The Gospels: Matthew 1:18-23 – The Virgin Will Give Birth to a Son
In his book about Jesus, Matthew frequently says that Jesus fulfilled verses from the Old Testament. One example comes in the story of Jesus’ birth.
Miraculous beginnings (verses 18-21)
“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” Matthew begins. “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”
Joseph knew how most girls become pregnant, and he knew that he was not the father. But “because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Joseph and Mary were legally obligated to marry, and they were considered husband and wife. If Mary had sex with another man, it would be considered adultery, and Deuteronomy 22:23-24 required death for most such cases. Joseph did not want to humiliate Mary, but he wanted to call off the wedding.
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”
The angel also announced that God had a special role for the child: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
The name Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means “God saves.” Jesus was a common name in those days, because many Jewish parents gave their children names that expressed faith in God. Many first-century Jews wanted God to save them from the Romans. The angel announced a different kind of Messiah—one who would save the people from their own sins.
A fulfillment of Scripture (verses 22-23)
Matthew tells us that “all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’”
But no one called Mary’s child “Immanuel.” No one talks about “Immanuel of Nazareth.” The angel said his name should be Jesus. Immanuel was someone else.
Matthew is quoting Isaiah 7:14. In context, that is not a prophecy about the Messiah. Rather, it is the prediction of a child in the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, some 700 years before Jesus. Enemies were threatening to invade Judah, and Isaiah tells Ahaz not to worry. Isaiah gives him a time frame: a woman will conceive, and before her son is weaned, Assyria will take care of the enemies (Isaiah 7:1-17).
Ahaz presumably knew who the virgin was—perhaps his daughter—and she conceived in the normal way, after marriage. She had a boy and named him Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” She did not expect the boy himself to be God; rather, she was expressing belief that God was helping his people.
Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the days of Ahaz, and Matthew says it was fulfilled again by the birth of Jesus. Jesus gave the verse a significance far greater than anyone had imagined: It was indeed a virgin who conceived, and her son was indeed God, who had come to be with his people.
Jesus did not have to bear the name Immanuel—he fulfilled the scripture in an unexpected way. What the boy Immanuel could signify only in his name, Jesus fulfilled in reality.
The Greeks Had a Word for it
The Greek verb plēroō means “to make full.” John uses this word to say that a house was “filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3). Plēroō is often used in connection with Scripture, and the traditional translation is that a scripture was “fulfilled.”
Many people assume that this means that a prediction has come true. But in some cases, the scripture is not even a prediction. Matthew 2:15 says that Jesus fulfilled a scripture when he returned from Egypt. Matthew quotes Hosea, who says: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Hosea 11:1 is referring to the past, not the future.
Matthew says that this event in Israel’s past was given a new significance in the life of Jesus. Hosea used the word “son” in a figurative way to refer to the nation of Israel; Matthew is saying that a similar thing happened to the child who was literally God’s Son. He filled the scripture with new meaning; he gave it a new and deeper significance.
Author: Michael Morrison