Immanuel — God with Uscomment (0)
December 19, 2013
By Bob Terry
Ever since that eventful night when the angel appeared to Joseph and announced the birth of Jesus, people have struggled to understand how the heralded Child could be “Immanuel — which means ‘God with us’” (Matt. 1:23).
Greek mythology was filled with stories of gods taking on human form. In most of the stories, the gods only appeared to be human. They really tricked humankind into thinking something that was not true. Following this line of reasoning, a group of early believers known as Gnostics concluded that Jesus only appeared to be human — but He was really God all the time.
In those Greek stories where gods actually became human, the result was something less than a god but more than a man. This line of thinking caused some to conclude that Jesus was some kind of intermediate being, neither God nor man in the full sense of the terms. He was a mediator between God and man but not fully either. This was one of the beliefs of Arianism.
Orthodox Christianity from earliest days labeled all such teachings heresy. The church has always insisted that “only one who is God can bring God to man and only one who is man can bring man to God.” In the Child born to the Virgin Mary, that which seems impossible to humanity was accomplished by God. Jesus was fully God and He was fully man.
The opening verses of John’s Gospel make this clear. There the apostle declares, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The first readers of John’s Gospel understood the importance of the term “Word.” It was by the power of His Word that God spoke all things into being. Scholars like to say the “Word was the agent of creation.”
The Word was from the beginning. The Word was not only with God; the Word was God.
In verse two, the author moves away from describing the Word in substance and character to describing it in personality. Word becomes He and “He was with God in the beginning,” writes John. All things were made by Him and in Him was life and light.
Verse 14 affirms the message of “God with us” as foretold in Matthew’s Gospel. The writer declares, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” References to the Old Testament abound here. The word translated “dwelling” can also be translated “tabernacled” or “tented” and recalls God’s presence with His people during the years of wandering and beyond. And just as the “Shekinah” glory of God was witnessed around the tabernacle, in Jesus, John and others saw “the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father.” Again the word “glory” refers to the manifestation of God’s presence and power — this time in the life of Jesus.
The apostle Paul makes this same point in the clearest of terms in his letter to the Colossians. There he declares, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). For Paul, Jesus is Immanuel — God with us.
Even the verbs in John’s first chapter are important. John begins using “was” in verse 1. In verse 14 the writer changes to “became.” Here the eternal Word became what He had never been before. He became flesh. He became the Child born to Mary. Flesh did not become deity, but deity did become flesh. With one strong stroke the apostle John dismisses the heresies of both the Gnostics and the Arians. Jesus is fully God and Jesus is fully flesh.
There is no other like Him, the writer continues. He is the “One and Only who came from the Father.” Of John the Baptist, the writer also uses the phrase “was sent from God.” But there is no comparison between John and Jesus. The phrase “sent from God” refers to John’s mission to be a forerunner of Christ. When referring to Jesus, the phrase references the Word becoming flesh, One who was with God and was God taking on humanity. Jesus is unique in all of history. Even today believers become “children of God” through faith in Jesus, but Jesus remains the One and Only Son of God.
The apostle Paul uses what many scholars call an ancient teaching hymn of the church to emphasize that Jesus is Immanuel — God with us.
Philippians 2:5–11 can be divided into three stanzas. The first stanza (vv. 6–7a) describes the heavenly pre-existence of Jesus. Although being the very nature of God, He willingly took on the form of a servant. Stanza two (vv. 7b–8) is about his earthly humiliation. Christ Jesus took on flesh and humbled Himself in obedience, even to the point of death on the cross. Stanza three proclaims His heavenly exaltation. God exalted Him to the point that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jesus’ own words also emphasize that He is Immanuel. To unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem who demanded to know if He were the Christ, Jesus said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).
To confused disciples saddened by the news that He was going away, Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
In His High Priestly prayer the night of His arrest Jesus prayed, “And now Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began” (John 17:5).
In His own words Jesus announced that He was “Immanuel — God with us.” He was the fulfillment of ancient prophecy, a conclusion affirmed by the apostles and taught by the church.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
“And all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet; The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son and they will call Him Immanuel — which means ‘God with us.’”
That message never changes.