The Virgin Birth of Christ
by Rick Shrader
There is no more precious doctrine in the Scripture than the virgin birth of Christ. The truth that the God of all creation, the Holy One of all eternity, the One Who loved us and became a man in order to redeem us from our sin, is the greatest thought of the human mind. The fact that the world will not receive it and shuts out all testimony to it, especially at this time of the year, is a testimony to its truth. If we were not sinners there would be no need for such an incarnation, and the lost world knows this and would prefer it to be that way. But fact is fact, and there is no ignoring it—Jesus Christ came from heaven to redeem us. “And thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Christ’s incarnation is testimony to the fact that life in the womb is precious. Human life begins at conception and is a living, eternal soul from that moment on. Christ, however, existing from all eternity, entered the womb as the eternal Son of God without ceasing or beginning to be. Gabriel said to Mary, “thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest . . . . Therefore also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31, 35). Son of God, of course, is a term for deity, the second Person of the Godhead. One of the attributes of God is eternality, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending. For Jesus to be our Savior, He had to be divine, and to be divine He had to be eternal, and to be eternal, He had to exist before, during, and after the birth in Bethlehem’s manger. The life in Mary’s womb was the Eternal Life that would light the world!
The Pre-incarnate Christ
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Jesus is the Word because He speaks God’s thoughts to mankind. ”Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Heb. 1:2). “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). The “Word” of verse one is the “Him” of verse four. Three things are said in this magnificent introduction to John’s gospel.
The Word was eternal. This Word “was.” The imperfect tense means an ongoing action, what L.S. Chafer called “the eternal present.”1 Luther said, “Something was before the world and the creation of all things. That must be God.”2 In that familiar Christmas verse from Micah it is said, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).
The Word was preexistent. This Word was “with God.” Eternality goes hand in hand with preexistence but they are not the same. The Son and the Father (and the Spirit) dwelt together in perfect unity, three persons but one God. The Word was “with” God. This little word, pros, means to be face to face with someone. The word for “face” is pros?pon. F.B. Meyer wrote, “The face of the everlasting Word was ever directed towards the face of the everlasting Father.”3 This was the Angel of the Lord of the Old Testament, the One Who met Moses at the burning bush and Who conversed with Abraham on the plains of Mamre. The Angel never appears again after He became flesh in Mary’s womb.
The Word was deity. This Word “was God.” It cannot be translated any other way, as unbelievers attempt to do. The article goes with the subject in the nominative case, and for emphasis the Greek puts the predicate noun first, “and God was the Word.” That is like saying, “the boy was a good student, and David was the boy!” But the proper meaning is, “the boy was David.” This is what caused Charles Wesley to write,
Christ by highest heav’n adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord:
Late in time, behold Him come,
Off-spring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the God-head see,
Hail th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sin,
“Glory to the new-born King.”
The Prophesied Christ
The Old Testament prophecies of Christ leave no doubt that the baby in Mary’s womb was the eternal Son of God. The angel quoted Isa. 7:14 to Mary that a virgin would “conceive.” Whereas humans pass on their seed through a woman and a man so that it is impossible for a virgin woman to conceive, the eternal Son of God came into Mary’s womb through “the power of the Highest” overshadowing her (Luke 1:35). She was just the channel for the Word to take on human form from a preincarnate state to an incarnate state. The Son that the virgin would conceive is Immanuel, which, Matthew interpreted, means “God with us.” He had no beginning and will have no ending. He is Alpha and Omega. He did not begin life at conception, much less at birth!
Isaiah’s prophecy in 9:6 includes the wonderful news that this baby is the “Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Again we read that the eternal God simply took up residence in the womb of a human girl for a period of time.
He is the Mighty God of creation as John had also said of the Word, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Paul said to the Corinthians, “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. 8:6). He upholds all things that He made by the word of His divine and almighty power (Heb. 1:3). He is also the “everlasting Father,” not that there is any mixture of the persons of the Father and the Son, but, as the older writers term it, “the Father of eternity, as if even everlasting duration owed itself to his paternity.”4 The prophet is clear, the eternal Being was in the womb of the virgin and would soon be born into the world.
The Psalmist revealed that God had called Jesus “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psa. 110:4). Whereas the Old Testament priesthood was served by priests humanly born of parents and therefore serving only a life-time, this Priest has no such limitations. The writer of Hebrews uses this powerful argument for the ending of the law, and describes Melchisedek, king of Salem, as “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (Heb. 7:1-3). This of course is applied to Christ literally when he writes, “And it is far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedek there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life” (7:14-15).
In the last and great prophecy of the book of Revelation, Jesus appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos in His eternal splendor and said, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, said the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). It is not enough to say that He is the Omega without saying that He is also the Alpha. These terms mean that He has neither beginning nor ending. And if He has no beginning, He was existing eternally at His conception in Mary’s womb waiting to be born nine months later, taking upon Himself the garment of human limitation.
The gospel of Christ
“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a gospel of example from one human to another. Jesus was not a good man who showed us how to live and die. If that is the case, we need not bother ourselves with sin and hell, or with a divine Savior and redemption by His blood. But if we are sinners by birth and face an eternal punishment in hell, then we need a Savior Who is more than we, a Savior Who is human but divine, a Savior Who knows our humanity but rises above it in sinless perfection. We need an eternal Savior.
Lenski writes, “The Son’s going out from God on his mission is seen in his becoming man. He did not cease to be the Son of God when he became man. He did not drop his deity, which is an impossible thought. He remained what he was and added what he had not had, namely a human nature, derived out of a woman, a human mother. He became the God-man.”5 Paul’s description is that of Isaiah’s, a virgin born Son, “made of a woman” and not of a man. And note that this all happened “in the fullness of time.” “Late in time behold Him come,” not early in time, not the beginning of His existence, but late, when time was at its fullest, when this eternal One took up residence in Mary’s womb.
Why do we have no gospel without a virgin birth? Because we do not need a human-only savior who is but a good example. We need a Savior Who can be the sacrifice for our sins, accepted by a holy God as our Substitute. When the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of having an earthly father He replied, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). He meant that they must believe that He is the I AM, the eternal Jehovah, the Angel of the Lord, Who met Moses at the burning bush. John uses this expression again in 18:5 at His arrest in the garden. At the mere mention of this title, the soldiers fell backward to the ground. He had said before, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). This Jesus can be your Savior. This Jesus is God in the flesh. This Jesus died, was buried, and rose again for you, coming out of the grave with the same eternity with which He came into this world.
And So . . .
Jesus said “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Notes: 1. L.S. Chafer, “The Preexistence of Christ,” Vital Christological Issues, R. Zuck, Gen. Ed.(Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997) 13. 2. By Hengstenberg, The Gospel of John (Minn.: Klock & Klock, 1980) 16. 3. F.B. Meyer, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, nd.) 14. 4. Albert Barnes, Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980) 193. 5. R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of Galatians (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961) 199. 6. Sir Robert Anderson, The Lord From Heaven (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980) 51.
If words like these came from the greatest, holiest, best of men, we should fling them back with indignation. But they are the words of Him by whom and for whom we were created; of Him who spoke from Sinai, and knows the guilt and penalty of sin; of Him to whom all judgment has been committed, and who can anticipate the decrees of the Great Day; of Him-let us not forget-who ‘took part of flesh and blood,’ and knows our burdens and our toils. And when spiritual men dwell upon His words, with thoughts like these filling their hearts, they do not sit down to frame a Christology; they cast themselves at His feet and worship Him.6