For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of his peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Christmas time brings performances of Handel’s Messiah with the classic song “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.” But why is “unto us a child is born” so significant not just at this time of the year, but every day of every year, on into eternity?
This verse, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, points to Messiah as King and Lord and Savior. At this time of year, as we pause to celebrate the birth of Christ, we sing about this prophecy and celebrate the child that was born. But how did this prophecy come about? How did Jesus fulfill it? And why is the child born unto “us”?
The phrase “unto us a child is born” is found in the book of Isaiah, a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah around the time the northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria. In a tumultuous time of warring superpowers threatening Judah, Isaiah offered messages from the Lord of both judgment and hope.
In this message of hope, a coming king was promised. Isaiah gives many messianic prophecies, predicting the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one who would save God’s people. With the first advent of Jesus, we understand that the messianic prophecies all were pointing to Him.
A blessed prince, a mighty king, a reign of peace—these promises would have sounded wonderful to Isaiah’s audience in the 8th century B.C. At this time, Judah was facing the threat of the Assyrian Empire. Likely, they expected the promised prince to grow into a great king to physically deliver them—perhaps the son of King Ahaz would be the one?
Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, fit the bill in some respects. He set his mind to purging idolatry from Judah, and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, from whom God miraculously rescued Judah (2 Kings 19). However, Hezekiah died. His kingdom didn’t last forever, and Judah soon followed Israel into exile, this time to Babylon.
The words of hope in Isaiah 9 are sandwiched between words of judgment, warning, and condemnation from the Lord for Israel’s wickedness. The Lord intended to punish Israel, but Isaiah 9:2-7 shows us that His anger was not forever. A true king would come, restoring God’s people.
So why was the child born to us? Ordinarily in the Bible, a child will be born unto a specific person, the parents. Jesus was born unto us because His birth was not simply a blessing to His parents. Jesus was not born “unto” Mary and Joseph the way Isaac was born “unto” Abraham. Instead, His birth was meant to ransom God’s people (Mark 10:45). His birth was to be of great joy not only for Israel, but for all people. The child would not just be a blessing to His parents, but to the entire world.
Each line of Isaiah 9:6 holds depths of meaning.
“For to us a child is born,” it begins. Along with meaning that this child, “born to us,” is a blessing to the world, we also note how unique it is that God would come in this way to save His people. Instead of riding in on a chariot of clouds or sending down lightning, God came as an infant to live among us, to be one of us. The Lord of the Universe stepped down to become intimately familiar with our pain and struggles.
“To us a son is given,” Isaiah continues. This child would not be just anyone; He would be a son. Specifically, He is God’s Son. Out of the Father’s great love for us, He sent His only Son as a suffering servant (Isaiah 53) to save us (John 3:16).
“And the government shall be upon his shoulders.” The suffering servant was intended to rule. The baby of the Christmas story was King of kings and Lord of lords. After His resurrection, Matthew 28:18 records, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’”
“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In this sense, the word “wonderful” means incomprehensible, or beyond understanding, while counselor refers to someone with great wisdom. From Jesus’ birth to His ministry, He demonstrated His miraculous nature, and in His preaching and interactions He demonstrated His wisdom. Isaiah makes it clear that this coming child and king would be more than just a man. He would be Mighty God. Interestingly, the son would also be Everlasting Father, a recognition of the great Three in One in the Trinity.
Finally, Jesus would bring about peace, a sentiment echoed in Revelation: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Won’t you come to this Jesus!
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.