Immanuel, the true light!
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
Acquainted with Darkness
Those who know my family well will not be surprised, but my wife routinely goes to bed earlier than I do. On the surface, that does not seem like a problem. However, it creates a unique challenge for me when I come downstairs to bed an hour later. The challenge is this, Meagan cannot fall asleep with the lamp on, and I sleep on the opposite side of the bed from the door. To get into bed without waking her, I must tip-toe around the room, navigating the furniture maze as if I were sneaking through the lair of a sleeping dragon. The usual result is that I stumble through the room, knocking my hip on the corner of the dresser, stubbing my toe on the bedframe, and tripping over shoes I failed to put away. I have tried counting steps, feeling around with my hands, and walking along the wall, all as gracefully as a two-legged puppy. Whatever the method, the darkness wins. If my wife were actually a snoozing dragon, I would have long ago become a human s'more.
Navigating that dark maze, however familiar, gives me an appreciation for the joy of Messiah's coming. In our memory verse this month (Isaiah 9:6), Isaiah joyously shouts at the revealing of a child. King Ahaz’s disobedience led God (speaking through Isaiah) to pronounce coming devastation for both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. God would bring judgment on both nations for their unfaithfulness. He would use the nation of Assyria to begin that devastation (7:17-8:10). Decay would fall on the covenant kingdom because the Lord had turned His face away from His people (8:16-17). Due to their rebellion, judgment would fall so heavy on God's chosen nation that they would be described as “thrust into thick darkness” (8:22).
The Coming Light
Nonetheless, in chapter 9 the perspective shifts!
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Matthew records this prophecy as fulfilled during the earthly ministry of Jesus (Matt 4:12-16). In other words, Messiah’s coming will shine forth like a flashlight in a dark room. Suddenly people can see! Instead of tripping and hurting themselves trying to navigate the murky unknown, they see the light and have great joy! That is what the coming of Messiah initiates. That is the context FOR refers to in verse 6. The rest of the verse discloses His identity, the source of such joy. I want to devote the rest of this article reflect on what Isaiah reveals about Jesus.
The Word Become Flesh
First, Isaiah opens with a Hebrew parallelism describing the first facet of His identity. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (9:6a)). The Messiah is unique. A human child born into our broken world like any other, but more than just another male child. He is the Word become flesh to dwell among us, given by the Father in the supreme act of love, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Fully God and fully man. Heir of David and Son of the Father, sinless but sympathetic to sinners. Without this dual nature, we reduce Him to an unsympathetic or insufficient savior.
The King of kings
Next, Isaiah describes the role of this anointed one: “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” We learn later in verse 7 that his government shall have no end or conflict. In other words, He will be the supreme fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7). Revelation looks forward to the reign of Jesus in such fashion. He will rule the nations with a rod of Iron (Rev 12:5, 19:15). He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev 17:14). Every knee will bow to him, and every tongue will confess his lordship (Phil 2:10).
The Throne Names of the King
Last, Isaiah discloses what the King shall be called. He lists four two-word titles. They likely function like regnal/throne names. In ancient kingdoms, it was common for rulers to take on a new name (or several) upon succession to the throne. These names usually were intended to represent their character or recall their feats of strength. Each of the titles that follow in verse 6 describe the Messiah-King. They characterize Him—revealing His attributes and identity. They explain why such joy surrounds his coming. Several of these are titles for Yahweh himself. They allude to the divinity of the anointed one. I will briefly review each.
The King will be wise beyond imagination. This title speaks to that. Recall Solomon, whose wisdom was so astounding and marvelous that people came from around the world to hear him (1 Kings 4:29-34). Messiah’s wisdom makes Solomon seem ordinary. Unlike Ahaz and many other Davidic kings, who heeded and handed out the wrong counsel, His wisdom defines him and benefits all under his rule. As the God-Man, He possesses the very Wisdom of Yahweh, who, likewise, is described as wonderful in counsel (Isaiah 28:29).
The King will be omnipotent. In fact, He will be divine. This was a claim made by many kings of antiquity, but this king alone delivers! Later in his writings, Isaiah uses the same title in reference to Yahweh (10:21). Though he may not have fully understood how this could be, by the Spirit’s guidance, he saw that it was so. We have the benefit of further revelation. John tells us that “the Word was God” (John 1:1). Paul shares that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). According to the author of Hebrews, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). Such is the identity and power of the coming king!
“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That is one of many allusions to God as the perfect father. Rather than speaking to His trinitarian role, this title communicates the tender care and protection of a father toward His children. Messiah will regard his citizens thus. He will care for them with the unending compassion of a father to his beloved son. He will protect them like the patriarch who stands in the way of the lion to protect his little ones. From everlasting to everlasting, he will rule with such character. He fulfills God's promise to David for a descendant with an unending reign (2 Sam 7).
Prince of Peace
The King’s reign will be one of perpetual peace. This contrasts to the rule of even the best of Israel's kings, whose reigns were defined by wars and battles. Later in chapter 11, Isaiah uses a visual picture to describe Messiah’s kingdom, “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” All the things we perceive as threats now will be non-issues during His reign: no predators, no threatening evil dictators, no child accidents. Peace shall replace tragedy, for the Prince of Peace reigns!
Do you struggle to find joy during the holidays? Let Jesus be your reason for rejoicing! Are you struggling to know how to respond in a world of confusion and suffering? Seek the wisdom found in Jesus (Col 2:3), who is always able to guide you! Do you doubt God’s power to save? Take rest in the strength of His might! Are you heavy-laden under the yoke of fear and suffering? Let your protector king be your rest! Do you long for peace and sin’s undoing? Look to Jesus, in whom our hopes for tranquility are secured! Though the final fulfillment of these promises remains future, they are secure in the lamb, who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals.