“The Hope of Peace Shall be Fulfilled, for all the Earth Shall Know the LORD”
As Matthew speaks about the coming of Jesus, one of the buzzwords that his account repeats over and over is “fulfill”. Matthew claims that the virgin birth “fulfills” the prophecy of Isaiah, and Jesus’s family will later “fulfill” a prophecy by fleeing to Egypt and returning. Matthew wants us to clearly understand that this moment is a fulfillment of the Old Testament.
On the surface that is all well and good; however, a bit of Old Testament study may leave you scratching your head. Take for instance the prophecy of a virgin birth. It originally comes from Isaiah 7:14, but a quick read of the context reveals that the “virgin” Isaiah was referring to was his young prophetess wife to -be, and the child was their son, which provides the king with a sign that God would deliver Israel from invasion (8:1-3). This can be unnerving for us modern Christians, who have a view of prophecy that is something like a crystal ball. If Isaiah’s prophecy was for his time, and didn’t seem to have Jesus in mind, then is Matthew actually using something out of context to try and make up a story about Jesus? That’s a concerning reality!
What we need to do is adjust our understanding of what “fulfill” means in the Biblical context. Because we are sometimes bad at reading the Bible as one cohesive story, and instead prefer to read individual verses separately, what we often picture is a piecemeal Bible, where authors suddenly go off on Messianic bunny trails mid-thought. In this imagining, New Testament authors read the Old Testament and say “ah, I now see that that bunny trail was about Jesus”.
What happens far more often is that these prophecies had real applications that applied to their original audience. No one was expecting anything more than that, which is why it is so shocking when Matthew begins recognizing fulfillments in his day. Jesus is bringing old prophecies to their fullest realizations. The wonder of Jesus is that he does not simply answer prayers, but reveals the deepest longings that lie behind the prayers of all people, and answers those longings with his very own presence.
-What longings do you think often lie behind your prayers? Is it a desire for peace? Justice? Control? Love? Self-worth? How do you think the coming of Jesus acts to meet those longings?