Music Lessons, Ideas, Activities, and Bible Background Notes for Teaching "Isaiah Foretells the Messiah" in Sunday School.
Post your Sunday School music lessons, ideas, activities, and bible background notes for teaching about Isaiah's prophecies of the Messiah here, including lessons teaching about the names of Jesus.
See also the detailed Isaiah Bible Background written by our Writing Team and open to all.
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A Bible Background
Jesus’ Birth through the Eyes of Isaiah
by Carol Hulbert, First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI
~ I wrote this for teachers at my church. Hope it is useful to you. ~Carol
Scripture Reference: Isaiah 6:1-8, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:21-23, Isaiah 9:6
Key Verse: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)
Some Suggested Teaching Objectives:
After completing this Rotation, participants will be able to:
- Name that the story is found in the Old Testament.
- (3rd grade and up) Locate the story in the Bible. Identify Isaiah as a book of Prophecy.
- Define prophet: “God’s messenger.”
- Retell the story of the prophet Isaiah’s commissioning experience in the temple.
- Recognize that Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah years before the birth of Jesus. (Jesus’ birth was planned by God way in advance!)
- Identify some of the names to which Isaiah referred to this coming Messiah, and explore these names as attributes of Jesus’ character – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Advent is the time of preparation for the birth of Christ. Since Advent and Christmas happen every year, this gives us a chance to concentrate on different aspects of the Christmas story. This Advent our Rotation will focus on Jesus’ birth through the eyes of the prophet Isaiah.
What is a prophet?
A prophet is defined as God’s messenger; prophecy is the message from God that a prophet brings to the people. The Hebrew word for prophet is “nabi” which means seer. It is misleading, however, to think of prophets as only telling what will happen in the future. We are reminded: “They weren’t in the business of providing horoscopes” (Petersen, 4). The prophets of the Old Testament also spoke about the past and the present, often mixed in with warnings about current behavior. Prophets brought God's message – the truth – to the people.
Books of prophecy make up a major portion of the Old Testament. Isaiah is the first book of prophecy. New Testament writers quoted from Isaiah more frequently than any other book – Isaiah is mentioned 46 times in the Gospels alone. Many of the foretelling types of prophecies of Isaiah, came true in the New Testament. Given the fact that we are discussing the Christmas story, we will highlight some of Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming of Christ.
Who was Isaiah?
Isaiah was evidently from a distinguished Jewish family who lived in Jerusalem. Isaiah’s long ministry lasted from about 740 - 680 BC. He lived at the same time as the prophets Amos, Hosea and Micah. It appears that he was a statesman, a scholar and a poet. His ministry spanned the reigns of four kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Isaiah “witnessed the decline of Judah and the rise of the Assyrian empire. [Judah in this case refers to the kingdom of Judah; the region settled by the tribe of Judah – the fourth son of Jacob. This region was also called Judea.] This was a time of tumultuous political upheaval, which saw the expansion of the Assyrian empire. Over and over again Isaiah implored the four kings who ruled during his ministry to seek an alliance only with God rather than with surrounding nations” (Fisher).
How did people back then feel about Prophets?
Prophets were often very unpopular with the people of the times. “God’s prophets were not sent when people were obedient to God; rather they spoke when the people had turned away and were deep in sin and far from God” (Fisher). Who, after all, likes to hear about the bad things we do! So we hear the people say to the prophets:
“Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 30:10b-11).
A Light in the darkness
Prophets also brought hope and encouragement to people who longed for a different kind of kingdom. The people were waiting for a new king David, a ruler who would bring peace and justice.
A coming Messiah
Several Old Testament prophets foretell this “Messiah” or anointed one, the expected king and deliverer of the Jews. Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming of Christ include hints of who this Savior would be. Remember, these are presented 700 years before they take place! A few of Isaiah’s prophecies:
- Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (NRSV).
This name, Immanuel means: “God with us.” There is controversy over whether this particular verse from Isaiah was speaking of Jesus. Nevertheless, Matthew 1:23 quotes this verse. Matthew believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
- Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…”
A “child” lets us know that this Messiah will be a human. A “son” tells us of his divine nature. “That the two are combined in one human person is beyond our comprehension. Isaiah does more here than returning to the Immanuel theme. This is the miracle of the incarnation: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (John 1:14)” (Schultz, 56).
- “…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Here we are given attributes of the Savior’s character:
» Wonderful: fills our hearts with amazement! “The Hebrew word rendered wonderful is pele’, which is derived from a word meaning ‘a miracle.’ We find the word for the first time in the Bible in the song of Moses, sung after the drowning in the Red Sea of the Egyptian army” (Schultz, 57).
» Counselor: giver of advice; one who guides us.
» Mighty God: power and majesty.
» Everlasting Father: an eternal nurturing presence.
» Prince of Peace: “Not the military leader that the Hebrew people were expecting who would save them from their subservience to Rome” (Fisher).
- Isaiah 9:7a,b “Of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom.”
Prophecy is that the Messiah shall come from the house of David.
Christ was this Savior (The remainder of this document is attributed in large part to Fisher.)
The Greek form of the word Messiah (anointed one) is “Christ.” The anointing indicated that God had chosen this person to do an important job. Jesus Christ is the anointed one, the Messiah whom God sent for us… So Jesus is the anointed one whom God appoints to save us from our sins.
Christ’s purpose is to be our Savior. Saving is the reason for Jesus’ birth, the subject of his teaching, the cause of his death and resurrection. Jesus brings about a new method of salvation, a change from the old sacrificial system, yet one that retains some symbolic similarities to it especially the understanding of how one wins one’s way back into God’s favor, cleanses oneself from sin and restores relationship with God. Blood was central to this old sacrificial system and it is central to Jesus’ sacrifice as well. We read many New Testament verses referring to “the blood of the lamb,” and “Jesus’ blood shed for us for the remission of sins.”
Looking back on Isaiah’s prophecies with New Testament eyes
Recall that Jesus himself quoted from the book of Isaiah, when he read from a scroll in the temple, as described in Luke 4:17-19: The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This was an ENORMOUS event at the time, because Jesus announced to the congregation that he, himself, was the Messiah whom Isaiah had predicted. Some believed him, some were skeptical, and others were amazed at the boldness of this lowly carpenter.
The early Christians (after Christ’s resurrection) were quite familiar with many of Isaiah’s prophetic passages. They also knew of the “suffering servant” passages from Isaiah 52-53: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)
The church understood these passages to describe Christ as Savior, the one who bears the sins and resultant punishment for others so that they might be saved. The imagery of these passages comes directly from the Hebrew sacrificial system, an innocent (blemish-free) victim who dies in the place of the sinner. Nearly a third of the content of the Gospels concentrates on the death of Jesus. Clearly the Gospel writers understood that Jesus had come into the world to die. Without minimizing Jesus’ teaching, miracles and various encounters, they nevertheless focused on this primary issue – that he should die. So why is this the “good news?” Only when we look through the lens of Jesus Christ as Savior can this account of suffering and death be considered good news. Only by understanding our own need for a savior, our own human inadequacy to save ourselves, can we begin to understand what God has done for us.
- Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (ed). International Standard Bible Encylcopedia Vol. 2:E-J. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982.
- Easton, Matthew George. “Entry for ‘Prophet’”. Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897.
- Fisher, Debbie. “Rotation.org Writing Team Lessons On The Birth Of Jesus Through The Eyes Of Isaiah: Bible Background.” Rotation.org. 2002.
- Guzik, David. “Isaiah 9: Unto Us a Child is Born.” David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible. 2001. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/isaiah-9/
- iLumina Gold Premium. CD-ROM. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2006.
- Peterson, David L., and Gene M. Tucker. The New Interpreter's Bible Isaiah - Ezekiel (Volume 6). Nashville: Abingdon, 2001.
- Schultz, John. “Commentary to Book of Isaiah.” Bible-Commentaries.Com. 2007.
Except as noted, Scripture quoted is taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
When “NRSV” is version noted, Scripture quoted is taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved.
Bible Background Copyright 2009 First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI.
Permission to copy materials granted for non-commercial use provided credit is given and all cited references remain with this material. If you use this material, even in a modified form, please include a reference to where you got it!