What is the meaning of Emmanuel in the Bible? (Alternatively spelled as Immanuel)
Around Christmas time you can’t go long without hearing the name Emmanuel. It’s in songs, on signs, and a staple teaching in churches. But often we miss what power and beauty this name holds because we don’t know the Emmanuel meaning.
For me personally, this name has changed my faith and how I view God, and I think it can do the same for you. Although this is something we tend to focus on around Christmas, really this is a powerful lesson for any time of the year. The meaning of Emmanuel should be a foundation for every Christian’s faith.
So, let’s take a look and see what this name means, and how it should apply to our lives today.
What Is The Meaning Of Emmanuel In The Bible?
There’s an alternate spelling of the name Emmanuel, which is Immanuel. Emmanuel comes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, while Immanuel comes from the original Hebrew in the Old Testament. Both are the same word, just different ways of spelling. For clarity’s sake, I will be using Emmanuel throughout this blog post.
In the Old Testament, the name was given to a child as a sign that Judah would receive relief from the attacks by Israel and Syria. The name symbolized God was still with them. He had not forgotten them, and God would deliver his people.
In the New Testament, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 as it expands upon the significance of this name. While the prophecy was fulfilled in the Old Testament, Jesus brings much greater fulfillment.
The implication of Emmanuel is that God would dwell among his people. He would literally be with us. This is significant because up to this point the Israelites had seen a type of this dwelling, but God was “contained” to the temple in the Holy of Holies. But when Jesus shows up, everything changes.
John 1:14 encapsulates the meaning of Emmanuel without actually using the term. I love how Eugene Peterson’s The Message translates this verse: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” The Emmanuel meaning is just that: God is now our neighbor. He is with us, right beside us.
This can be hard for us to grasp. God, the creator of the universe, is with you. On your best days, your worst days, in every moment of your life, Emmanuel.
Emmanuel Throughout Jewish History
I want to dive a little deeper into the neighborhood that Jesus entered because I think it will help us better understand Emmanuel. Let’s take a brief tour of Jewish history and see exactly what kind of neighborhood Jesus moved into.
Nation after nation entered Israel’s promised land and conquered them. They were often defeated and enslaved. From the Syrians to the Persians, and even Alexander the Great, they all had a turn in conquering and ruling over Israel. But by far, the worst was Antiochus IV Epiphanies.
Antiochus wasn’t interested in just conquering Israel; he wanted to wipe out the Jewish religion. He overtook the temple and worshiped foreign gods, forced priests, by penalty of death, to eat pork (an unclean animal), and performed sadistic reverse circumcisions. And most notoriously, he entered the Holy of Holies (which is bad enough) and sacrificed a pig on the altar.
The Jews had enough and eventually, they led a revolt that overthrew him, but their freedom was short-lived. Soon Rome marched in, squashed their rebellion and conquered Israel once more. This time Herod was appointed “King of the Jews” and he wasn’t much better.
When he heard of a new king who had been born in Bethlehem, he ordered all infant boys under 2 to be slaughtered.
This is the place, the neighborhood, that Jesus moved into. A place with a broken past, a grieving present, and an uncertain future. This is God with us.
Maybe you relate to that neighborhood. Maybe you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. The promise of Emmanuel is that God is with you right where you are. God showed solidarity with his people, and us, in the most intimate way possible: God’s Son, Emmanuel, moved into our neighborhood.
What Emmanuel Means For Us Today
Let’s switch gears and look at how the meaning of Emmanuel in the Bible impacts our lives today. I want to end by giving you three ways that Emmanuel can change your life and faith.
Emmanuel: A God Who Understands
Emmanuel shows us that we have a God that understands. He’s walked in our shoes, felt what we’ve felt, and understands our pain.
Emmanuel means that God understands what we are going through. It shows us that God doesn’t just want us to follow the rules and get it right. Rather, he wants a relationship with us, and he is willing to do anything to make way for that to happen.
The uniqueness of Christianity is we follow a God who has walked in our shoes and understands what we are going through. What Emmanuel does is show us that God is not a remote being that’s uninterested and unaffected by what is happening on earth. Rather, he is a God who is willing to experience it himself. On this cursed, fallen planet, we all suffer, even God.
That’s incredible. No other religion has a God that willingly suffers for his people, a God that can so deeply and compassionately identify with his creation. Emmanuel means there is a God who understands what you are going through.
For more on this, check out: Why Did Jesus Weep (and why we should too)
Emmanuel: A God Who Helps
Emmanuel isn’t just about a God who understands us. It takes it a step further. You see, God didn’t just come and walk in our shoes so that he could understand and sympathize with us. He did it so he could help us out of the mess of our lives.
Philip Yancey wrote this in The Question That Never Goes Away, “For whatever reason, God has chosen to respond to the human predicament not by waving a magic wand to make evil and suffering disappear but by absorbing it in person. ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,’ wrote John in the prologue to his Gospel. In the face of suffering, words do not suffice. We need something more: the Word made flesh, actual living proof that God has not abandoned us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, ‘Only a suffering God can help.’ “
In the midst of suffering, facts and truth bring little comfort. Telling someone you’re with them and all hope is not lost goes a lot further. And that’s the Gospel, right? God came to earth and suffered with us in his pursuit of us. He didn’t give a lecture on why suffering exists; instead, he says I’m with you and I will not leave you. His promise is that one day it will end, but until then, he will be with us. One day it will all make sense, but in the meantime, we do not suffer alone.
Emmanuel: A Way To Live
The final lesson from the meaning of Emmanuel for us today is a challenge to live it out. Emmanuel isn’t just a promise to hold onto, it’s a way to live. God with us should change how we approach everyday life.
Our response to Emmanuel should be both inward and outward. It should not only affect us but also those around us.
Inwardly, we should be reminded and encouraged that God is indeed with us. Emmanuel is still true for us today. God didn’t just move into the 1st-century Jewish neighborhood; he wants to move into yours too. Not only is he with us, he is healing us. That’s what faith asks us to do. Followers of Jesus must cling to the hope that one day God will redeem all the pain and suffering on this planet. And until that day comes, we know that God is with us.
The second piece is in how we outwardly respond. As Jesus moved into our neighborhood and lived in our suffering, we are called to do the same for others. Philip Yancey says it this way in The Question That Never Goes Away, “When God seems absent, sometimes it’s up to us to show his presence. Often the world only knows the truth of Emmanuel, ‘God with us,’ because of his followers.”
As we hold onto the promise of Emmanuel, we too must help others see the hope that is extended to them. We don’t have to have answers for their circumstances, even Jesus didn’t offer that. Rather be present. Present as God is present with us, we too are present with others.
Whether it’s the Christmas season or not we should dwell on what it means that God is with us. It should be something we remind ourselves of and live out.
Emmanuel means that God is with us, wherever we are, no matter our circumstances, God with us.