Fifth Gospel

Fifth Gospel December 7, 2017

Isaiah reads like a “greatest hits” of Messianic prophecy.

Isaiah prophesies the birth of the Messiah: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7).

“He prophesies the fact that the Messiah will be a king: “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9).

He prophesies about a Messianic servant who will be filled with the Spirit: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42).

He prophesies of a servant who will heal and restore the broken in Israel: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35).

He envisions the sufferings of Yahweh’s servant: He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions,  He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him,  And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way;  And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53).

Living in a critical period of Judah’s history in the 8th century BC, his prophecies look far ahead and describe Yahweh’s ultimate rescue of His people, the ultimate redemption. When we think of “Messianic prophecy” we are usually thinking of something from Isaiah. No wonder Christians have often regarded the book as a kind of “fifth gospel.”

The notion that Isaiah tells us about the life and ministry of Jesus wasn’t something invented by later Christian theologians. It’s part of the New Testament revelation of Jesus as Messiah.

Matthew quotes Isaiah in regard to the birth of Jesus. John’s ministry is characterized as that of the “voice” calling in the wilderness preparing for the coming of the Lord, a voice prophesied by Isaiah.

Matthew and Luke both characterize Jesus’ ministry in the power of the Spirit with a quotation from Isaiah.

Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee in fulfillment of the prophecy that light would shine on the darkness of Zebulun and Naphtali, a prophecy from Isaiah.

Israel’s hard-hearted response to Jesus’ ministry is like the response of Israel to Isaiah’s prophecy, and the gospel writers quote Isaiah. When Paul gets to Rome and the Jews turn from his message, he quotes Isaiah 6 against them.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 23 times in his letters, and that doesn’t count the number of times he alludes to Isaiah.

He lightly echoes Isaiah 53 when he is describing the work of Jesus as the last Adam in Romans 5:19. “By the obedience of one man many were made righteous,” he says, alluding to Isaiah claim that the Servant, the Righteous One, will “by His knowledge justify many.”

Virtually all the major themes of Romans draw from Isaiah. Paul’s thesis in Romans is that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, and in talking about the righteousness and salvation of God, Paul is drawing on Isaiah 54.

He quotes directly from Isaiah 52:5 when he charges Jews with doing the very things they condemn in others. He quotes from Isaiah 59:7-8 in chapter 3 to show that all are under the power of sin.

In announcing the single sacrifice of Jesus, he alludes to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. “Who can bring a charge against God’s elect?” is answered with Isaiah 50:8, “It is God who justifies.” The hardening and mercy of Romans 9 makes use of Isaiah 49:10.

No wonder Isaiah dominates our Advent and Christmas hymns, lectionaries, sermons. It is indeed a fifth gospel.

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  • John Mulqueen

    he did not prophesize Jesus’ birth. The word virgin is a mistranslation. Noone could predict anything 700 years or 500 years in adviance.

  • Howard Wideman

    John is right. There are three Isaiah s and the most recent is much later than first Isaiah. The mistranslation of virgin Hebrew is young maiden and may well be Isaiah s wife

  • Isaiah prophesies the birth of the Messiah: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7).

    Not really. If you read Isaiah 7, you’ll see that the bit about Immanuel is just 3 verses. The chapter itself is about yet another war. If this were a prophecy about Jesus, they wouldn’t limit it to 3 verses, they wouldn’t bury it in a chapter, and they would mention the death and resurrection, which is kinda the punch line.

    Furthermore, there’s no virgin birth in the story. The “virgin” is predicted to have a child in the future (after which point she won’t be a virgin, of course).

    Furthermore, Immanuel is simply a clock: “before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.”

    Yes, I know that Matthew portrays this as a prophecy of Jesus. It wasn’t. Read it and see.

  • BryantIII


    Very good post. Although, judging from the other two responses, there will be those who do not believe in a single Isaiah nor in predictive prophecy. The fact still remains that even if, for the sake of argument, there were three Isaiah hands as authors, then there was still predictive prophecy when the LXX Isaiah was translated since it used ἡ παρθένος for the Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה. It is the LXX that Matthew 1:23, Ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουήλ.
    Isaiah 7:14, ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ.
    My translation of the Hebrew would use “handmaiden” which in that culture would a woman of marriageable age.

    Both are identical with the exception of καλέσουσιν (3rd Person Plural Future Active Indicative in Matthew) and καλέσεις (2nd Person Singular Future Active Indicative in Isaiah). The translation of the LXX (OG) by Matthew is not wrong. The English translation is not wrong since παρθένος does mean “virgin.” What gets one upset is that the Hebrew text is not used. This is a hermeneutic problem with the Use of the OT in the NT and the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the NT authors in the text they chose. The majority of the quotes in the NT are from the LXX (OG) NOT the Hebrew.

    You wrote, Paul’s thesis in Romans is that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, and in talking about the righteousness and salvation of God, Paul is drawing on Isaiah 54. What should be remembered is that Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in Romans 1:17. This verse is the keystone of Romans.

  • sandy cravens

    That was an eye opener! I thought, at first it was about a new James gospel that was found, that i guess was from the Nag Hamadi, and considered apocrypha…but this was much better than that ! Thanks for sharing!

  • Linguagroover

    An atheist and former Christian writes: Of course many Jewish theologians reject this interpretation. As I am now liberated from superstitious belief, I leave it to the professional apologists to slug it out. Certainly the translation ‘virgin’ looks very dubious. Yes, I know there are ‘messianic’ Jews for Jesus. Equally, there are many atheist Jews. The latter seem to have logic and the lessons of history on their side. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

  • John Purssey

    I understand that Matthew has recontextualised Isaiah to meet an early Christian expectation.

    The biblical text usually used by early (Matthean) Christians was in Greek (the LXX) and in that language parthenos means a physical virgin. But the Hebrew of Isaiah says an alma (young woman) shall conceive. probably referring to one of the pregnant wives of Ahaz. Her giving birth was a sign of hope to the 8th century BC Israel under dire threat that there would be a future king on the throne in Jerusalem.

  • But even if we say that the reference was to a real virgin (rather than “young woman,” as the Hebrew has it), where’s the miracle? She’s a virgin, then she has sex, then she has a baby–it happens all the time. The reference to “the virgin/young woman will bear a son” isn’t surprising because she would’ve been a virgin at the time of that prophecy.

  • John Purssey

    I don’t think Matthew is presenting this as a miracle per se.

    His message for his contemporary Jewish Christians is that Jesus is the long expected Messiah – God’s anointed. Matthew repeats this in at least three places in his introduction, Chs 1-3. Jesus for Matthew is the new Moses. Jesus gives five (a pentateuch of ) discourses and has Jesus saying that he has come to fulfil (what is promised in) the Law and the Prophets. (This is often misunderstood as Jesus obeying the Law with the implication that Christians are required to keep the Law).

    It is only later in the development of Christianity that Hellenistic myth of virgin birth of Gods (and emperors who were also worshipped as Gods) was incorporated into Christianity. Paul mentions nothing of the birth, Mark is interested only in the adult Jesus when he starts his ministry, and John portrays Jesus as the incarnation of the pre-existant Word of God.

    As we do not belong to a milieu that is looking for a Messiah to deliver Israel and free the Jewish nation from opression Matthew’s message is rather lost on us. And despite the difficulties (impossibility) of reconciling modern genetics of fertilisation being the combination of male and female gametes with the 1st century understanding that the woman simply provided a place for growng the seed of a man (or God in this case) Matthew’s story is now understood in terms of a miracle rather than the fulfilment of a Messianic expectation.

  • You’re saying that Matthew isn’t pointing back to Is. 7 as a prophecy claim that was miraculously fulfilled with Jesus’s virgin birth?

  • John Purssey

    IMHO Matthew is presenting a sacred story of the wondrous birth of Jesus. The infancy narrative is divided into five (Pentateuch-like) sections with each having a fulfillment of prophecy.
    1 The birth if Immanuel – God-with-us
    2 Jesus’s birth placed in Bethlehem to fulfill the Micah prophecy
    3 Flight into Egypt to allow fulfillment of prophecy ‘I called my Son from Egypt
    4 Slaughter of the children of Bethlehem to fulfil prophecy of “Rachel (whose tomb lies outside Bethlehem) weeps for her children
    5 Jesus is taken to Nazareth to fulfil the prophecy that He will be a Nazorean.

    Our modern focus is on the problem of miracles, as they are contrary to the laws of nature.
    The Isaiah passage calls the birth a sign. Luke also uses the term sign to the shepherds. John’s Gospel speaks exclusively (I think) of signs that Jesus did for people to see who He is.

    Now we can take the view that this is all nonsense as miracles do not occur and what Matthew takes as prophetic fulfillment is actually taking the original writings out of context.
    An alternative view is that Matthew is expressing the religious and spiritual experiences of his Jewish Christian church applying the concepts and understandings of their milieu, a Jewish nation looking to be freed from Roman domination, and for those in the sect that followed Jesus,seeing the fulfilment of the hopes of their religious tradition.

  • Very true! Isaiah is the Michael Jordan of the OT prophets. Witness Lee said that “the content of Isaiah covers God’s entire economy of the New Testament.”