As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I love taking time to remember why the circumstances around this birth are so important. It’s not just a heartwarming story about a couple traveling on a donkey and having to give birth in a stable. It’s not just a fascinating tale of shepherds and wise men following a star to that same stable. It’s because all of those details had been foretold. The birth of Jesus would be significant enough simply because it is the appearing of God in the flesh to come live as man. But what adds to that is God revealed all these things about the birth of Jesus to the Israelites hundreds of years before it happened. That way they would know that this baby was indeed the Savior.
History confirms that a man named Jesus really walked the earth and claimed to be God. He backed up those claims not only with how He lived His life, the authority with which He taught, the miracles He performed, the power He demonstrated over all things, and the way in which He came into this world – something no mere man would be able to control. So I wanted to go back to the Old Testament to see what exactly was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus.
Isaiah was a prophet to Judah (the southern kingdom) through the reign of four different kings between 739-686 BC. From the 66 chapters in the book that bears his name, Isaiah is quoted directly in the New Testament over 65 times and mentioned by name over 20 times.
Isaiah 7:13-14 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Luke 1:26-28 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was set by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
Matthew 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, 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. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Isaiah 9:6-7 For unto us a Child is born, unto 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. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Psalm 89:35-36 Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me.
Luke 1:31-33 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
With the Babylonian captivity of 586 BC, it would appear that the line of David and therefore the Davidic dynasty was decimated (although even that happened 100 years after this prophecy). Isaiah prophesied that there would still be a continuation of the Davidic line. Jeremiah prophesied likewise.
Isaiah 11:1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
Jeremiah 23:5-6 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely. Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Matthew 1:17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
Luke 2:4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David.
Out of Bethlehem
The book of Micah was written 735 – 710 BC, during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah just prior to the fall of Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel) to the Assyrians. He was a contemporary of Isaiah.
Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
Bethlehem was the birthplace of David (1 Samuel 16) and literally means “house of bread” because the area was a grain producing region south of Jerusalem. However, Mary lived in Nazareth (Luke 1:26). Why would the prophecy be that a Ruler would come from Bethlehem?
Luke 2:1-6 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary his betrothed wife, who was with child.
Matthew 2:1a Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem…
Consider the timing in the place in history of Christ’s coming: during the Roman Empire. The nation of Israel, though they were a “nation” of people, were under the rule of the Romans, who could command a census be taken of all the world. Because a census was commanded at that specific time during Mary’s pregnancy and because Joseph was of the line of David and had agreed to stay betrothed to Mary, we see why Mary of Nazareth ends up giving birth in Bethlehem as prophesied 700 years earlier.
I find the role of the magi in the birth story of Jesus to be the best confirmation about the Old Testament prophecy. It’s too long to address in this blog, but the whole reason why the magi make their way to Jerusalem in the first place is because they too were aware of the prophecy of the birth of the Christ child (most likely because of the time Daniel spent in Babylon hundreds of years prior). When the magi arrived and asked Herod, the king of Jews, about the birth of Jesus, Herod consulted with the Jewish chief priests and scribes. And they all agreed – the prophets said Jesus would be born in Bethlehem at that time. The prophecies were clear to anyone who actually read them – to the magi and to the priests and scribes.
Matthew 2:1-8 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem…
Although Herod claimed he wanted to come and worship the baby born as “King of the Jews,” he really wanted to kill him, thinking this would protect his reign as “king.” Confirming the validity of the prophecies, Herod knew this child would be around two years old (contrary to popular nativity scenes, the magi did not visit Jesus at the stable but at a house when Jesus was a child). So he ordered the death of every two-year old male in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.
Matthew 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
Jeremiah 31:15 Thus says the Lord: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
Written as a visualization of the distress of an Israelite mother weeping for her children slain in the Babylonian invasion, Matthew saw the same description of sadness appropriate for the weeping of the Jewish mothers when King Herod murdered the babies at Bethlehem.
God warned Joseph of this threat from Herod and in a dream told Joseph to flee.
Matthew 2:13-14 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
This is how we come to find the prophecy fulfilled from Hosea. That prophecy said that Jesus would be called out of Egypt, yet we know His parents are from Nazareth and He was born in Bethlehem. But we find them in Egypt because God told them to go there for refuge (the second time God has used Egypt as a refuge for His people!).
Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.
Matthew 2:14-15 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Return to Nazareth
Matthew 2:19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”…But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
There is no direct OT prophecy that uses the word “Nazarene.” It is suggested that “Nazarene” is a reference to the Hebrew word “branch” from the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1. A more likely explanation is that Matthew uses “Nazarene” as a synonym for someone who is despised or detestable because that was how people from that region were characterized (such as Nathanael’s statement “what good thing could come from Nazareth?”). Consider that in light of the prophecy made by Isaiah in chapter 53:
And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes, we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked – But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand, He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made the intercession for the transgressors.
Wow. And if you're not moved by that last passage from Isaiah, go read it again. I love seeing God’s hand through the Old Testament working to the New Testament because everything is always pointing to Jesus. It wasn’t just a wonderful story of the birth of a baby or even a miraculous conception. It involved the position and existence of nations, generations of people and their actions, and decrees of pagan kings that covered the span of hundreds of years. But it’s more than even just the miraculous circumstances and prophetic birth. Granted, if it were only that it would show an amazing God at work, but it is so much more. That would just be an interesting birth story. What we really celebrate, what really makes Christmas mean something is not just how Jesus was born, but why He was born.
Matthew 1:21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
We can get caught up in Christmas love and Christmas giving and peace on earth and goodwill toward men, and we miss the point. This was God’s plan to save His people from their sins. Jesus was born into this world for one purpose. As Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
John 3:17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved.” Ultimately it was the fulfillment of the very first prophecy ever given:
Genesis 3: 15 So the Lord God said to the serpent: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”