Old Testament Prophecy and the Birth of Christ

As we begin the season of Advent, we wait for the celebration of the birth of the Messiah. We wait and reflect on what it means that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, especially the prophecies that foretold His birth. We look at three specific prophecies about Christ's birth found in Isaiah and Micah.

He would be preceded by a forerunner (Isaiah 40:3–5)

 A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,

    and all flesh shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3–5 takes up promises from chapter 35 and announces their fulfillment. The wilderness will be transformed (35:1–2, 6–7), Yahweh’s glory will be revealed (35:2), and the King will come (35:4).

Yahweh commands his heavenly council to “comfort, comfort my people” (40:1), and his Word does not return empty but accomplishes that for which he sends it (55:10–11). Therefore, someone has to respond. One voice in the heavenly assembly replies, and Isaiah functions as Yahweh’s spokesman  (40:6; cf. 6:1–8).

In the fullness of time (Gal 4:4), the speaker with this voice is John the Baptist, the herald of the Christ (Mt 3:1–3; Mk 1:1–4; Lk 3:1–6; Jn 1:19–23). To quote Pieper: “This prophecy, let it be said, concerns not only John the Baptist but also all other preachers who have a similar calling, whether they lived before John or later than he.” Following in the footsteps of John, we are reminded that those who speak God’s Word of comfort are of little consequence (cf. Jn 3:26–30; 1 Cor 3:7). It is the message, and not the messenger, that is paramount. (Adapted from Isaiah 40–55, Concordia Commentary)

The Savior would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me

    one who is to be ruler in Israel,

whose coming forth is from of old,

    from ancient days.

In many ways, all of Matthew 2 is a continuous narrative, with the contrasting figures of the two kings, Herod and Jesus, dominating the entire chapter. However, since the Magi are only in 2:1–12, we are justified in considering the significance of this unit, all the while acknowledging the flow of the entire chapter. … The themes of human ignorance and divine revelation, of “normal” expectations and hidden realities, flow seamlessly from chapter 1 and are magnified in chapter 2. From the account of Joseph and the naming of Mary’s child, we learned that apart from God’s interruption and revelation, human beings will neither comprehend nor believe in God’s ways of working through his Christ, the Son of David and Son of God. That same contrast helps to drive forward the narrative of chapter 2 in even more powerful ways, through the contrast of the two kings as well as the unexpected believers who arrive in Jerusalem.” (Adapted from Matthew 1:1–11:1, Concordia Commentary)

The Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Mt 1:18b–19 shows Joseph’s perception of the situation and his pious, yet uninformed, decision. Mary “was found” (presumably by Joseph) to be pregnant, with the result that righteous and compassionate Joseph decided to cancel the legal marriage created by their betrothal. This is the natural human evaluation of the “origin” of Jesus Christ. Since his origin is not from Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, it must have been from a sinful union between Mary and another man. Ironically, although the narrator has informed the hearers/readers that Mary is pregnant “from the Holy Spirit,” Joseph can act only on the basis of his own logical understanding of the child’s origin. Joseph’s plan to divorce Mary discreetly “would leave both his righteousness (his conformity to the law) and his compassion intact.” Joseph is, for the right reasons, about to do the wrong thing, but God intervenes.

In Joseph’s well-meaning incomprehension, we have the first glimpse of a powerfully important theme in Matthew’s Gospel, namely, that in order for human beings to know the ways of God and his Christ, those ways must be revealed to them. They cannot attain to this knowledge and faith by their “own reason or strength.” Whether it is the difference between those who did not repent at Jesus’ miracles and those who did (11:25–28) or those on whom the seed of the Word falls in vain and those in whom the seed bears fruit (13:1–9), what makes the difference is that humans fail to understand unless God reveals his purposes to save in Jesus. That revelation, moreover, possesses the power to evoke a trusting response in men and women, as Joseph will show in 1:24–25.

(Adapted from Matthew 1:1–11:1, Concordia Commentary)

Learn more about prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament with The Messiah.

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