, is a counsellor who is both supernatural and conversant in the supernatural ways of the One who sent Him? Again, look at the words of Jesus:
“I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep.” – John 10:14-15
What wisdom is this, that the child sent to save us, who is God Himself incarnate, “laid down His life for us.” (1 John 3:16) God’s “answer to the bullies swaggering through history is not to become an even bigger bully. His answer is Jesus.” A “wonderful” child that counsels us on the mysteries of His Father so that we can be saved and join Him in heaven.
When we remember Jesus Christ born this Christmas, remember His name, Wonderful Counsellor. Remember that He revealed His Father to us (John 17:25-26) in a way that makes no sense to human minds, but was God’s intention all along. This Christmas, let us praise God that He sent us a Wonderful Counsellor.
 Past translations have made it five, splitting the first line into “Wonderful, Counsellor”. However, common agreement these days suggests it is better translated as one single name.
 Isaiah, J. Alec Motyer, p. 101 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)
 Isaiah, Geoffrey W. Grogan, p. 528 (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, Volume 6)
 The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom, Andrew T. Abernathy, p. 127
 The Hebrew rendition of Yahweh, a sacred name for God.
 ibid, p. 128
 Grogan, p. 529
 Hidden Christmas, Timothy Keller, p. 13
 Oxford English Dictionary – Counsellor – https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/counsellor; wonderful – https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/wonderful
 Motyer, Tyndale, p. 102
 Grogan, p. 529
 The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary, J. Alec Motyer, p. 102
 Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., p. 99 (Preaching the Word)