God never stops working. There’s never a moment of ultimate arrival, of final completion, or of total fulfillment in the Christian walk. Even the promise of heaven is not an arrival at eternal completion, but rather then sense of continued growth – like Aslan compelling the inhabitants of the new Narnia to go deeper: “Further up, and further in!”
The people of Isaiah’s time did not realize that the promise of Emmanuel was in reference to Jesus, coming some seven hundred years later. Commonly, in prophetic scholarship, Isaiah 7:14 is viewed not originally as a Messianic promise, but a sign for their current situation and need for deliverance, to be fulfilled within several years.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son and will call Him Immanuel.
Yet, in the first chapter of Matthew, the author traces the immaculate conception and the coming of Jesus, the Savior, back to Isaiah’s words. If we understand his words here to be divinely inspired then surely this not an error, but intentional, God-breathed. But, in that case, are the scholars wrong when they claim this verse to be something already fulfilled?
The concept of dual-fulfillment arises here. Perhaps prophecy can be fulfilled more than once. Maybe God repeatedly keeps his promises. Could it be that our Lord is one who answers the same prayer over and lover again?
The sign happens. A young maiden (as the Hebrew word ‘almah can also refer to) gave birth to a son, and maybe this son was instrumental in the temporary deliverance of the people of Isaiah’s time. Praise be to God!
Time passes. This generation of Israelites have died out completely. Perhaps the need, the prayer, the desire, during King Ahaz’s reign has completely been forgotten. But God did not forget. He is still working to fulfill the same promise given hundreds of years ago. And in the quiet lives of a carpenter and his betrothed, an angel brings a message.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means God with us.” ~Matthew 1:22-23
The word ‘fulfill’ that the author of Matthew uses here, and twenty-some other places in this book, comes from the Greek word plēroō. It means to make complete, or to be fully arrived at, or to fill up all deficiency. There is a sense of wholeness about this word. Of utter, total completion. Eugene Peterson names Isaiah’s words as an embryonic sermon, meaning something that holds potential for further development. Matthew proclaims the same words, only this time coming to full term. And this time its an even grander fulfillment than before.
We may think we heard an answer. We may believe that God has done what He said He would. And this is true. He has responded. He has fulfilled his promise. But as we go forward and forget about that request in the midst of the other needs, God has not forgotten. He is still working. There is more to come. He will bring all embryonic sermons to full term. There is no room for stagnancy in the way God moves.
So give thanks for what He’s already given. But watch also. Watch with eyes pealed to see all that He will continue to do as He works out His covenant relationship with us in astounding ways. It will truly be more than we can imagine.