With the Christmas season comes the citing of Biblical passages that inspire and encourage. At the same time close examination may raise questions that confuse and dissuade. ♦
As mentioned in a previous post (see Nov 29, Nehemiah the Comforter), typology is common in the Bible. What is it? It is a person, event or thing prefiguring a corresponding but greater reality. For example, Nehemiah is a type or symbol of the Holy Spirit that eventually gives way to the real Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Or, the writer of Hebrews refers to the greatness of the heavenly sanctuary of which the Jewish holy temple was merely a type or a shadow. It is replaced by something far greater – Jesus. Likewise the Old Testament blood sacrifices of goats, lambs and calves were but a foreshadowing of the eternal redemptive blood sacrifice of Christ in the New Testament. The new covenant is far greater that the old covenant – “a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22) – rendering the old “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). The greater reality or counterpart is referred to as the antitype.
Yes, a bit esoteric and deep, but this is what makes the scriptures so rich. It also can lead to confusion and misinterpretation by Christians and enemies of the faith as well.
“…and Shall Call His Name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14
In the New Testament book of Matthew, he cites the “virgin birth” prophecy of Isaiah 7:14:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (which means God with us). – Matthew 1:23
In his book, Has God Spoken?, Hank Hanegraaff outlines how some non-believers see this prophecy as one of the greatest weaknesses of the Christian worldview. The Hebrew word of almah used by Isaiah had nothing to do with virginity. One may say that he should have used the word betulah. Beyond that curveball the context of Isaiah’s passage is a major problem. He prophesied that the birth of his son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was a sign guaranteeing God’s temporal salvation of Judah, in danger of being destroyed by two superpowers to the north. What? Read for yourself the entire 7th chapter of Isaiah and prepare to be dismayed. But do not lose heart!
Symbolic and Literal Prophecy
The prophetic words of Isaiah in chapter 7 about the human birth of his own child was referenced by Matthew as a typological or symbolic prophetic fulfillment when citing the virgin birth of Jesus, the Messiah. The antitype of the “young woman” was the Virgin Mary, who miraculously gives birth to Immanuel, a name or title for Jesus, God manifest in the flesh. Incidentally, the controversy arises again in Isaiah chapter 9 with the equally often quoted prophetic “Christmas” passage: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6. While some may claim this a prophecy of king Hezekiah’s birth, this of course is yet another typological marker for the future everlasting king: Jesus, the real Prince of Peace.
Conversely you will note a literal prophetic fulfillment in Matthew 2 when he references the prophecy of Micah 5:2:
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled…and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’ – Matthew 2:3-6
Then reading further in Matthew 2 you will find additional examples of typological or symbolic fulfillment when he cites the prophet Hosea about the Lord being “called out of Egypt” and then the prophet Jeremiah when referring to Herod slaying all the male children in Bethlehem (“Ramah…Rachel weeping for he children”).
Taken literally, these passages do not align or make sense. At a minimum they seem like a stretch in context. But seen as they are, typological prophecy, they display amazingly coherent evidence of the mighty hand of God weaving a rich consistent tapestry of text, history and purpose.
Christmas – the Final Antitype
Indeed, the recognition and honoring of Christmas is serious business. All of the types, shadows and symbols of the old covenant (Old Testament), including the holy land of Israel, the holy city Jerusalem, and the holy temple of God, have been fulfilled in the baby we celebrate at Christmastime, the Holy Christ. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” Do you know this truth?
The Bible is divinely inspired and intricately weaved. Enjoy the celebration of this ultimate gift.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6