Everyone loves the Christmas season for different reasons, whether it be the gifts, carols, family gatherings, eggnog (with brandy), or ugly festive sweaters. I for one always eagerly await this joyful holiday to hear one of my all-time favorite passages of Scripture—Isaiah 9:6-7 read in church. If you don’t remember it from last year’s Christmas service, allow me to refresh your memory. Isaiah 9 contains the phrase, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” You might recognize this passage as the inspiration for the famous musical composition—Handel’s Messiah. The passage is usually read in Christmas services and programs as a reminder that the Messiah’s birth was necessary for him to act as mediator between us and God, and that is why the Son was given. While this is certainly true and deserves multiple “AMENS,” the passage teaches us so much more than that!
Isaiah chapter 9:6-7 teaches the ongoing progression of Christ’s government of peace and justice which began during his first advent.
Context of Isaiah 9:6-7
Chapter 8 foretells the social oppression Galilee would suffer from the upcoming Assyrian invasion under Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chron 5:26). The people of Galilee would be exiled, during which they would experience great anguish and distress. Isaiah describes their captivity as gloom and thick darkness (Isa 8:22). The news for the Galileans doesn’t look good. But just when all hope seems to be lost, God assures them that the gloomy trend will be reversed by a bright future.
In Isaiah 9, God promises that after their time of walking in darkness, they would see a great light (v.2). What exactly is this light they will eventually see…or perhaps the better question is—who is this light?
The Apostle Matthew reveals the light of Isaiah 9:2 to be Jesus himself whose radiance would be manifested in his earthly ministry beginning in Galilee. Matthew says that Jesus left Nazareth and withdrew into this region so that—
what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matt 4:14-16).
The dawning of this light is shown in Jesus teaching the people of Galilee about the gospel of the kingdom and in him healing their sick, lame, and those oppressed by demons (Matt 4:23-24). As the long expected king, Jesus brought with him governing authority to alleviate Galilee of their anguish, overturn their darkness, and began to multiply the number of citizens in his newly arriving kingdom (Matt 4:17, 25).
This last point is foretold in the next verse: “You have multiplied the nation” (v.3). Not just a small increase in the nation but a significant enough growth as to extend its borders and absorb foreign territories (cf. Isa 26:15; 49:20-21; 54:1-5; 66:7-14). The main point here is not an increase in the national consensus or a geopolitical expansion of Israel’s borders. Keep in mind, Matthew has already given us a divinely inspired interpretation of this passage which is that Isaiah is foretelling the initial calling and expansion of the New Testament church (cf. Isa 9:1-2; Matt 4:14-16). Hence, the nation that is said to have multiplied is that holy nation which consists of the faithful followers and citizens of God’s kingdom (Exo 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9).
The light that Jesus brings causes the Galileans to celebrate with joy. Isaiah illustrates this joy by comparing it to the positive feeling one experiences when dividing the plentiful abundance of spoils at harvest time (v.3), or to the joy experienced after the victory is won in battle (vv.4-5); especially when the victory didn’t seem possible much like Gideon’s triumph over Midian (Isa 9:4; Judg 6-7). Galilee is joyous because the past spiritual gloom is dispelled forever by the light who is Christ. This is all good news but Isaiah has more to say…
For unto us a child is born… (v.6)
Now we come to our main passage where we get an explanation as to what the source of Galilee’s restoration was. Up to this point in Isaiah 9, we know from Matthew’s gospel that the restoration of Galilee is all rooted in Christ’s first coming. The Galileans during this time did not have the New Testament, so how were they supposed to know when this restoration finally arrived? That is what verses 6-7 is all about. Isaiah tells of a coming ruler who would be born a child. This section announces the true source and channel by which restoration was to come to Galilee:
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 (v.6).
This isn’t at all referring to Christ’s second coming, as some assert, because the restoration comes through a human-born child which corresponds to his first coming. Some extreme futurists have argued that the Messiah here is portrayed as sitting on the throne of David which they believe only happens after Jesus’ second coming. But Jesus is time and time again said to be already seated on his throne (Matt 26:64; Mark 14:62; 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:34-35; Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2). There is nothing here that could possibly lead us to link this passage with Christ’s second advent, only that his kingdom would last forever which would eventually meet and surpass the time of Christ’s return. The blessings of Isaiah 9 are a direct result from Jesus having been born a man so that he may live, teach, die, and be raised to deliver us from sin, and so these blessings are for us today.
The government is said to be “upon his shoulder” (v.6). This is an allusion to magistrates having a key, scepter, staff, or rod laid or hung upon their shoulders as ensigns of their office (Isa 9:4; 22:22); the intent being to communicate that Christ came to earth to take upon his shoulders the weight and responsibility of governing all that has been placed under his authority.
Next, we see a series of titles attributed to the Messiah which reveal the manner in which he reigns. He governs as—
Wonderful Counselor. A Counselor is a political rank; one who stands near princes and kings as their adviser (2 Sam 15:12; 1 Chron 27:32-33; Isa 3:3). The Messiah rules by counseling subordinate kings on how to rule justly (Prov 8:14-16). His counsel is described as wonderful because he possesses all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2-3) to make decisions in all the affairs of men.
Mighty God; A title for the Lord himself (Isa 10:20-21; Deut 10:17; Neh 9:32; Jer 32:18). Not only does the Messiah rule as a man, he rules as God possessing divine strength and power to accomplish his sovereign will.
Everlasting Father. This title is not to be confused with the first person of the Trinity. Jesus is called father to convey the ideal task of king which is to be a benevolent caretaker of his people (cf. Isa 22:21-22). He will function this way for us forever (Matt 28:20), hence the title: Everlasting Father.
The explanation for Galilee’s joy and celebration is that Jesus would come to earth as a human to rule and reign to deliver them from the long experienced darkness and bring them into his kingdom of light.
Of the increase of his government… (v.7)
Now we come to the climax of the prophecy. To alleviate any concerns the Galileans might have of a temporary fix, God (speaking through Isaiah) gives them a description of the Messiah’s government. The description would be a great encouragement to them because at this point Israel has seen good kings come and go before—prosperity would come, all hell would break loose, and the cycle continued. Will the Messiah’s reign be any different? Yes. His reign will be something that no other ruler in all of history will ever be able to claim for themselves. It is said of the Messiah’s rule:
Of the increase of his government and of 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 (v.7)
How exactly will his government increase without end? Some interpret this as the duration of time the Messiah will reign will not end. This wouldn’t be necessary to state because the following clause expresses the same idea by saying, “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.” Another interpretation is that Christ is increasing his heavenly kingdom with each new soul who dies to be with the Lord. This might be favorable if it weren’t for the mention of increasing peace. Doesn’t heaven already contain infinite peace? How would peace increase in heaven by more souls coming in? Wouldn’t this be like adding to infinity? Still, others say this passage means that once Jesus returns, he will establish a future millennial kingdom and increase his government then. This doesn’t even pass the smell test; as we’ve proven earlier by Matthew’s interpretation: Isaiah 9 is about Jesus’ first coming, not his second.
The most fitting interpretation, then, is that the increase of the Messiah’s government and peace will have no earthly limitations or bounds. Galilee would not be the only citizens of Christ’s kingdom, but his dominion would extend throughout all the earth, subjecting all nations to his will through the triumph of the saving gospel. John Gill explained the meaning of this phrase best:
Of the increase of his government,…. That is, of the Prince of peace, on whose shoulders it is; which, from small beginnings, will rise to a very great pitch and height of glory; this is signified by the stone cut out of the mountain without hands; that smote the image, became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth, Daniel 2:34 and by the parable of the mustard seed, the least of all seeds, and yet, when grown up, becomes a great tree, in which the birds of the air build their nests, Matthew 13:31. Christ’s kingdom and interest, his dominion and government, may be said to be increased, when his Gospel is spread far and near, which is called the Gospel of the kingdom, and the doctrines of it, the mysteries of the kingdom; by means of which men become subjects of it, and so his kingdom is enlarged. At first it was only preached in Judea; and then it was carried into the Gentile world, where it met with great success, and was spread to the overthrow of Paganism in the Roman empire; … at the Reformation it broke out again, and spread itself over many nations; and though of late years there has been a decline, in the latter day the knowledge of it will cover the earth, as the waters do the sea, and multitudes shall be converted by it; which is meant by the increase of Christ’s government (Gill, Commentary on Isaiah 9:7)
Gill rightly recognizes that there is harmony in the way the Bible describes Christ’s kingdom. It is progressive and portrayed as such over and over again. The Bible emphasizes that the kingdom will begin minuscule but end up ginormous, as illustrated in Scripture: a rock to a great mountain which covers the earth (Dan 2:34-35), a twig to a noble cedar (Eze 17:22-24), a stream of ankle-deep water to swimming-deep water (Eze 47:1-12), a mustard seed to a great tree and leaven spreading throughout three measure of flour till it was completely leavened (Matt 13:31-33). This is how we are to expect Christ’s kingdom to increase.
Part of the increase is the number of saved souls, however, this is not all that is included in the increase. It is said that Christ establishes and upholds his kingdom with “justice and righteousness,” (v.7) a comforting contrast to the social injustice the Galileans were facing in chapter 8 by the Assyrians, and the social injustice that mankind suffers even today. These two qualities must never be absent when participating in Christ’s kingdom. Justice is required of us (Mich 6:8). Since Christ has and is establishing justice and righteousness, we must make these two qualities our priority because our Lord has made them his and he will see justice and righteousness prevail in his kingdom.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this
So, are we really saying that ever since Christ was born, lived, died, and raised for our salvation and deliverance from sin, he has been given a kingdom which will never end, and will never stop growing, and justice and righteousness will be established everywhere with no limitations or bounds … basically Christ ends up winning the world for himself?
Too good to be true, right? I’m sure that’s what the Galileans thought when they first heard this prophecy and many Christians are thinking it today. One doesn’t need to look far to be utterly discouraged by our degenerate and wicked world. We’re at the point where we don’t even try to seek justice or peace anymore because … well, what’s the point?
We would have all the reason to doubt that the promise of Isaiah 9:6-7 could ever come to pass as a result of the Messiah being born; his first coming is just not good enough for that. EXCEPT …. “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (v.7). Isaiah prohibits all possible doubt by assuring God’s people that he is zealous to bring this about. We know that God is so sovereign that all he needs to do is nod his head to accomplish the impossible, and here he is zealous to keep his promise.
The beloved passage in Isaiah teaches so much more than just Chris’s mediation as the God-man. It does teach that, but it also teaches that from Christ’s first coming, he is making all things new by the progress of his never ending, never ceasing kingdom. As Christmas services approach this year, there is a good chance you will hear Isaiah chapter 9 read in front of your local church body. When you hear it read, my challenge to you is: think about the broader implications of Christ’s birth in light of his increasing government and peace which has no end. Furthermore, share these important details of this beautiful passage with others who might be overlooking its often-missed truths. Finally, be encouraged to know that your current service to God is a part of Christ’s prestigious mission to establish his kingdom with justice and righteousness to the ends of the earth.