Chapter 2: Meditations in Isaiah 9.6

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A CHILD IS BORN

Our Bible has an intriguing way of saying so much in so few words. Not only so, but how often is such profound truth conveyed in such simple language. This well-known verse is a perfect example of both of these features and its opening clause demonstrates both the brevity and the simplicity in which the profundity of the birth of Messiah is presented.

The eight beautiful clauses of Isa.9.6 are a panorama of the whole Messianic story, ranging from the manger to the millennium, from the swaddling bands to the sceptre, and indeed from eternity to eternity.

A child is born! Such an event must be repeated a thousand times every hour of every day, world-wide. Usually it is an occasion of rejoicing and as the Saviour Himself noted, it brings that joy which follows the sorrow and anguish of the mother’s travail, Jn.16.21. Again and again, in a myriad of languages in every corner of the globe, the glad news is told, "A child is born".

But the Child of Isa.9.6 is no ordinary Child, nor is His birth an ordinary birth. This Child is the Child of the Divine promise, which had been given in Eden as soon as our first parents had sinned and a Redeemer was needed. The promise was repeated through the ages and generations which followed and many details concerning the promised birth were given to and through the prophets.

The nature of the Redeemer’s birth was to be unique, for He would be the Seed of the woman, born of a virgin, Gen.3.15. He would be of the seed of Abraham, Gen.17.19, of the tribe of Judah, Gen.49.10, and of the house of David, Isa.11.1. The very place of His birth was predicted, Mic.5.2. He would be born in Bethlehem, and so accurate was this prediction that it is added "of Ephratah". To distinguish the birth-place of the Child from another Bethlehem, in Galilee, this Bethlehem is always identified as Bethlehem Ephratah, Bethlehem in the land of Judah, Bethlehem of Judea. There must be no uncertainty or ambiguity regarding the place where the Child would be born.

After long centuries had come and gone; at last the appointed time arrived for the fulfilment of the promise. It was Gabriel who brought the message to a virgin maiden in Nazareth, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee … thou hast found favour with God and, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son," Lk.1.28,30,31. Mary’s Child would be miraculously conceived in her virgin womb and after nine months she would bring forth her Son at the right moment and in the right place. "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son" Isa.7.14; Matt.1.22,23.

However, there was an apparent human problem. Mary lived in Nazareth, in Galilee, but Bethlehem of Judea was some seventy miles away, five or six miles south of Jerusalem. How, or why, should a girl in Mary’s condition journey so many miles through difficult and sometimes hazardous country to Bethlehem in the land of Judah? Apart from the physical weariness which would be entailed, it was well-known that travellers often fell among thieves in such country, Lk.10.30. How would the older women of Nazareth feel about such a venture at such a time? Was it safe? Was it wise? Was it practical? Well it had to be; but how?

That often quoted expression of J.N. Darby provides the answer, "God is behind all the scenes and He moves all the scenes which He is behind". How evidently this was to be borne out in the birth of the promised Messiah. There was an emperor in Rome and a carpenter in Nazareth who ordinarily had little in common but both were to figure in the birth of Mary’s Child and the hearts of both men were in the hands of a sovereign Lord. The Caesar was moved to issue a decree that all in his little world would be taxed. To this end there must be a general enrolment for the taking of a census, and to facilitate the enrolment every man must register in the town of his fathers. Caesar the emperor was sovereign in his own domain and Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth must obey. Accordingly, being of the house and lineage of David, he must travel, with Mary his betrothed wife, to the city of David, Bethlehem of Judea.

How they travelled we do not know. It may well have been by the traditional donkey or mule. Somehow they journeyed south, up to Jerusalem and then onward to Bethlehem. Most likely Joseph had made the journey many times over the years, when, as a pious Jew, he would have travelled to Jerusalem to keep the feasts. But now he was accompanied by a young wife soon to give birth to her first Child. It must have been an anxious time but Mary was a godly maiden who had earlier said, "Be it unto me according to thy word" Luke 1.38. She has given to all who follow a fine example of perfect acceptance of the will of God whatever the cost.

Eventually they arrived at the appointed place, only to find that there was no room for them in the inn. They were directed to an out-building, perhaps indeed a stable, and there the ancient prophecy was fulfilled, "a child is born". Mary wrapped the Infant in the customary swaddling bands and laid Him in a manger cot. It was a lowly beginning to a lovely life that was to bring so much pleasure to God.

A Child is born! We shall have to observe, however, that in the birth of Mary’s Child there is enshrined the mystery of the incarnation of a Divine Person. There are things here, in the simplicity of the manger, which are too great for human intelligence. How reverently it must be said, a few pounds of flesh and blood, a tender little new-born life, but in this tiny body dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, Col.2.9. The Ancient of Days has become an Infant of time. Well do we sing, "O the wonder of it all!"

What practical lessons there are for us in this account of Messiah’s birth at Bethlehem! Here we learn that the purpose of God will always be fulfilled, however unlikely that might appear to men. Here too we may see how blessed it is to be in the path of His will for us and here we may know just how great is the privilege of being in the right place, at the right time, and in the right condition to be involved in the working out of the plans of that supreme Sovereignty which arranged the birth of the Child at Bethlehem in the land of Judah.

May we ever bow to His will as Mary did, content to suffer whatever the cost may be if only we may please Him.

A SON IS GIVEN

Our Lord Jesus has at least eleven titles that involve some aspect of Sonship. Five of these titles relate Him to His Father and to the heavens. He is Son of God, Son of the Father, Son of the Blessed, Son of the Highest, and Son of His love. Three titles link Him with Nazareth and with the family of the carpenter. He is called Son of Mary, Son of Joseph, and Son of the carpenter. Another three relate Him to earth and to the coming kingdom. He is Son of David, Son of Abraham, and Son of Man. Each title suggests some particular facet of His glory and each title will repay careful and prayerful meditation and study. "Unto us a Son is given."

Son of God

It may be argued that this title does not belong to Him alone since others are also called sons of God. Adam is called the son of God, Lk.3.38. We who believe are called sons of God, Rom.8.14. Angels are called sons of God, Job 2.1; 38.7. How then, it may be asked, is our Lord the Son of God uniquely? In some respects the answer is simple. Adam and the angels are sons by creation. We are sons by adoption, Gal.4.5. But He Whom we love is Son neither by creation nor by adoption; He is the Son of God eternally, the Only-begotten Son, with a Sonship which is His exclusively and alone, Jn.3.16.

Son of the Father

Here, and only here, in 2Jn.3, is this inscrutable title given to the Lord Jesus. Neither Adam, nor angels, nor believers, are ever called by this title; it is His alone. It is a tender appellative given to One Who ever dwells in the bosom of the Father. It portrays the sacred intimacy between the Father and the Son Who was ever with Him, face to face with Him in a holy fellowship of love, for such is implied in that expression "with God" Jn.1.1,2.

Son of the Highest

This title is again unique, found only in Lk.1.32, used by Gabriel in his message to Mary concerning the miraculous conception of her Son, the promised Messiah. The power of the Highest would overshadow Mary to effect that conception in her virgin womb. John, His forerunner, son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, would be known as the prophet of the Highest, Lk.1.76, and when the angels finally announced that He had come they said, "Glory to God in the highest" Lk.2.14. How reminiscent of Him Who in Old Testament times was so often called "The Most High" Dan.4.17,24,25,32,34.

Son of the Blessed

This is another title found only once in our Bible, Mk.14.61. Two words in the New Testament are translated "blessed" but require to be distinguished. W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary helps in this regard, as does Strong’s Concordance. One word, anglicised as makarios means to be counted happy or blessed and is used often in the beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 and Luke chapter 6. The other word is eulogia and it is perhaps obvious that it is from this word that the English word "eulogise" is derived, meaning to praise or to speak well of. This is the word that Israel’s high priest used of our Lord Jesus, Who stood silently, patiently, as men railed upon Him, slandering Him with blasphemous false accusations. "Art Thou the Son of the Blessed?" the High Priest asked. "I am" the Saviour replied. Let men slander if they will but He is the Son of the God well-spoken of! Blessed Saviour!

Son of His Love

Thus do J.N. Darby and many others render that expression in the K.J.V. in Col.1.14, "His dear Son". Like previous titles, it occurs but once in the New Testament and it is unique. The beloved Son has ever been the object of the Father’s affections and His coming into our world has revealed that great heart of love to us. "The Father loveth the Son," He said, Jn.3.35; 5.20, and then, "I love the Father" Jn.14.31. We who believe have been brought, by grace, into that love.

Son of Mary

That the Son of the Father should become the Son of Mary is wondrous grace indeed. The eternal has come into time. The Omnipotent has become dependent. From glory inexpressible He has come to humility and to poverty, born of a Hebrew peasant maiden to be called a Nazarene.

Son of Joseph

Joseph of course had no part in His miraculous conception but so that His entitlement to the throne of His father David should be beyond dispute He must not be the Son of the virgin alone. Joseph is His adoptive father and guardian so that Mary could say later "Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing" Lk.2.48.

Son of the Carpenter

It was in a spirit of unbelief that the men of Nazareth called Him the carpenter and the carpenter’s Son, Mk.6.3; Matt.13.55. They failed to recognise the wonder of it all, that the Creator had become a carpenter and was in their midst. He must have toiled at the carpenter’s bench in those early days, fashioning tables, chairs and yoke for oxen out of the very trees that He Himself had created! Grace indeed!

Son of David

In the opening verse of our New Testament our Lord’s link with David is stated and in the genealogy which follows, that link is established and with it His right to the throne. When He came He was born King, Matt.2.2, for Herod on the throne was but a puppet of Rome, an Edomite with no entitlement to the crown. Technically therefore, the throne was vacant. But the King had come! Israel rejected His claims however and it was a Gentile who wrote His title above His head in death, "This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" Matt.27.37; Mk.15.26; Lk.23.38; Jn.19.19.

Son of Abraham

If David is associated with the throne, Abraham is associated with the altar. In Solomon David raised a son for the throne; in Isaac Abraham raised a son for the altar. These two names with which our New Testament opens are suggestive of the two great covenants. David is heir to the crown. Abraham is heir to the land. Jesus is Son of David and Son of Abraham and is therefore the legal Heir to both the throne and the land, but the throne will be reached by the way of the altar: first the cross, then the crown.

Son of Man

Jesus used this title of Himself some eighty times in the Gospels. As Son of Man, He is the representative Man, the second Man, 1Cor.15.47. The title transcends even Son of Abraham and Son of David for as the second Man Christ is the established Heir not only to the throne and to the land but to the world which the first man lost. Our Lord used this title when speaking of His death, resurrection and coming kingdom. He is then:

Son of God eternally: Son of the Father intimately: Son of the Highest uniquely: Son of the Blessed morally: Son of His Love affectionately: Son of Mary miraculously: Son of Joseph legally: Son of the Carpenter practically: Son of David royally: Son of Abraham prophetically: Son of Man dispensationally.

As has been remarked earlier, our Bible can say so much in so few words! A Child is born! A Son is given! These truths will engage our hearts not only in time but also throughout eternity.

THE GOVERNMENT SHALL BE UPON HIS SHOULDER

For long centuries the weight of government has been too great for men to bear. Nations and men have striven after authority and have vied and fought with each other to have it, only to find, when once they have it that the task is too heavy. They have, individually and nationally, staggered and fallen under the weight of it. Kings and kingdoms have come and gone. Emperors and empires have risen and fallen. Dictators have appeared and disappeared. Today lawlessness and anarchy prevail in many parts of the habitable globe. The world has waited, and still waits, for a competent Ruler, but dismally failed to recognise the Prince of Peace when He was here on earth. Ironically, they cast out the One Who could have carried the government under which they staggered.

The Child has been born and the Son has been given, and now Isaiah projects our thoughts far distant to consider the day when He will reign and the government will be upon His shoulder. From Bethlehem we are directed to kingdom glory. The Infant Who lay in the manger will indeed sit on the throne. Humility will give place to authority and meekness to majesty. This verse now spans seven hundred years from the time of the prophecy until the birth of the Messiah and, to date, a further two thousand years, and still the world waits. Almost three millennia have come and gone since the days of the prophet, but the words of an ancient hymn are true:

A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone
(Isaac Watts)

And so a restless, confused world yet awaits Jehovah’s time for the bringing in of His Anointed. As Paul writes, "The whole creation groaneth" Rom.8.22.

There have been many forms of government down the centuries. Israel had for a time enjoyed that perfect government, theocracy, when God Himself ruled over them and among them. But the hearts of men are seldom if ever satisfied and as the people looked around them they lusted for a king such as the nations had. "Make us a king to judge us like all the nations" they said to Samuel, 1Sam.8.5. Jehovah, oftimes wearied with their grumblings, warned them of the consequences but gave them a king in Saul. It was the advent of monarchy. It was their choice over theocracy. "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them", He told Samuel. Saul was succeeded by David and David by Solomon and for centuries the nation had a variety of kings, sometimes good, sometimes evil. Concurrent with this the surrounding nations had their kings and emperors, their Caesars and Pharaohs, but none of this was ever ideal.

In many parts of the world men have decided that the perfect form of government is democracy. It has been defined as "The rule of the people by the people for the people". Wars have been fought, and are yet being fought over the people’s right to democratic government but so many have failed to see the inevitable end of such rule. The strife for rights even within a nation’s own boundaries results in anarchy, when, as it was in the Book of Judges so long ago, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" Judg.21.25. It is a depressing downgrade, from theocracy to monarchy, to democracy and anarchy interspersed with dictatorships.

One day God’s King will return. There will be a monarchy which will, at the same time be a theocracy, for the King Himself will be a Divine Person. The Child born into humanity is the Son given, Who is Deity, and when the time comes for Him to reign it will indeed be the rule of the Son of God and Son of Man in God’s appointed way. When He came before, the world did not know Him and His own people did not receive Him, Jn.1.10,11.

There is an expression which occurs more than twenty times in our Bible, in both Old and New Testaments: "The kings of the earth". The last two occurrences, in the book of Revelation, are almost like a summary of their entire history and future. "The kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him [the Lord Jesus] that sat on the horse, and against His army" Rev.19.19. This has been the general character of the kings of the earth; opposition to God and Christ. As in Ps.2.2, "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His anointed." The apostles quoted this in prayer in Acts 4.26, "The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ." But when the rightful King is eventually enthroned in the beauty of His metropolis, the New Jerusalem, then "the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it" Rev.21.24. They will then acknowledge Him as indeed they acknowledged Solomon in his day. "King Solomon passed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, that God had put in his heart" 2Chr.9.22,23. Perhaps this was intended as a preview of the glory of the greater Son of David in His kingdom, greater than the kings of the earth.

During that glorious millennial reign, earth will enjoy peace and prosperity such as she has never had since Eden. Messiah’s kingdom will know no boundaries, "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth" Ps.72.8.

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

(Isaac Watts)

It will be a reign of unparalleled bliss, when man will be at peace with man; when man will be at peace with beast; and where beast will be at peace with beast. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, saith the Lord" Isa.11.9; 65.25.

The beauty of it all will pervade every realm. The human kingdom and the animal kingdom, and even the very solar system will be affected. "The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days" Isa.30.26. Men will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Weapons of warfare will be redundant for men shall learn war no more Isa.2.4; Mic.4.3.

Such will be the glory of Messiah’s reign that after describing it all in Psalm 72 David concludes by saying, "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended". When the Son of David sits upon His throne and the whole earth is filled with His glory David has nothing more to pray for.

So much promise is embraced in that word of Isa.9.6, "The government shall be upon His shoulder." Well might we pray intelligently, "Thy kingdom come".

HIS NAME SHALL BE CALLED WONDERFUL

This word "Wonderful" in its different forms occurs over eighty times in the Old Testament. It is variously translated "marvellous; secret; wondrous" and Hebrew Lexicons define it as "surpassing; inscrutable; extraordinary". Such is the name of the Child born and the Son given, Whose shoulder will one day carry the government which has been too great for men.

The word "Wonderful" of Isa.9.6 is a noun and although nouns may indeed be employed at times as adjectives yet it may be preferable here to retain the comma after "Wonderful" and not to join it, without the comma, as some do, so as to read "Wonderful Counsellor". "Wonderful" is a name complete in itself, as is the lovely title "Counsellor". Many times in the New Testament, when our Lord was here on earth, His words and His ways drew out the wonder of those who knew Him.

There was Wonder at His Birth in Bethlehem, Lk.2.18

"And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds." Did the shepherds rehearse the story from the beginning? Did they tell of the angelic messengers: of the glory that had shone around them: of their journey to Bethlehem and of finding the Babe in the manger just as the angels had said? They had seen "Christ the Lord" wrapped in swaddling clothes and their story drew out the wonder of those who heard them.

There was Wonder at His Ministry in Nazareth, Lk.4.22

"And all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?" Early in His ministry our Lord had returned to the town where He was brought up. It had been His custom to attend the local synagogue and now, in accord with that custom, He went again to the synagogue and stood up indicating His desire to read the portion for that sabbath day. It was the right of every Jewish adult male to do so. Having received the scroll from the attendant He calmly found the place which we now know as Isaiah chapter 61. He expounded it to them as they had never heard it from the Rabbis for He Himself was the subject of the passage. He was the promised Messiah and the prophecy was now being fulfilled in their ears. They wondered!

There was Wonder at His Power on the Sea of Galilee, Lk.8.25

"And He said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for He commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey Him." Experienced fishermen though they were, who knew the sea of Galilee in its many moods, they were frightened by the ferocity of the storm. Their Master was asleep, resting on a cushion in the hinder part of the ship and they awoke Him. He stood calmly on the deck of the little boat, spoke the well-known word of command to the boisterous waves, "Peace, be still". They obeyed at once and there was a great calm. Well might they wonder!

There was Wonder at His Authority over Demons, Lk.9.42,43

"Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father. And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God … they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did." Again, "He was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered" Lk.11.14. It is a remarkable fact that early in His ministry the demons recognised what men did not, that Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth, was the Christ of God, and they were afraid. At Capernaum He delivered a man possessed by an unclean spirit. The demon cried out, "I know Thee Who Thou art, the Holy One of God" Mk.1.24; Lk.4.34. The demons saw beyond the guise of the carpenter and knew Him for Who He was and as He cast them out the people wondered.

There was Wonder at His Sufferings, Isa.52.14

"As many were astonied (Heb. wondered) at thee; His visage was so marred more than any man." Well might the sight of the suffering Messiah evoke wonder. A crown of thorns, a bleeding back, pierced hands and feet, after a long night of mockery and blasphemy, buffeting and spittle. Many were indeed "astonied". It is an old word meaning that they were numb with amazement and wonder. Yet it is the sight which has captivated many a heart and drawn out love to Him Whom men hated. The suffering One has commanded the amazement of saint and sinner alike.

That visage marred, those sorrows deep,
The thorns, the scourge, the gall;
These were the golden chains of love
His captive to enthral.

(R.C. Chapman)

There was Wonder at His Death, Mk.15.44

"Pilate marvelled if He were already dead." Pilate’s marvel was a mingled wonder of surprise and admiration that Jesus should be dead so soon. There was much which Pilate, with all his privileges as governor, did not know. Did he not know that Jesus had earlier said of His life, "No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down" Jn.10.18. There was no need to break His holy limbs to bring about instant death, as they had done with the malefactors. Our blessed Lord was accomplishing His exodus in His own time, and at the appointed moment on that sad afternoon He had cried with a loud voice and voluntarily yielded up His spirit. There had never before been a prisoner like this. It is hardly surprising that the pagan Roman governor should wonder.

There was Wonder at His Resurrection, Lk.24.12,41

"Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass." Peter and John had seen the evidence of a miracle in that tomb. It was empty except for the grave clothes. They lay, still in their folds as when they had been around their Lord’s body; but He was gone. The clothes had been miraculously vacated. They left wondering! It was not doubt, but wonder. The condition of the clothes testified that the Saviour was alive, but what now? They wondered.

"And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, He said unto them, Have ye here any meat?" At the lakeshore He waited for them, and showed by His desire to eat with them that it was indeed Himself. He was alive, the Saviour they had known and loved. He showed them His hands and feet and invited them to handle Him. This was no spirit. It was Himself. And they wondered!

Wonder at Bethlehem and at Nazareth; wonder at Capernaum and on the lake; wonder at the cross and at the tomb. Truly, His name shall be called Wonderful!

COUNSELLOR

They were not exactly friends of the Lord Jesus Who said, "Never man spake like this Man" Jn.7.46. They were officers sent by the Pharisees and chief priests to apprehend the Saviour, v.32. How much or how little they heard Him speak we cannot tell but they had heard sufficient to feel the power of His ministry. They could not have known, being Romans, that one of His great titles was "Counsellor" and that He spoke with authority on every subject necessary for man’s spiritual welfare.

In Jn.1.18 it is said, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." The word "declared" (Gk. exegeomai) is the word from which is derived the English word "exegesis". It means "to tell out; to unfold; to interpret; to make known," and the Son Who dwells in the bosom of the Father, and Who alone knows the Father, has come into our world to declare Him. He is the Counsellor in everything related to God and to things spiritual and without Him we should not know the Father. As He Himself said, "No man knoweth Who the Son is, but the Father; and Who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him," Lk.10.22. The Counsellor has made Him known.

It may be worth considering that there is perhaps nothing that is afterward expounded in more detail in the epistles which cannot be found, at least in germ form, in embryo, in the spoken ministry of the Lord Jesus. He has spoken of sin and salvation, of eternity, of heaven and of hell. He has taught the necessity of baptism and He has expounded on local church testimony and of order and discipline in the gatherings. He has outlined a prophetic programme both in relation to the saints and their rapture and the future of Israel and the nations. He it was Who introduced the remembrance meeting, the breaking of bread so precious to saints all over the world. In His upper room ministry, on His last evening on earth, He taught much about the ministry of the Holy Spirit Who was to come, and in all of His ministry He emphasised the importance of godly living in the world which was soon to cast Him out.

Where do we begin to reflect on the spoken words of the Counsellor, Who spake as never man spake? In reply to this question it may be profitable to see that in Matthew’s Gospel there are recorded six discourses of the Saviour and these give us some picture of the extent of His ministry. They do not in any way record His entire ministry for there are matters in the other Gospels not dealt with in Matthew, but here are fine examples of the things that He taught and of the manner in which He taught them. These discourses are each deserving of the closest study for they are the words of Him Who is the Counsellor, the Divine Exponent of truth. They are:

• The Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7
• The Charge to the Twelve, chapter 10
• The Parables of the Kingdom, chapter 13
• The Teaching on Forgiveness, chapter 18
• The Denunciation of the Pharisees,chapter 23
• The Olivet Discourse, chapters 24,25

The Sermon on the Mount

This great ministry has been called the essence of Christianity. It opens with blessings for godly living, usually called "the Beatitudes". It introduces a moral order which goes beyond the law. It warns against hypocrisy in all its forms. It exhorts to simple trust in a God Who cares for birds and flowers. It gives a beautiful example of prayer with warnings against the vain repetitions characteristic of the heathen, and it assures those who obey that they are building upon solid rock.

The Charge to the Twelve

Here are enshrined great principles for those who would be servants of God, as the twelve were. The sovereignty of God is here, as is the necessary compatibility of the servants. There must be urgency in service coupled with sensitivity to Divine leading. Dependency and dignity are alike enjoined upon the servants along with courtesy and humility. There must be sagacity and yet simplicity and there must be loyalty, with expectancy of the Lord’s approval in a coming day. He will truly reward.

The Parables of the Kingdom

In seven well-known parables the Counsellor outlines the course and the character of His kingdom in its mystery form. Well He knows that He will be rejected but that during His absence, the true children of the kingdom will engage in ministry for Him. There will be opposition, imitation, perversion and corruption. A great Christendom will deny His name and His Word, but there will be a genuine thing on earth too, precious as a pearl, loyal to the King and waiting for His return.

The Teaching on Forgiveness

Humility was not an admired feature among the heathen. The Pharaohs of Egypt, the emperors of the nations, the Caesars of Rome, had little time for it. It was equated with weakness. But the great Counsellor taught His followers that true humility was real strength and greatness. He exhibited all this in Himself and He exhorted others to it. The humility to forgive was to be such a desirable thing among His disciples, not just seven times, as Peter had suggested, but seventy times seven, unlimited. This was greatness indeed and this was the very character of the Master.

The Denunciation of the Pharisees

As if in contrast with the beatitudes of the earlier discourse the Saviour now pronounces a series of eight woes upon the Pharisees and scribes. He loathes and despises their hypocrisy. It was true that they prayed. It was true that they gave alms. It was true that they fasted. But all was done to draw attention to themselves. Their holiest exercises were cloaked in hypocrisy. They prayed at the street corners for all to see them. They trumpeted the fact that they were giving alms and when they fasted their self-denial showed in their sallow countenances so that rather than self-denial it was promotion of self. Our Lord denounced it. May we, in our day, heed the lesson!

The Olivet Discourse

Here in this Olivet discourse, sometimes called "the Great Apocalypse", our Lord deals with the coming of the Son of Man in the day of His manifestation. In an intriguing parallel with the early verses of Revelation chapter 6, He predicts the rise of false Christs, deceivers. He foretells of wars and rumours of wars, of famines and pestilences, of disease and death, earthquakes and martyrdoms. But eventually the King will come in His glory to sit upon the throne of His glory and suitably reward His faithful servants. The late Harold St. John says very beautifully, "I love to think of Christ in a peasant’s dress sitting on the Mount of Olives and publishing His plans for the future of Europe". It is the ministry of the infallible, unerring Counsellor.

THE MIGHTY GOD

It is difficult to understand how anyone can read this verse with its clear references to Messiah, and then deny the Deity of Christ. There is no doubt whatever that the verse predicts Messiah, the Child born and the Son given, Whose Name is called Wonderful, and Who will one day carry the government of the universe. Yet in the clearest of terms the same Messiah is now called "the Mighty God". "El gibbor" says the Jew in his lovely Hebrew tongue, ‘gibbor’ meaning strong; mighty; powerful; valiant; and ‘El’ being a name of God which again implies "the Almighty".

If confirmation of our Lord’s Deity was needed, this is one of eight occasions where the Lord Jesus is directly called God. For those who wish to pursue the other references they are, Matt.1.23; Jn.1.1; 20.28; Rom.9.5; Titus 2.13; Heb.1.8; 1Jn.5.20.

However, it is instructive to see that during the days of His ministry here on earth the Saviour wore Divine titles, exercised Divine attributes and accepted Divine honours. These were titles, attributes and honours which belonged exclusively to Deity, and an observance of these must surely convince any honest mind that the Man of Galilee was indeed God.

He Wears Divine Titles

Even before His miraculous birth the Saviour was called "Emmanuel" meaning "God with us". We have seen previously that our Lord was, in a unique way, the Son of God, the Son of the Father. Even the proud Jews recognised that His claim to such unique Sonship was a claim to equality with God, Jn.5.18. It was indeed a claim to Deity. He Himself used the great title "I am" many times, recorded especially in John’s Gospel. Perhaps it may be said that the title was concealed within other phrases but it is appreciated clearly by those who love Him that when He said, "I am the door, I am the bread of life, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the way," that He was, in these and other similarly worded expressions, using the great "I am" title of Godhood. Several times in the Book of Revelation He is referred to as the "Alpha and Omega," the beginning and the ending. It will be obvious from other occurrences of this same expression in Revelation that this is a title of Deity and our Lord Jesus wears this Divine title with glory.

He Exercises Divine Attributes

It is all but impossible to count the many miracles that Jesus did while here among men. Perhaps some thirty or thirty-five miracles may be identified but there are so many, many occasions where the multitudes came to Him and it is simply recorded that "He healed them all" Matt.12.15. How many? We cannot tell. But what a variety of miracles He wrought.

His earliest miracle was in Cana of Galilee where He made the water wine. Again, early in His ministry He touched a man full of leprosy and healed him immediately. Sometimes, as in the case of the leper and the blind, He touched men. Sometimes others touched Him as did that poor woman with the persistent haemorrhage, who in faith reached for the border of His garment. Sometimes there was no touch at all but simply a word, and that remotely, as with the son of the nobleman and the servant of the centurion, Jn.4.46-54; Lk.7.1-10, these both at Capernaum. Then of course, He calmed the tempest on the sea of Galilee with a word, and calmed also the fears of the frightened fishermen, and on three occasions He even raised the dead. Truly He exercised attributes that belonged alone to Deity. How can anyone doubt that He is El Gibbor, "The Mighty God" and how true is that lovely verse by an anonymous poet:

The deep, the demons, and the dead,
Were subject to the word He said;
Unveiling thus His power and might
To exercise His Godhead right.

He Accepts Divine Honours

There were several occasions when men acknowledged the Saviour’s Deity and He accepted such honour. It was very early in His ministry that He was so acclaimed by the demon, crying out "I know Thee Who Thou art, the Holy One of God" Mk.1.24. Again, there can be no doubt that when both Peter and Martha alike confessed Him to be the Christ, the Son God, that this was indeed a confession of their Lord’s Deity, Matt.16.16; Jn.11.27. As has already been noted, in the mind of the Jew, the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God was considered to be a claim to equality with God and therefore a claim to Godhood. "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God" Jn.5.18.

Perhaps however the greatest and best-known example of men acknowledging our Lord’s Deity is that of Thomas. Thomas had missed that meeting of the disciples when the Saviour had appeared to them, risen from the dead. Thomas was sceptical when they told him what had happened but graciously the Lord appeared in their midst again when Thomas was present. Having seen the wounded hands and side of the risen Master, Thomas exclaims, in words beloved by those who know the Saviour, "My Lord and my God" Jn.20.28. It was a clear acknowledgement of the Lordship and the Deity of the Lord Jesus. Yet, on none of these occasions was there any rebuke from the Saviour for the offering of such honour to Him. Barnabas and Paul may well reject such honours for they were confessedly "men of like passions" with those to whom they preached, Acts 14.11-15, but Jesus was in truth God Incarnate, a Divine Person come among men in wondrous grace.

How rightly then do we call Him "the Mighty God". He may be the Child born in the simplicity and humility of Bethlehem’s manger but the immeasurable stoop was voluntary. This was the condescension of One of the great Tri-unity, Whose glory shone out during the days of His flesh for those who were willing to see and acknowledge. The titles of Deity, the attributes of Deity, and the honours of Deity all belong to Him of Whom we sing:

Thou art the everlasting Word,
The Father’s only Son,
God manifestly seen and heard
And heaven’s beloved One.
In Thee, most perfectly expressed,
The Father’s glories shine,
Of the full Deity possessed,
Eternally Divine!

(Josiah Conder)

Was that, as many believe, a fragment of an early Christian hymn that Paul quotes in 1Tim.3.16 "God was manifest in the flesh"? It was indeed a mystery; confessedly and without controversy it was a great mystery, that the Infinite should become an Infant; that the Omnipotent should become dependent; that the Son of the Father should become the Son of Mary; that the Creator should become a carpenter; that the Eternal should come into time.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail! Incarnate Deity!

(C. Wesley)

We bow our hearts in worship and in wonder and say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God". The great truth of our Lord’s Deity is foundational, fundamental and essential to the faith of all those who own Him as Lord and Saviour. He is the Mighty God!

THE EVERLASTING FATHER

In the translation by J.N. Darby this appellate of Messiah is rendered "the Father of Eternity". Others will suggest "the Father of the Ages" which is substantially the same. It is a declaration of the sovereignty of Messiah over all the cycles of time, for He is the author and originator of all. How beautiful it is to see that in that ancient prediction of the village of His nativity it is stated, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Heb. ‘the days of eternity’). Bethlehem may be the lowly beginning of a lovely life on earth, and it was, but the Baby in the manger is the Father of the Ages, the uncreated One Who predates time and all created things.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews the writer says of the Son that by Him the "worlds" were made, Heb.1.2. In the literal sense this is true of course and it is emphasised in other places, "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made" Jn.1.3. "For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him" Col.1.16. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not" Jn.1.10. "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" Rev.4.11. Every created thing owes its existence to Him Who created all.

True and thrilling as this is, it is not however the meaning of Heb.1.2. The word "worlds" there is in fact the word "ages" (Gk.aioon. Strong 165). The famed Greek Lexicon by Thayer says of the word that it means, "an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity, forever". Many concede that the word did eventually come to include all that the ages produced but there seems little doubt that the basic meaning of aioon is indeed "ages". Such then is the greatness of the Messiah that He is called in our verse "the Father of the Ages". In Heb.1.2 all the cycles of time emanate from Him, through Him, for Him, and to Him. The ages were planned by Him and for His glory and all revolve around Him, He in the midst.

In time we often reckon the ages as being dispensations, periods which are characterised by God’s various ways of dispensing His will and purpose for men. There are at least seven of these "dispensations" and possibly eight, as follows.

Innocence: Gen.1.28-3.6

Man was created in innocence and placed in a perfect environment. All that he needed, all that he could have desired, was in the garden of Eden. He was, however, subjected to one simple test. In the creation he had a conferred sovereignty but there was a greater sovereignty than his and he must obey commands. He chose to disobey. He denied the sovereignty of the Creator and his own headship and the dispensation ended with his expulsion from the garden, but with the promise of a Redeemer.

Conscience: Gen.3.7-8.14

How long the first dispensation lasted we cannot tell, but that which followed lasted for some sixteen hundred years. It was the age of conscience. "Con-science" means going along with what we know. Man had deliberately chosen to disobey in Eden and now, with a knowledge of good and evil, he is placed under the moral responsibility of doing what he knows to be right and abstaining from what is wrong. Any approach to God would be on the grounds of sacrifice, Genesis chapter 4. This age ended with the flood, God’s judgment on a rebellious world.

Human Government: Gen.8.15-11.32

On their deliverance from the flood and their emergence from the ark, Noah and his family inherited a new earth. To them was committed the responsibility to govern. It was a heavy responsibility which included the introduction of capital punishment for murder: "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed" Gen.9.5,6.

Promise: Gen.12.1-Ex.18-27

From an idolatrous race God then called out a man, Abram, who became Abraham. To him God gave an unconditional promise of blessing and the pledge of an inheritance. "I will bless them that bless thee" Gen.12.3. Sadly, the patriarch’s posterity came into bondage in Egypt until, by power and by blood they were redeemed. Eventually, after the great exodus, they arrived at Sinai.

Law: Ex.19.1 until Christ

At Sinai God gave the nation His law. They promised "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD" Ex.19.8. But they did not keep their promise and it was an age of sacrifice and offerings, of priesthood, judges, monarchy and captivity, until He came in Whom the precepts of the law were exemplified, its promises fulfilled, and its penalties exacted at Calvary.

Grace: Acts chapter 2 - The Rapture

On the memorable day of Pentecost there began a new era. It was a mystery period with features not revealed to Old Testament prophets. A new assembly came into being in which there was neither Jew nor Gentile. The old middle wall of partition had been broken down and those in the great church were now simply sinners saved by grace. The message preached to all men would be known as "the gospel of the grace of God," Acts 20.24. The coming of Christ for His church will bring the age of grace to a close.

"The Kingdom" Revelation chapters 19,20

A period of unparalleled tribulation after the rapture of the church will prevail until the manifestation of the King. He had been rejected on earth, unrecognised by the world and refused by His own nation but He must reign and His return in glory will usher in a kingdom of bliss and prosperity promised by the psalmists and seers of the Old Testament. This is the last of the ordered ages, lasting for a thousand years. Man had been tested in innocence and under law but as he had failed in all that had gone before, so this age of prosperity will end in revolt and in judgment proving that the heart of man has remained unchanged even in a kingdom of peace.

There will then be an eternal sabbath, which is reckoned by many to be the eighth of the cycles of time. All these are ordered for His glory Who is the Father of the Ages.

THE PRINCE OF PEACE

The word "peace" here, is the lovely Hebrew word Shalom (Strong 7965), occurring more than two hundred times in our Old Testament. Shalom is a very versatile word, used as a greeting, a salutation, a farewell. Although it is generally rendered "peace" yet in its fullest definition it implies prosperity, tranquillity, welfare, health and happiness.

Jehovah is the God of peace, and is so called five times in the New Testament, Rom.15.33; 16.20; Phil.4.9; 1Thess.5.23; Heb.13.20. Once He is called the Lord of peace, 2Thess.3.16. Messiah is the King of peace, Heb.7.2, and here, in Isa.9.6, the Prince of Peace. It is not surprising then that our gospel should be known as the gospel of peace, Rom.10.15; Eph.6.15, and that its heralds should come preaching peace by Jesus Christ, Acts 10.36, guiding the feet of those who sit in darkness into the way of peace, Lk.1.79.

Peace has ever been a desirable but elusive thing in the turmoil of a world of war and unrest. Whether internationally, nationally, politically, industrially, domestically, individually, and even religiously, men have striven after peace, and for peace, but having rejected the Prince of Peace they have been left with division and strife. Only those who have come to know the Prince of Peace personally have the sense of peace in their hearts and consciences. He Whom they love said, on His last evening with His own, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" Jn.14.27. They love to quote with great confidence that word of the apostle who wrote, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" Rom.5.1.

Perhaps in this double reference to peace in our Lord’s word to His disciples, Jn.14.27, there is a suggestion of that dual aspect of peace which all may enjoy. There is peace in the conscience and peace in the circumstances. All believers may quote those words of Rom.5.1. With every sin and every charge against us removed in salvation we do indeed have peace with God. The enmity has gone. We have been reconciled to God by the death of His Son and we sing sincerely:

I have a peace, and it’s calm as a river,
A peace that the friends of the world never knew.

(S. Cluff)

There is therefore now no condemnation, neither can this peace be taken from us. The Prince of Peace is our Lord and Saviour.

There is however, another aspect of peace which, sadly, we may not always enjoy. It is the peace of God, Phil.4.7; Col.3.15. This is the peace of one who lives in fellowship with God, resigned to His good will at all times and able to say, whatever the circumstances, "Thy will be done". Such was the Saviour’s language in the sorrows of Gethsemane. Is this what He means when He speaks of "My peace"? Here is the peace of a Man completely at rest in the will of God even when His soul is "exceeding sorrowful" Matt.26.38; Mk.14.34. He desires the same peace in circumstances for His people.

It seems as though our Lord has ever been associated with peace: when He came, while He was here, and as He departed. When He came the angels announced, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" Lk.2.14. The Prince of Peace had come, bringing peace to earth and glory to God.

While He was here He dispensed peace on every hand. To a poor woman who for twelve miserable years had in vain sought the help of so many physicians, and who tremblingly touched the hem of His garment for healing, He graciously said, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace" Mk.5.34; Lk.8.48. And to another, a woman of ill repute despised by those around her, He could say with compassion, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace" Lk.7.50.

As He was preparing to leave the world He left that lovely benediction with His disciples in the upper room and, as has already been quoted, He said, "Peace I leave with you" Jn.14.27.

There can be little doubt however, that in the context of Isa.9.6, the ultimate glory of the Prince of Peace will be seen when He returns to earth in power. The title "Prince" (Heb sar; Strong 8269) is full of majesty. It means "Captain; Governor; Ruler; Keeper; Leader". All this, He will be, when He comes to reign. He will be the Prince of the Kings of the earth, Rev.1.5. He will be Sar Shalom. A multitude of heavenly voices will proclaim, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever" Rev.11.15.

Many Messianic prophecies will be fulfilled in that day. The Prince of Peace will be proclaimed the King of glory, Ps.24.7-10. He will return to reign in the city that rejected Him so long ago. Its gates will open to Him and "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth" Ps.72.8; Zech.9.10. Then, in that glorious reign of Messiah, the full meaning of Shalom will be realised for peace will pervade all the land and, as David writes, the whole earth will be filled with His glory, Ps.72.19. "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" Isa.2.4; Mic.4.3. "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock …They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, saith the LORD" Isa.65.25. How rightly it has been remarked that men today measure the strength of their kingdoms by the extent of their stockpiles of weaponry and armaments, but the strength of the kingdom of Christ will be measured by the safety of boys and girls playing in the streets! "And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof" Zech.8.5.

Then it will be true that "righteousness and peace have kissed each other" Ps.85.10. Righteousness will reign and peace will dwell and not since Eden will earth have known such bliss, prosperity and beauty. But the cost of such peace must never be forgotten, nor will it be. It cost the suffering and death of the Prince of Peace for God to make "peace through the blood of His cross" Col 1.20. But the God of peace brought Him again from the dead, Heb.13.20, and now, exalted, He waits expectantly for that day of His manifestation in power and glory. How we too should look forward as those who love His appearing, 2Tim.4.8.

Thou art coming! Thou art coming!
Jesus our beloved Lord!
O the joy to see Thee reigning,
Worshipped, glorified, adored!

(F. R. Havergal)