Bethlehem’s claim to fame in Bible history is that it was the location of the story
of Ruth, the ancestress of King David and the city where David was born and lived
as a youth. According to the prophecy of Micah 5.2 (5.1 in the Jewish Bible) something
special was to happen at a future time in Bethlehem.
‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings
forth are from of old, from everlasting.”
This prophecy is linked to the Messiah in the ancient Targum of of Micah 5.1-3 (the
Targum is an ancient paraphrase of the scripture that a rabbi would give in the common
language of the listeners). This reads: ‘And you, O Bethlehem Ephrath, you who were
too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall
come forth before Me the Messiah, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name
was mentioned from before, from the days of creation.’ This is significant because
it means that ancient rabbis considered this verse to be about the birth of the Messiah.
The Jewish commentator Rashi agreed that Micah 5 is about the origin of the Messiah.
In his commentary on this verse he wrote: ‘And you Bethlehem Ephrathah whence David
emanated … You should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma
of Ruth the Moabitess. From you shall emerge for Me the Messiah, son of David …
and his origin is of old.’
The verse uses an unusual phrase for the origins of this one prophesied here. The
Hebrew phrase for this is ‘me yemei olam’ which means ‘from ancient times’ or ‘from
eternity’. In Psalm 90.2 God’s existence is described as being ‘me olam ve ad olam’
– from eternity to eternity. The prophecy of Micah implies that the one to be born
in Bethlehem would have his origins in eternity. Only God has His origins in eternity
so this raises an interesting possibility to say the least!
The Gospel of Matthew ties this together. It records the visit of the Magi from
the east, who came seeking the ‘King of the Jews.’ Arriving in Jerusalem they enquire
where such an event should take place. Herod interprets this as a sign of the coming
Messiah (which troubles him!) and gathers together the chief priests and scribes
to ‘inquire of them where the Messiah was to be born.’ Matthew 2.3-4. The response
is ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet, ‘But you Bethlehem
in the land of Judah are not the least among the rulers of Judah for out of you shall
come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ Matthew 2.6.
Matthew goes on to say that the one to be born will be ‘Immanuel’ Hebrew for God
with us. So He will be more than just a mortal human baby, He will be God with us.
Luke’s Gospel chapter 2 shows us how God overruled events through the Roman census
to bring Joseph and Miriam (Mary) down from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order for Yeshua
to be born in Bethlehem in fulfilment of the prophecy of Micah 5.
Today Bethlehem is an Arab town in the Palestinian Authority area. It is unlikely
that the Jewish Messiah could be born in Bethlehem today!
Part 2. The time of Messiah coming.
‘The world will exist 6000 years. 2000 years of desolation, 2000 years of the Torah,
and 2000 years of the Messianic era.’ Sanhedrin 97a-b.
This is a passage from the Talmud which says that we should now be in the ‘2000 years
of the Messianic era.’ The 2000 years of Torah are generally held to date from Abraham,
not Moses, so according to this midrash the Messianic era was supposed to begin around
2000 years ago. So the Messiah should have come.
The Medieval Jewish commentator, Rashi, gives an explanation for the non appearance
of Messiah by saying: ‘After 2000 years of Torah it was God’s decree that the Messiah
would come and the wicked generation would come to an end and the subjugation of
Israel would be destroyed. But because our iniquities were many, all this has been
lost.’ So according to Rashi, Messiah did not come because of Israel’s sins.
According to the prophecy of Daniel Messiah should have come before the destruction
of the Second Temple.
‘After 62 weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself; and the people of
the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.’ Daniel 9.26.
This prophecy focuses on an event which clearly has happened – the destruction of
Jerusalem and the Temple in 70CE and indicates that the Messiah should have come
According to the Talmud (Midrash Bereshith p. 243 Warsaw edition) "Messiah was to
exit in 33 C.E. (See also - YALKUT, Vol. II (p. 79 dahlet) & NAZIR (32 beht).
Commenting on this Maimonides said: “Daniel has made known to us the knowledge of
the end times. However, since they are secret, the wise rabbis have barred the calculation
of the days of Messiah’s coming so that the untutored populace will not be led astray
when they see that the End Times have already come but there is no sign of the Messiah"
(Igeret Teiman, Chapter 3 p.24.).
From this statement it appears that Maimonides believed that Daniel had knowledge
of the time of the coming of the Messiah and that that time has now passed. Because
of this rabbis should not teach about Daniel 9 in case their congregations are troubled
by the fact that these events have happened and the Messiah did not appear.
The alternative is that we should conclude that Messiah did appear about 2000 years
ago before the destruction of the Temple.
There is also an ancient prophecy in Genesis in which Jacob blesses his sons and
gives the most significant word not to his oldest son, Reuben, nor to his favourite
son, Joseph, but to his fourth son, Judah: 1. ‘The sceptre shall not depart from
Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall
the gathering of the people be.’ Genesis 49.10.
In this prophecy Jacob is saying that Judah would have rulership as happened through
the line of kings descended from his descendant, David. He also prophesied that
through his line ‘Shiloh’ would come. There are Jewish writings, which teach that
‘Shiloh’ is a term for the Messiah, for example this one from ‘Yalkut’, a collection
of rabbinic explanations of the Bible: ‘Until Shiloh shall come; He is called by
the name of Shiloh because all the nations are destined to bring gifts to Israel
and to King Messiah, as it is written, ‘In that day shall the present be brought
to the Lord of hosts.’ Yalkut 160.
The sceptre in this verse is the Hebrew word ‘shebet’, the tribal staff which belonged
to each tribe as an ensign of their authority. Thus the tribal identity of Judah
would not pass away, as happened to other tribes, until Shiloh or Messiah comes.
It was from the tribe of Judah that the line of kings descended from King David came.
Even after the Babylonian captivity, Judah continued to have lawgivers (see Ezra
1.5 - 8).
In the early years of the Roman occupation of Judea, the Jewish people still had
a king in their own land. Moreover they were to a large extent governed by their
own laws, and the Sanhedrin exercised its authority. But in the span of a few years
in around 11 CE, Archelaus, the king of the Jews was dethroned and banished. Coponius
was appointed Roman Procurator, and the kingdom of Judea, the last remnant of the
former nation of Israel, was formally debased into a province of Syria (see Josephus’
Antiquities 17, chapter 13.1-5).
At this time the Sanhedrin lost its power of passing the death sentence (see John
18.31). Rabbi Rachmon said, ‘When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived
of their right over life and death, a general consternation took hold of them; they
covered their heads and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming, ‘Woe unto us, for
the sceptre has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come.’’ (Talmud, Bab.,
Sanhedrim, Chapter 4, fol. 37, recto). This would have been about the time that
Jesus appeared in the Temple as a 12 year old boy (Luke 2.41-50). The Messiah had
For another half century the Jewish people retained the semblance of a provincial
government structure, but in 70 AD all semblance of Jewish national sovereignty disappeared
when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the armies of the Roman General Titus.
If Jesus is the Messiah, then the prophecy of Jacob way back in Genesis was fulfilled
in a remarkable way. The Messiah came before Judah lost its national identity, just
as Jacob foretold. He completed His mission 40 years before the destruction of the
Second Temple, even giving a prophetic warning of that coming event in Luke 19.41-44.
For all this to happen He had to be born at the right time. At the beginning of
this article we quoted Rashi who said the Messianic Age had not come ‘because our
iniquities were many’. Shaul (Paul) tells us that was why he did come! To save
us from our sins and make the way for God to forgive us and give us eternal life:
‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Messiah died for
the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good
person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for
us in this: while we were still sinners, Messiah died for us. Since we have now
been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through
him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the
death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through
his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Yeshua
(Jesus) the Messiah, through whom we have now received reconciliation.’ Romans 5.6-11.
Jesus / Yeshua came around 2000 years ago, before the destruction of the Second Temple,
to be cut off (die a violent death), not for himself (not for his own sins), but
for the sins of others. In doing this He fulfilled the prophecies of Messiah suffering
as an atoning sacrifice for our sins:
‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished
by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he
was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and
by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has
turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah
Part 3. The Virgin birth.
‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold the virgin shall conceive
and bear a Son and shall call his name Immanuel.’ (Isaiah 7.14).
At a public debate on the issue ‘Was Jesus the Messiah?’ (London L’Chaim Society,
19/1/98), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach stated from the platform that any Christian claiming
that Isaiah 7.14 is a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus is being intellectually
dishonest. This would have to include the Gospel of Matthew which quotes Isaiah
7.14 in connection with the birth of Jesus and states: ‘All this was done that it
might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Behold
a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel,’
which is translated ‘God with us.’ (Matthew 1.22-23). The Gospel of Luke stresses
the virginity of Miriam (Mary) in its account of the conception of Jesus by the Holy
Spirit (Luke 1.26-38).
There are two major objections to the use of Isaiah 7.14 in relation to Jesus:
1. The Hebrew word ‘almah’ should be translated ‘young woman’ not virgin.
2. The passage in context is a short term prophecy to King Ahaz about his fears of
invasion by an alliance of forces led by Rezin, King of Syria and Pekah, King of
Israel, not a prophecy of the virgin birth of the Messiah.
1. What does almah mean?
The word almah means a young woman of marriageable age who is not yet married. In
Bible times it would be expected that a unmarried sexually mature woman would be
a virgin. It is used only 7 times in the Hebrew Bible and on all occasions (except
possibly one in Proverbs) implies a virgin. The word ‘betullah’ is the more common
word which is generally used for a virgin but there are occasions when the woman
referred to may not be a virgin, for example in Joel 1.8 where it refers to a young
woman mourning for the husband of her youth or in Isaiah 47.1 where it is used to
describe Babylon, a pagan nation known for its immorality.
Interestingly when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the Septuagint,
about 150 years before Jesus came, the word almah in Isaiah 7.14 was translated by
the Greek word ‘parthenos’ which only means virgin. This suggests that the translators
understood the prophecy to be referring to a virgin birth. The passage also begins
with a word from the Lord that this is to be a ‘sign’ (Hebrew word ‘oth’), which
implies something supernatural or miraculous. There is nothing miraculous in a young
woman of marriageable age conceiving a child. There is something miraculous in a
virgin conceiving a child.
2. What did the prophecy mean?
In the context Isaiah is prophesying to King Ahaz, who was the legitimate king of
Judah, being of the line of David, but who ‘did not do what was right in the sight
of the Lord’ (2 Kings 16.2). We read about his reign in 2 Kings 16-17 and 2 Chronicles
28. He turned away from the Lord, worshipped the Baals, the Canaanite gods, and even
sacrificed his children to pagan gods in the valley of Hinnom. Because of his wickedness
he was out of God’s favour and trouble was coming upon the land in accordance with
the warning given in the Torah to the people of Israel not to worship other gods
(Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28).
At the time of the prophecy of Isaiah 7 he was in the process of making an alliance
with the king of Assyria to protect himself from the threat to his kingdom from an
alliance of the kings of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel. Isaiah came
to meet him with a prophecy that both Syria and Israel (Ephraim) who were plotting
against him would themselves be overthrown by Assyria. (Isaiah 7.4-9, 18-25). Isaiah
goes on to prophesy the invasion of Judah by Assyria (Isaiah 8.6-10) but shows that
God will intervene to save Judah from the fate of captivity by the Assyrians which
will come to the northern kingdom of Israel.
In fact Isaiah is giving Ahaz and encouraging message from the Lord that the kingdom
of Judah will not fall. What Ahaz should have done is trust in God, as his own son
Hezekiah was to do when faced with a threat to his kingdom (Isaiah 36-37), but he
After Ahaz shows his mistrust in God by refusing the sign which God is offering him
through Isaiah in verses 1-12, there is a significant change in the text. Instead
of the prophecy being given to Ahaz in the singular, the word is spoken to ‘you’
in the plural, in other words to the whole house of David: ‘Hear now, O house of
David! Is it a small thing for you (plural) to weary men, but will you (plural) weary
my God also?’ verse 13.
This means that God is tired of the unbelief shown not only by Ahaz but by the house
of David in general (i.e. the kings of Judah). So He gives to them the prophecy
of the descendant of David who will be faithful and will in fact be the Messiah:
‘Therefore the Lord Himself will give you (plural) a sign: Behold, the virgin shall
conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.’ There will be a descendant
of David who will be faithful to the Lord (unlike Ahaz) and who will in fact be more
than a fallible human king.
He will be ‘Immanuel’ – God with us. He will come by a miracle (a sign) which will
be the conception of the boy to a woman who is still a virgin.
Unlike the prophecies given to Ahaz about the coming events in relation to the kings
of the surrounding countries this prophecy has to do with the Messianic king who
will come in the distant future from Ahaz’ point of view. Just a little later in
his prophecy Isaiah gives more information about this one to be born:
‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be
upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.Of the increase of His government and peace
there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it
and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.’ Isaiah 9.6-7.
This one will be born as a Son, but at the same time His nature will be that of
a ‘Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Two
of those phrases ‘el gibbor / Mighty God’ and av olam / Everlasting Father contain
the concept of divinity in them so this one to be born is more than a human king
reigning, He is divine in nature, Immanuel / God with us. He will have an eternal
government, throne and kingdom.
This has already been promised to the house of David in a previous prophecy given
by Nathan to David in 1 Chronicles 17.11-14: ‘And it shall be, when your days are
fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed
after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom.He shall build
Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he
shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him
who was before you. And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever;
and his throne shall be established forever.’
In the Gospel of Luke when the Angel Gabriel visits Miriam (Mary) to announce the
coming birth of Yeshua / Jesus, his words fit in with these prophecies:
‘Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named
Nazareth,to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice,
highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when
she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting
this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found
favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son,
and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the
Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will
reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And
the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the
power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to
be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also
conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called
barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant
of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from
her.’ Luke 1.26-38.
In Matthew’s account (Matthew 1.18-25), which sees the event through the eyes of
Joseph, we learn that Miriam was found to be with child after they had become engaged.
She was with child ‘by the Holy Spirit’, ‘before they came together’ (i.e. while
she was still a virgin, before they had consummated their marriage).
Joseph was minded ‘to put her away secretly’ (i.e. break off the engagement but without
publicly shaming her) when the angel Gabriel intervened by coming to him and telling
him “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that
which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son,
and you shall call His name Jesus (Yeshua / salvation), for He will save His people
from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken
by the Lord through the prophet, saying:“Behold, the virgin shall be with child,
and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God
Joseph accepted this and took her to be his wife, and ‘did not know her till she
had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.’ ‘Did not know
her’ here means did not have sexual intercourse with her. Contrary to the Roman
Catholic belief that Mary remained an eternal virgin, the text says that after the
birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary did have children by the normal means.
From these verses we learn that Miriam was a virgin, when she conceived supernaturally
in her womb a boy child who was to be called Yeshua / Jesus (meaning salvation),
that this came to pass by the Holy Spirit and that this one was called the Son of
God as prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 7.14. He was to be given an eternal throne,
an eternal house and an eternal kingdom, just as David was prophesied by Nathan in
1 Chronicles 17.
The Holy Spirit would overshadow a virgin betrothed to be married who would give
birth to a son who would more than just a man. He would be Immanuel, God with us.
God would enter human existence in the person of Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah. In
this way he would be both Son of Man and Son of God, without sin and therefore able
to redeem lost humanity. Those who receive Jesus would be born again into His eternal
kingdom and have eternal life.
According to the New Testament Yeshua / Jesus has fulfilled the other prophecies
of the Suffering Servant Messiah by dying as a sacrifice for the sins of the world,
rising again from the dead and ascending into heaven from where He will come again
to judge the world in righteousness. Following His return He will complete the Messianic
programme by reigning on earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem during the Millennium
or Messianic Kingdom.