Jesus is Immanuel. Studying Matthew 1:21-25

In Matthew chapter 1, Mary and Joseph are both told some amazing news. Mary is going to have a child who has been miraculously conceived through the Holy Spirit. 

In verse 21, Joseph is told:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus means the Lord’s salvation. 

Jesus has a special name that points to his ministry in the world. 

Joseph would not get to choose the name for this adopted son. The name was given.

In verses 22-23, Matthew says:  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, 

and they shall call his name Immanuel” 

Background for the Immanuel prophecy

This is a reference to Isaiah 7:14. 

It’s the eighth century B.C. Israel is a divided kingdom. 

The Davidic Monarchy rules Judah, the southern kingdom. The king is a man named Ahaz. He’s not a good king. 

Now the regional superpower of that day is Assyria and they pose a threat. 

Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel try to form an alliance against Assyria and want Ahaz in the southern kingdom to join. 

King Ahaaz is given a divine promise that they will prevail and he’s told by God to ask for a sign. 

Ahaz refuses this divine command, but he refuses because he doesn’t trust the Lord and will try to go his own way. Instead of trusting the Lord, he will pay off the Assyrians not to attack them but will give them the gold and silver of the temple for protection. 

So the Lord tells Ahaz to ask a sign. Ahaz refuses. 

But he’s given a sign anyway. 

Isaiah 7:13-14:

​​13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 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.

Immanuel in Isaiah

I take the prophecy as having a double fulfillment. In other words, it was fulfilled in the 8th century B.C. and it was fulfilled again in Christ. 

For its first fulfillment, the Immanuel prophecy is given in Isaiah 7. In Isaiah 8, the Prophet Isaiah’s wife has a baby. The baby’s name is Maher-shalal-hash-baz. In Hebrew, that means “quick to plunder, swift to spoil.” 

And it’s a judgment against Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel and looks to their impending destruction. 

Isaiah’s son represents Immanuel in the Old Testament. Immanuel is less a first name and more a title. There’s no one in the whole Bible with the name Immanuel. But it’s what it represents that matters. The name Immanuel, as Matthew tells us, means “God with us.” 

God was with Ahaz and the southern tribes, despite their unfaithfulness. The southern kingdom would face their judgment a century later, but God preserved the monarchy.

So that’s the first fulfillment and what it meant in the days of Ahaz. 

But it also points forward to a greater Immanuel to come. It clearly points forward to the future because in Isaiah 9, the prophet points to a great king who will have a never ending kingdom. 

It points to a child who would be born and rule on the throne of David. 

Isaiah 9:6-7: 

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; 

and the government shall be upon his shoulder, 

and his name shall be called 

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, 

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

7 Of the increase of his government and of peace 

there will be no end, 

on the throne of David and over his kingdom, 

to establish it and to uphold it 

with justice and with righteousness 

from this time forth and forevermore. 

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. 

This is fulfilled by the second Immanuel. 

Immanuel in Matthew

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” 

Matthew shows that Isaiah is pointing to Jesus. 

Jesus is Immanuel. Jesus is God with us, literally. God came into the world. That is why he’s the greater Immanuel, because Jesus IS God with us. 

And the sign that authenticates his incarnation into the world is that he was born of a virgin. 

Word study – Almah

Now in Isaiah, in Hebrew, the word used for virgin is the word almah

Almah in Hebrew does not specifically mean virgin in the same way that we use that term in English. In English, it refers to being sexually chaste. In Hebrew, it refers more specifically to a young woman. 

So would the average person in the 8th century have thought that this was referring to a virgin birth? 

Probably not. But here’s what’s interesting. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, which was a couple centuries before Jesus, when they translated almah, they actually did use the Greek word for virgin. 

So to someone who had a Greek Old Testament, their reading would have said that a virgin would conceive and bear a son and his name was to be Immanuel. So you have the Isaiah prophecy given eight centuries before Jesus. You have the Greek translation as “virgin” a couple centuries before Jesus. 

Matthew quoting the Greek translation of the Hebrew. And he’s saying that all along, the passage was ultimately pointing to a virgin birth of the true Immanuel. 

So Jesus represents the Immanuel prophecy of the Old Testament, but his name is to not be Immanuel, but to be Jesus. 

We come to the final two verses of the passage. The angel of the Lord has told Joseph not to fear taking Mary as his wife. 

Joseph and Mary

Verses 24-25:

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Joseph is obedient to the Lord.

We see his faithfulness to God. Joseph, the Son of David, takes Mary who is pregnant with the Christ child to be his wife. 

At the end of the passage, it says that when the Lord was born, Joseph did name him Jesus, as he had been commanded to do. 

So we see in these last verses that Jesus comes as Immanuel, but he’s given the name Jesus. 

And in those two names, we see who Jesus is and what Jesus does. 

He is Immanuel. He is God with us. 

And he is Jesus. He is the Lord’s salvation. 

He’s God with us in that he invites us to be with him. He’s the Lord’s salvation that he saves us from our sins. He’s God with us in that he came into our world. He’s the Lord’s salvation in that he was rejected by our world. 

But in his rejection, he died sinless so that the sinful could have their sins forgiven. The message of Christmas is meaningless without the message of the cross. Because it’s not just a quaint and cozy story. But Christmas invites us to remember Immanuel, the God who came into our world to bring the Lord’s salvation. And the Christ who brought the Lord’s salvation in dying so that we could have life.