One thing we cannot afford to do is read the Bible as if Jesus never happened. This is especially true with the Old Testament. When we read the Bible indiscriminately, not interpreting it through the lens of Jesus Christ, we end up with hopelessly conflicted views of God (even though we don’t seem to think we do).
The New Testament writers did not view Scripture the same way after their encounter with Jesus. And they did not exegete the Bible like we do either. In fact, they often re-interpreted passages in the light of Jesus Christ, totally taking them out of their original context, but giving greater revelation to them.
I’m coming to understand that the Bible is not a “flat” book at all (carries the same weight of revelation throughout); especially when we’re talking about man’s perspective. While God Himself never changes, we’re constantly changing and growing in our understanding of Him, caught up in an eternal trajectory of unfolding mystery.
As Richard Rohr has said, mystery isn’t something we cannot know, it’s something we’re ever knowing.
Mystery means a never-ending unveiling…going from glory to ever-increasing glory!
In light of the Christmas season, I would like to talk about one of those trajectories of glory in the mystery of the Incarnation. When we think of Jesus’ birth, one Scripture passage that comes to mind is Matthew 1:22-23:
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:22-23 *)
This one sounds pretty straightforward…until you read what “was spoken by the Lord through the prophet,” which comes from Isaiah chapter seven. The verse quoted by Matthew is verse 14:
14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 *)
What we immediately find when we read Isaiah’s prophecy is that its context has nothing whatsoever to do with the Messiah’s virgin birth. Under divine inspiration, Isaiah is telling King Ahaz not to worry about the Northern kingdom (Israel) and Syria invading Judah (See Isaiah 7:1-6).
Two quick points about Isaiah’s prophecy:
First, the Hebrew word we’ve translated “virgin” (‛almâh) simply means “young woman.” There is another Hebrew word for our modern understanding of virgin (bethûlâh – see Gen.24:16).
Second, Isaiah certainly would not have had any notion of a virgin giving birth, nor was it even relevant to his prophecy to Ahaz.
Isaiah said the “sign” to Ahaz would be that Israel and Syria would no longer be a threat by the time it would take this prophetic child to know right from wrong. So Ahaz should not fear an invasion from these northern kings; the threat would be ended before the “child” would reach the age of accountability.
16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings. (Isaiah 7:16*)
And this brings us to mystery and trajectory.
While Isaiah was focused on the lifespan of a small child as a prophetic timeline for Ahaz, Matthew was divinely inspired to give a greater understanding of the prophecy, applying it to Israel’s Messiah—to a miraculous virgin birth—even though that was not Isaiah’s intended meaning.
When Matthew’s gospel is recorded, the Greek word for “virgin” (parthenos), as we understand the word, is used. In other words, Matthew reinterpreted the Isaiah prophecy in light of the unveiling of Jesus Christ and His supernatural birth.
20 …behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (Matt.1:20 *)
Furthermore, when Isaiah called the prophetic child, “Immanuel,” he meant that God was Judah’s advocate; Yahweh would have their back and protect them against these two kings. But when Matthew used the word, he meant that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
God is not only for us, He has now become one of us. That’s a trajectory of glory!
Understand that these are two entirely different interpretations, even though BOTH were “inspired” for BOTH people groups. Isaiah heard the word of the Lord with his understanding, and Mathew read it in the light of Jesus Christ. This is because God always reveals Himself in the context of our world, not His. (More on that another time.)
Another point before we leave here: our modern English Bibles retrospectively use the word “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 because of Jesus’ birth. Jesus has reinterpreted Isaiah.
And this “Immanuel” trajectory continues beyond the gospels…
For instance, with Paul, now the “glory of this mystery” is that Immanuel is not only for us and with us, now He’s also in us and we are in Him! (See Gal.2:20; Eph.2:6; Col.3:3.)
27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col.1:27 *)
God was not only incarnated in Christ, He’s now “incarnated” in us! (Col.2:9-10 AMP)
Divine inspiration can be seen in this trajectory of glory. Jesus Christ forever changed how we read Scripture. This is why we cannot rightly read the Old Testament as if Jesus never happened; and why we cannot read all of Scripture as if nothing changed with us in Him (2 Cor.5:14-17).
What God required with the Old Testament saints is the same thing He requires of us today; not perfect understanding but a perfect heart that trusts Him, while walking in the light we currently have (Heb.11:6).