Immanuel — God With Us
Names are of great importance in the Bible. Some names have historical significance. “Adam,” for example, may derive from the Hebrew adama, “the red soil”—thus suggesting something of his physical origin (Genesis 2:7). And “Eve” (“living,” “life”) was so designated because “she was the mother of all living” humans (Genesis 3:20).
Sometimes names were symbolically descriptive of character. During his earlier years, Abraham’s younger grandson was denominated “Jacob” (“heel-catcher,” “supplanter,” “trickster”), for ever attempting to achieve success by his own cunning—sometimes with unethical devices. But after his experience with Jehovah’s messenger, i.e. the pre-incarnate Logos, at Peniel, his name was changed to “Israel,” indicative of the transformation of character that was henceforth to characterize him (Genesis 32:28).
Names could also be prophetic. “Abram” (“exalted father”) was changed to “Abraham” (“father of a multitude”) because God intended to make him the “father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). His wife was to be called “Sarah” (“princess”) because God said, “she shall be a mother of nations: kings of peoples shall be of her” (17:16).
A name could even be given as a gentle rebuke. When the Lord told Abraham that Sarah would be a mother of nations (the patriarch was near one hundred years old at the time, and his wife was about ninety), he fell over laughing (17:17). Later, Sarah also felt that this great promise was quite funny (cf. 18:12-15). But nothing is too difficult for Jehovah (18:14), and the child was subsequently born. Significantly, he was named “Isaac,” meaning “to laugh” (17:19; cf. ASV fn.).
Biblical names frequently have a profound theological meaning. For instance, in Isaiah 7:14 the prophecy was given: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
The name “Immanuel” in Hebrew means “God is with us,” and the prophecy finds its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ. This is apparent from the fact that this child is later identified as “mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6), and further that the inspired apostle Matthew declares the meaning of Isaiah 7:14 by acknowledging that it is “fulfilled” by the Lord’s birth (Matthew 1:22-23). (For the argument that Isaiah 7:14 is fulfilled exclusively in the birth of Christ, see Jackson 1977, 250-253.)
By the use of the appellation “Immanuel” of Christ, at least two things are in view: First, Jesus is a divine being; he is God. Second, there is the implication that in some way Deity has identified “with us.” Let us briefly explore each of these concepts.
The Deity of Jesus
Concerning this “Immanuel” to be born, respected scholar Edward J. Young has written:
In His birth the presence of God is to be found. God has come to His people in a little Child, that very Child whom Isaiah later names ‘Mighty God’ (1962, 5571).
Though this child was to be born in Bethlehem, his goings forth were “from old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). He was Jehovah’s “fellow” (Zechariah 13:7), the God for whom John the Baptizer would prepare the way (Isaiah 40:3). He was God who was “with God” in the beginning (John 1:1), thus, eternally existing before such patriarchs as Abraham were born (John 8:58). The New Testament is literally filled with evidences of the deity of the Lord Jesus. (See my booklet, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Deity of Christ, for a more detailed discussion.)
In this article, we want to give special attention to the “with us” part of this divinely given name. It denotes that, by means of Jesus, God has identified with man. This is truly a thrilling thought! How has the great God of the universe identified with him who is made in his image?
As the Sustainer
The Bible teaches that the divine Christ sustains the very universe in which we live. In that great chapter which is designed to exalt the Lord, Colossians 1, Paul affirms that in Christ “all things consist” (v. 17). The Greek term is from sunistemi, literally, “to stand together,” thus affirming that the things of the universe are actually held together by the power of Christ. Lightfoot noted that the Lord “impresses upon creation that unity and solidarity which makes it a cosmos instead of a chaos” (1892, 154).
In concert with this is the statement of Hebrews 1:3 in which Jesus Christ is said to be continually upholding (pheron—a present tense participle) all things by the word of his power. Richard Watson wrote that “the Creator has not so fixed and ascertained the laws of nature, nor so connected the chain of second causes, as to leave the world to itself, but that he still preserves the reins in his own hands” (1881, 863). A. T. Robertson notes that “Christ is the controlling and unifying force in nature” (1931, 479).
In Human Nature
Though Christ was existing eternally as Deity, it was the divine plan that he become human. So in the fulness of time the “seed” of woman came to earth (cf. Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4). In order that he might identify with us, Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3). This does not assert that Christ himself possessed sinful flesh, only that he had a body of real flesh, and such fleshly bodies in other responsible people are given to sinful conduct. The Lord was tempted in all points, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So he is able to deal compassionately and justly with those whom he is not ashamed to call his brethren (cf. Hebrews 2:11, 17; 4:15).
Further, it was essential that he become human in order that he might die! The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus partook of human nature that “through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (2:14). Deity, as pure spirit-essence, is immortal (1 Timoty 6:16—the Greek term denotes deathlessness). Therefore, Christ by “being made in the likeness of men and being found in fashion as a man” has really identified with us. What a profound source of comfort!
Through His Vicarious Death
The story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac in the Old Testament is rich in meaning. When the patriarch was at the point of slaying his son, Jehovah’s messenger restrained him. Nearby was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns which Abraham offered for a sacrifice “in the stead of his son” (Genesis 22:13). That pictured Christ! The son of God went to the cross “in the stead of” sinful man. God is with us in the death of Jesus.
The identification of God the Son with us in his death is vividly stressed in Isaiah 53. Note the interchange of pronouns:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows . . . . he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed (vv. 4-5).
Paul states that Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Again, “Him who knew no sin he [God] made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21; cf. 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Romans 5:8; John 10:11; Mark 10:45). The death of Christ is given a very prominent place in the Bible.
The last three days of our Lord’s earthly life occupy about one-fifth of the narratives in the four Gospels. If all the three and a half years of His public ministry had been written out as fully as the last three days, we would have a “Life of Christ” of some 8,400 pages (1949, 313).
The death of Christ is directly mentioned more than 175 times in the New Testament. We should thank God for his unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).
With Daily Watchfulness
The Scriptures are filled with promises that God will be with his saints on a daily basis. He was with Joseph as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 39:2-3, 21). He was with Moses (Exodus 3:12) and Joshua (Joshua 1:5). The Psalmist could confidently claim: “Jehovah of hosts is with us” (Psalm 46:7).
Similarly, Jesus, in concluding the Great Commission, announced: “I am with you always [pasas tas hemeras—”all the days" (i.e., day by day)] even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).
When Paul encountered opposition in Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a night-vision and said, "Be not afraid [literally, “stop being afraid”], but speak and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee" (Acts 18:9-10). And reflect upon this magnificent statement: “At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me; may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
If not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge, and if the very hairs of our head are numbered (Matthew 10:29-30), we may be assured that the Lord watches over us and that he sees our ways and numbers our steps (Job 31:4).
By Supporting Our Obedience
Immanuel has promised to be with those who are courageous enough to carry out his will. It will surely be acknowledged that at some times it is more difficult to do what is right than at others. One of the areas requiring great faith to do Heaven’s will is in the exercise of church discipline.
In Matthew 18:15ff, Christ gives instruction as to how reconciliation is to be effected when a brother has sinned against a fellow-saint. The Lord observes, however, that if the offending party cannot be brought to repentance, ultimately he must be disfellowshipped—“let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican” (v. 17). Within the same context, Jesus continues: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (v. 20). Actually, therefore, the Savior is saying: “When you correctly exercise discipline by my authority, I am there with you, backing up your action!” Notice R. C. H. Lenski’s very fine comment on this passage:
[H]e is thus in the assembly of the church or present when two or three are convicting a brother of sin. It is he himself who acts with his church and its members when they carry out his Word by invoking also his presence and his help (1964, 707).
Therefore, we ought to take courage, even when dealing with such heart-rending matters as the withdrawal of fellowship.
Finally, in a very personal way, the Son of God has promised that he will be with us throughout eternity. In discussing the second coming of Christ, Paul writes:
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first [i.e., before the living are changed]; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
This is a wonderful confirmation of the Master’s earlier promise: “[W]here I am, there shall also my servant be” (John 12:26).
The name “Immanuel,” therefore, implies that God, the Son, is with us in a whole host of wonderful ways. May we always strive to stay with him.
- Jackson, Wayne. 1977. Isaiah. The Living Messages of the Books of the Old Testament. Ramer, TN: National Christian Press.
- Lenski, R. C. H. 1964. The Interpretation of St. Luke. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.
- Lightfoot, J. B. 1982. Paul’s Epistles to Colossians and Philemon. New York: Macmillan.
- Robertson, A. T. 1931. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 4. Nashville, TN: Broadman.
- Thiessen, H. C. 1949. Introductory Lectures in Systemic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Watson, Richard. 1881. A Biblical and Theological Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Southern Methodist Publishing House.
- Young, Edward J. 1962. The New Bible Dictionary. J. D. Douglas, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.