The Birth of the Messiah
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” —Micah 5:2 NIV
It has been said, and rightly so, that the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. The Old Testament is the story of man’s sin and resulting separation from God. Beginning with the first chapters of Genesis, on through to the last sentence in the Book of Malachi, it clearly shows our need for a Redeemer and sets the stage for His arrival.
In Luke 24:27, Jesus pointed to Old Testament Scriptures to prove He was the Messiah, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Then the apostle Paul arrives in Rome as a prisoner, but trusted by his captors to the extent that he was allowed to live in a rented house with only one soldier guarding him. The Jewish leaders arranged to meet Paul and discuss all that he knew about the Messiah. Acts 28:23 says, “From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”
Christians and Jewish People who believe the Hebrew Scriptures are the inspired Word of God can use the Old Testament to establish the foundations of their shared heritage. This is especially true when it comes to the birth of the Messiah. One is never required to turn to the New Testament in order to discover where, when, how and why the Messiah would be born. The Jewish Prophets, writing hundreds of years before Yeshua’s birth, recorded all of these facts in detail. Thus, the credentials for the true Messiah were laid out for us centuries before He was born. The question we must ask is this: Does Jesus of Nazareth fulfill the detailed description given to us by the Prophets? Of course, we can answer this with a resounding “yes!”
Ongoing debate over the issue of whether or not Jesus was actually born during this time of the year continues to surface on an annual basis as the traditional holiday approaches. Various facts of the times must be considered. For example, Luke’s gospel begins by saying, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world” (v. 1). Augustus’s four-decade reign doesn’t lend itself to pinpointing an exact timeline.
Verse 2 of Luke’s account says Quirinius was governor of Syria. This man had been made “Counsel” in 12 BC, with his appointment as governor coming slightly later. And the birth of Yeshua takes place during the lifetime of Herod the Great, according to Matthew 2 and Luke 1:5. Secular history states as a fact that Herod died just before Passover of 4 BC. A reasonable calculation then places Yeshua’s birth at 5 or 4 BC.
We automatically assume that Jesus’ birth took place in the year zero, but since there is no such thing and BC means “Before Christ,” we must conclude that our timing is somewhat off. The calendar we use today was based on the calculations of a sixth-century monk named Dionysius. Mistakes were definitely made.
Many argue that Christmas is, in fact, based on a pagan holiday and has nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of the Messiah. Some suggest that He was born on Sukkot, (the Feast of Tabernacles) based on the statement that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Literally, the Greek reads that He tabernacled among us. The focus of this article, however, is to show that the birth of the Messiah is clearly detailed for us in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament and is fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
It is a supernatural confirmation of our faith that these detailed prophecies—the where, when and how of Yeshua’s birth, were written hundreds of years before He was actually born. It is the Old Testament that provides this “road map” in determining who the true Messiah would be.
It is neither necessary nor important for us to know the precise date on which Jesus was born. It is most likely not the day we now know as “Christmas.” What is far more important is that we remember the reason we celebrate His birth. This celebration is all about the Son of God—the incarnation of God Himself into human form—that transforms time itself and begins the process of redemption for all mankind.
Where would the Messiah be born?
The New Testament records that when Herod the Great sought to find the Messiah he summoned the Jewish religious leadership to discover the exact location of His birth.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” —Matthew 2:1-6
The teachers and priests of the day could easily provide the king with the exact location of Yeshua’s birth because they were completely familiar with the revelation that the Prophet Micah had recorded hundreds of years before.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” —Micah 5:2
Two interesting points in this prophecy are worthy of our attention. First, the word Bethlehem is derived from two Hebrew words: Beit, which means “house” and Lechem, which means “bread,” or “House of Bread.” If you believe as I do that there are no coincidences in life, God must have intended for the “Bread of Life” to be born in a village known as the “House of Bread.”
Second, many Rabbis and scholars argue that this verse is strictly speaking of the birthplace of King David and in no way referred to the coming Messiah. But King David lived and died long before Micah’s prophecy was written. Further, the fascinating statement contained in this verse, “whose origins are from Old, from ancient times,” indicates that the one who would be born would have existed before…literally from everlasting to everlasting.
This prophecy not only contains the where in naming Bethlehem, but also presents the fact that the Messiah would be pre-existent, or divine. What an amazing paradox. The Messiah would be born, yet He would have already existed from ancient times! Only Yeshua, who John reveals was in the beginning with God and is himself God, according to John 1:1, could have fulfilled this amazing prophecy in such detail.
When would the Messiah be born?
A rather complicated passage in Daniel 9, often a focus of interest to interpreters of the Word, provides the answer. Some scholars believe that no single prophetic utterance is more crucial in the fields of biblical interpretation, apologetics, and eschatology. In his much-quoted work, “Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks,” Dr. Alva McClain explains that the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks “has an immense evidential value as a witness to the truth of Scripture.”
Dr. McClain wrote, “The prophet Daniel, now a man grown old in the service and courts of the Babylonian kings, understands from his study of the ‘Books’ that the period of divine judgment must be nearing its close; and he prays to the God of Israel for light as to the future of his ‘city’ and his ‘people’—Jerusalem and the People of Israel (9:3-19). It is a marvelous prayer, but unfinished; for while the petitioner ‘was speaking in prayer’ an angelic messenger came with the answer of God (21-23). And since the divine reply contains a prediction of the First Advent of Christ, it is wholly appropriate that the messenger should have been Gabriel, the same angel who several hundred years later would announce His birth of the Virgin Mary (see Luke 1:26–31). Thus it was the angel, not Daniel, who first uttered the great prophecy of the Seventy Weeks.”
The revered theologian, regarded as one of the outstanding Bible scholars of his generation, McClain continued, “I am convinced that in the predictions of the 70 Weeks, we have the indispensable chronological key to all New Testament prophecy. Only an omniscient God could have foretold [this event] so precisely and over 500 years in advance of the very day on which the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem and present Himself as the ‘Prince’ of Israel. Yet this is precisely what has been done in the prophecy.”
From the first verse of Daniel 9 until the last, we see the timetable for God’s full plan of redemption, culminating in Yeshua himself foretelling the destruction of the Temple to His disciples in Matthew 24.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” —Matthew 24:1-3
Why would the disciples inquire of Jesus about the end of the age when the focus of His discussion with them was on the destruction of the Temple? We can only surmise that they may have thought the destruction of the Temple would initiate the beginning of the last days. Then as now, people are curious about how the end will come and what signs will identify the events that bring it to pass.
Another possibility is that their questions had to do with the very important role of the Temple to the community in general. The Temple was the heartbeat of the city and the people—their center for worship, sacrifice, and religious education. It was critically important to them.
They were also proud of the Temple and all that it represented. Thousands of craftsmen had spent years building its great walls—some of smooth, white marble. Gold and silver had been used in the design of the enormously impressive gates. The Gate Beautiful alone is so named because it was entirely covered in exquisitely polished brass and rose to the sky, measuring 75 feet high by 60 feet wide. One commentary says, “Such splendor would have made it difficult for the disciples to imagine the Temple’s ruin unless the world itself was coming to an end.
“Visitors to Jerusalem can still see some of the enormous stones from the Temple. One is 27 feet long and weighs at least 200 tons. Mark 13:1 says, ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’ In their minds, the destruction of the temple would be both a physical and a spiritual calamity.”
How would the Messiah be born?
One of the unique signs of Messiah’s birth was that He would be born of a virgin. This concept does not come from the Gospels, but rather from the Old Testament and ancient Jewish expectation. Isaiah 7:14 promised, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” The name Immanuel literally translates to “God with us.”
As with many of the prophecies concerning the identity of the Messiah, much disagreement persists regarding the correct interpretation of these passages. Those who argue against the virgin birth point out that the Hebrew word used here almah and translated, “virgin” simply denotes a woman of marriageable age and not a virgin. Another Hebrew word, betulah precisely translates “virgin.”
In response, two things should be addressed. The first, in the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek in 250 BC, the Jewish scholars chose to use the Greek word parthanos (the clear word in Greek for “virgin”) when they translated this passage. They obviously understood that this was the meaning and intent of the verse. What kind of a sign or miracle would it be for an ordinary woman to have a child?
Second, the origin of the virgin birth is actually much earlier than this prophecy. In fact, it goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15, where the Lord first gives us His promise to redeem mankind and informs Satan that at some point in time, the “seed of the woman would crush his head.” Notice that He says “seed of the woman,” a strange statement since seed is usually referring to the man. We have here the first prophecy of the virgin birth…the seed of the woman. Jesus of Nazareth was that seed!
Why would the Messiah be born and what would He accomplish?
Again, the Old Testament provides the answer. Isaiah’s position at the beginning of the prophetic books of the Old Testament is well deserved. There is nothing to equal his tremendous vision of God and the glory in store for God’s people until we reach John’s book, Revelation, at the end of the New Testament. Other prophets came before him historically, but there was none greater.
Isaiah lived in Jerusalem in the eighth century BC. He prophesied for more than 40 years through the reigns of some of the greatest kings and some of the worst. Realizing from the start that his words would fall on deaf ears, he did have one great triumph. King Hezekiah took Isaiah’s advice when Sennacherib’s Assyrian army attempted to break through the gates of Jerusalem, and Isaiah’s words to the King saved the City of God.
Isaiah’s visions had shown him God as “the Holy One of Israel”—he never forgot it. Their intimate personal relationship caused Isaiah to recognize sin for the destructive thing it is, and he remembered that too. He preached God’s righteousness throughout his life, warning of the consequences of sin while consoling his people with the knowledge of God’s patient love, His desire to be merciful, and all the glories that would reward those who were faithful.
It was Isaiah who saw the Suffering Servant, described in these verses:
See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. —Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:2-5
Yeshua was born to die. He came to this earth, lived a sinless life, set an example for us of how to live, and then gave His life as an atonement for us. He is the second Adam, the second Isaac, the Only Begotten of the Father, the Lamb of God that came to take away the sin of the world. He was born to die…
“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.” —Matthew 1:21
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… —1 Timothy 1:15
In conclusion, Yeshua came to live with us on earth so that one day we can live with God in Heaven.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” —Revelation 21:1-4
It is not important to focus on what day of the year that Yeshua was actually born—whether it was Christmas, Sukkot or some other day. It is important for us to remember His birth, life, death and resurrection—and what all of these events mean for us. Because of Him, we have abundant life here and eternal life in the world to come. Let us live a life of thanksgiving unto Him every day, grateful to God for His Son and our Savior, Yeshua our Messiah.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” —Luke 2:14
May His grace and peace be with you and those you love during this joyous holiday season.