Christmas Before Christ
I'd like to look at Christ's birth from an Old Testament prophet's viewpoint. We usually look at this event, the birth of Christ, as something that happened in the past, but for many centuries the birth of the Messiah was seen as something in the future. Let's go back in time and examine what this great event meant for those who saw it as something to hope for somewhere in the future, rather than celebrate as a past event.
Background on Isaiah
The Old Testament period we will look at is the time of Isaiah the prophet who lived in the 7th century before Christ. At that time, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms - North and South. The united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon was split in two by civil war after Solomon's death. Isaiah lived and worked in the Southern Kingdom and dwelt in the city of Jerusalem. He was from an influential family and was well educated. His name meant "God is Salvation" and he served as the preacher for the royal family throughout the reigns of several kings including Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. (All kings of the Southern Kingdom.)
Isaiah made many prophecies concerning what would happen to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, within a century's time, and history verifies that all of his prophecies came true. One such prophecy was given as the entire region was going through a severe crisis. Isaiah had predicted that the Northern Kingdom would be destroyed and the people taken into captivity. This took place shortly after, as Assyria came in and conquered the Northern Kingdom and scattered its people (721 BC). In addition to the prophecy about this terrible event, Isaiah made another prophecy saying that despite this region's terrible defeat, there would one day come from it a Wonderful Savior who would bestow favor on it before the world.
6For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
- Isaiah 9:6-7
For the people of that time, this prophecy foretold not only of destruction but of hope that a period of peace and restoration would come. The fortunes of those kingdoms went up and down throughout history:
- The Northern Kingdom was never restored and eventually became the dwelling place of a mixed-race called Samaritans who hated and were hated in return by Jews in the Southern Kingdom.
- The Southern Kingdom itself was defeated and destroyed and its people carried off into captivity to Babylon (587 BC).
- They returned 70 years later, a small remnant, to rebuild the city and temple but never regained the old glory and wealth that they had under Solomon.
All the prophecies that Isaiah made about their military and political future were fulfilled except this one concerning the child born, the Wonderful Counselor, etc. As time went by those who longed for the Messiah, spoken of by many of the prophets including Isaiah, looked to this particular prophecy to indicate the great joy experienced when the Messiah would be born.
Christmas Joy in the Old Testament
Of course, the Jews didn't celebrate Christmas in the Old Testament but the thought or anticipation of the birth of the Messiah did bring them joy (like it does for us today) for several reasons particular to them:
1. His birth would signal the end of the reign of Satan on earth - vs. 6a
The term government refers to empire and the word shoulders refers to authority. From the fall of Adam to the birth of Christ, Satan held men prisoners through their ignorance and fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). With the arrival of Jesus, sin would be atoned for and eternal death eliminated. Jesus would bring a new order, a new empire, a new authority on earth to displace the old authority of sin and death. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto Me", this fulfills Isaiah's prophecy of the authority (government) resting on His shoulders.
The Jews saw this as the hope of being free from human oppressors only, but Isaiah's words had a much wider implication through Jesus. Another reason for their joyful anticipation of the Messiah:
2. His birth would give man the fullest revelation of God in history - vs. 6b
In the Old Testament, your name stood for who you were, it was a mark of individuality. Isaiah confers four names on this person to be born, and each one of these names is used to refer to divinity elsewhere in Scripture (Isaiah 28:29). Not just ordinary names or compliments, they refer to Divinity. Another feature of these names was that each one described a way in which the Messiah would reveal His divine nature to man. It's interesting to note that Jesus fulfilled each of these names during His ministry:
A. Wonderful Counselor (miraculous advisor)
- In John 16:29-30 - the Apostles believed in His divinity because of His teaching.
B. Mighty God (power)
- John 3:2 - Powerful signs were seen as a witness of His divinity.
C. Eternal Father
- Isn't it amazing that Isaiah refers to someone not yet born as eternal.
- It suggests that the one to be born as a human already existed even as his birth was being predicted.
- In John 14:8-9 Jesus says to Philip, "Have I been so long with you and yet you have not come to know Me.."
- It was the Father answering Philip directly, revealing Himself, as the Eternal Father, through Jesus Christ.
D. Prince of Peace
- Jesus did not come to bring peace between people.
- He said that there would be wars and rumors of wars until the end of time.
- He also said that because of Him there would be a conflict between people, between families. He came to bring a sword.
- No, the peace that He brought was between God and man, not man and man.
- Luke 2:14 is a most misquoted verse. Not peace between men, but peace among the men with whom He is pleased. They will have peace with God.
- John 16:33 He says, "..in Me you may have peace, in the world you have tribulation…"
- Through Jesus the world finds peace with God
Until the birth of Christ, then, the world did not really know God, but Isaiah prophesied that when the child would come everyone would:
- Learn the wisdom of God (Wonderful Counselor)
- See the works of God (Mighty God)
- Touch the form of God (Eternal Father)
- Receive the blessing of salvation (Prince of Peace)
Isaiah's prophecy foretold of a time when God would be seen even more clearly than through the prophets, like himself, who predicted His coming. They looked to His coming with joy because:
3. His birth would mark the time when the kingdom of heaven would be established here on earth - vs.7
The arrival of the child would be the point in history when the government of God would be established on earth and expand until the end of time - this coincides with Daniel's prophecy in Daniel 2:44. The New Testament reveals that God's government (kingdom) of which Christ is the head is not political but spiritual - and that spiritual kingdom is what Isaiah is talking about here. At the end of time, all governments, all human systems will fall and the only government, the only system that will remain in place will be the kingdom of God with Christ at its head.
Philippians 2:9 says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor and Eternal Father.
Until the birth of the Messiah spoken of by Isaiah, all were denied entry into the kingdom, but with His death and resurrection, Jesus opened wide the doors of the kingdom for all to enter in.
The point of this study is that there were legitimate reasons to rejoice at the birth of Christ long before any "Christmas" holiday was ever conceived or celebrated. Although the anticipation of gift-giving and receiving is pleasant and there is a spirit of benevolence that exists even in the most cold-hearted organizations at Christmas time, the true reasons for joy are not found here. The true reasons have nothing to do with money or traditions, they are quite Biblical in nature. His birth is a cause for joy because, as Isaiah puts it:
- His birth signaled the end of the old regime of sin and death and the beginning of the new authority dealing with people through grace and love.
- His birth opened our eyes to see God in a way that we could never see Him before.
- His birth brought the glorious kingdom of heaven to earth and opened the door for all those who believed and are baptized to enter in.
I feel sorry for people who celebrate Christmas in ignorance of these facts. All they have to show for their Christmas are a few toys and a couple of extra pounds and plenty of debt. I do feel happy, however, to extend to you my brothers and sisters in Christ an invitation to rejoice at the birth of Christ - no matter how you choose to recognize this Biblical fact. Remember that your joy throughout the year is based on the fact that:
- You possess eternal life
- You have knowledge of the true God
- You are members of His glorious kingdom - the church
I praise God for sending His Son to be born as a man and blessing us with such rich and wonderful gifts. If you are only celebrating the season but can't celebrate the Son because you are not one of His disciples or you have been unfaithful, why not make that right by repenting and being baptized now (Acts 2:37-38) or being restored through prayer (I John 1:7-9). These actions will produce a truly Merry Christmas in your heart that will last throughout the year!