THE VIRGIN CONCEPTION IN FULFILLMENT OF OT PROPHECY AS CONFIRMED BY ANGELIC REVELATION WAS ESSENTIAL TO CHRIST’S ULTIMATE MISSION AS JESUS AND INCARNATE PRESENCE AS IMMANUEL
Grant Osborne: There are two major ideas here—the sovereign control of all history by God, who works out his plan of salvation in history “when the set time had fully come” (Gal 4:4), and the virgin birth of Jesus as the typological fulfillment of Isa 7:14.
David Platt: In the latter half of Matthew 1 we encounter the most extraordinary miracle in the whole Bible, and the most remarkable mystery in the whole universe. This miraculous mystery is described in eight simple verses. Referring to this miracle, J. I. Packer said, “It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie” (Packer, “For Your Sakes He Became Poor,” 69). Our souls ought to be captivated with fascinating glory in the midst of a familiar story.
Leon Morris: Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from the standpoint of Joseph rather than that of Mary, as Luke does. Luke accordingly has such stories as the appearance of the angel to Mary, but Matthew simply says that Mary became pregnant due to an activity of the Holy Spirit and goes on to tell his readers what Joseph did. It would have been expected that he would have divorced Mary, but an angelic visitor told him not to do so. Matthew tells us how Joseph obeyed the angel. Matthew’s account is clearly quite independent of that of Luke, but it emphasizes equally the virgin birth. We should notice
(a) the emphasis on the place of Joseph,
(b) the important place of divine guidance given in dreams, and
(c) the repeated references to the fulfilment of prophecy.
Craig Blomberg: Though Matthew expounds nothing of its significance here, the virginal conception has regularly been understood as a way by which Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine. His father, in essence, was God, through the work of the Holy Spirit; his mother was the fully human woman, Mary. As fully God, Jesus was able to pay the eternal penalty for our sins (v. 21) for which finite humanity could not atone. As fully human he could be our adequate representative and substitutionary sacrifice.
John MacArthur: Don’t ever base your theology on majority rule. There may be people who deny the virgin birth. There may be people who flagrantly and blatantly fight against the deity of Jesus Christ, but maybe even more subtle than that are the people who ignore the virgin birth. Reading a quote by someone that you all know, Robert Schuller at Garden Growth Community Church, this is a quote from The Wittenberg Door, January, 1976. He said, “I could not imprint or in public deny the virgin birth of Christ, but when I have something I can’t comprehend, I just don’t deal with it.”
Well, maybe that is the most serious error of all. Because that’s very subtle, to just ignore the virgin birth. We cannot doubt it and we cannot deny it and we cannot ignore it if we simply open our eyes and look at Matthew 1:18-25. It’s there. Dr. Walvoord, the president of Dallas Theological Seminary, says – and I quote – “The incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central fact of Christianity. Upon it the whole superstructure of Christian theology depends.” The whole essence of Christianity, people, is predicated on the fact that Jesus is God in human flesh. And that is something made clear at the very birth of Christ, an essential doctrine.
You see, if Jesus had a human father, then the Bible is untrustworthy, because the Bible claims he did not. And if Jesus was born simply of human parents, there is no way to describe the reason for his supernatural life. His virgin birth, his substitutionary death, his bodily resurrection and his second coming are a package of deity. You cannot isolate any one of those and accept only that one and leave the rest or vice versa, accept them all but one. . .
First of all, the virgin birth conceived, then confronted, then clarified, then connected, and then consummated.
(:18a) PROLOGUE – CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING BIRTH OF JESUS
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows.”
John MacArthur: The virgin birth is an underlying assumption in everything the Bible says about Jesus. To throw out the virgin birth is to reject Christ’s deity, the accuracy and authority of Scripture, and a host of other related doctrines that are the heart of the Christian faith. No issue is more important than the virgin birth to our understanding of who Jesus is. If we deny that Jesus is God, we have denied the very essence of Christianity. Everything else the Bible teaches about Christ hinges on the truth we celebrate at Christmas—that Jesus is God in human flesh. If the story of His birth is merely a fabricated or trumped–up legend, then so is the rest of what Scripture tells us about Him. The virgin birth is as crucial as the resurrection in substantiating His deity. It is not an optional truth. Anyone who rejects Christ’s deity rejects Christ absolutely—even if he pretends otherwise
I. (:18b-19) VIRGIN CONCEPTION CREATED A TROUBLING DILEMMA
A. (:18b) Surprise
“When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph,
before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”
Grant Osborne: The key term is “pledged in marriage” (μνηστευθείσης), which means a great deal more than the “engagement” today. It was legally binding (a contract signed by witnesses) and could be broken only by a writ of divorce. If the “husband” (he was considered such) were to die, the engaged woman would be considered a widow. Still, the marriage was not consummated until the wedding night, when the bride ritually went from her parent’s home to her husband’s home. Betrothal usually happened about the age of twelve (arranged by the two sets of parents), with the wedding a year later. The husbands were usually about eighteen (in order to be established financially).
Charles Swindoll: In his account of the birth of Jesus, Matthew places us squarely within the point of view of Joseph. Remember, Joseph was the one who stood in the line of succession for the Davidic kingship according to the genealogy, so Jews would have been particularly interested in the story of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective. But as we, the readers, are placed in Joseph’s sandals, we immediately sense the uncomfortable situation: Sometime during the approximately one-year period of betrothal between Joseph and Mary, “she was found to be with child” (1:18). Matthew clarifies for the reader that this unexpected pregnancy was “by the Holy Spirit,” but the account makes it clear that Joseph didn’t know this.
D. A. Carson: That Mary was “found” to be with child does not suggest a surreptitious attempt at concealment (“found out”) but only that her pregnancy became obvious. This pregnancy came about through the Holy Spirit (even more prominent in Luke’s birth narratives). There is no hint of pagan deity-human coupling in crassly physical terms. Instead, the power of the Lord, manifest in the Holy Spirit who was expected to be active in the messianic age, miraculously brought about the conception.
B. (:19) Solution
“And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.”
Grant Osborne: Joseph’s righteous character placed him in a dilemma: he had to divorce Mary because of her pregnancy, yet he did not “want” (a second causal participle) to “disgrace” her (δειγματίζω means to make an example by disgracing her publicly, often used of an adulteress, see BAGD, 172). So he compromised by deciding to do so privately. According to Jewish tradition, this would be done by giving her a writ of divorce (see Deut 24:1) privately in front of two witnesses rather than in front of the whole town.
Charles Swindoll: From Joseph’s perspective, he had three options in dealing with this dilemma.
- First, he could accept her as a scandalous liar and marry her anyway. But to do so would be to overlook offenses that God condemns.
- Second, Joseph could publicly condemn Mary as an adulteress, and she would be stoned to death under the Law (see 22:23-24).
- Or third, Joseph could divorce Mary privately and quietly, finding a way to deflect attention from the embarrassing situation.
Perhaps Joseph thought her extended stay with her relative Elizabeth in Judea would be a perfect opportunity to “send her away secretly” (Matt. 1:19). He could just send word that Mary should stay in Judea and not return to Nazareth. Perhaps Joseph could move out of town himself and relocate to his family’s ancestral land in Bethlehem. Before long, nobody would remember that he had been betrothed to Mary. Or by the time they realized she had given birth out of wedlock, nobody would care . . . maybe. But even this strategy to maintain his own righteousness and save her from public disgrace had its risks. Was it a realistic possibility that the truth wouldn’t surface in a small town like Nazareth?
John MacArthur: At the start of his life, the Jews said Jesus was the son of a man who seduced Mary. At the end of his life, they said the disciples stole his body and faked the resurrection. And Matthew begins with the answer to the first slander and ends his Gospel with the answer to the last slander and spends the rest of the middle of it fighting all the other slanders against the dear Lord Jesus Christ.
Van Parunak: Deuteronomy 22 lays out a detailed set of rules for what was to be done in the case of sexual impurity, either before or within marriage. Table 3 Shows the possible cases. The only case that leaves the women neither dead nor married to her illicit lover is 22:25-27, which must be the case that Joseph assumes here.
II. (:20-21) VIRGIN CONCEPTION CONFIRMED BY ANGELIC REVELATION
A. (:20a) Recalibration of How to Respond
“But when he had considered this,
behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying”
Daniel Doriani: The Lord let Joseph struggle to solve his problem for a season before he revealed a better plan. He often works this way. He lets us make plans, then reveals a better way. When this happens, we must change our plans, as Joseph did. We must test our plans and purposes against God’s will, as revealed in Scripture and in the counsel of the wise. Sometimes, circumstances unfold in ways that suggest what God’s will may be. Even plans that look sound must be open to revision.
B. (:20b) Revelation of the Virgin Conception
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife;
for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
D. A. Carson: The angel’s opening words, “Joseph son of David,” tie this pericope to the preceding genealogy, maintain interest in the theme of the Davidic Messiah, and, from Joseph’s perspective, alert him to the significance of the role he is to play.
Leon Morris: Don’t be afraid does not necessarily indicate fear; the word may be used in the sense “shrink from doing something,” and it is this sense that is required here (cf. BAGD, φοβέω, 1.c).
Richard Gardner: Most striking of all is the language we find in the Fourth Gospel. There the author describes believers as those who are “born from above” or “bom of the Spirit” (John 3:3, 6). In another place he refers to those whom Jesus has given “power to become children of God,” asserting that they have been born “not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). If we consider Matthew 1:18-25 alongside texts such as these, we see that the theme of conception by the Spirit applies to believers’ origins as well as Jesus’ origins. In a somewhat different but real sense, we too are “conceived by the Holy Ghost.”
C. (:21) Reason for the Virgin Conception
- Significance of the Virgin Birth of This Son
“And she will bear a Son;”
- Essential for his Ultimate Mission = Salvation
“and you shall call His name Jesus,
for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”
Richard Gardner: For Matthew, however, it is important that Joseph carry out this responsibility. Naming the child will signify that Joseph accepts the child as his own, and this in turn will secure Jesus’ claim to Davidic ancestry.
D. A. Carson: There was much Jewish expectation of a Messiah who would “redeem” Israel from Roman tyranny and even purify his people, whether by fiat or appeal to law (e.g., Pss Sol 17). But there was no expectation that the Davidic Messiah would give his own life as a ransom (20:28) to save his people from their sins. The verb “save” can refer to deliverance from physical danger (8:25), disease (9:21-22), or even death (24:22); in the NT it commonly refers to the comprehensive salvation inaugurated by Jesus that will be consummated at his return. Here it focuses on what is central, viz., salvation from sins; for in the biblical perspective sin is the basic (if not always the immediate) cause of all other calamities. This verse therefore orients the reader to the fundamental purpose of Jesus’ coming and the essential nature of the reign he inaugurates as King Messiah, heir of David’s throne.
III. (:22-23) VIRGIN CONCEPTION FULFILLED OT PROPHECY
A. (:22) Prophetic Statement
“Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet
might be fulfilled, saying,”
Grant Osborne: There is emphasis upon ὅλον, the “whole” set of events that surrounded the birth of the Messiah. God controlled every aspect of the situation to fulfill his will. The use of “to fulfill” (πληρωθῇ) is Matthean, found in ten particular fulfillment passages (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9). Four are in the infancy narratives and establish the theme for the rest of the book, namely, that God sovereignly controls all events in conformity with his plan. The primary method Matthew uses is typology; that is, the events of Jesus’ birth are analogous to the way God has worked during the old covenant. Yet there is also a direct relationship between promise and fulfillment here. God has sovereignly controlled salvation history in order to prepare for his Messiah.
Charles Swindoll: At this point in the dramatic narrative, Matthew pushes the pause button and makes an editorial comment for the benefit of his intended Jewish audience —especially those who would be likely to roll their eyes and say, “Gimme a break! Conceived by the Holy Spirit? Born of a virgin? Who’s ever heard of such a thing?” Matthew knew his skeptical audience well. To preempt their objections, he asserted that the virgin conception of the Messiah was, in fact, in keeping with a prophecy in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
B. (:23) Prophetic Substance
- Virgin Conception and Birth of a Son
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son,”
Michael Wilkins: Isaiah prophesied that a woman who was a virgin at the time of Ahaz (734 B.C.) would bear a son named Immanuel. Since neither the queen nor Isaiah’s wife was a virgin, this most likely was some unmarried young woman within the royal house with whom Ahaz was familiar. The woman would soon marry and conceive a child, and when it was born give it the name Immanuel—perhaps as a symbolic hope of God’s presence in these dark times of national difficulty. Before the child was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, Judah would be delivered from the threat of invasion from King Pekah of Israel and King Rezin of Aram (Isa. 7:14–17). The northern alliance was broken in 732 B.C., when Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria destroyed Damascus, conquered Aram, and put Rezin to death. All this was within the time-frame miraculously predicted as the sign to Ahaz, plenty of time for the virgin to be married and to carry the child for the nine months of pregnancy, and for the approximately two years it would take until the boy knew the difference between good and evil. Thus there was immediate fulfillment of a miraculous prediction.
Grant Osborne: The prophecy was given to Ahaz and introduced by “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign.” In other words, it was mainly intended for Ahaz that God would destroy the kings he dreaded (Isa 7:14–17). So at least a partial fulfillment is indicated for Ahaz’s time. Yet the larger Isaianic context indicates also that a greater picture was envisaged as well. This promised “Immanuel” would bring a dawning of a great light (9:2–3) and would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). He is the “shoot from the stump of Jesse,” the “Branch” on which the Spirit rests (11:1–11), showing a distinct messianic longing.
The LXX recognized this greater thrust and chose to interpret ʿalmâ with the narrower “virgin” (παρθένος), thus emphasizing the supernatural manifestations of the child’s birth. Matthew utilized this Septuagintal emphasis and applied it to the virgin birth of Jesus. As Blomberg says, “So it is best to see a partial, proleptic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in his time, with the complete and more glorious fulfillment in Jesus’ own birth.”
- Recognition of the Child as Immanuel –
Virgin Conception Essential for Christ’s Incarnate Presence as Immanuel
“’and they shall call His name Immanuel,’
which translated means, ‘God with us.’”
Walter Wilson: Coming to terms with both the meaning and the relationship of the two birth names (“Jesus” and “Immanuel”) juxtaposed through this pattern is held up as a priority for the reader in comprehending the significance of the gospel’s central character.
Daniel Doriani: This is a surprise. The people had been looking for a son of David, but not for Immanuel. Perhaps no one genuinely heard the prophecy; nonetheless, one was given (the fact that we are deaf does not mean God fails to speak). The birth of Jesus, God’s Immanuel, fulfills several prophecies, some clear, others veiled.
Richard Gardner: Joseph will call Mary’s child Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. The people whom Jesus saves from sin, however, will hail him as Emmanuel—-for only someone in whom God is present can deliver from sin! At the end of his Gospel, Matthew will return to this theme of divine presence and reaffirm it in a new way: As God is with us in Jesus, so Jesus promises to be with his community at all times until the very end (28:20).
R. T. France: The phrase “God with us” which thus marks the beginning of Matthew’s presentation of Jesus will have its arresting counterpart at the end of the gospel when Jesus himself declares “I am with you always” with reference not to a continuing life on earth but a spiritual presence (28:20). Cf. also the remarkable words of 18:20, “Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them.” At this point it would be possible to read Immanuel only in its probable OT sense as a statement of God’s concern for his people, “God is with us,” but the name as applied to one who has just been declared to owe his origin to the direct work of the Holy Spirit was probably in Matthew’s mind a more direct statement of the presence of God in Jesus himself, so that Jesus’ declaration in 28:20 is only drawing out what has already been true from the time of his birth, that God is present in the person of Jesus. Matthew’s overt interpretation of “Immanuel” thus takes him close to an explicit doctrine of incarnation such as is expressed in John 1:14.
Craig Blomberg: The church in every age should recognize here a clear affirmation of Jesus’ deity and cling tightly to this doctrine as crucial for our salvation. At the same time, Matthew wants to emphasize that Jesus, as God, is “with us”; deity is immanent. Too often those who have rightly contended for Jesus’ full deity have created a God to whom they do not feel close rather than one who became human in every way like them but without sin (Heb 4:15). As God “with us,” Jesus enables us to come boldly before God’s throne (Heb 4:16) when we accept the forgiveness of sins he made available (Matt 2:21) and develop an intimate relationship with him.
IV. (:24-25) VIRGIN BIRTH PROTECTED BY THE OBEDIENCE OF JOSEPH
A. (:24) Married Mary
“And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him,
and took her as his wife,”
Charles Swindoll: Joseph not only behaved as Mary’s faithful protector, but he presumably also took on the role of her advocate. He adjusted his life in a totally new direction once he realized what God was doing in their lives and what part he was meant to play. Together Mary and Joseph would likely bear the brunt of whispered rumors, backbiting gossip, and ugly condemnation —from friends, family, and especially enemies. But Joseph knew the truth, and he made a tough, life-altering decision based on that truth. Being a righteous man, he did what was right, regardless of the personal cost.
Van Parunak: Joseph and Mary were both called upon to make difficult personal choices in bringing the Messiah into the world. Both of them had to suppress their personal goals and their concern for their own reputations, in the face of obedience to the Lord. But in neither case do we sense any hesitation. Confronted with Gabriel’s announcement, Mary said (Luk 1:38), “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” In response to the instruction from the angel of the Lord in his dream, when Joseph woke up, he “did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him” (Matt 1:24). We should thank God for giving both of them this spirit of obedience, and seek to yield ourselves just as willingly to the revelations that he makes clear to us day by day, that he might form Christ in us, and through us bring him to the world around us.
B. (:25a) Kept Her a Virgin
“and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son;”
D. A. Carson: Matthew wants to make Jesus’ virginal conception quite unambiguous, for he adds that Joseph had no sexual union with Mary (lit., he did not “know” her, an OT euphemism) until she gave birth to Jesus (v.25). The “until” clause most naturally means that Mary and Joseph enjoyed normal conjugal relations after Jesus’ birth. Contrary to McHugh (Mother of Jesus, 204), the imperfect eginōsken (“did not know [her],” GK 1182) does not hint at continued celibacy after Jesus’ birth but stresses the faithfulness of the celibacy until Jesus’ birth.
C. (:25b) Named the Child Jesus
“and he called His name Jesus.”
Daniel Doriani: This portion of Matthew offers a picture of faith, but more than that it is an account of the acts of the triune God. The Father’s plan of redemption has come to the beginning of its climactic phase. The Spirit’s prophecy to Ahaz and through Ahaz set up the Immanuel principle that now comes to fulfillment. The Spirit also fashioned life in the womb of Mary and moved the hearts of Mary and Joseph to accept their role in the divine drama. Finally, the eternal Son has entered the world of humanity.
May the Spirit work in us to receive what God began to accomplish in the birth of Jesus. May we also submit our plans and our emotions to him, as Joseph did. May we give our hearts and minds to him as Mary and Joseph did. May we know that God is with us, to bless us, in every season of life. In every distress, let us turn to God for comfort. In joy and in blessing, let us not ascribe it to good fortune or hard work, but to Immanuel, who is present to bless. God is with us in the person of Jesus. May we have the faith, trust, love, and obedience to receive the blessings of Immanuel.