The Meaning of Christmas in the 21st Century (Part 2)

The meaning of Christmas is the same today in 2021 as it was on the night that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I recently posted Part 1 of my thoughts on Christmas this year. I covered the issue of death and Christ’s work to unravel our great enemy. Here, in Part 2, I want to address the conjoining of the First and Second Advents in Scripture.

When Jesus came in the first century, many or most of the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah to conquer their political foes. In general, they viewed Messiah coming one time in history. They were not wrong to expect a Messiah to come and set up an earthly, political kingdom of God.  But they ignored key passages about the death of the Messiah such as Isaiah 53 and Dan 9:26.  This presents a problem.  How can Messiah come to die AND set up an earthly kingdom with great power? Some Jewish groups (Qumran, Essenes?) suggested there would be two Messiahs – one to die and one to rule and reign. The Christian faith correctly teaches that the Messiah will come twice. The first time He came, He was killed on a Roman cross for our sins.  The second time He is coming in great glory to establish His kingdom on earth.  Yet when the Bible looks down the corridor of time, it often presents all the details lumped together, so to speak, without clearly marking off the differences between the comings of the Lord.  We will examine a couple of these passages – one Old Testament and one New Testament.

First, Isaiah 9:6 is a Scripture passage that adorns many of our religious Christmas cards – “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder, And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (NKJV).” This verse constitutes Song # 12 in Handel’s Messiah.  We can easily see the First Advent in the child or son that is born and given. Bethlehem’s manger is not far from our thoughts as we read these first words.  However, the next part does not seem to fit Bethlehem: “the government will be upon His shoulder.”  Of course, since He is God perhaps the meaning is his general sovereignty over all things. But this is not the best interpretation in light of 9:7 – “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom…” This points, as does the entire book of Isaiah, to the future kingdom when Messiah will rule and reign over Israel and the world. Thus, the child that is born in v. 6 (First Advent) will rule and reign in a future kingdom on earth in v. 7 (starting with Second Advent). In this way, the First Advent – or might we say in one sense, Christmas – is conjoined closely also to the later work of Bethlehem’s baby to rule the earth in His kingdom. Christ’s glory is involved in both comings.

Second, Luke 1:26-35 presents the same general overview as Isaiah 9:6-7 as it highlights both the virgin birth (First Advent) and Christ’s reign in His earthly kingdom that starts at the Second Advent, as Scripture fleshes out in ongoing revelation. The passage describes Gabriel explaining the virgin birth to a bewildered Mary to help her understand what is going on. She will conceive a son named Jesus who will be called the Son of the highest (v. 31-32).  He will be born without a human father by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit (v. 34-35). Almost no evangelical questions these verses. But notice in v. 32 that Gabriel says God will give Jesus the throne of His father David (an earthly throne in Jerusalem) and that he will reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever (v. 33). Verses 32-33 can only be true in any literal sense if they are fulfilled at the Second Advent when Christ personally ushers in His kingdom on earth. Just like with Isaiah, elements of the First Advent and the Second Advent are brought together in descriptions about the Messiah.  Interpreters must carefully exegete and exposit such passages to make sure that the two advents are not blended together beyond recognition. In terms of Christmas, this means that when Christ came the first time, His work was not completed.  He is coming again to do much more.  Even traditional Christmas passages in the Bible point the way.

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