Immanuel: God With Us — Jeffry E. McGee

Even when casually reading the New Testament one cannot help but notice the many names for Jesus.  Son of Man and the Christ are two names that immediately come to mind.  One name which fascinates me is Immanuel, which means “God with us” in Hebrew.  While recording Jesus’ birth, Matthew wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:22-23; cf. Is. 7:14, ESV).  This short essay will examine in what way, through Jesus, God was and is with us.

In the Bible’s opening verse we read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).  The Hebrew word rendered “God” in the English text is Elohim, which is a plural form of the word Eloah and means “gods.”  Accordingly, a plural God created the heavens and the earth.  It is worth noting that the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1 literally reads in English, “In beginning God…”  The word the, found in the text of English translations (e.g., “In the beginning God…”), is not found in the Hebrew text, indicating that God is not only an eternal being in eternity future, but an eternal being in eternity past.

The second verse of Genesis 1 refers to God’s Spirit:  “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”  Therefore, within the Bible’s first two verses we can identify a plural God—God and His Spirit.

This plurality continued on Genesis 1 when God made man:  “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image…” (v. 26, emphasis mine).  The Hebrew text uses the word Elohim in other places, but the examples above clearly present a plural God, the importance of which is relevant to our discussion of New Testament Scripture.

Hermeneutics is simply the art and science of biblical interpretation, and one of its principles holds that the New Testament illuminates the Old Testament.  With this in mind, let’s look at New Testament Scripture that refers to a plural God.  One passage that immediately comes to mind is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism:

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:16-17).

In these verses Matthew describes a plural God: God in heaven, his Son Jesus in the form of a human man on earth, and his Spirit in the form of a dove.  From this we learn that Jesus is God’s Son and that he literally walked on the earth among men, i.e., Immanuel.  If God were only God the Father, which is generally the Jewish understanding of God, then Jesus could not be God with us.  Thus, from these verses in Matthew we learn that Jesus the man, God’s Son, had a divine nature and was God with us.

However, not everyone agreed that Jesus the man was divine, especially in the latter part of the first century and beyond to today.  By the end of the first century there existed a school of thought that held that Jesus could not be both a human man and divine because man is corrupt and the divine is perfect, and they cannot exist together in the same person.  If Jesus was not divine, then he could not have been God with us.  This is the concept John addressed in his gospel, which is the best survey of Jesus’ human and divine natures.

John began his gospel much like Moses began Genesis, but John expounded upon Genesis by clearly describing God and Jesus’ relationship to God in the opening verses:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).  Translators render the Greek word Theos as the English word “God,” and the Greek word Logos as the English term “Word.”  In these verses John agrees with Moses that Elohim is plural, and continues by identifying Elohim as consisting of Theos (God) and Logos (Word).  It is Logos in whom we are most interested.

As in Genesis as noted above, the word the in the English text (“In the beginning”) is not found in the Greek text, where it literally reads “In beginning…”  Again, this refers to God’s eternal nature in the past.  However, John expounded upon Genesis by writing that not only is Theos an eternal being, but so is Logos.

 John continued that Logos was not only with Theos in the beginning, but Logos was Theos.  Furthermore, not only did Theos create all things—I refer the reader back to the discussion of Genesis above—but Logos made all things.  In fact, nothing exists that Logos did not make.  “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

The key verse for our study is John 1:14, where John wrote that Logos became flesh and lived among the people…Immanuel.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…”  If Logos was with and was Theos eternally from the beginning, created all things, and became human and lived among us, then who was LogosLogos was and is Jesus Christ (John 1:14; Matt. 3:17).  As John elaborated:  “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:17-18).  God, through Jesus Christ (Immanuel), literally became flesh and dwelt on earth among men.  It is also appropriate that John referred to Jesus as the Word.  As Jesus lived upon the earth and taught men, he was literally the Word of God on earth.

In conclusion, I hope this study has improved your faith and understanding of what it means to refer to Jesus Christ as Immanuel, the One about whom Isaiah prophesied, the One of whom Matthew and John wrote as fulfillment of that prophecy.

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