Due to the overwhelmingly favorable response we received on the last series in this column on the prophet Jeremiah, it seems appropriate to once again delve into the vast theological wealth of the prophets. This month, we begin a series based on the writings of the "prince of prophets", Isaiah; specifically what we can glean from his message concerning the Messiah. Since Isaiah is a vast and profound book, in this series we will just be touching upon some of his great Messianic themes and insights. To probe more deeply into this prophetic masterpiece would keep this series going indefinitely!
Isaiah, whose name means, "the Lord saves", lived during the time of the divided kingdom (upon Solomon's death, his kingdom split into Israel and Judah). Isaiah spent most of his ministry in Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah, approximately 700 years before Christ. During his ministry the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria, and much of Isaiah's message concerns a warning to Judah that the same fate awaited them if the nation did not repent. Babylon would be the nation to lead Judah into this promised captivity.
However, the message of Isaiah does not only contain assurances of judgment and exile. The prophet is equally concerned with the promise of God's restoration and compassion. Isaiah paints a portrait of an age of peace and righteousness, not just for Israel or Judah, but throughout the whole earth. This "messianic age" will be brought about by God's unique ruler, the Messiah. It is to what the prophet tells us about this ruler that we will turn our attention.
From Isaiah's point of view, the Messiah was still yet to come. Isaiah doesn't specifically tell his contemporary readers/listeners that in seven hundred years they could expect a carpenter from Nazareth to be the Messiah but the information he provides is graphic enough for the careful and expectant watcher to recognize the promised ruler when he came.
Messiah is an English transliteration of a Hebrew word which means, "anointed one". Messiah and Christ have identical meanings. (The word "Christ" is the English transliteration of the Greek word for Messiah. Another way of referring to "Jesus Christ" is "Jesus the Messiah" or "Jesus the Anointed One".) Throughout his writings, Isaiah depicts a multi-faceted, several-dimensional mosaic of the coming Messiah's qualities. The prophet has literally saturated his work with references to Messiah. One has only to read through any few chapters to confirm this fact. We will briefly survey some of the major characteristics Isaiah furnishes.
The first clue we are given as to who the Messiah will be and what he will be like is found in 7:14. There is much debate as to how to accurately interpret this verse, and discussion as to whether the woman referred to is a virgin or not (the Hebrew word almah simply means “young woman of marriageable age,” who might or might not be married – unmarried 8th century BC Israelite maidens were assuredly virgins in a society where premarital sex was prohibited by both God’s law and Hebrew culture), whether Isaiah was speaking of a contemporary woman or someone in the far future.
However, since the context reveals that the divine sign provided by God was to be an unmistakably impressive one, I believe this passage teaches that the Messiah will be a human child born of a virgin. Of particular note, this child will be given the designation, "God with us" (Immanuel). Of course, our Messiah, Jesus is the ultimate Immanuel, "God with us." More of the Messiah according to Isaiah next time.