IMAGINE that I own a book publishing company, Pepper Publications. I contract with a cookbook author and tell her that she can include any recipes she wants. The only requirement is that she needs to include pepper in every recipe. There is a filter that requires pepper to be one of the ingredients throughout the book.

I believe the Holy Spirit superintended the canon—meaning the completed Bible as we have it—to be similar. By the time the canon was closed, there was a messianic filter. The entire canon of Scripture is messianic. Whoever closed the canon had a messianic hope and expressed it in the way the parts came together. The same is true for individual authors like Isaiah. Consider Isaiah 7:14, the passage about the almah. Usually we focus on analyzing whether almah means virgin and whether there was a near fulfillment or a distant fulfillment or both. But that may not be the best way to approach the passage.

Think of a drawing of three stick men. The first one is Isaiah speaking, the second one is Isaiah writing, and the third is Isaiah editing his own words in order to give us the Book of Isaiah as we have it in our Bibles today. We don’t know everything Isaiah said, and we don’t even know everything he wrote because the Book of Isaiah is only a portion of that. Messianic prophecy is not the event of Isaiah speaking or writing. Isaiah may have originally said something in a particular context that is now lost to us, but the context of the final Book of Isaiah is intentionally messianic. Isaiah applied a messianic filter to everything he included in his final book.

Let me use an analogy from contemporary music. Imagine that I’m a DJ who plays nothing but the Beatles. I decide that I’m going to play Beatles songs in a way that allows me to make my own statements. The first hour will have a love theme, the second will be political, and so on. For the first hour, I filter just Beatle love songs. They may or may not have love titles, but now they all function as love songs to my wife. I have put them together in such a way that there is a “love filter.”

Then we move on to the political hour. The lyrics come gently over the air: “Blackbird singing in the dead of night…” Is this about bird watching? No, the fact that it is in the political section means that you have to interpret it through a “political filter.” And as it happens, the song is about Martin Luther King, Jr.

So why is Isaiah 7:14 messianic? Because it is part of that hour of radio playtime. Isaiah chapters 7-11 is a whole thematic hour of playing messianic songs, in which the context determines the meaning of the parts. Isaiah 7:14 is messianic because it is in the Book of Isaiah, which was put together to be intentionally and deliberately messianic. Nothing gets into Isaiah’s final version of his words unless it includes pepper, which is to say, unless it gets through that messianic filter.

For more, listen to Jhan’s complete series of Bible studies on Isaiah, available as downloadable MP3s at