What Does God’s Presence Imply?

August 03, 2017

by Brandon Crowe

I would like for us to consider one of the most important Christological themes in all of Matthew: Jesus as Immanuel. This is the theme of the first of Matthew’s ten fulfillment formula citations (1:22–23), and serves as a self-contained unit that bookends Matthew’s Gospel. We find the mention of Jesus as ‘God with us’ in the first episode following the genealogy (1:18–25), and we find it again in the last statement of the Gospel in which Jesus promises to be with his disciples even to the end of the age (28:20). It is important to understand what is entailed by identifying Jesus as ‘God with us’. Most simply, it refers to Jesus as the fulfillment of the divine covenant presence, which is the highest covenant blessing imaginable. God’s covenant presence was the blessing experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God’s presence was promised to the Israelites as they looked forward to the Promised Land (Lev. 26:12). God’s presence filled the tabernacle (Exo. 40:34–35) and later the temple (1 Kg. 8:10–11; Ps. 74:2; 76:2; 132:13; etc.). In Matthew Jesus is greater than the temple (12:5–6), greater than Solomon who built the temple (12:42), and greater than the priests who served in the temple (9:1–8). For Matthew, Jesus as Immanuel underscores the Son as God’s covenant presence with us in the most profound sense.

Implications of God’s Presence

Jesus is God’s presence for blessing or for cursing, depending on one’s relationship to Jesus.

Yet we must not neglect to consider the various implications of God’s covenant presence. It is indeed the most glorious blessing imaginable that Jesus is God’s presence with us, yet this presence is a curse for those who oppose him. Put differently, Jesus is God’s presence for blessing or for cursing, depending on one’s relationship to Jesus. We can see this by looking to the Old Testament context, where we find Immanuel. In Isaiah 7 King Ahaz of Judah refuses to heed God’s command to ask him for a sign, opting instead to trust the Assyrians for protection. In response, Isaiah informs Ahaz that the Lord himself will provide a sign to Ahaz—the child who will be called Immanuel. In Isaiah, the sign of Immanuel is a curse to Ahaz, who is rebelling against the word of God. However, this same child is a blessing to those whose hope is in the Lord. In the same way, Jesus’s presence is a curse for those who, like the Pharisees, reject his word (Matt. 23), but a blessing for those whose trust is in the Son of God (Matt. 14:22–33; 18:20).

Is Jesus Divine?

In the light of these features of Jesus-as-Immanuel, does this title mean that Jesus is divine? To answer this question, we must again pay careful attention to the way Matthew’s Gospel provides more information for the reader as the narrative progresses. That which is introduced suggestively at the beginning of the Gospel is apprehended with greater clarity by the Gospel’s conclusion. In Matthew 1 we read of Jesus’s lineage deriving from David and Abraham. We read that he is born of Mary, without the agency of a physical father, but conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. His birth is miraculous, and numerous aspects of his early life are fulfillments of Scripture. We see there the intimate relationship Jesus shares with his Father beyond any created being, to which we should add the immense authority of Jesus over sicknesses, the demonic and the natural realm. Later Jesus makes the incredible promise that wherever two or three of his disciples in the church are gathered in his name, there he is with them (18:20).

Finally, we read in the Great Commission that Jesus is worshiped and all authority in heaven and earth belongs to him, and he will be with his disciples always, even to the end of the age (28:20). Jesus’ final promise of his continued presence with his disciples clarifies what is already present in 1:23: he is the fulfillment of God’s covenant presence with his people in a way that transcends the presence of any created being. Jesus is the divine Immanuel, who is placed in closest collocation with the Father and the Spirit (28:19). In the light of these textual features, we should conclude that Jesus is always with us as the divine Immanuel.

This post adapted from Brandon Crowe, “The Trinity and the Gospel of Matthew,” in The Essential Trinity (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2017), 38–40. Used with permission of the publisher.

Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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