Isaiah prophesied about a virgin who would “conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). But it seems that Mary and Joseph never called Jesus by this name. Years later, the apostle Matthew referred to Isaiah’s prophecy, specifying once again that, “they shall call His name Immanuel” (1:22-23). Many have wondered why, if the promised Son of Mary was supposed to be called “Immanuel,” this name is never used in the New Testament?
The Greek transliteration of the Heb. ‘Immanu’ El, means literally, “God with us.” That is to deliver us from our enemies. The Son of God came to dwell, not only among us, but to be identified with the human family (John 1:1–3, 14; Rom. 8:1–4; Phil. 2:6–8; Heb. 2:16, 17). The name Immanuel was a sign name ordained of God to testify to God’s presence with His people to guide, to protect, and to bless.
The term God with us is also seen in the OT. While other nations went down in defeat, Judah would be sustained; while Israel was to perish, Judah would live. When Sennacherib came against the land of Judah to destroy it, Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, no doubt found in Isaiah’s words regarding Immanuel a source of confidence and strength. In his message of encouragement to the people of Jerusalem Hezekiah assures them, “with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (2 Chron. 32:7, 8).
To better understand what Isaiah meant by the name Immanuel, it is helpful to consider what the prophet wrote two chapters later. In prophesying about the Messiah, Isaiah wrote: “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). Did Isaiah mean by this that the Messiah would literally have as His given name “Wonderful,” “Counselor,” or “Everlasting Father”?
These names were given to describe the nature of the Messiah, not serve as literal, given names. Likewise, “Emmanuel” was not so much a personal name as it was a title descriptive of Christ’s mission (Isa. 9:6, 7; 1 Cor. 10:4). The name Jesus was a literal name while “Immanuel” characterized Christ’s essence.
In His service,