Isaiah 9:6 is a famous and wonderful verse, but often causes some confusion.
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.
This is a prophecy of the incarnation of the Son, yet he is called ‘Everlasting Father’. It’s a verse that non-Trinitarians love.
Is Isaiah denying the Trinity by calling Jesus ‘the Father’? Is he just confusing the persons? How much can we expect of the Old Testament when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity? Perhaps looking for the disctinctions between persons is fussy and we ought to refer simply to ‘God’? While it might be fun to look out for which divine person is acting or speaking in different passages, perhaps the Bible just isn’t so concerned with that level of precision?
The solution to the riddle is in the chapter before. And in fact, reading Isaiah like a book rather than an advent calendar of isolated verses helps us to see that this isn’t even much of a riddle.
In Isaiah 8:12, the Lord speaks to Isaiah, and encourages him to trust in the Lord. In v17, the Lord says that he himself will wait for the Lord and hope in him – and in v18 his children are with him, as a sign from the Lord. The one speaking to Isaiah in each of these verses is God the Son, and he speaks of his own trust in God, for himself and for the ‘children’ entrusted to him. Hebrews 2:13 quotes this verse as being about Jesus the 'founder of our salvation' taking us with him through sanctification, perfection, suffering, and on to glory since he has taken our flesh and blood. In this way, as the Son holds and cares those the Father has given him, he too is a father. He has not become the eternal person of the Father, but is fatherly towards those for whom God has made him responsible.
This is a common thought all through the Bible. It’s no surprise that the Son should be seen behaving in the same way as his Father (John 5:19). Jesus is shown to be parental – even motherly – towards Jeurusalem who he wants to gather into his care like a hen with her chicks (Luke 13:34). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention Jesus calling little children to come to him to receive their place in the kingdom. Matthew 11:25 has Jesus explaining that it is to ‘little children’ that God reveals the deep things of the gospel – surely all those who come to him, whether seven or seventy, humbly aware of their need (cf. Matthew 18:3). Jesus combines fatherly and motherly qualities in his strong, kind care for us.
Perhaps the passage that most powerfully illustrates Jesus’ fatherly care for his people is John 17 as he prays to his own Father just hours before his crucifixion. He reflects on his relationship with his disciples; ‘those you gave me out of the world’. To these men and women entrusted to his care, he revealed the fulness of God. As he goes to give up his life for them in a display of the depth of his commitment, he hands them back to his Father and asks him to keep them, to give them joy, to set them apart, and to one day reunite them with him.
Such is the heart of Christ for us, his children. He utterly reflects and lays bare the heart of his own Father. The unconditional love and self-giving that Jesus himself enjoyed for all eternity from his Father, he now pours out on his Church. He is our Saviour, Lord, Friend, Brother, Husband – and our Father.
Daniel Hames is Associate Director at Union and lectures in theology and preaching. He is a minister at St Aldates, Oxford, and is completing a PhD in theology at the VU Amsterdam.