Last Things First: Four More Ways Christ’s Birth Fulfills An End Times Prophecy

The Adoration of the MagiPicking up where I left off yesterday, I want to continue showing how the end-times prophecy of Isaiah 60 is fulfilled in the birth of Christ. From Isaiah 60:1–6, I highlighted three ways that Christ’s birth fulfilled the promises of (1) light, (2) joy, and (3) treasures brought to the temple. Today, I will pick up four more promises that are fulfilled in Christ’s birth.

4. Gentiles Have Been Received By Christ

In Isaiah 60:6 the LORD says kings will come to Zion bringing gifts. Now, in verse 7, we find the promise that those gifts “will beautify my beautiful house.” This “house” is a reference God’s holy temple, the place where God dwelt on earth. But incredibly, this house, its altar and inner sanctuary, were off limits–especially to Gentiles. And yet here, in Isaiah 60 we find the invitation for Gentile kings to “come up with acceptance on my altar.” The inclusion of “acceptance” is remarkable.

Under the old covenant, Gentiles were ritually and religiously unclean. In Ezekiel 44:6–9, Israel received the harshest condemnation because they permitted Gentiles to come near to God’s house. But now, Isaiah 60 says these foreign kings will be acceptable. How is this possible? The answer goes back to the international scope of the Servant’s work (Isa. 49:6–7).

While God chose Israel to be his covenant people in the Old Testament, the goal was always bigger. God would redeem a people from all nations, a theme that runs throughout Isaiah, and goes back to Abraham himself (see Gen. 12:1–3). In Isaiah 60, we now see the nations coming to Zion, bringing gifts (vv. 6–9), and building up the city of God. Listen to verse 10, “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.”

Incredibly, when God exiled the people of Israel to Babylon and the nations, he in turn made a way for the nations to begin coming to Zion to find salvation in Israel’s king. In Zechariah 8:23, the post-exilic prophet puts it like this, “In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” Indeed, in God’s unfathomable wisdom, he would turn Israel’s exile into a pathway of salvation for the nations. And in Isaiah 60:6–16 we find the nations coming to Israel bringing gifts and finding a place to reside near God.

In the New Testament, this emigration towards Zion is seen in the way the Magi come to Jerusalem to worship the king of the Jews. Most likely, these men of the East came to Jerusalem in response to the knowledge they received from exiled Jews. Daniel is a likely candidate for this kind of knowledge, but it could be others too. For our purposes, it is clear that Isaiah 60’s vision of the nations coming to Zion anticipates the arrival of the Magi. Or to turn it around, Matthew includes their pilgrimage to Zion (to Jesus, not just Jerusalem) to show how Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled.

On this point, we can go even further. These Gentile kings did not merely come to Bethlehem, they were welcomed into the Jewish living space Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. As Matthew 2:11 begins, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother.” Let us not miss the significance of this moment. These unclean Gentiles are received into the presence of the Israel’s king because of their worshipful faith. This too reinforces the fact that Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled in the way Gentile kings are received the King of the Jews.

5. God Has Made Himself Known

If the Lord receives the nations in Zion, then he has also made himself known to the nations. That is, Isaiah is announcing a day when the light of God and the law of God will go into the nations, and the city of God will be open to all who respond. To this point, Isaiah 60:11 pictures the city of God as being open continually: “Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession.”

The imagery of an open city is no longer a picture of vulnerability but true security. When the LORD comes, as Isaiah 60 pictures, the nations will come to make peace with this king. And by the sacrifice of the Servant (Isaiah 53), they will be cleansed and welcomed as an everlasting part of God’s holy city.

In this way, the knowledge of the Lord is no longer reserved for Israel. God’s knowledge, a token of the new covenant, is available to all the children of God (Isa. 54:13), no matter their country of origin (cf. Psalm 87). As verse 14 puts it, “The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

Whereas the enemies of Israel previously afflicted God’s covenant people, now they will repent and bow down to the Lord. They will acknowledge the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the only true God. Hence, they will call him the “Holy One of Israel.” Once again, the perspective of Isaiah is future-looking. But with the first advent of Christ, we can see how the nations came to know who the true God was and is.

Even if the Magi were uncertain of who the king of the Jews was—Herod would have called himself the King of the Jews—they were led to know and worship Jesus as the King of the Jews. With the coming of Christ, the times of ignorance were over (Acts 17:30). And though, the full message of Christ’s death and resurrection were not revealed at the time of his birth, the writing was on the wall. The one who was Immanuel had come, and he would bring the nations salvation

6. Salvation Has Come to Earth

Salvation to the nations is actually the next indicator that Isaiah 60 was fulfilled in the birth of Christ. For in verses 15–18, we have the double mention of God being the Savior and Redeemer. This is first seen in verse 16, when Isaiah writes, “you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” Then again in verse 18 reads, “Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.” And in between, in verse 17, there is the promise of peace and righteousness.

Long story short, the promise of salvation in Isaiah 60 is not simply a reality that will come at the Second Coming of Christ. Rather, the way of salvation has been provided in the first coming of Christ. In fact, when Mary and Joseph receive the instruction to call his name “Jesus” (Matt. 1:21), which means the Lord saves, we have every indication that the birth of Christ initiated a new phase in God’s plan of salvation.

In the birth of Christ, salvation has come to the earth. And this salvation is not just for Israel, but for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord. And with the naming of Jesus, this salvation is both real and present. We are not waiting for salvation to come in the future, the way Isaiah and his audience would be. We are not waiting for a deliverance from exile. That deliverance has come, and is experienced today, even as we await the redemption of our bodies.

Indeed, the certainty that our bodies will be redeemed in the resurrection stems from the fact that we have tasted the firstfruits of redemption in the new life granted to us in Christ. And in Isaiah 60 the new creation themes of light, life, salvation, and joy, are things that are really experienced now by the Spirit. And on the last day, they will be experienced fully, when night is no more and eternal day has come.

7. The Light Will Never Go Out

In fact, this is where Isaiah 60 concludes. In verses 19–22, the end of the chapter returns to the theme of light. Already, we have considered how God’s light entered the world through Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:1–5, 9). But one day soon, the light that has dawned will swallow the darkness entirely. And when that day comes, the world will be engulfed with the light of God. As verses 19–20 read,

“The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.

On that day too, the people of God “shall all be righteous,” and “they shall possess the land forever” (v. 21). Indeed, those who have been made new creations will enjoy a world that is a new creation. This is what Revelation 21–22 describe. And clearly, these are things that we who live in 2022 look for in the future.

At the same time, it is important to see that this future promise has been inaugurated. The light of God has been made visible and tangible in Christ (1 John 1:1-4), and while we await a new cosmos, we do not await a new Christ. As John 8–9 indicate, Jesus who is the light of the world has already begun to fulfill the promise of making night day, and darkness light. In John’s Gospel, Judas walks at night, but the disciples walk in the light of the day. And as long as they, or we, walk with Christ, there is no end to that light.

Indeed, this is one more way Isaiah 60 and its eschatological promises have already begun to be fulfilled. That is, we do not need to relegate Isaiah’s words to the end of time only, as if there is no present fulfillment. Rather, Isaiah 60 has been fulfilled in Christ and will be fulfilled in his return.

And thus, at Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ as those who have the light of the world, even as we await the light to swallow the darkness. And for this reason, we can boldly say, that the light has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). This is our present and eternal hope and salvation.

And for this reason, we should bring our praise, our gifts, and our persons to the resurrected Christ. On Christmas Day, which is the Lord’s Day this year, we are given the chance to proclaim the presence of God’s light already come to earth. And for that reason we gather, sing, and worship the King who was born in Bethlehem and to whom the nations have been coming ever since.

On Christmas, let us remember that all the promises of God are Yes and Amen in Christ. And may we celebrate the birth of Christ as the first of many fulfillments of all God’s end-time prophecies.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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