In his tremendous book The Messiah in the Old Testament, Walter Kaiser writes, “…the OT presents the concept of the Messiah and his work in the context of an eternal plan, which was unfolded before the eyes of Israel and the watching world. …the depictions [in prophecy] concerning the Messiah and his work comprised one continuous plan of God.” That plan, Kaiser writes, centers around God’s promise to Israel and the nations of all He will be and do for them in Jesus Christ.
This eternal plan of God, sweeping from eternity past through eternity future, is the grand theme of the Bible. Rather than viewing the many predictions of Messiah in the OT as disparate prophecies, it is better to see them as aspects of one great whole, contributing to, explaining, and enlarging upon the initial promise God made in Genesis 3. Further, it is best to think of these prophecies as promises rather than simple predictions; the latter term tends to focus only on the initial word given and its eventual, singular fulfillment, while promise includes both but also encompasses the historical means God used to lead up to the final and complete fulfillment (sometimes called “initial” or “down payment” fulfillments in that they are inherently part of the total picture and truth-intention of the divine and human authors).
From creation, our triune Lord intended to create and extend a kingdom, on earth, where human beings could love and worship Him, enjoy His gifts, rule for Him, and represent Him. Sin did not thwart this plan, but rather provided the first historical occasion where God announced His promise to redeem humanity and the entirety of creation. Throughout the Old Testament, especially in God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, this promise was expanded upon. By the NT, a well-developed theology existed that provided the context for our Lord’s incarnation, earthly ministry, death, and resurrection-ascension. This theology was then further fleshed out and applied in the New Covenant documents, coming to a beautiful and full-circle conclusion in the book of Revelation.
Christmas, then, looks back and forward. It brings to initial fulfillment the hundreds of promises God made in the OT. But it also anticipates His present and future work in further and eventually complete fulfillment of those same promises. This week’s message explored four of these OT promises and how Christmas (and what follows) brings them to pass.
A. His Birth Was Planned from the Beginning (Genesis 3:15)
Genesis 3:15 reveals the mercy and sovereignty of God. Our first parents, the sum total of humanity, have plunged the world into fallenness, and God has responded by cursing the already fallen world. But He also demonstrates mercy to Adam and Eve, and to us. In cursing the serpent, our Lord reveals the foundations of the plan for world redemption.
The curse on the serpent has two parts: the declaration of enmity and the dual bruising. The serpent, of course, is Satan, that archenemy of God and humanity who exists to oppose God’s kingdom, program, and purposes. Both he and the woman have a seed, and these will oppose one another throughout the drama of human history. We will not understand who the “seed” is, however, if we do not grasp that this word functions as a collective noun. That means it can at once demote a group, an individual within that group, or both. Satan’s seed is likely both the demonic hosts and the fallen humans they influence, while the seed of the woman is most generally all of humanity (cf. v. 20), but more specifically a group within humanity, and finally and most importantly an individual within that group who represents it. This last fact is underscored by the singular pronouns in the latter half of the verse: A male descendant of Eve’s will bruise the serpent on the head, and the serpent will bruise Him on the heel. This oscillation between the singular and plural continues through the rest of Genesis, where Abraham is assured his seed will bless the whole world (obviously denoting both Israel and her Messiah; Gen. 12:3), but later is told his seed will posses the gates of lit. “his enemies” (Genesis 22:17, emphasis mine), before saying his seed in general will bless the world (again denoting both Israel and Messiah, v. 18).
God promises enmity—a Heb. word that is only used in the OT of interpersonal hostility-between both the woman and Satan and between their seeds, the latter throughout history and especially in that final day of our Lord when Satan’s head will be finally crushed by the male seed. God will redeem humans and the earth from the grip of sin, Satan, and death. That He would do so by some act of substitution is hinted at in the animal skins He gave to cover our first parents’ nakedness. Rather than kill them, God killed an animal—imagine seeing death for the first time—and mercifully, kindly, covered their shame through the death of an innocent.
By Genesis 4, the seed of the woman begins through the line of Seth (Cain being banished and Abel being dead), and through Seth eventually came Noah, who himself would expand upon the old promise by prophesying that God Himself would dwell in the tents of Shem (Gen. 9:27; cf. John 1:10, 14-18). From Shem, of course, comes Abraham and the reassertion and expansion of all of God’s promises (Gen. 12:1–3). We turn now to the miraculous circumstances of that long-promised birth.
B. God Sent His Son Through a Birth Promised Supernaturally (Isaiah 7:14)
Over 700 years before the first advent of our Lord came this prophecy through Isaiah. The southern kingdom of Judah is under attack by both Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel, who are jointly conspiring to overthrow the Davidic line and install a puppet king in its place. Of course, had this happened God’s plan for the world, which promised the Messiah through the unbroken line of David (2 Sam. 7) would be undone and His words cast to the ground. So the Lord directs Isaiah to approach the king of Judah, Ahaz, and tell him to ask God for a sign to assure him He will protect the nation and uphold His ancient plan. (Ahaz was being tempted to look to human resources for protection against the coming invasion, and our Lord mercifully gives him an opportunity to trust Him rather than men.)
Unwilling to place his confidence in Yahweh alone, Ahaz demurs. Isaiah responds that the Lord Himself will give a sign: The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and He will be called Immanuel. The Heb. term absolutely means “virgin”; both the LXX and Matthew’s quotation in Matt. 1:23 (the latter under the inspiration of the Spirit, no less) use the Greek term that unambiguously means “virgin.” That the Heb. text includes the definite article indicates a specific virgin is under discussion.
Evangelicals equally committed to inerrancy and predictive prophecy differ on whether there is a singular or multiple fulfillment of this verse. Some see only the virgin birth of our Lord promised here. Others view an initial fulfillment in a child born in Isaiah’s day (either Hezekiah, who is the next king of the Davidic line, or Isaiah’s own child), tied to the destruction of the Syrian-Israeli threat, that anticipates the ultimate deliverance provided by the virgin birth of Messiah. In either case, the text clearly promises deliverance for God’s people, the preservation of the Davidic line, and thus the fulfillment of God’s plan via a miraculous, supernatural birth of a child who is God (cf. Isaiah 9:6).
C. His Birth Was Chosen Geographically (Micah 5:2)
A contemporary of Isaiah, Micah ministered to Judah, between approximately 735–710 BC. The northern kingdom has already fallen to Assyria (722 BC), but it will be nearly 140 years before Judah is ravaged by Babylon in 586. Micah is a detailed indictment of Judah for its rebellion against Yahweh, but interspersing the assurances of wrath are the words of hope regarding Messiah, His kingdom, and His work. Micah has already promised Messiah as the Breaker and King (2:12-13), and now he moves back to explain Messiah’s human origins. It is helpful to note that the entire paragraph (vv. 1–4) encompasses both the First and Second Advents of our Lord.
In this text, God promises beleaguered, sinful, downtrodden Israel that His covenant plan and promises have not been thwarted by their past or future sins. From insignificant Bethlehem—the ancient birthplace and home of David—will come One who will rule for God over His people and the world. Further, this One will be Himself God, for His “goings forth” are lit. “from the day of eternity.” In other words, there has never been a time when God the Son did not exist!
Christ is eternal God become man to rule. He was born to rule Israel, to rule the world, and to rule every aspect and detail of your life. As of today (December 26), there are approximately 328,205,270 people in the United States (and well over 7.5 billion in the world), and as Mark Minnick would say, Jesus has absolute right of possession over every molecule of every one of them! Have you yielded to the One God sent into the world to rule? Next, we will look at how God promised to use this One to turn rebels into surrendered worshippers.
D. He Was Born to Die (Isaiah 53:5–6)
Jesus was not born to merely be our example. He was not born to do good, to minister, work miracles, or teach people to love one another. He did all those things, and they are related to His mission, but they are not its ultimate reason. He was born to die. He was born to be our Substitute.
That is how He crushes the head of the Serpent. That is how He pays the penalty for our rebellion. That is how He covers our shame and wickedness with His perfect righteousness. That is how He transforms hearts to yield to His rule and reign!
For after promising the virgin birth of the Savior, Isaiah also tells us this One who is the LORD’s servant bears the griefs and sorrows of sinners, and that He was pierced through for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and chastening for our well-being fell upon Him. The virgin-born Son of Eve, Son of God, king of the nations, Seed of Abraham, was born to die as our Substitute to make us acceptable to God. This presupposes we have rebelled against God, that we are bound to honor and obey Him, that God desires to redeem sinners from the sure judgment His holiness requires. Created to honor and obey, we have rebelled and gone our own way, but the Servant-Son has intervened and provided redemption to all who repent and believe.
Christmas is about the cross, and it is about the kingdom. It is about all God has done, is doing, and will do because of and through Jesus Christ. May God help us to give Him all He is due—on Christmas and every day!
N.B. I am happily indebted to Walter Kaiser’s The Messiah in the Old Testament, mentioned at the beginning of this post, for helping me think through and flesh out the passages mentioned above, as well as others. May our Lord grant it a wide readership!