I read Matthew’s Christmas story last night. It took no less than two chapters to blow me away.
Reading God’s word is never a chore, for we always uncover something fresh and unexpected. This time, for me, it was the sheer number of prophecies being fulfilled about Jesus before he could even walk. You can’t swing a dead cat in Matthew 2 without hitting a prophecy. These events were seemingly random, sometimes tragic, and it’s difficult to imagine that the prophets who described them even understood how they would unfold. In just the first two chapters, there are a whopping nine prophecies fulfilled, making the likelihood of fulfillment almost astronomical without even accounting for prophecies in other books.
Let’s get into it.
#1: The virgin birth fulfilling Isaiah 7:14
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (1:20-23)
#2: The Bethlehem birth fulfilling Micah 5:2-4
When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (2:4-6)
Anyone having fun yet? This is fun.
#3: The flight and return from Egypt fulfilling Hosea 11:1
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)
Alright…pause. This one is just wild.
Hosea 11:1 doesn’t look like an explicitly Messianic prophecy upon first glance, probably not even to Hosea. Any everyday working-man Israelite reading this Scripture in the centuries before Jesus’ birth would have gone “Okay, God’s talking about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.” And he would have been right.
But then God, in a cosmic wink, throws parallelism into his story: he sends the holy family to Egypt shortly after the birth to avoid Herod, so that Jesus, just like Israel, has to reside in and then come back out of Egypt. Thus Hosea 11:1 has both a past significance, which Hosea undoubtedly understood, and a future significance that he possibly never dreamed of! (I learned that this unaware double meaning is called sensus plenior, for the exegetically geeky, and it actually surfaces in all kinds of Biblical prophecy.)
I become more of a fan of God with each passing second here…
#4: The killing of Bethlehem’s babies fulfilling Jeremiah 31:15
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” (2:16-18)
Yet again, we see God foretelling his moves through verses we had no idea he’d use.
This is a minor note in God’s song, a sobering reminder that God’s rescue plan involved more blood than just that of Jesus. Will we honor all this blood with our daily lives?
#5: Joseph and Mary’s settling in Nazareth fulfilling Isaiah 1:11
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (2:22-23)
This one is a little hazier, for there is no explicit reference to a Nazarene in the Old Testament. But Matthew seems to regard it as a prophecy, so it’s worth investigating. I’ll leave it to Matt Slick:
Second, there could be a play on words that Matthew was referring to. In Isaiah 11:1 it says, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” In Hebrew, the word for “branch” is netzer, “NZR” which letters are included in NaZaReth. It seems that Matthew was referring to the branch, the Nazarene, in turn a reference to God’s raising up of the Messiah. Clearly, Matthew was not exegeting Isaiah, but it seems he was referring to the Branch.
Hey, if God wants to get cute with his Hebrew, I won’t complain. (Not that he would care if I did.)
#6: Jesus’ Abrahamic descent fulfilling…well, a lot of Genesis
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, (Matthew 1:3)
Don’t skip over the infamous “begat” lists. Scripture had promised since time immemorial that Jesus would be descended of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If you’re in a researchy mood, check out Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:15; 24:7; 26:3, 4; and 35:11-12. They refer numerous times to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as being numerous and blessed.
Now, who says this is a reference to one individual, Jesus? For the sake of argument, it could just be referring to Israel. (Always be willing to ask the hard questions. If you don’t, skeptics will.) Thankfully, Paul connects those dots for us:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)
#7: Jesus’ descent from Judah fulfilling Genesis 49:10
Somewhat embarrassingly, it was from The Shack that I learned which of the twelve tribes of Israel actually gave us Jesus. I’d just never thought to look it up before. But it turns out to be important in linking Matthew 1:3 to Genesis:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Genesis 49:10).
Interesting sidenote: Judah was not Jacob’s firstborn. That would have been Reuben, who got himself into enough trouble (incest, of all things) that God removed him from any part in Jesus’ genealogy. Another sobering reminder of our accountability to God.
#8: Jesus’ descent from David fulfilling 2 Samuel 7:11b-16
God foretold that David would be an ancestor of Jesus as well. In addition to all the Messianic hints in the Psalms, he gave us this:
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:11b-16)
#9: The virgin birth fulfilling…some curse on a distant king of Judah?
Just to put an exclamation point on Scripture’s prophetic integrity, let me point out a prophecy that isn’t mentioned explicitly in Matthew 1, and in fact has nothing to do with Jesus directly. It’s a curse placed on a king of Judah who lived centuries earlier.
Therefore this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim king of Judah: He will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night. I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them and those living in Jerusalem and the people of Judah every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened.’” (Jeremiah 36:30-31)
Jehoiakim, one of the last kings of a dying Judah, lived so wickedly (incest again, according to rabbinical tradition) that God shut down his royal bloodline. No future ruler of Israel would come through him. He is not mentioned in Matthew 1’s genealogy, but the Old Testament tells us that he came between Josiah and Jeconiah (connected in verse 11) and was simply skipped by Matthew. (Jewish genealogies skipped people all the time; they weren’t a painfully exact people like we twenty-first century denizens. You have to get used to that if you’re going to defend the Bible’s accuracy. Don’t worry, this is a far less desperate reach than Mormons claiming the use of chariots and scimitars in North America or something.)
The part about Jehoiakim’s body being thrown out was fulfilled right away, during Nebuchadnezzar’s final siege of Jerusalem. But the second part, about not having a royal bloodline, could have been a problem for Jesus’ Davidic lineage: Jehoiakim, one of Joseph’s ancestors, was a descendant of David, and Jesus had been prophesied to come through a royal bloodline of David. So the Messiah had to be a descendant of David, yet being so through Jehoiakim would have contradicted the curse of Jeremiah 36:30, as Jehoiakim had been denied inclusion in that bloodline. (Remember, the throne of Israel was understood as not just physical but also heavenly, one which Jesus indeed now occupies as the ultimate King of God’s people).
God’s end-around: the virgin birth. From the commentary of David Guzik as he compares Joseph’s geneaology with Mary’s from Luke 3:
Each genealogy is the same as it records the line from Adam (or Abraham) all the way down to David. But at David, the two genealogies separated. If we remember the list of David’s sons in 2 Samuel 5, we see that Satan focused his attention on the descendants of the royal line through Solomon – and this was a reasonable strategy. According to Matthew 1:6, Joseph’s line went through Solomon (and therefore Jehoiakim, the cursed one). Jesus was the legal son of Joseph, but not the blood son of Joseph – so the curse on Jehoiakim did not affect him. Joseph did not contribute any of the “blood” of Jesus, but he did contribute his legal standing as a descendant of the royal line to Jesus. Mary’s line – the blood line of Jesus – did not go through Solomon, but through a different son of David, named Nathan (Luke 3:31). Mary was therefore not part of that blood curse on the line of Jehoiakim.
That’s fascinating. Guzik almost seems to paint Solomon’s entirely kingly line as a massive decoy for Satan: here, devil, come and tempt these guys and you’ll get Jesus’ lineage cursed. Indeed, we see Matthew 1 affirming the blood curse on Jehoiakim’s line, demonstrating that God had not forgotten Jehoiakim’s wickedness and just gone “ohhh, all right, you can be a genetic descendant of Jesus”. No, he was out.
Yet God finds a way: through Mary, who hailed from David through one of Solomon’s brothers (and thus not from the morally shattered line of Judah’s kings), David’s blood got into Jesus. Amazing – a cosmic battle over a bloodline, with God fighting to preserve it millennia after millennia.
Who else could have this many plates spinning at one time and still achieve his objective?
Who else could inspire his prophets to foretell the Messiah without them even realizing it?
Who else could guide the actions of men, both willing and unaware, to bring mankind’s salvation into being?
I’ll tell you what I think: only the God of Israel, whose son was Jesus Christ.