Merry Christmas! Yes, this is what Christians believe. (part 1 of 2)
by Brian Hayward—
How can it be that a man can be the Son of God?! Yet this is what Christians celebrate at Christmas, not simply the birth of a special baby, but the birth of a divine child. Among Muslims and secular-minded people, this is unbelievable. Let’s look into this claim further by going back to the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament (Tawrat) which will give us a context for what the angel says to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Here’s the key prophecy that God reveals to Prophet David (peace be upon him) regarding the title Son of God:
“I (God) will be his (David’s son) father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor (speaking of the former king, Saul). I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever’ (1 Chronicles 17:13-14). God promises Prophet David (pbuh) that He will be the father of one of his offspring. So God clearly doesn't say that He'll have physical offspring. Rather, God will somehow consider himself the father of David’s own offspring.
How can this be? How could David (pbuh) have truly understood? What's clear is that one of his descendants would rule over God's Kingdom forever. He will have eternal power, or at least those who belong to or come from this offspring would reign forever. God will somehow consider David's son as his own son.
But then the people of Israel eventually end up in exile, with no king. We see the genuine struggle of the people of Israel in the psalms (Arabic–Zabuur, or mazameer) related to this promise. Has God forsaken His promise? In Psalm 89:26-29, believed to be written during the Babylonian captivity, the psalmist who writes the psalm remembers God’s promise to David (pbuh).
26 He (David’s [pbuh] offspring) will call out to me (God), ‘You are my Father,
my God, the Rock my Savior.’
27 And I will appoint him (David’s [pbuh] offspring) to be my firstborn,
the most exalted of the kings of the earth.
28 I will maintain my love to him forever,
and my covenant with him will never fail.
29 I will establish his line forever,
his throne as long as the heavens endure.
To re-state what the psalmist recalls, Prophet David (pbuh) promised offspring will call out to God “You are my Father…” and God will appoint David (pbuh) to be “his firstborn.” What does this mean? The psalmist follows firstborn by saying “the most exalted of the kings of the earth.” Thus “firstborn” shows his priority and status of exaltation, not referring to birth literally, but rather to a position of greatest honor. God promises David (pbuh) that he will maintain his love and covenant with him, establishing his “line” forever and his throne “as long as the heavens endure.” This same promise is re-stated in various ways many times in Hebrew scriptures.
In vs. 35-39 of Psalm 89, the psalmist re-states God’s promise to David (pbuh) in which God swears by His own holiness that David’s (pbuh) line will continue forever and his throne will last as long as the sun shines. However, this time, the psalmist questions why God has rejected his anointed one, literally meaning the Messiah. Why has God renounced the covenant with David’s (pbuh) line? Why has God defiled “his crown in the dust?” Such questions are common in the psalms as God invites his people, even those inspired by God’s Spirit to write the psalms, to come to him honestly.
The people of Israel, including the writer of the psalm, struggled for many hundreds of years to comprehend why God allowed David’s line to cease to reign, particularly when Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel) was taken captive to Babylon and there was no king. However, the book of Jeremiah the prophet ends by describing how the Lord faithfully preserved the line of David (pbuh) throughout the exile, speaking of the exact year and date when a specific Babylonian king, Awel-Marduk (whose reign is attested by non-Biblical historians), released Jehoiachin king of Judah, a descendant of David (pbuh). Awel-Marduk spoke kindly to Jehoiachin, freed him from prison and gave him a seat of honor, eating regularly at the king’s table.
The people awaited the reign of one of David’s (pbuh) sons at some future time, even knowing which city of David he would come from, based on the prophecy of Micah around 700 years before the birth of Jesus.
“But you, Bethlehem (Arabic-Bait Laham) Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
Bethlehem Ephrathah is a tribal distinction that points clearly to the Davidic line, within a certain community of Bethlehem. This kingship was ordained by God “from ancient times” or long ago. Many hundreds of years later, the people of Israel are eagerly awaiting the promised Messiah as they suffer under the yolk of the Romans.
When the angel comes to Mary centuries later and announces the following about Jesus, we now understand more clearly what he’s talking about, and can picture what Mary is hearing. "He (Mary’s son) will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33).
Her son is not simply to be a son of God, one of his children (Psalm 82:6), created by Him and in relationship with Him. He will be called the Son of the Most High God. Which son? The Messiah, according to the promise He made to David, the one who would reign over Israel, the people of Jacob, forever and whose kingdom would never end. In fact, he would reign over God’s Kingdom. The day had finally come!
*Peace be upon him (pbuh) is a title Muslims give to those they consider prophets. Although David wasn't a 'conventional' prophet because of his kingship, Christians acknowledge that God revealed to him the psalms in a prophetic way. Therefore I use pbuh to honor those to whom God revealed His Word.