Foretypes of Nativity: What Did Prophets Say about the Coming of the Savior?

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.”
(Isaiah 9:2)

Not only Old Testament prophets and all godly Israelites were looking forward to the coming of the Savior. Great minds of the antique civilization also anticipated it, albeit implicitly and almost without realizing it. We should mention the great Virgil who describes the birth of a wonderful baby who will save the world from evil and bring the golden age back to earth in his 4th Eclogue. He foreshadows the time when there will be no more wars nor illnesses, when the earth will tend to all human needs and animals will stop eating one another. Virgil lived in an era when people were disappointed by pagan gods and lost all moral values—a time when messianic aspirations were getting stronger and stronger among the Jews who were waiting for the advent of their King.

Meanwhile, the prophets of old heralded the Coming of the Messiah centuries before Virgil. Their spiritual eyes penetrated deep into the mysterious age when God will walk among His people and when everyone will possess knowledge of God. There are plenty of prophetic gems scattered all over the pages of Old Testament books. The Lord once said, Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (John 5:39). Apostle Philip joyfully exclaims, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (John 1:45). Let’s recall some of the Old Testament prophecies about the Coming of Christ the Savior of the world.

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. (Numbers 24:17). Our Lord Jesus Christ comes forth from the midst of the chosen people, as the guiding Star that leads the “lost sheep”, as the Commander of the weary God-loving troops. He commits a heroic act of divine love, extending Abraham’s blessing  not only to the descendants of Jacob but also to all children of Sheth, that is, to all humans who believe in Him.

This prophecy was uttered by Balaam. The Magi were Balaam’s successors, and they stored those records, apparently. It was this prophecy that led them to embark on their journey, when they realized that a new star appeared in the night sky precisely above Judea (St. Eusebius of Caesarea). Quicker than the Israelites who remained indifferent to the words of holy prophets, they realized that the prophecy was being fulfilled. They came and, having found Him, immediately worshiped Him; they demonstrated such great faith that they treated the Baby with royal honors. (St. Caesarius of Arles)
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2). According to St. Ephraim of Syria, this prophecy points at the physical birth of the Logos in Bethlehem from the Virgin. “The Prophet didn’t simply say, He is from thee. Instead, he says, Out of thee shall he come, that is, he shall come out of thee in flesh; He did not inherit the nature by which He is eternal—the original Divine nature—from you because the origin of that nature lies in the eternity.”

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him… And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them… And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. (Is. 11:1-10).

St Ambrose of Milan writes, “The flower is Christ, who comes forth out of the stem of Judah, i.e., the Most Pure Virgin Mary, exterminates the foul smell of the worldly filth and spreads the fragrance of eternal life; when He shines his light on our actions and sheds his aroma in the field of our soul or fills his Church with the breath of spring, we cannot fear the frost, nor be afraid of the rain. We must wait for the day of judgment.”

The prophecy of the great Isaiah predicts that the doctrine and the actions of Christ will unite myriads of previously divided and lost people of various faiths looking for the divine love, righteousness, and truth. They shall find what they’re looking for “within the Holy Church.” The allegory about peace among various animals, which somehow also inspired Virgil, is explained by Saint Gregory the Great, “The calf and the lion and the lamb will dwell together because the first who prepares himself to a regular sacrifice in spite of his tormented heart, and the second who was furious and cruel like a lion, and the third who endured pain like a simple and innocent lamb, all join the Church. This is the love that enkindles the diversity of minds, lights up, melts, and transforms people in one single golden whole.

The Orthodox Church calls all Her faithful children to celebrate the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ with dignity, having prepared their souls for this great holiday with fast and prayer. Let us draw strength from God’s Word. Let us devote some time to the ruminations about the prophecies, which will be quoted even during the Great Compline on Christmas Eve:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
The mighty God,
The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end!
(Isaiah 9:6-7)


By John Nichiporuk,

a Bachelor of Theology,
specialized in Biblical Studies.

The Catalog Of Good Deeds, 2018