“On His Shoulders” – The Cruciform Archē – Brad Jersak

Isaiah 9

For to us a child is born,
    to 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.”
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
    to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The messianic prophecies of Isaiah 9 are frequently cited during Christmas, especially as Isaiah 9:6 begins, “For unto us a child is born…” The One who Isaiah foresaw began his earthly reign in a humble manger. But today, I learned from my careful Bible teacher (John Behr) how Isaiah 9 also points to the Cross.

Let’s begin with the word “government.” In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT that NT authors preferred), they used the word archē (ἀρχή). That’s a remarkable choice because it’s the same word they used in Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning” and that John used in the prologue to his gospel, “In the beginning.

What they recognize in Isaiah 9 is that archē doesn’t really refer to time at all. They had another word they could have used for that (protos). Rather, archē refers to origins, to the source, the “first principles” of something. And by extension, archē is what rules, reigns or governs. The archē could then be seen in terms of an empire or the ruling government.

In Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, we see that God the divine Word is the source and origin, as well as the governing Lord from all eternity and over all creation. But what is the nature of that rule? Does our Lord Jesus Christ rule from a lofty castle or imposing throne, wielding the sword of divine force to bring us into submission?

This is where theologians like Irenaeus or Behr see to the heart of the matter. Watch carefully: where does the government—the archē, the authority—of Christ rest? On his shoulders. Picture it. What do you see? Here is what Irenaeus saw:

Isaiah 9:5, “Unto us a Son is given and the government [ἀρχή] will be upon his shoulder’ refers: to the cross, upon which his shoulders were nailed, for that which was and is a reproach for him and, through him, for us, the cross, that, he says is his government, which is a sign of his reign. (Demonstration, 56).

What a stunning revelation. The sign of Christ’s reign is not a landslide election, a military parade or any show of worldly power. The sign of Christ’s reign—his archēis the Cross. And what does this Cross represent? Paul Young describes the Cross as the quintessential sign of agapē—God’s self-giving, others-centered, sacrificial love. That is what it is to be God. That is how God created and rules the universe. That is how Christ restores the cosmos and how he recreates you and me.

Glory be to God! But it’s not like any glory we’ve ever seen. It’s the glory of the King whose throne was a cross and whose crown was a martyr’s wreath. Who wore his government on his shoulders.

Picture of Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More