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End Times Berean Watchman Report - Interpreting Prophecy Part 5 - The Virgin Birth

End Times Berean Watchman Report
End Times Berean Watchman Report - Interpreting Prophecy Part 5 - The Virgin Birth
By Dr. Christian Widener • Issue #17 • View online
February 18, 2022
Welcome to another Watchman Report!
I’ve got another set of lessons regarding the interpretation of prophecy that come straight out of examining some prophetic fulfillments revealed in the New Testament.
I hope they help give you a new appreciation for the power of God’s Word, and an expectation of seeing God fulfill his prophecies literally in the days to come.

Prophecies May Have Multiple Fulfillments
Another very important principle is that prophecies may have multiple fulfillments over time. I think of this like a stone skipping over the water as it moves forward in time. They may only have two, a near and far one, or they may happen many times down through the ages. A cycle that just keeps repeating itself until the final splash at the end.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:22-23 (NIV)
 A good example of a prophecy with two clear fulfillments comes from the prophecy of the virgin that would conceive and give birth to a son. This is one of the core prophetic verses of our faith—the virgin birth. When we look at the passage in Isaiah, though, we see that the prophecy about the birth of Christ was embedded in a much nearer term prophecy given to Ahaz. The Lord tells Ahaz to ask him for a sign, but he is unwilling to, so God tells him what the sign will be.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.” – Isaiah 7:14-17 (NIV)
Without the specific reference in Matthew to affirm that Isaiah 7:14 was a prophecy about the birth of Jesus the Messiah, one could easily pass over it. It could have been understood to be completely historical, even in the first century; reasoning that it was simply a part of God’s message to Ahaz about a sign in his days. Why? Because the core part of the prophecy had to be something that was fulfilled in some way in those days. We don’t know exactly who, but a young woman probably gave birth to a child named Immanuel, meaning “God with us,” before Israel was invaded and conquered by the Assyrians. The baby wasn’t the promised messiah, he was the promised sign indicating that Israel would soon be invaded [1]. The word for virgin, alma (Strong’s – H5959), in Isaiah’s prophecy literally means a young unmarried woman. Hence, there is no conflict understanding that such a woman could give birth. However, the man who got her pregnant would have either had to marry her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), pay the bride price (Exodus 22:16-17), or divorce her quietly (Deuteronomy 24:1) [2]. It was a given in those days that a young unmarried woman was chaste. As soon as it was learned that she had been with a man, then she would have no longer be called an alma. Consequently, “virgin” and “unmarried woman” were synonyms.
Multiple Fulfillments May Occur Differently
The above example also highlights one more important principle. The same verse (Isaiah 7:14) above can be fulfilled one way at one time, and in a different way in a future time. In other words, the first time the prophecy was fulfilled by a man getting a young woman pregnant in the natural way. The second time, it was looking forward to the birth of Jesus, when a young woman named Mary was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, without natural relations. Both were true fulfillments, but they weren’t identical. They just had to meet the overall description in the prophecy, which was a young unmarried woman becoming pregnant. 
There is another part of this prophecy that had two fulfillments—they will call his name “Immanuel.” The first time, it seems this may have been the baby’s actual name. The second time, it was not the boy’s given name—that was Jesus—but as the exact physical representation of the invisible God (Hebrews 1:3), Jesus was literally “God with us.” Hence, the name Immanuel foreshadowed Christ’s deity. That aspect of the name in the prophecy was unique to the life of Jesus. Therefore, even in the prophetic echoes, there can be differences, without violating the integrity of the interpretation.
Prophecies Should Be Understood To Be Literal
There is yet one more principle of interpretation that we can learn from the prophecies of Christ’s birth. In the application of the above passages, the other main point that emerges is that the fulfillments that were observed and recorded in the New Testament were literal. When we examine the account in Matthew 1 and we read the account of Mary becoming pregnant, we clearly understand that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, having never known a man before. This is clear because of the context in Matthew’s account. 
Having now examined the original prophecy in Isaiah 7, we understand why many have tried to argue that the word for virgin just meant a young unmarried woman, rather than a woman who had never had intimate relations with a man. The reason would be to deny the deity of Christ—if Jesus had been born naturally from the union of a man and woman. The argument is that in Hebrew there is a specific word for a woman who has never had sexual relations with a man, bethulah (Strong’s H1330); but Isaiah didn’t use that word, therefore, that wasn’t what Isaiah meant. But now that we have seen that the same scripture can have multiple fulfillments in different ways, we know why God didn’t tell Isaiah to write bethulah instead of alma. Have you already guessed it? Because only one of the future fulfillments could be a bethulah, but they could both be an alma [3]
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had consid-ered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
These prophecies, and the rest of the Messianic prophecies regarding the birth and life of Jesus Christ in the first century, were all fulfilled literally. They weren’t metaphors. They weren’t clever allegories. They were literal signs and events that really happened. Since we have these examples, we should also expect that future prophecies will be fulfilled in the same way. Especially when we consider the words of the angels, at the ascension of Christ into heaven, telling us that Jesus would literally return in the same way that they had just watched Him leave.
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11 (NIV)
Furthermore, the plain meaning cannot be eclipsed by secondary interpretive inferences that rely on someone’s special insights to understand the true meaning. In other words, you cannot invent a figurative interpretation to the text that contradicts or denies its plain meaning. When people do that, they destroy the sensibility of the text, and it becomes open to every private interpretation. Peter affirmed that, “no scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20) and he said that the true author of any book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the plain meaning of Scripture, that can be read by all, should always take precedent over arguments that rely on “fine sounding arguments” (Colossians 2:4), earthly wisdom (James 3:15), or inferences about what the author may have been thinking or feeling, would have known, etc. Of course, this principle does not apply to obviously figurative passages, where from within the text it is clearly defined, either explicitly or by context, to be only metaphorical. This would be like when Jesus told the people parables; or in Revelation 17:7 when the angel explains to John the image of the woman riding the Beast.
Additionally, even in obviously figurative instances, a proper metaphorical understanding cannot contradict the sense of the image that is being used to make the metaphor. For example, in Acts 10:9-17, we read about Peter seeing a vision of a sheet being let down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals, both clean and unclean. In the passage, we are specifically told that Peter was being shown a vision. So, we expect that it may be figurative. But in the vision, Peter is told to kill and eat. At first, he refuses, but God tells him not to call anything impure that he has made clean. We are also told that Peter wondered at the meaning of the vision. Next, we read that the vision was given to help Peter understand that the Gentiles were also made pure by faith in Christ and that they would receive the Holy Spirit, just as they had (Acts 10:34-35, 45). 
Now, here’s the principle in action. Some argue that since we are specifically told that the vision applied to the Gentiles, we can exclude the literal interpretation that all animals are now clean and may be eaten. In other words, they want to say that the literal expression of the vision is not true (that all foods are now clean and can be eaten), but the figurative interpretation of the dream is true (that Gentiles are now clean along with believing Jews). This cannot be. Only if the analogy in the vision is true can the thing it represents also be true. Therefore, both are true. God has now made all foods clean, and he has accepted the Gentiles and made them clean, too. Mark also confirms this simple understanding of Peter’s vision of the sheet by explaining Jesus’ parable regarding what defiles us—by asking if it is caused by something that comes from outside the body or from what is already inside it.
Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) – Mark 7:18-19 (NIV)
As one looks through the Gospel accounts, there are references to one literal fulfillment of prophecy after another. Again, besides the parables, every instance where we are told that the Scriptures were fulfilled occurs in a literal sense. Let’s examine a few of the more direct and obvious prophetic fulfillments. For instance, in Matthew 8:17 there is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:4, but it is from the Greek Septuagint translation, so it is worded a little differently, but it means the same thing [4]
This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” – Matthew 8:17 (NIV)
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. – Isaiah 53:4 (NIV)
And here is another example. It is only a partial quote, but it was totally literal. There was no rational and legitimate reason for the Pharisees to hate Jesus. They hated Him because of their own sin and their pride.
But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” – John 15:25 (NIV)
Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. – Psalm 69:4 (NIV)
Another literal fulfillment of a prophecy is seen in a psalm that describes some people dividing the psalmists’ clothes and casting lots for his garment. The precise literal fulfillment was observed when Christ was crucified on the cross in John 19.
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did. – John 19:23-24 (NIV)
They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. – Psalm 22:18 (NIV)
The point is that, while these are just a few examples, every prophetic fulfillment recorded in the New Testament was a literal one. Consequently, any view of prophecy that rejects the literal fulfillment of the prophecies regarding Christ’s second coming at the end of the age—arguing that earlier prophecies were literal, but the last days ones will be figurative—should be rejected.
End Notes
  1. Ahaz died in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, and his son Hezekiah began to reign (2 Kings 18:1). Three years later, Samaria, the capital of Israel, was invaded by the Assyrians, and after a three-year siege, they were defeated and exiled (2 Kings 17:5-6), so six years after Ahaz’s death the first expression of the prophecy was completed. The sign to Ahaz was that a child named Immanuel would be born, and before he was old enough to choose between right and wrong (somewhere between 3-7 years of age), the two kings he dreaded would be laid waste. So, Ahaz couldn’t have seen the entire fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, but he certainly could have seen the birth of the child and would have then known that Isaiah’s words would soon come to pass. Since Ahaz died when he was just 36 years old (2 Kings 16:2), perhaps Ahaz fathered a child with a young unmarried girl before he died (and she named the boy Immanuel). Or maybe something similar happened in Ahaz’s household before he died, so that he would recognize that the word of the Lord had been kept. It is also possible that only Hezekiah saw the fulfillment of the prophecy, not Ahaz. Some would argue against the possibility of a double fulfillment here saying it must only be a double reference prophecy, but I see no objective basis for ruling out double fulfillments (ref.: Arnold Fruchtenbaum. The Footsteps of the Messiah (Ariel Ministries, 2004): 5-6.).
  2. The only possible exception to those three possibilities from the Old Testament law, would be if that man was the king. In that case, she could have been made a concubine.
  3. They could both be unmarried young women and virgins prior to getting pregnant, but only one of them truly remained a virgin.
  4. If you look up the two Hebrew words, pain (holi - Strong’s H2483) means sickness and disease and suffering (makob - Strong’s H4341) means pain and suffering, as in an ailment or affliction.
Closing Thoughts
Next week I’ll conclude this series on interpreting prophecy and take another look at some of the recent news that deserves our attention.
Christian Widener
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Dr. Christian Widener

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