The truth that the Lord Jesus was born of a virgin is foundational to the Christian faith. A local assembly is required by God to be the “pillar and ground of the truth”, 1 Timothy 3:15. The fundamentals of the faith should therefore be regularly and systematically taught in the assembly, to God’s glory. The fact that Christ came into manhood, is vitally important. As also is the fact that He was born of a virgin. They affect His honour, and that of His Father. On the one hand, the Son of God cannot unite with Himself anything that is evil. On the other hand, He needs to associate Himself with men in the closest way that is possible for Him. The only way for this to happen is for Him to be really born as a man, but be born of a virgin, thus ensuring that the sin-principle that is normally passed on by a father, is not present in Him. For “by one man sin entered into the world”, and the process was begun when Adam begat a son, and did so in his likeness as a sinner, Genesis 5:3; Romans 5:12.
We begin by asking three important questions about this matter.
Why must Christ become man?
1. To be able to die, Hebrews 2:14.
2. To be fully-qualified to sympathise, Hebrews 2:14-18.
3. To be approachable, but still showing His glory, John 1:14.
4. To be of the seed of David according to the flesh, Romans 1:3.
5. To vindicate God’s trust in man in relation to the earth, Hebrews 2:8,9.
6. To enable Him to link believers to Himself, 1 Corinthians 6:15.
7. Because man is lower than angels, and He willed to take the low place, Philippians 2:7,8.
Why must Christ be born of a virgin?
1. So that He does not inherit any taint of Adam’s sin, which is passed on through the male, Romans 5:12.
2. So that He is not prevented from occupying the throne of David in a coming day by the curse pronounced on Jeconiah, Jeremiah 22:22.
3. So that He may unite manhood with His Deity by the Divine Agency of the Spirit of God, and not through any intervention by man.
4. So that His birth may be a sign that God is starting a new mode of dealing with men.
5. So God may indicate that the “seed of the woman” has indeed come, for only Christ fits that description. His birth is unique to highlight the fact that He is God’s remedy for the sin that came into the world through Adam.
What was involved when He came into manhood?
1. He gained the attributes of man without losing the attributes of God. It was on earth, as a man, that the Lord said, “I and My Father are one”, John 10:30.
2. He united Godhood and manhood for ever in His Person.
3. He really became flesh, and was not simply clothed with a body.
4. He now has two natures in one Person.
5. The attributes of God and the attributes of man are properly ascribed to that one Person.
THE GENESIS NARRATIVE AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH
We find the first allusion to the birth of Christ as soon as sin came in. This shows God’s concern that the remedy for sin should be clearly known. The expression “seed of the woman” shows that something unusual is to be expected. All others born are the seed of man.
After man had sinned, God pronounced His judgement on each of the parties involved, and the following is what He said to the literal serpent:
3:14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
And the Lord God said unto the serpent- there is no cross-examination of the serpent, (this verse is God’s judgement on the animal Satan used to tempt the woman; the next verse is His judgement on Satan himself, that old serpent, Revelation 12:9). The order of the judgement is the order of the sin, namely serpent, woman, man. Whereas the order of the examination is man, woman, serpent. We note in these verses that there is a two-fold division to what God said to each. As for the serpent, it is first judged, and then the Ancient Serpent who was behind it is judged, in verse 15. Then the woman is judged as to the physical consequences of her action, and then her changed relationship to her husband. Finally, Adam is judged physically, with hard work imposed upon him, then the statement, “Dust thou art”, speaking of the moral consequences of his actions.
Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life- the literal serpent was used to cause the fall, so it must be a constant reminder of the fall, that men may learn that sin is always judged. The creature is to be cursed more than the beasts of forest and field. They share in the general bondage of corruption and subjection to vanity that creation presently knows, Romans 8:20,21, but the serpent is to be condemned over and above this.
The fact that from that point on it would go on its belly would suggest that it did not do so before. And the fact that its food would now be contaminated by the dust, and it would take it in with its food, shows that this was not the case before. This serpent may once have been a beautiful flying creature, the counterpart on earth of the angels of heaven. Now it is to be loathsome and venomous, a creature likely to be trodden under foot of man.
A further way in which it was cursed above the cattle is that when creation is delivered by Christ when He comes to earth to reign, the serpent, although deprived of its venom, will still go on its belly, and eat dust with its food, Isaiah 65:25. Thus all through the millenial reign of Christ there will be a reminder of the entrance of sin and its consequences.
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”, Genesis 3:15.
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman- the Lord now turns to the Ancient Serpent who has used the animal serpent to beguile the woman. There is to be mutual enmity between him and the woman. Animals cannot show enmity, although they can react to present circumstances. The reference therefore is to Satan himself. The cause of this enmity is going to be the role of the woman in bringing in the Promised Deliverer. And more than this, the woman is going to repent and believe, and thus be on the side of those opposing the Serpent. She will begin to hate what Satan has done, and Satan will hate what she is to be used for, in the purpose of God. We see reasons for this change of heart by the woman as the history unfolds.
And between thy seed and her seed- Satan now has a certain control over men because they are sinners. They have a nature that responds to evil and error, and indeed, gravitates towards it. It was precisely because Christ told the truth that men did not believe Him, for their hearts were only responsive to error, John 8:45. As a result, men can rightly be described as “of their father the Devil”, as the Lord Jesus said, John 8:44. On the other hand, there would be a line of believing men, traceable down through the years, who would culminate in the Seed of the Woman, Christ Himself.
Many would be the attempts of Satan to eradicate that line, but he would not succeed, and Christ would be born. He would use Cain to murder Abel; evil spirits to cause the flood; Esau to hate his brother and threaten to kill him; Pharoah to destroy the male children in Israel; his cavalry to try to drive Israel into the Red Sea; Goliath to attempt to kill David, the first king of the line of the Messiah; King Saul to do the same; Athaliah to destroy the Seed Royal; Nebuchadnezzar as he made the princes of Judah eunuchs; Haman as he sought the extermination of the Jews. Even after Christ was born, the hatred did not stop, for Herod sought the young child’s life; the men of Nazareth tried to fling Him from the top of the hill; the men of Jerusalem took up stones to stone Him. In all these ways the enmity of Satan towards Christ was manifest.
It shall bruise thy head- the apostle Paul declared to the Christians at Rome that “Christ shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly”, Romans 16:20, a reference to the Second Coming of Christ, when He will share His victory with His people. A reference, also, in a lesser sense, to the way in which Satan would be defeated if his attempts to cause division amongst the believers was prevented, for this is the subject of the verses previous to the one just quoted. (This is why when it is a question of the bruising the serpent, the word is “it”, the seed, Christ and believers, whereas when it is a question of the heel being bruised, it is “He”, for just Christ is in view).
Notice that there is nothing to indicate that the bruising will result in immediate death for the serpent. So it is that Satan has had his head bruised constantly, and one day will meet his eternal doom in the Lake of Fire. The pre-eminent place of bruising was at Calvary, when the Prince of this world came, and yet had nothing in Christ; there was nothing at all in the Lord Jesus that answered to the Devil.
And thou shalt bruise his heel- just as the bruising of the head of the serpent did not result in immediate destruction, so in this phrase there is no thought of the serpent dealing a death-blow to the Seed of the Woman, whether considered as Christ Himself or His people. The Lord Jesus has met and defeated the Devil by His death on the cross, as Hebrews 2:14 states. The Devil had no power over Him in the ultimate sense, even though he had the power of death over the rest of men. He had this power over them because they have a sinful nature, and “the wages of sin is death”, Romans 6:23. The wise man said, “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death”, Ecclesiastes 8:8. The Lord Jesus said explicitly, however, as regards His life, “No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself”, John 10:18. It is true that, as the apostle Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, “ye by wicked hands have crucified and slain”, yet nonetheless, He was delivered by “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”, Acts 2:23. And Pilate needed to learn that he had no power at all against Christ, (even though the death penalty was in his jurisdiction), except it were given him from heaven above, John 19:11. God had given him a sword to execute criminals, but not the innocent, Romans 13:3,4. So it is that the Lord Jesus laid down His life of His own will, and not because of the will of men or devils.
Nevertheless, the Devil did bruise His heel, causing Him extreme pain as he confronted Him at Calvary.
THE VIRGIN BIRTH NARRATIVE IN ISAIAH 7
Having given the general promise about a coming deliverer, God now speaks more specifically in the days of the wicked king Ahaz. For not only is the seed of the woman the deliverer from the sin the woman brought in, but He is also destined to sit on the throne of Israel to rule for God. That throne and the royal house were in danger in the days of Ahaz, (who is specially marked out in Scripture for his wickedness by the words, “This is that Ahaz”, 2 Chronicles 28:22), hence the need for a sign to warn Ahaz, and also encourage God’s faithful people.
The following is the background to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14:
7:1 King Ahaz is Uzziah’s wicked grandson. He is threatened by Ephraim, which is a name for the northern kingdom of ten tribes, (otherwise known as Israel since Solomon’s death), and Syria. Ephraim is ruled by Pekah the son of Remaliah, and Syria is ruled by Rezin.
Their plan is to displace Ahaz, and put “the son of Tabeal” on the throne. He is of unknown pedigree, so this is an attack on the Royal Line of the Messiah.
7:2 This news causes the House of David, that is, the Royal Household headed by Ahaz, great consternation and panic.
7:3 Sent by God, Isaiah meets the king at the end of the conduit that brings water into the city. This is a symbolic place, for Jerusalem, although in a strong position in many ways, was vulnerable because the water supply was outside the city and needed to be brought through this conduit. This was all the more reason to trust God to protect them.
Isaiah is also told to take his son with him. If the prophet met the king in a symbolic place, the prophet’s son was a symbolic person. His name was Shear-jashub, meaning “a remnant shall return”. This denotes three things. There is hope that a remnant shall return. But there is judgement foretold by the name for the return is from captivity, and those returning will be but a remnant.
7:4-9 Ahaz is assured by Isaiah that he need not fear, for the plan of Ephraim and Syria will not be successful. Within sixty-five years the kingdom of Ephraim will be broken. This came to pass in the days of Ezekiel, who was told that the period of 390 years from the division of the kingdom at the death of Solomon, had come to an end. From Isaiah 7 to Ezekiel 4 is a period of 65 years.
The end of verse 9 records Isaiah saying to Ahaz, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established”. In other words, the royal line will be in danger if Ahaz does not act in faith and trust God’s protection.
The prophet discerns that Ahaz does not believe his words, and therefore offers to give the king a sign. This will test whether he has faith or not. Those who sit on the throne of David were ideally to rule in the fear of God, 2 Samuel 23:3. It will also test whether he is interested in the continuance of the royal line.
7:10,11 Ahaz is offered a sign “in the depth or in the height above”; in other words, there is no limit to the sign God will give him.
7:12 Ahaz pretends to be too spiritual to need a sign, claiming that it would be to tempt the Lord to ask. This is not the case if it is God that offers the sign.
7:13 This wearies Isaiah, and the men of Judah generally, for their national hopes rest in the king.
This wearies God, too, for Ahaz clearly has no faith to confirm by a sign.
7:14 Because Ahaz is not fit to receive a sign, it will be couched in such terms that give it both present and future relevance.
We now come to the terms of the sign:
7:14 Behold- something of the wonder of the event, and the surprise of it, is expressed in Isaiah’s words. And the wonder was still there centuries later when the thing promised came to pass. Of course, the greatest surprise was that a virgin should conceive. This is unknown amongst mankind, although parthenogenesis, as it is called, takes place with some plants.
A virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son- this is impossible naturally, but as the angel said to Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible”, Luke 1:37. It is not that a maiden who was a virgin at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy would later on have a child. In that case she would no longer be a virgin. She must be a virgin and be with child at the same time to fit the requirements of this prediction.
When it comes to deciding what is involved here, our safest course is to be governed by what the Old Testament usage of words is. So when we turn to Genesis 24, we find reference to Rebekah, and we are told in verse 16 that, (a) she was a damsel, (naarah), (b) that she was a virgin, (bethulah), and (c) that she had not been known by man. Clearly, to be described as a “bethulah” was not enough, (especially as it is used in Joel 1:8 of a married woman), so the words “that had not known man” needed to be added to make the situation clear. Now when Rebekah was described in Genesis 24:43, the servant calls her “the virgin”, (alma). He is clearly summing up what verse 16 has said, as is shown by the use of the definite article. The servant is giving a summary of what had happened when he first met Rebekah, and therefore she is the definite person he has in mind.
So an “alma”, as Mary was, is a maiden; is of marriageable age; is not married, and has not had relations with a man.
And they shall call his name Emmanuel- notice that whilst it was Mary who was to name the child Jesus, as His true mother, and Joseph who was to name Him likewise, as the legal father, it is “they” who call Him Emmanuel. The “they” are clearly the people whom He will have saved from their sins. They gladly acknowledge that the One who died upon the cross for them, so that their sins might be forgiven, is none other than Emmanuel, God manifest in flesh. The person He is gives value to the work that He did.
Matthew knows that Israelites will understand the meaning of the name Emmanuel, but he also knows that Gentiles are going to have the gospel preached to them, so for their benefit, since the identity of this person is so important, he translates the name for us, Matthew 1:23. Whereas others have names that simply reflect the pious hopes of the parents, this Child really is who His name declares Him to be. So it is that God’s promise comes literally true, for He saves “by the Lord their God”, Hosea 1:7.
There are those who suggest that there are two children involved in the context of Isaiah 7:11-16, from which Matthew is quoting. and it would certainly solve some of the problems associated with these words in a superficial (and artificial) way if that were the case. It is certainly a better view than that a maiden in Israel living at that time would have a child and call him Immanuel. This, obviously, would be no sign of any great significance, and it would not fulfil the exact terms of the prophecy, (the ones that give it its significance), for the child would not be born of a virgin, only of a woman that was once a virgin, which is true of all children. This is hardly a sign “in heaven above or earth beneath”.
The problem is, that the “second child” idea is always going to fall foul of this objection. If we read Isaiah 7:14 with verse 15, there is nothing to indicate a change of child. In fact, the verses are joined together by the twin concepts of sign and significance- the virgin-born son is the sign, but the significance is that He will be brought up in certain conditions, and the period between His birth and His reaching the age of discretion is significant as far as Ahaz is concerned.
So it is best to think of both verse 14, and verses 15,16, as referring to Christ’s birth and childhood. Obviously verse 14 does, because Matthew says so.
7:15 Butter and honey shall He eat- the eating of butter and honey is a sign of hardship, as verse 21 indicates. It might be thought that butter and honey are luxuries, (with echoes of “land of milk and honey”), but the point is that the population of the land is going to be decimated, and there will be a surplus for that reason, not because of productivity. The same goes for the thorns and briers, for there will be no-one to keep the weeds under control. So verses 17-25 build upon the idea of desolation consequent upon the arrival of the enemy after a period of time.
That He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good- the eating of butter and honey in itself does not teach a child to refuse evil and choose good. But if we see eating butter and honey as a sign that God has intervened in judgement, then the Child will grow up with the evidence even in His surroundings of the privation that being judged of God as a nation brings. The home of May and Joseph was a poor one, as is seen in that Mary offered the poor person’s offering when she presented her firstborn Son to the Lord, Luke 2:22-24. He will realise that national unfaithfulness is an evil and will realise that national faithfulness is good. Of course, this is the message of the law, “obedience brings blessing; disobedience, cursing”, Deuteronomy 28. Notice that the prophet does not say He will learn how to refuse what is evil, and learn how to choose the good, but that He will know to refuse the evil; in other words, know the experience, rather that have to learn by trial and error what is evil or good.
So it was that the Lord Jesus was brought up in Nazareth, which was home to a Roman garrison. Daily He would see the evidence that His people were in a state of bondage, even though they had been brought back from captivity in Babylon. So the knowing to choose the good was the desire for better things for the nation, and the knowing to refuse the evil involved having right thoughts about the state of the nation that had been brought so low as to be ruled over by the Romans.
7:16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings- the time span between the birth of a child and the age of discretion, (when good and evil are distinguished), is variable, but only amounts to about six to eight years. This is the length of time before the two kings, Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah king of Israel, shall be dealt with by God, and Ahaz will be rid of them, and will therefore not need to seek the help of the king of Assyria. He still did this, in unbelief, and thus confirmed he did not trust in God. Three years after this prophecy, a rebel by the name of Hoshea was installed on the throne of Israel by the king of Assyria, and Pekah was deposed, and was slain a year later, 2 Kings 15:30. Significantly, this is said to happen in the 20th year of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, who was the deceased father of Ahaz. Thus Ahaz is not mentioned, and the date is reckoned by reference to his godly father, and not by himself. Is this not a comment on the expression “the land that thou abhorrest?” Ahaz was so wicked that he hated the land where Messiah shall reign! Because of this he was judged.
Moreover, Rezin king of Syria was slain by the Assyrians shortly afterwards, 2 Kings 16:9. So it was that during the time span of six to eight years the two kings Ahaz feared were no longer a threat to him.
The mention of Syria in the prophecy is significant. Is this why Luke mentions Quirinius being Governor of Syria, Luke 2:2, and dates the census that brought Joseph and Mary to David’s city for the birth of Christ by his governorship?
VIRGIN BIRTH NARRATIVE BY MATTHEW
1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise- having spoken of the birth of the kings of Israel, which were perfectly normal, Matthew is now going to record the birth that was supernatural. This is the beginning of the three ways in which Matthew records the fact of birth of Christ. In 1:1-16, in relation to history. In 1:17-21 in relation to humanity. In 1:22-25, in relation to Deity. He does not record the actual event of Christ’s birth, but leaves that to Dr. Luke. Matthew adopts more the stance of the Registrar of Birth, after the event.
When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together- the expression “when as” means that the previous phrase is being explained. Matthew is summarising the position at the point where Luke left off, with Mary returning from her three month’s stay in Elizabeth’s house in Judea. She is espoused to Joseph, but they have not “come together” as a result of a formal marriage ceremony. “Come together” should not be confused with “knew her”.
She was found with child of the Holy Ghost- Matthew is careful to add how it is that Mary is with child, even though at this point in the account Joseph does not know that this is how it came about. As far as Joseph is concerned, she is with child, and discovered to be so, for the fact has become obvious.
1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
Then Joseph her husband- in Jewish law, as one espoused to Mary, he is her husband, and she is his wife.
Being a just man- we are told three things about the character of Joseph, and this is the first. As a just man, he would be careful to obey the commands of the law of God. This would involve him in questioning Mary as to the circumstances by which she was with child. His subsequent course of action will depend on her answer. If she was waylaid in the city, (that is, where others were nearby to hear her call for help), then she and the man involved are to be stoned to death, Deuteronomy 22:23,24. If she was waylaid in the field, with no-one at hand to hear her cry out, then nothing is to be done to her, for the law mercifully supposes that she was not willing, but the man is to be stoned to death, Deuteronomy 22:25-27. Mary, however, would have assured Joseph that neither of these situations was the case.
And not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily- as a just man, Joseph was jealous for the honour of the House of David, but he knew that in Jewish law, if he married Mary, her child would become his child legally. Is it safe to do this, and thus, as a son of David himself, incorporate into the royal line a child whose identity is not known? This is the dilemma that faces him. And this is why he contemplates divorcing Mary, even though he does not believe she is with child by fornication.
It is this scenario that the Lord Jesus referred to in Matthew 19:3-9. The so-called “escape clause” that some believe sanctions divorce today is a reference to the situation with Mary and Joseph. Being legally betrothed, the only way Joseph can be free of his obligations to her is to divorce her for fornication. Mark and Luke, significantly, do not mention the phrase “except it be for fornication”, so making the Lord Jesus ban divorce altogether. But in early times the whole of the New Testament was not available to every believer. So some believers had Luke’s gospel, and could not divorce, some had Mark’s gospel, and could not divorce, whereas some had Matthew’s gospel and could divorce, in the specific way envisaged in the Lord’s words. So these various believers could possible move, and arrive at the same town and be in the same assembly. Two of them believe they cannot divorce for any reason, one of them believes he can for one reason. This is confusion, and God is not the author of confusion. We are forced to say that Matthew’s account takes notice of a particularly Jewish practice of betrothal, and does not apply today, and never did apply to Gentiles.
Joseph has two options- to bring her before the elders of the city as one who must be cross-examined, or put her away, (that is, divorce her), privily, or privately, as one whose account is believed. If, as a just man, he believed Mary should be questioned, then he would adopt the former policy. If he believed her account, he would take the latter course, but again as a just man. The justness of his action being in this latter case in regard to Mary, for it is only just to deal with her gently, given that he believes her account. So this is the second feature that marks Joseph, even his gentleness and kindness.
1:20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
But while he thought on these things- the third characteristic of Joseph is his careful consideration of matters. The scripture says, “He that believeth shall not make haste”, Isaiah 28:16.
Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream- Joseph had no doubt gone to sleep with these things on his mind, and seeking God’s guidance on the matter. Now the answer comes to him in such a way that he is not in a position to dispute it. The angel Gabriel came to Mary, and they had a conversation, for her fears and sincere questions needed to be answered. Joseph, however, only needs to know the answer to a simple question, should he or should he not marry Mary? If not, he must divorce her, for they are betrothed to marry. He cannot simply break off the friendship, for they are legally obligated already.
He does not simply hear a voice, but an angel of the Lord appears to him as well. There would be something about this appearance that would leave him in no doubt that it was a messenger from God.
Joseph, thou son of David- the angel knows his name and his ancestry. By being addressed like this, Joseph is assured that the message has to do with the fact that he is of the royal line of David. The fact that he is a son of David is the matter that is on his mind, and now he is to be given the answer to his dilemma.
Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife- this shows he had been inclined to marry Mary, for he believed her story, but had a lingering doubt about the identity of the child. It is not “fear to divorce”, as if that was his inclination, but rather, “fear not to take”, for that was what, as a just man, he thought it right to do. Note that the angel recognises that Mary is his wife, and also reinforces that truth upon Joseph’s mind by stating it.
For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost- thus the angel delicately confirms what Mary would have told him. Note that it is not simply that she conceived with the aid of the Holy Spirit, for no doubt that could have been said about Sarah. The child is directly “of” the Holy Spirit, with the preposition meaning “out of”, “sourced in”. That is, the conception or begetting of the child is only by the action of the Holy Spirit. The other women in the list given by Matthew are not said to have begotten sons, simply that the fathers begat through them. Yet that same word “begat” is used of Mary in the Passive Voice, in the expression “of whom was born”. Christ is thus uniquely the promised “seed of the woman”, Genesis 3:15. This is why Matthew has to say, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise”, for he needs to ensure that his readers know accurately what is involved. The other sons in the chapter are begotten in the normal way, “on that wise”, so to speak; Christ is born “in this wise”, in a different way.
Notice that Joseph has not been told the child is “son of David”, and heir to David’s throne, for the simple reason that He is not that yet. And this even though the angel has told Mary that His father is David, Luke 1:32. Because the line of kings runs through the male side, even Mary being descended from David does not make Him heir to the throne. He will only be son of David in the legal sense when Joseph marries Mary.
1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS- “she” means “Mary as the one you will have married”; it is as a married woman that Mary will bring forth a son. In this way Joseph learns that he is to marry Mary before the child is born. This will ensure that he will be considered the legal father of the child, with all that that entailed, since he was a son of David. Yet, as we have seen, there was the insurmountable obstacle of the curse on those of Jechonias’ line. However, by being the legal son of Joseph, but not the biological son, the Lord Jesus avoids that obstacle.
So the order of events is:
The child is conceived.
Joseph and Mary marry.
Joseph has no physical relations with Mary until after the birth.
The child is born to married parents, but his mother is still a virgin.
So Joseph is assured that the child will be safely born, and will be a son, not a daughter. He is to reinforce that he is the legal father by naming the child himself. When the angel spoke to Mary, he told her she would name the child. So the child is named by Mary as the physical mother, and by Joseph as the legal father. They would be agreed as to the name, in contrast to Zecharias and Elizabeth, Luke 1:59-64.
Jesus is the equivalent to the Old Testament name Joshua, and means either “Jehovah is Saviour”, or “Jehovah the Saviour”. Of course, having an illustrious name did not guarantee in ordinary circumstances that the person named would live up to it. For instance, there were wicked kings of David’s line who had names like Jehoram, “Jah is high”; Ahaziah, “Jah possesses”; Jehoahaz, “Jah upholds”; Jehoiakin, “Jah sets up”, and Jeconiah, “Jah is establishing”. The last name being specially interesting, because God (Jah) dis-established him by sending him into captivity; so his name was the reverse of his character and history.
For He shall save His people from their sins- so the name Jesus is no mere pious hope, but the expression of the character the person will display. None of those kings in the genealogy of the previous verses could save the people, (whom they would call “their people”, because they were king over them), from their sins, for they were failures themselves in greater or lesser degree. This one is different, for His name implies that He has no sin of His own, and is therefore in a position to deal with the sins of His people.
Note that it is sins that He deals with. He is not presented here as one who will overturn the Roman oppression, and deliver the people and set up His kingdom. His conquest will be seen to be successful when men and women are delivered from the greatest oppression of all, namely their sins. God said to the people in Hosea’s day, “But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen”, Hosea 1:7. One of the things that stumbled many in Israel, and even John the Baptist, (Luke 7:19, and see Luke 1:71,74), was the fact that when He came amongst them, He did not call for a rising up against the Roman Emperor. He even chose as one of His apostles Simon the Canaanite. The word Canaanite indicates Simon belonged to the Zealots, the party that were dedicated to the overthrow of the Roman rule. Christ called him away from working against the Roman authorities, just as He called Matthew away from working for the Roman Authorities.
If they had remembered Hosea’s words, they would have realised that it was as the Lord their God that He would save, and His Deity would give utmost value to the death He would die at Calvary. It is by this they must be saved. The Lord Jesus cannot rule over an unbelieving, uncleansed nation.
But who are His people; are they simply those who are of the nation of Israel? The answer is found in the prophecy that Matthew will now refer to.
1:22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
Now all this was done- that is, the sum total of all events surrounding the birth of Christ, whether it be the action of the Spirit of God, the willing submission of Mary, or the courage of Joseph in taking her to be his wife. All combined together, under God’s overruling, to bring about the birth of Christ in the appointed and foretold way.
That it might be fulfilled- there are three ways in which the fulfilment of prophecy is introduced in the New Testament, as follows:
1. Where the Greek word “ina” is used, as here, then it is “in order that it might be fulfilled”, and the event in question completely fulfils the prophecy.
2. Where the word “tole” is found, as in Matthew 2:17, then it is “was fulfilled”, and indicates that the event was merely a case in point, and what happened was an illustration of what was said in the prophecy, (in that instance, that there was tribulation for the mothers of the district. But there will be tribulation for all Israel in a day to come, so the fulfilment is only partial in Matthew 2:7).
3. Where the word “opus” is used, as is the case in Matthew 8:17, it is “so that it might be”, and the fulfilment is not complete, but an event which was within the scope and intention of the prophecy. (The healing of the sicknesses of the body becomes an indicator that the Lord Jesus will deal with the spiritual problem, sin itself, at Calvary).
Which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying- note that the words were recorded by Isaiah, and yet they were the words of the Lord. He chose to speak through the prophet. This reminds us of the unique character of the Holy Scriptures, for, although written by men, yet they are the very word of God to us. Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Spirit of God, 2 Peter 1:21. Like a sailing ship is borne along on the water by the wind in the sails, but yet all the time the captain is in control. The prophecy in question was uttered over 700 years before the event, but the long period of time did not mean the promise had lapsed.
1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Behold- something of the wonder of the event, and the surprise of it, is expressed in Isaiah’s words. And the wonder was still there centuries later when the thing promised came to pass. Of course, the greatest surprise was that a virgin should conceive. This is unknown amongst mankind, although parthenogenesis, as it is called, takes place with some plants.
A virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son- this is impossible naturally, but as the angel said to Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible”, Luke 1:37. It is not that a maiden who was a virgin at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy would later on have a child. In that case she would no longer be a virgin. She must be a virgin and be with child at the same time to fit the requirements of this prediction. When it comes to deciding what is involved here, our safest course is to be governed by what the Old Testament usage of words is. So as we have already noted, (but to repeat it will do no harm, given the importance of the matter), when we turn to Genesis 24, we find reference to Rebekah, and we are told in verse 16 that, (a) she was a damsel, (naarah), (b) that she was a virgin, (bethulah), and (c) that she had not been known by man. Clearly, to be described as a “bethulah” was not enough, (especially as it is used in Joel 1:8 of a married woman), so the words “that had not known man” needed to be added to make the situation clear. Now when Rebekah was described in verse 43, the servant calls her “the virgin”, (alma). He is clearly summing up what verse 16 has said, as is shown by the use of the definite article. The servant is giving a summary of what had happened when he first met Rebekah, and therefore she is the definite person he has in mind.
So an “alma”, as Mary was, is a maiden; of marriageable age; is not married; has not had relations with a man.
And they shall call his name Emmanuel- notice that whilst it was Mary who was to name the child Jesus, as His true mother, and Joseph who was to name Him likewise, as the legal father, it is “they” who call Him Emmanuel. The “they” are clearly the people whom He will have saved from their sins. They gladly acknowledge that the One who died upon the cross for them, so that their sins might be forgiven, is none other than Emmanuel, God manifest in flesh. The person He is gives value to the work that He did.
Which being interpreted is, God with us- Matthew knows that Israelites will understand the meaning of the name Emmanuel, but he also knows that Gentiles are going to have the gospel preached to them, so for their benefit, since the identity of this person is so important, he translates the name for us. Whereas others have names that simply reflect the pious hopes of the parents, this Child really is who His name declares Him to be. So it is that God’s promise comes literally true, for He saves “by the Lord their God”, Hosea 1:7. The name Emmanuel is not a personal name, for no-one addressed Him as such, but it gives indication of who He is. He is God, and yet in a special way is “with us”, referring to His incarnation.
1:24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him- here is another feature that marked Joseph, even his ready obedience to the revealed will of God. He has patiently waited for light, and now, having received it, acts upon it. He will have to share with Mary the reactions of the men and women of Nazareth as word is passed round as to the situation. Yet he is prepared to bear this reproach, just as Moses was prepared to bear the reproach of Christ in Egypt, “for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward”, Hebrews 11:26.
The features we have noticed about both Mary and Joseph give us insight into the sort of home in which the Lord Jesus was brought up.
And took unto him his wife- she who was his wife by betrothal, is now his wife by marriage. By marrying her before Christ is born, Joseph ensures that He is truly son of David, and can inherit the throne. In one sense, then, this is the most important marriage in the Bible.
1:25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son- to “know” in this setting, is to have physical relations. At every stage the integrity of the person of the unborn Christ is maintained. The tomb of the Lord Jesus was safeguarded, being sealed and watched over, so that it is certain that only Christ went in, and only Christ came out in resurrection. So when He was in the womb, every safeguard is in place so that we know without a doubt that Mary’s firstborn child is the one conceived of the Holy Spirit. That He is firstborn removes all doubt, for Mary had no child before who could be confused with Him. She presented Him in the temple as required for firstborn sons, Luke 2:23. The title firstborn would have no meaning if Mary did not have other children afterwards. That she did do so is shown by Matthew 13:55,56.
And he called His name JESUS- by that action Joseph formally took the Child Jesus as his own son legally, with all its implications since Joseph was of the royal line of David.
This sequence of events regarding Joseph and Mary establishes the principle that when a man and a woman formally and publicly take one another as husband and wife, they are, at that moment, a married couple. We should distinguish between being “one flesh”, as in proper marriage, and “one body”, as in a sinful relationship involving fornication. The teaching of 1 Corinthians 6:15,16 is clear. The passage reads as follows:
“Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith He, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s”.
When we were saved, we were in-dwelt by the Spirit of God, and one of the things He does is join us to the Lord in a union that is on the highest level, that of the Spirit. But it is our bodies that are in-dwelt by the Spirit of God, and therefore we are not only linked to Christ on the level of the spirit, but also as to the body. To use those members so as to be joined temporarily to a harlot is a disgrace. This relationship is only on the level of the body, whereas the Scripture describes true marriage as being a man and a woman becoming one flesh. This is an ongoing relationship, as two lives are bonded together, and is completely different to being bonded in body. Our bodies were bought by Christ’s precious blood, and hence we are no longer our own, for our bodies are the property of God, to be used for His glory.
VIRGIN BIRTH NARRATIVE BY LUKE
Luke 1:26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
And in the sixth month- that is, of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Luke, being a doctor, is very interested in these details, and they show the thoroughness with which he had researched his subject, as he himself indicated in 1:4. They also show his gospel as one relating to the conditions of men.
Elizabeth had hidden herself for the first five months, verse 24, and now Gabriel comes to Mary. After long years of silence from heaven, God is beginning to speak again. But soon angels will recede and first “the voice”, John the Baptist, John 1:22,23, will speak, and then the Word Himself.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God- this angel had been sent to Daniel to tell him of the way events would unfold concerning his people, and in particular about “Messiah the Prince”, Daniel 9:25. Note that the word is directly from God by means of an angel, thus signalling that heaven was making movements to fulfil God’s purpose on earth. The incarnation of the Son of God was of great interest to the angel-hosts, so the apostle Paul declares that part of the mystery of God being manifest in flesh was that He was “seen of angels”, 1 Timothy 3:16. The seraphim veil their faces in heaven, Isaiah 6:2.
Unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth- this village is not mentioned in the Old Testament. It is situated in the foothills of Galilee. It was a garrison town for the Roman army, with all that implies in terms of vice and uncouth behaviour. So much so that it had become a proverb- “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth” John 1:46. Yet in this unholy place a maiden and her husband-to-be were living in purity and righteousness.
They give to us a fine example of separation from sin, whilst living in the world of sin. The Lord Jesus prayed about His people to His Father, not that they should be “taken out of the world”, but that they should be “kept from the evil” that is in it, John 17:15. This is possible because, although “in the world” physically, verse 11, because we have been born naturally, we are “not of the world” (morally), verse 16, because we have been born of God.
Matthew records that when, subsequent to the birth of the child, Joseph and Mary went to live again in Nazareth, after having lived for a while in Bethlehem, the prophet’s word was fulfilled which said, “He shall be called a Nazarene”, Matthew 2:23. It is not readily apparent where that quotation comes from, but Matthew is careful to say, “spoken”, and not “written”, and “in the prophets”, not “by the prophets”. So the most likely explanation is that this idea of Him being a Nazarene is connected with the fact that the Messiah was to be despised and rejected of men, (part of the sufferings that all the prophets spoke of, 1 Peter 1:11), and this was suggested to Matthew by His move to Nazareth, a notorious, despised place. There may also be a connection with the word “netzer”, meaning “branch”, one of the titles of the Messiah, Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12.
1:27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
To a virgin- if she had been anything other than pure in mind and body, she would not have been fit to be the mother of the Lord. “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord”, exclaimed the prophet, Isaiah 52:11. If those who carried the vessels of the tabernacle were to be clean, how much more is this necessary for one who bears that One the vessels speak of! As she grew up in Israel, she, as a godly believer in the Old Testament prophecies, would wonder if she was to be the mother of the Messiah, especially as she was of the line of David. She would know the word to Ahaz, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel”, Isaiah 7:14.
Espoused to a man whose name was Joseph- in Jewish practice, to be espoused or betrothed was to be considered a man’s wife-in-waiting. In fact, if a betrothed husband died before the wedding day, his wife-to-be was reckoned a widow. So much so that Mary is called Joseph’s wife before they were married, Matthew 1:20, and he was called her husband, verse 19. This is why Joseph thought he needed to divorce her, rather than simply break off the friendship. As a son of David he would be concerned about the royal line. If an espoused husband was prepared to marry his espoused wife despite the fact that the child she carried was not his, then that child was reckoned to be his son in Jewish law. The question in Joseph’s mind is whether the child was of the royal line. If there was uncertainty about this, then he would refuse to marry Mary. The reason being that, as Scripture says, he was a just man, Matthew 1:19, and therefore would be scrupulous in regard to the honour of the Messiah, and the demands of God in the law.
Of the house of David- the birth narrative is viewed from the point of view of Joseph in Matthew’s gospel, there being emphasis on Christ’s legal claim to the throne through Joseph in that gospel. There are three sons of David in Matthew 1: Solomon, the direct son; Joseph the descendant son, and Christ the designated Son. Luke emphasises the moral claim to the throne, as one who had not failed as the rest of David’s house had, 2 Samuel 23:3-5. Joseph was a son or descendant of David, but because of the bar placed on anyone descended through Jeconias occupying the throne of David, he himself had no right to the throne, see Jeremiah 22:28-30; Matthew 1:11,12.
And the virgin’s name was Mary- this is the same name as Miriam, Moses’ sister, and it means bitter. It is also the same as Naomi’s other name, Mara, also meaning bitter. Naomi’s testimony was “Call me not Naomi, (“pleasantness”), but call me Mara, for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me”, Ruth 1:20. Both Miriam and Naomi had bitter experiences because of their own folly, whereas Mary had bitter experiences as one who was subject to the will of God. This reminds us that despite the joy of being the mother of the Messiah, there was great affliction ahead of her, as she watched the sufferings of her Son. As Simeon would say, “A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also”, Luke 2:35, a reference, no doubt, to the fact that she was present for some of the time at the crucifixion. Needless to say, her sufferings are not vicarious, for only a sinless person can suffer for others, and she was not sinless, even though blameless before men.
1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
And the angel came in unto her- she does not seem to have been frightened by the angel, although she was troubled about what he had to say. The angel came in, so the interview was conducted in the privacy of her home, as was appropriate given the nature of the matters dealt with. Clearly the angel knew where she was at the time, reminding us of the unobtrusive ministry of the angels towards the heirs of salvation, Hebrews 1:14. Yet the angel was to have no role in the incarnation, even though angels encamp round those that fear God, Psalm 34:7. It was to be the Spirit of God Himself who would protect her.
And said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured- the word hail means to rejoice, and would quieten Mary’s spirit, for she now knows that the message to be brought to her will cause her to rejoice and not fear, although she did fear somewhat when she heard it. The words highly favoured were used of Daniel when he was addressed by this same angel Gabriel, Daniel 9:23. This shows that it is not something unique, but it is something special. The expression, in fact, is used of all believers in Ephesians 1:6, where it is rendered “accepted”. It was indeed a great favour to be the mother of the Lord Jesus; with this favour comes the idea of grace, to enable to task to be accomplished. Notice that it is Mary who has received grace and favour, not who bestows grace and favour on others, as certain heretics teach.
The Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women- the one who would be born of her was to be named Emmanuel, God with us, and this in a special and unique way. As it is, the angel refers to the fact that the Lord is with Mary in every sense of the words, for He is on her side, at her side, and the special object of His attention. She is not blessed above women, in the sense that she is to be worshipped as if higher than mortals. Those who elevate Mary thus are clearly ignorant of the Scriptures, and tools of the Devil, as he seeks to divert praise away from Christ, who alone is worthy, Revelation 5:2,9.
1:29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying- she was not troubled by his arrival, even though presumably she had not had an angel visitant before. But she was in communion with God, so was comfortable in the presence of one sent from Him. She is troubled at his saying, however, for it was an unusual greeting, (and she may have connected it with the salutation to Daniel), and seemed to signify that something great was about to be announced to her, and she was no doubt fearful as to whether she was adequate for the task ahead.
And cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be- what was the angel about to announce? Could it possibly be about “Messiah the Prince”? By the words of her song later on, Mary demonstrates an intimate knowledge and love for Old Testament Scripture, and she is no doubt ranging over the possibilities in her mind. Foremost among them would surely be the coming of the Messiah- to be His mother was every Jewish maiden’s dream. Couple this with the fact that the period of time between the commandment to restore Jerusalem under Cyrus, (see Isaiah 44:26), and the cutting off of Messiah, was fast running out, Daniel 9:25.
1:30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God- the angel assures her that those who find favour with God have no need to fear about the task He gives them to do. During her life Mary must have held on to this assurance when circumstances were grim. She was accustomed to ponder things in her heart, being a thoughtful girl, Luke 2:19; 2;51. It was indeed a great favour to be the mother of the Lord, yet we should remember that the apostle travailed in birth also, so that in the hearts of the believers in Galatia, Christ might be formed, Galatians 4:19. So whilst Mary is unique in one sense, in another all who seek to build Christ-like features into their fellow-believers travail also.
1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name JESUS.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb- well might the angel say “Behold”, for this was a matter of great significance, and worthy of the closest attention. Notice that the child to be born is the real child of Mary. She is no mere carrier, as if He has no link with her. There was a heresy in earlier times, (and sadly there are still some today who promote it), which suggested that Christ was not in any way connected to Mary. That, in effect, she was simply the protective covering for the child in her womb. Those who put forward this error did so with the idea of maintaining the holiness of Christ, thinking that if He was linked to Mary too closely, He would become contaminated. But this, at heart, is the false doctrine known as Dualism, (and was taught by the Gnostics, false teachers the apostles warned the believers about), which teaches that matter is evil. This is not the case, for matter is neutral morally; it can be used for good, or for evil. The evil rests with the one who uses it in the latter way. So Christ was the real child of Mary, yet received no contamination through being physically connected with her. After all, subsequent to His birth, He was nourished by her- did this contaminate Him? Of course not. Then why should being nourished by her before birth do so? This error is a subtle way of denying the true humanity of Christ. If there was a possibility of contagion touching Him by birth in this way, He could have been produced without a mother as both Adam and Eve were.
The truth is, His real birth is vitally important, for He needs to experience every feeling that we have, sin apart. The words of Hebrews 2:14 are conclusive in this connection, “He also Himself likewise took part of the same”. He (the Lord Jesus), also (as well as the children taking flesh and blood), likewise (in the same way as they do, as far as that is possible given who He is), took part (as one coming from outside of humanity), of the same (that is, the same flesh and blood as the children have).
The apostle Paul has been accused of not believing in the Virgin Birth. It is strange that Luke, the writer of the gospel we are considering, should have fellowship with such a person if he denied “the things most surely believed among us” that he writes of in his gospel, Luke 1:1. But fellowship with Paul he did have often, as we know from the “we” passages in the Acts, (the “we” meaning Paul, Luke, and others). The fact is that the apostle did refer to the virgin birth, although not in the same terms as Luke and Matthew. There was no need to repeat what they had already written. But there was need to emphasise the implications of His birth, however. So in Galatians 4:4 Paul writes, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law”. In 1 Timothy 3:16, “God was manifest in flesh”. In 1 Timothy 2:5, “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”; in Romans 8:3, “God sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin”. These all imply the virgin birth, but instead of merely repeating the fact, they add doctrine to the fact. The apostle Paul also believed and taught that Jesus Christ was the Son of David, Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:8.
And bring forth a son, and shalt call His name JESUS- here it is Mary, the mother, who names Him Jesus, to establish that He is indeed her very own child. Luke is emphasising by telling us this that He is the real child of His mother, even though He has no sinful nature. In Matthew’s account, Joseph is instructed to name Him Jesus, in order to show that he was taking Him as his legal son.
1:32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David:
He shall be great- Mary is now told certain things about the child she will give birth to. And the first consideration is His greatness. Messiah’s greatness was thought of by many in Israel in terms of the defeat of Israel’s enemies, and the setting up of a glorious kingdom. That kingdom, however, will only be brought in when the nation as a whole receives Him as Messiah in the right way. That right way being with repentance and faith. He will not rule over a nation that is unbelieving. So when Christ came there was a genuine offer of the kingdom to Israel, with Him as their King. Sadly, however, they knew not the time of their visitation, Luke 19:44, and instead of giving Him a throne, they gave Him a cross. Instead of a crown of glory, a crown of thorns. Instead of a sceptre, a reed. Instead of the holy anointing oil, their vile spittle ran down His face. And all this because they did not understand that He had come primarily to save His people from their sins at Calvary, and only afterwards would He enter into His glory, Luke 24:26.
Even John the Baptist failed to grasp the true mission of Christ. When he was in prison because of his faithful rebuke of Herod’s immorality, he sent to the Lord and asked, “Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another”, Luke 7:19. After all, had not the Lord gone into the synagogue at Nazareth and claimed that He was the Messiah who would “preach deliverance to the captives”, and “set at liberty them that were bruised”, Luke 4:18. How is it that he, the herald of the King, is left in prison? John failed to grasp the significance of the fact that the Lord Jesus has stopped reading the scroll at a significant point. He closed the scroll without finishing a sentence! For Isaiah 61:2, from which He was reading, went on to say, “and the day of vengeance of our God”. The day for vengeance upon Herod and those like him had not come, and this fact is clearly signalled by the Lord’s act of stopping the reading. So the day of setting literal prisoners free had not come either.
So the greatness the angel speaks of is moral greatness, and this fits in perfectly with Luke’s theme, and prepares the way for the other features of this king, as we shall see when we consider the statement about the throne of David.
And shall be called the Son of the Highest- the title “Most High God” is found in the Old Testament in connection with His supreme control over the affairs of men, and especially when the prophets speak of a coming day when Christ reigns as the representative of God on the earth. God made David His firstborn son figuratively, for the firstborn son administered everything for the father, and David was entrusted with the duty of being king over Israel. The words of Psalm 2:7 were, “Thou art My son, this day have I begotten thee”, meaning that David, upon his accession to the throne of Israel, was to administer for God. This charge was also extended to Solomon, in the words spoken to David about him, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son”, 2 Samuel 7:14. After all, God had called the nation His firstborn son, in Exodus 4:22. As king over such a people, it was appropriate that David and Solomon should be given the same title. Both these “sons”, however, failed in some way, and their successors who followed them on the throne were no better. David admitted this when he wrote, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God…although my house be not so with God”, 2 Samuel 23:3,5. Yet David held fast to the promises God had made to him, that despite the failure of his descendants, the promise of the throne would not be withdrawn. Speaking of this, God said about David, “Also I will make him My firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and My covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgements; If they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips. Once have I sworn by My holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah”, Psalm 89:27-37.
Now the words spoken to David and Solomon about being God’s sons figuratively, are applied by the writer to the Hebrews to the Lord Jesus, who is God’s Son actually, see Hebrews 1:5. And this at the point in the chapter where He is described as being brought into the world by God at His second coming, to reign. So the promise that a descendant of David’s would sit on his throne still stands. As does also the promise that his kingdom would endure for ever. But what also stands is God’s threat that if his sons failed and did iniquity, they would be punished. This had come to pass, for the kingdom had been taken from Judah, and the Times of the Gentiles had begun with the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
So who is competent to administer for God? Only the one who is genuinely the Son of the Highest, whose abilities reach to the heights of Divine expectation.
And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David- note that the throne is given to Him. He does not simply inherit it by virtue of descent from David. The throne had lapsed at the captivity, and a curse had been pronounced upon any who were of the line of Jeconias. Jeremiah was told to announce this in the most solemn terms:
“O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord. This saith the Lord, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: For no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Israel”, Jeremiah 22:29,30.
So none of the descendants of Conias, as Jeconias was otherwise known, were to sit on David’s throne. Yet Joseph is son of David through Jeconias, as Matthew 1:11 shows, so he could not have claimed the throne. How is the difficulty to be overcome? Only by Mary, (who is of the line of David, but not through Jeconias), being the mother of the child, and Joseph becoming his legal father. So He is not the seed of Joseph, and therefore not the seed of Jeconias. The ban does not apply to Him. In this way David is His father, but He is not descended from Jeconias.
In John 6:14,15 the people wanted to make Christ king, after He had fed the multitude. He departed from them into a mountain to pray. He would not be given the throne by the people. But one day He will be given the throne by God, for Daniel saw the Son of Man brought near to the throne of God, and “there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed”, Daniel 7:14.
1:33 And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever- is this poetic licence, or strict truth? The latter, for the Lord Jesus shall indeed reign for ever. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which depicted types of successive Gentile rule under the form of the different metals that made up an image of a man. There came a stone out of heaven, however, which destroyed the image, and then expanded into a kingdom that filled the whole earth, and which lasted for ever, Daniel 2:44. This represents the kingdoms of this world being swept away by Christ at His coming to earth, and the setting up of His kingdom for 1000 years. After this He shall deliver up that kingdom to God, 1 Corinthians 15:28, and then the Godhead shall be all in all, and shall rule eternally.
Notice that He will reign over the House of Jacob. The angel is using the name that reminds us of Jacob who, in many respects, was a failure. As he himself admitted before Pharaoh, “few and evil have the days of the years of my life been”, Genesis 47:9. Yet it is the House of Jacob that Christ shall rule over, for He shall transform their failure into success. At His return to earth, it is said with reference to the Lord Jesus, “There shall come out of Sion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is My covenant with them, when I shall take away their sins”, Romans 11:26,27. So shall come to pass the promise given by God through Isaiah in these terms, “For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee saith the Lord, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel”, Isaiah 41:13,14.
There is also a connection with the fact that the nation that came from Jacob, the nation that was named after him as a changed man, Israel, (see Genesis 32:24-28), became divided on the death of Solomon, and the two parts were called Israel and Judah. Now those divisions are going to be healed, and Christ shall reign over a united nation. If the angel had said “reign over the house of Israel”, then we might have wondered if he was using the word in the sense the later prophets used it. For they described the 10-tribe division of the nation as Israel. Since He is to reign over Jacob, then all misunderstanding is removed.
And of His kingdom there shall be no end- how can this happen? Only if He is risen from the dead. Only as a resurrected man can He sit on David’s throne. This is a point made by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost. He showed that David knew that God had sworn on oath to him that one of his physical descendants would be raised up to sit on his throne, Acts 2:29-31. But if this one was to be physically descended from David, then He would be able to die. How could He then reign for ever, as other scriptures said He would? This is where David’s role as a prophet comes in, for in Psalm 16, (quoted by Peter in Acts 2), he prophesied that the Messiah would rise quickly from the dead. Only by sitting on the throne of David as a resurrected man, clear of death, can He reign for ever. So He has sole right to David’s throne by birth and by resurrection.
1:34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Mary is not aware at this point of the way God is going to act. She is thinking in terms of normal human generation. She knows of only three ways in which a human being has ever come into the world, by creation, as Adam; by formation, as Eve; by generation, as all others. She is to learn that her child will come in through incarnation. She has no relations with Joseph, apart from being legally betrothed to him. The question does remain, however, why she did not immediately assume that the child would be born to them. Why does she not ask if she should marry Joseph? It is clear that she is feeling her way with the question, and not rushing to conclusions. She would have known of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 about a virgin who would conceive and bear a son, who would be called Emmanuel. Yet the angel has not referred to this, and has directed that the child’s name should be Jesus, not Emmanuel.
1:35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee- the angel answers her query by revealing that the child shall be produced by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. As was said to Joseph later on, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”. This is all we are told about the conception of the Lord Jesus. We should not be tempted to pry into this matter, and to unravel what the apostle Paul called a great mystery. To try to understand it medically is a task doomed to failure, and God has told us all we need to know about the matter.
When persons in the Old Testament were entrusted with some great task by God, He ensured that they could accomplish it by giving to them the Holy Spirit. In those days and times this was not a gift given permanently. David was given the Spirit of God to enable him to be a good king.. When he failed in the matter of Bathsheba, he pleaded with God not to take His Holy Spirit away from him, Psalm 51:11. If this had happened, he would no longer have been able to function as king. Things are different in this age, however, for the Holy Spirit indwells each believer for ever, John 14:16. Mary is assured of Divine power to strengthen her in every way for this great task, as men of old time were strengthened to serve God.
And the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee- so she will be protected by the overshadowing power of God Himself. She is not entrusted to the care of angels, but God Himself will preserve her. This is especially needed, since the penalty in most cases for fornication under the law was stoning. God will prevent men taking the law into their own hands. He will ensure her child is born without mishap. We must not forget that the child Mary will bear is the Seed of the Woman spoken of in Genesis 3:15, and against this Seed the enmity of the serpent and his seed will be directed. Many times Satan had sought to destroy the Seed Royal, but had failed. He knows he has but a short time to achieve this, but God will ensure he fails again.
Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God- the “also” indicates that this is an additional reason to the one Mary has already been given in verse 32. There the reason was that He would be Son of the Highest because God would recognise Him as His Firstborn, fit to reign. Here, it is because He is born as a result of the action of the Spirit of God. When Luke gives the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, he traces the line right back to Adam, and describes him as a son of God. In other words, Adam was a man because God had created him. So here, the child is to be called Son of God not only because He is equal with the Father as to His Deity, but also because He has been given a body by God’s intervention, as to His manhood. As He Himself said, “But a body hast Thou prepared me”, Hebrews 10:5. So there are three ways in which the Lord Jesus is the Son of God:
As Only begotten Son, He is eternally in relation to God as to Divine affection, John 1:18.
As Firstborn Son, He is eternally in relationship to God as to Divine administration, Colossians 1:15.
As Son of God born, He is in relationship with God as to Divine intervention, Luke 1:35.
So by the manner of His birth, the Lord Jesus retains His relationship with His Father, so that it is still appropriate to call Him Son of God after He has taken flesh. He who is in the form of God has taken upon Him the form of a servant, and thus He has added manhood to Deity.
1:36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren- this shows that Mary did not know that her aged kinswoman was expecting a child, (for Elizabeth had hid herself, verse 24). John the Baptist and Christ are conceived six months apart, in different places, and without the knowledge of it by the other mother. Couple with this the fact that Mary left Elizabeth just before John was born, so there was no confusion about the children. Up until recent times, it was the requirement in English law that the Home Secretary should be present at the birth of the child of the sovereign, to ensure that there was no mistake as to who was presented to the world as child of the monarch. So it was that Mary went to Elizabeth after her child was conceived, verse 39, (by which time Elizabeth can greet her as “the mother of My Lord”, verse 43), and left her before Elizabeth’s child was born, verse 56,57. It was important that Mary should leave before John was born, even though Elizabeth, as an old woman having her first child, would have been greatly helped by her presence and assistance. There were considerations over-riding that need, however, for the identity of Mary’s child must not be in doubt in any way.
1:37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
For with God nothing shall be impossible- this is encouragement to Mary, who was no doubt baffled as to how this great thing will happen. The birth of a child to Elizabeth prepares her for the greater work of a child being born of her, who knows not a man. This is an encouragement to all believers, as they remember that everything that is in harmony with the divine character and nature is possible with God. Of course there are some things that God cannot do; lie, for instance, Titus 1:2.
1:38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word- the simple, believing, humble reply of Mary is a lesson to all who believe. She accepts the great and privileged task given to her, and does so with humility, as the handmaid of the Lord, happy to serve in this way even though it will mean misunderstanding and censure from the world. The Lord Jesus “took upon Him the form of a servant” when He became a man, Philippians 2:7. How appropriate that she who is the means, under God, whereby this came to pass, should describe herself as a servant.
There are those who believe that this is the moment of Christ’s conception, as Mary willingly resigns herself to the will of God.
And the angel departed from her- thus ensuring that no-one could suggest that there was any angelic involvement in the incarnation, apart from the announcement of the event. The work is entirely of God, as befits the Person who is coming into manhood.