Isaiah’s basic meaning is that the Messiah will be fatherly in his love and concern for the people of God. He will care for the household of God just as a righteous and devoted Israelite dad would look after his children.
There is one passage that each of us will hear a dozen times over Christmas: ‘For unto us a child is born, for unto us a Son is given…And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ (Is. 9:6). There is a puzzle in this verse that a lot of Christians never pause to figure out. What does it mean that Jesus is ‘Everlasting Father’? Most Christians with a basic understanding of the gospel can make sense of Jesus being Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace. These labels fit well with our understanding of the story of redemption. Yet, Jesus being called ‘father’ does not square with how we typically think about the Savior. How do we make sense of this unusual title for the Messiah?
A good starting point is to recognise that when Isaiah refers to the Christ as ‘father’ he does not mean that the eternal Son of God is ‘father’ in relation to the first person of the Trinity. Before God the Father, Jesus is the eternally begotten Son. In the old language of the creeds, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father.
Having side-stepped this confusion, we are now in a better place to understand the text. Isaiah’s basic meaning is that the Messiah will be fatherly in his love and concern for the people of God. He will care for the household of God just as a righteous and devoted Israelite dad would look after his children.
So far, so good. Yet, this just leads to a further question. How would Isaiah have understood the roles and responsibilities of a pious father? To answer this question a little Old Testament background is required.