As I started inching away from Christianity and began to examine my faith from a more objective distance, I started noticing inconsistencies that were so obvious that I couldn’t believe they’d never occurred to me before. One of the biggest issues concerned messianic prophecies, a key tool of the apologist’s arsenal. I was taught that the odds of Jesus fulfilling so many specific predictions was so astronomically small, he must have come from God himself!
However, the issue isn’t as cut-and-dry as the apologists would have you believe. It only takes minimal scrutiny of prophecies quoted by the gospels to notice that they don’t apply to Jesus at all! One of the most damning examples comes from Isaiah 7:14, quoted by Matthew, and by extension every Christmas pageant ever written:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
So the big question is: what is the context here? Who is the Lord giving a sign, and what is the sign meant to confirm? Let’s start from the beginning of chapter 7:
In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. (v. 1)
Judah is under attack, and its inhabitants, even up to King Ahaz himself, are quaking with fear (v. 2). So God sends Isaiah to Ahaz to deliver reassurance that this attack will not succeed:
Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. (v.4)
It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. (v. 7)
Not only does God send Ahaz a message through Isaiah, he tells Ahaz he can ask for any sign he wants as confirmation (v. 11). Ahaz is hesitant, but apparently God has a sign at the ready that he just has to dole out, even if it’s not requested. This is the sign in verse 14, the one attributed to Jesus in the Christmas narrative.
The problem is that this child is clearly not a future Messiah. The succeeding verses make it clear that his life will be contemporary to Ahaz and the kings that have beset him:
For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (v. 16-17)
Where does it mention a coming Messiah? Where does it speak of the savior of all mankind? There’s no reason to think that Isaiah 7:14 is speaking about Jesus, and every reason to think the verse was manipulated and reinterpreted to fit a new situation it was never meant to predict.