Matthew 1–2 is a rich passage for discerning who Jesus is and how the apostles understood Jesus to be the Christ. As to the former, Matthew introduces his Jewish audience to Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us” (1:18–25), the King of the Jews (2:1–10), the Son of God (2:13–15), the covenant Lord (2:16–18), and the Suffering Servant (2:19–23). As to the latter, Matthew employs a variety of quotations, allusions, and metaphors to paint the picture of Jesus fulfilling the messianic prophecies of old.
In this post we will focus on the first aspect of Jesus’ identity—he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, the Immanuel.
Matthew 1:23 is full of firsts. It is the first Old Testament quotation in the New Testament; it is the first of Matthew’s ‘fulfillment’ texts (Matt 1:23; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 27:9; cf. 3:14; 5:17; 26:54, 56); and it is the first place we encounter the incarnate Christ.
In 1:18–25, Matthew recounts Jesus earthly parents—the virgin Mary and the righteous Joseph. As with the Davidic genealogy, the Davidic lineage of Joseph is mentioned (v. 20), as is the divine origin of Jesus’ birth (v. 19). In this way, the twin expectations of a divine messiah (Isa 9:6-7) and a Davidic messiah (Isa 11:1) are met. Jesus would be the Spirit-conceived, son of David.
More importantly though, at least by means of Matthew’s choice of proof text, is Jesus ontology—“God with us.” Quoting from Isaiah 7:14, Matthew explains that while “Jesus” is his birth name, Immanuel is his existential reality. Whereas in the OT, Immanuel was manifested by God’s spirit in a place (Jerusalem) or a thing (the tabernacle), now God’s presence is manifested in a baby born in Bethlehem. Indeed, what was transient and temporary in the Old Testament—the dwelling of God’s Spirit with Israel—was now made permanent and eternal.
This is just one of innumerable ways that Jesus supersedes the Old Testament types. By taking on flesh, God permanently affixed himself to his covenant people. The incarnation, of which Matthew describes, is the blessed reality that for eternity, the Son of God will dwell in the flesh.
More specifically though, through the Incarnation, the Son of God was united with his covenant people. That is to say that in taking on flesh, Jesus did not take on the corrupted flesh of Adam. Rather, being born by the Spirit, he became the last Adam—one who is the head of a new race of humanity (i.e., the people he will save, v. 21). In this way, Jesus took on flesh that was like that of all humanity; he suffered in the fallen world; yet, he did not inherit a corrupt nature under the reign of Adam (cf. Rom 5:12, 18-19). He was a new man—fully God, fully man. He was and is and forever will be the Immanuel.
This truth is not enough to save, but without it there is no salvation, no gospel, no hope of humanity’s return to God’s glorious presence. The birth of Christ is a glorious display of God’s condescending love to man, and God’s gracious plan to raise the weakest sinner to the heights of glory through the one who took on flesh in order to ransom sinners and bring them to God.
Matthew 1:18–25, which is itself fuflills Isaiah 7:14’s promise of a virgin mother, anticipates so many other promises. It is a rich place to begin Matthew’s gospel and it is a glorious reminder that the God who lives in a high and holy place also comes to dwell in the company of the lowly and contrite.
May we worship the God who has come near in the person of Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss