Christmas evokes images of baby Jesus lying in a manger, a very human portrait reminding us that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Col. 2:7). Jesus indeed is God made flesh. He is fully human. Like all human babies he ate, he slept, he cried, he wet himself.
But Isaiah’s prophecy of the future king in the line of David calls him “Mighty God.” This baby then is not only fully human, but also fully divine. He is, as Christian tradition will later call him, the second person of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Notice the future child is not simply called “God” but “Mighty God.” The Hebrew word “Mighty” (gibbor) suggests military might. Here gibbor is used as an adjective, but when it occurs as a noun it often means warrior or soldier (e.g., 1 Sam. 2:4; 2 Sam. 20:7; Isa. 21:17). The word “mighty” is also used in reference to God’s warring activity (Ps. 24:8; Isa. 10:21)
Yahweh, God’s personal name in the Old Testament, often appears as a warrior. Yahweh shows himself as a “man of war” (Exod. 15:3) when he defeats the Egyptians at the Sea. He causes the walls of Jericho to fall (Joshua 6) and defeats the Canaanite southern coalition by causing hail to fall on them (Josh. 10:11). When Israel sins, God judges them by appearing as an enemy (Lamentations 2) allowing the Babylonians to defeat them and take them into exile.
But that is not the end of the story of God’s people. God raised up prophets in the period of the exile and afterward with an important message of hope. In Daniel 7, for instance, the evil nations that oppress and abuse God’s people are pictured as horrific beasts. But at the end, “one like a son of man” (Dan. 7:13) appears who destroys the beasts and establishes his “everlasting dominion that will never pass away, and his kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). Jesus will later refer to himself often as the “Son of Man” (Matt, 8:20; 9:6) and the New Testament writers will see in Jesus the fulfillment of this expectation (Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7).
Jesus’ actions during his life show that he is indeed the “Mighty (Warrior) God,” but in a surprising way. He is a warrior who defeats the enemy not by killing but by humbling himself and dying. The battle he wages is not by sword (Matt. 26:47-56), but by the way of the cross where he defeats the spiritual “powers and authorities” (Col. 2:15). The Christmas baby is the “Mighty God” who defeats evil on the cross in a way that assures the final victory when he returns again for the second time (Rev. 19:11-21).
We live in a fallen world. We struggle with evil in our world and in our hearts. We are weak and often tempted to give up. Sometimes we feel like we are not going to make it. But then power comes through weakness because Jesus is mighty. When we look into the world, we are tempted to conclude that evil is winning. But God reveals to us through the Gospel story and all of Scripture that our perceptions are faulty. God is in control and he has already won the final victory. For now and until the end, we live by faith and humble dependence. After all, our confidence and our strength is not in our own resources, but in “Mighty God.”
Advent practices to consider in the light of our messiah, Jesus, the Mighty God:
- Where do you see the spiritual battles in your life? Reflect not only on your own experience of the world, but your own heart.
- Read and meditate on Ephesians 6:10-20. Write down the various weapons and armor available to the Lord’s people. Think about whether you have utilized “the full armor of God” (Eph. 6:10) in your daily struggles.
- Power comes through weakness since it is God who is mighty. Where do you feel weak? Do you recognize the presence of the Mighty God in your life?
- Jesus, who humbled himself and died on the cross, is our model for spiritual warfare. How can we model our daily warfare after him?
- Jesus’ victory on the cross assures the final victory but does not secure it. The New Testament tells us that he will return in the future to once and for all defeat human and spiritual evil and usher in “the new heavens and the new earth” (see Revelation 21-22). How does awareness of this final reality affect the way we live today?
Lorenzo Monaco, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tremper Longman is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College.