For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice, from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. [Isaiah9:5-6NKJV]
A favourite Christmas reading for sure, for most would agree the child referred to is Jesus the Christ. In that sense it might be considered the archetypal Old Testament prophecy – yet it has been quite subverted. It is not that the promised events (Christ’s earthly reign and the defeat of evil) will not occur, they surely will, for “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” – but not in the order or sequence stipulated, nor with the expected supporting cast.
This is the mystery of God, His not-so-little secret (cf. Rev10). This is how Paul explains it, which virtually no one has grasped, including myself for the first 40 years of my Christian life:
“Unto me (Paul), who is the most inferior of all the saints, was this grace granted that I should preach among the (Gentile) nations, the unsearchable riches of Christ to enlighten all regarding the fellowship of the secret* (plan) hidden in God (the Father) through the ages, who created all things through Jesus Christ – that on account of the Church should now be made known to the sovereignties and authorities in the heavens, the multi-faceted nature of God’s wisdom according to the purpose of the ages made in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph3:8-11 from Greek).
Once Paul’s meaning is grasped everything can fall into place, providing one goes on rightly to interpret the rest of the apostle’s teaching regarding the role of the Law, the economy of grace, the context of justification and the psychological dualism between flesh and spirit that results from the disparate immediate origins of the physical and spiritual components of the human species (separated at death) as a result of the Fall (cf. Rom7:17-25).
I know how some of this is likely to sound to conservative Christians (I was a staunch Calvinist for 25 years), but such a reading resolves many tensions and mysteries within Scripture, the three primary ones being the disparity between OT prophecy and NT reality, and the correspondence between God’s compassionate and equitable nature as the Bible presents it and traditionally perceived eschatology. Thirdly it offers an explanation for evil and suffering as grist to prepare mankind for the glorious destiny and future offices God has in store for those created in His own image, more especially and immediately to faithful disciples of His Son. Having been predestined to be conformed to His image (Rom8:29), it is fitting that His joint-heirs should be perfected through suffering (Heb2:10; cf. 2Tim2:12). Such people long for Christ’s appearing, when He shall in a more substantive sense execute His reign – “to order it and establish it with judgment and justice” within a new heaven and a renewed Earth.
*The phrase from which the title of my book is taken: a free PDF is available HERE