-by Pastor Ashley Brown
A Curious Fulfillment
One of the most curious fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy is found in Matthew 1:21-23.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
It is curious because it is not the fulfillment we would expect.
In Isaiah 7:14 the prophet foretold a child born of a virgin, and that child’s name would be “Immanuel”. And yet, Matthew says the Messiah was named “Jesus” in order to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet. Why would the Messiah be named “Jesus” instead of “Immanuel” as Isaiah said? This is a curious fulfillment of prophecy.
An Instructive Fulfillment
On the other hand, this fulfillment is instructive. It illustrates a critical principle for the proper interpretation of Old Testament prophecy: the New Testament interprets the Old. In order to properly interpret Scripture, we cannot always simply insist upon wooden, face-value readings. Sometimes a wooden, face value reading of Scripture leads to falsehood. Isaiah 7:14 is an excellent example. After all, a wooden, face-value reading of Isaiah 7:14 would mean Jesus was not the promised Messiah, and we should wait for another. However, we know that is not the case. Jesus was the promised Messiah. So why does Matthew say Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, even though He was not named “Immanuel”?
Matthew had a proper understanding of how to rightly interpret Old Testament prophecy. Jesus truly was “God with us” – Immanuel. He was God in the flesh – walking, suffering, grieving, rejoicing, laughing, working, playing, living, and dying with us. He didn’t carry the outward name Immanuel, but His substance fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. Matthew saw this and – with apostolic authority, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – explained it to us in his Gospel.
The New Testament Interprets the Old
This brings us back to our principle: the New Testament interprets the Old. When we read Old Testament prophecy, like in Isaiah, our wooden, face-value interpretation does not matter. If the Apostles interpreted the prophecy for us, we must defer to them. This is important to remember because the actual fulfillment of prophecy tends to be more expansive and glorious than our face-value readings would lead us to believe.
To borrow an analogy from Larry, Old Testament prophecy is like the toy sponge capsules that you drop in water. When dropped in water, the sponges burst free of the capsule. And no matter how hard you try, the sponge will never go back in that capsule. It has expanded too far beyond the capsule’s ability to contain it. Likewise, when we drop Old Testament prophecy into the fresh water of the New Testament, it expands and bursts the capsule. The Old Testament simply can’t contain the reality of New Testament fulfillment. Or to use an analogy from Jesus Himself, you can’t put new wine into old wine skins. The new wine will burst the container of the old.
When the New Testament bursts our wooden, face-value interpretations of the Old, we need to submit to those God-inspired declarations. The New Testament interprets the Old. Always.