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Paradigm Shifts

“Why didn’t the Jews recognize that Jesus was their Messiah?

Sometimes this question is asked in a very self-righteous, condemning way.

In previous articles I have touched on some of the elements of our psyche that cause us to cling to what we believe to be normal ways of thinking and behavior. The reality of our ‘normalcy biases’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ sometimes blind us to what is actually happening around us. Paradigm shifts are deviations from these accepted thought patterns. These deviant shifts are often met with unbelief and even hostility.

The answer to the above question shouldn’t be too hard to discern if we are honest about our own resistance against new paradigms. It was even difficult for the disciples of the Lord Jesus to wrap their minds around a humble Messiah (from a ghetto called Nazareth) who spoke more harshly to the Jewish leaders than He did to the hated Roman occupiers of Israel.

What we find in the Word of God is that God is in the habit of challenging the way that we think in very stark and shocking ways. He has to because He knows that the god of this world, Satan, has blinded our minds in unbelief. (2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4)

The Scripture is filled with statements that challenge our normalcy biases. One in particular is a verse that is likely very familiar to many because it is often quoted at Christmas time and emblazoned on thousands of Christmas cards. In fact, we see it so often that we rarely take note of the strangeness of its declarations….

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6 NKJV

Studious Shifts

I am not a Hebrew scholar and I do not want to give the impression that I am. But I have learned that Hebrew writings are very different from our western way of thinking. As a western reader, my method of studying this verse would be to make bullet points of all of these descriptive names that are given concerning the promised Messiah. Then I would link each of these names to the events or scripture concerning the life of Christ that show that He is indeed the one that fulfills or will fulfill all of these descriptors according to the scriptures.

For instance:

“For unto us a child is born…” (Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:6,7)

“…Unto us a Son is given” (Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:31,32)

“…and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be…” (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6)

“…called Wonderful” (Romans 11:33-36)

“…(called) Counselor…” (Mark 13:23; Mark 24:25; John 15:15; 1 Corinthians 2:1016; Revelation 1:1; Amos 3:7; Psalm 25:14;

“…(called) Mighty God” (Matthew 1:23; John 1:14; Romans 1:3,4; 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:16)

“…(called) Everlasting Father” (John 5:23; John 10:30; John 14:8-11)

“…(called) Prince of Peace” John 14:27; 16:23; Luke 1:79; Acts 10:36; Romans 5:1; 8:6; 15:13; Philippians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 3:15)

However this approach may be helpful as a study aide, I am realizing that it misses something more grand and weighty. It is helpful to learn that the Hebrew scriptures are often written in a very poetic fashion. We see that of course in the Psalms and in the Proverbs, but it is also an element that the Spirit of God uses throughout Scripture as a teaching tool.

Among the many poetic devices that Hebrew writings utilize are those called parallelisms and/or chiastic structures.

Parallelisms are often found as thought parallels. This is a structure where one statement is followed by another statement that expands upon the previous statement. For instance in our verse, the statement ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” is a completive parallel. ‘A son is given’ completes and expands the statement ‘Unto us a child is born’.

Chiastic structure is found throughout scripture as well. This is a little more difficult to discern but doing so often will yield a wealth of insight from the Spirit of God. A chiasm is a structure that has parallelisms that connect with and bracket a central statement.

For instance, in Isaiah 9:6, (acknowledging that the numbering of verses is not inspired), there is a central thought “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor…” Before and after this statement are three statements that parallel each other.

“……….For unto us a child is born…”

“………………….Unto us a Son is given”

“………………………………and the government will be upon His shoulder,

“………………………………………………His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor...

……………………………….(called) Mighty God

“………………..(called) Everlasting Father”

“……..(called) Prince of Peace”

In a normal chiastic structure, the first statement connects to the last statement, such as “For unto us a child is born (who shall be called) the Prince of Peace”. Next the second statements would connect: “Unto us a Son is given (who shall be called) the Everlasting Father”. Then the final connection is; “and the government shall be on His shoulders (who shall be called) the Mighty God”.

Now what if in this case, instead of true chiastic structure we looked at the arrangement a little differently? Perhaps the Hebrew scholars would identify this arrangement as a staircase with a landing rather than a chiastic structure. In this way the first statement in the set before ‘His name shall be called’ connects with the first statement in the set that comes after the central statement:

“……….For unto us a child is born…”

“………………….Unto us a Son is given”

“………………………………and the government will be upon His shoulder,

“………………………………………………His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor…”

………..(called) Mighty God

“………………….(called) Everlasting Father”

“………………………………(called) Prince of Peace”

So then, here the thought parallels are:

“For unto us a Child is born (who shall be called) the Mighty God”;

“Unto us a Son is given (who shall be called) The Everlasting Father”;

“And the government shall be upon HIs shoulders (who shall be called) the Prince of Peace”

Seismic Shifts

Now what I find enriching and fascinating is that the central statement gives us two descriptive names that mean ‘beyond comprehension’ (Wonderful) and ‘able to reveal’ (Counselor). Isn’t it beautiful that the person that this describes is one who is at once unknowable and yet one who is able to reveal Himself?

So in this manner these thought parallels challenge our paradigms because they describe:

  • The One who is both a child that is born and at the same time one who is able to reveal Himself as Mighty God;
  • The One who is at once a Son that is given and yet is able to reveal Himself as The Everlasting Father;
  • The One who is at once the one to whom is given authority to judge the world in righteousness and yet He is able to reveal Himself as the Prince of Peace.

It is no wonder that the Jewish leaders had a difficult time recognizing Jesus and yet…who but Jesus of Nazareth fulfills such an illogical destiny?

The people of Jesus’ day struggled with this paradox as they watched this one who the religious rulers declared to be a sinner and a blasphemer, do works that only God could do:

“And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things (paradoxos) today!”

Luke 5:26 NKJV

Nicodemus, the great Pharisee teacher saw these things and struggled to understand:

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him…”

… Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?”

John 3:1-2, 9-10 NKJV

Clearly, the Apostle Paul, (formerly a Pharisee of the Pharisees named Saul) struggled with this paradox when He concluded:

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.”

1 Timothy 3:16 NKJV

Spiritual Shifts

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 KJV

So the ‘mystery of unbelief’ is actually not so much a mystery as belief is. (Awareness of this fact is helpful in our evangelistic efforts.) Faith is both a reasonable response to revelation and at the same time it is contrary to reasoned expectations. How is the Spirit of God able to break through our hard hearts and entrenched paradigms in order for us to know the unknowable, to see Him whose essence is concealed? How can we be separated from such thick darkness except by uncreated light?

Only the Lord Jesus who is Himself eternal light could emerge sinless out of the dark superstitions and poverty of a ghetto called Nazareth. From this least esteemed of places He brings the light of truth throughout the darkened and cynical world. By this means, He reaches into even our own darkened hearts through the light of the glorious gospel.

‘Tis mystery all, the eternal dies,

Who can explore this strange design?

In vain the first born seraph tries

to plumb the depths of Grace Divine…

In the end, all God asks of us is to lay aside our blinding biases and our paralyzing paradigms in order to believe Him when He speaks…and to love Him for who He is to us even more than for what He does for us.

‘Tis mercy all, Let earth adore,

Let Angel minds inquire no more


Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I have included Blue Letter Bible links to the scriptures cited. When you click on them, it will open a new window to that reference.

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Thank you and may the Lord richly bless you today.


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