Light for the Last Days

Mary and Joseph, what really was at stake


34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1.34-38

This amazing proposition is given to Mary. She has this immense task entrusted to her: to conceive and to bear the Son of God in her womb, and to bring Him forth.

And what does she say? She says: ‘Let it be done to me according to your word.

I love that. Mary just accepts it and believes, and says, ‘Yes, let it be done to me. Let it be done.

She accepts it and she accepts all the difficulty it’s going to bring into her life and all the potential problems because she has faith, and she recognizes that an immense privilege has been given to her.

Mary is now a woman who is prophesied in scripture going back to the first messianic prophecy in the Book of Genesis which speaks about ‘the seed of the woman who will bruise the head of the serpent.

Someone is going to be born to a woman, who is the Messiah, who is going to break the power of Satan over humanity and Mary is that woman. She’s the woman of Isaiah chapter 7 verse 14. The virgin is going to conceive in her womb and bring forth the son and call his name Emmanuel.

14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7.14

Isaiah 7.14, which is another very contested prophecy in the scriptures. I won’t have time to go into the details, but I can tell you that Isaiah 7.14 is a prophecy of the virgin birth no question. I’ve written a long article about this in the Messiah factor website and if you have questions about it, then you can look it up and see how it fits in with the Hebrew scriptures, how it fits in with the time when it was given, and how it can only be fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah who is the fruit of the prophecy of Isaiah 7.14.

Mary is a person who has been given this immense task and I wonder what she thought about it. What do you think? What was going through her mind when she heard this? And when she conceived, when she realized that she was pregnant, she had to go and tell Joseph. How was she going to cope with the situation? Can you imagine how much this must have been a huge question which was confronting him?

Mary has one problem she must face. What’s she going to tell Joseph? When we go back to Matthew’s Gospel, we find that this is an issue. Let’s go back to Matthew chapter 1.

It says,

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.

Matthew 1.18-19

Mary’s situation at the time of the conception then is that she is betrothed to Joseph but not yet married. What do we mean by betrothed? What’s the significance of her being betrothed?

It’s a lot more than our idea of engagement. You know, you get engaged and you get married. Sometimes people get engaged then they don’t get married, they break off the engagement.

In Bible times, when you had a betrothal, it wasn’t as simple as just saying ‘well, let’s not go through with this betrothal’. It was a solemn act which was not to be broken. It was sealed with a contract. And, after betrothal, the couple spent a year or so apart: the husband to prepare a home for his bride and the bride to prepare for becoming a wife and a mother. They made a commitment before God and before the community in the act of betrothal. The commitment that they’re going to live along life together in union in matrimony but not yet come together in sexual relations.

Kiddushin – Betrothal – Marriage (

In order to break off from betrothal you needed to have a divorce letter. It was a formal arrangement, you couldn’t just say, ‘okay, we won’t go through with this.’ So, there had to be an act which would break off the betrothal. I was thinking about this.

The only way in which God could perform this miracle of the virgin birth was to a woman who was betrothed and not yet married.

I’ll tell you why. If she’s already married, obviously she’s not a virgin anymore. If she’s not married and she’s not betrothed, then that’s going to leave her as a single mother. She’s going to be vulnerable. Jesus had to be born into a normal family, with a father and mother, and later, with brothers and sisters who would come along after His birth.

Interestingly, in the Qur’anic explanation of Jesus’ birth, Mary remains an unmarried mother. But the Quran has got everything wrong, so don’t worry about that.

Jesus must be born to a virgin who must conceive Him. And the virgin must have a potential partner/husband who can look after the baby when He’s born. If she’s an unmarried mother, it’s going to be troublesome. Now, if she’s betrothed and the husband then rejects her when learning of her pregnancy, that also represents trouble and the baby Jesus will be born into a very precarious situation, and Mary would be in a very precarious situation. She would be an object of shame outside of society and life would be very difficult for her.

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 

Matthew 1.19

So, it’s important how Joseph responds, and Joseph’s initial response was to put her away privately and not make a public example of her. In other words, he was going to make it as good for her as he could do but still, he was going to put her away, not marry her. That was his response because, as far as he was concerned, if you get pregnant, then, obviously, something wrong has happened, and he couldn’t go through with the marriage.

Therefore, the Angel of the Lord must come to him to tell him to go ahead with it. And you notice the explanation he provides him with in verse 20.

20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Matthew 1.20-21

This explains what has happened, that this really is Mary telling you the truth. She has had a visitation from an angel who has come to her. And the child who is conceived in her womb is of the Holy Spirit and is therefore something much more than a normal child. He is going to be called Yeshua Jesus saviour and He’s going to be the Messiah.

So, you’d better go through with this Joseph and not put away Mary but look after her and take care of her as your lawful wife. And, after the child has been born, then you can have normal relationships with Mary.

The catholic idea is that Mary was the perpetual virgin. That’s not born out in the last verse (verse 25) where it says Joseph did not ‘know her, that is, did not have sexual relations with her till she brought forth her firstborn son. The implication is that, after that, he did have relations with Mary and that Jesus had brothers and sisters which the Bible tells you took place.

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

Matthew 1:24-25

But the firstborn was born in this supernatural way and, initially, we see that Joseph doesn’t believe her but, because of the intervention of the angel, he does not give her a divorce paper, he doesn’t end the betrothal and, in fact, goes on to marry her and take care of her.

Don’t put her away’ the angel says, ‘she’s carrying the baby who’s going to be the Messiah, the Lord.’ This is the only situation in which the virgin birth would have worked.

It’s important that both these people played their part and God was overruling circumstances and making sure that each person, Joseph, and Mary understood what was happening by sending the angel Gabriel to inform them of what was taking place.

The virgin birth was necessary because Jesus must be born without sin, without the contamination of original sin which every one of us has starting with Adam and Eve down to each one of us all over the world. Each one of us is tainted by the original sin which covers every human being on the face of the earth.

In order to redeem us from this, the Messiah has to be without sin. He must be born in a supernatural way in order for Him to be son of God and son of man.

And God was going to come into the world in this human form, fully human and yet, fully divine as well; conceived in the womb to be born as a child, to live up the first 30 years of his life in obscurity, in Nazareth, but all that time still son of God. He was, all that time, ‘God with us’.

He came in this way so that he could identify with lost humanity. He wasn’t going to come this time like a sort of spaceman out of space, suddenly appearing and zapping us and telling us what to do. He was to become one of us to experience what we experience so that He could know the reality of life and yet also be untainted with the reality of sin which every one of us is tainted with; to experience what we’ve experienced but without sin, and to fulfil the prophecies we’ve already looked at in Isaiah 7 (the virgin birth), Isaiah 9 to be the son is born but also to be the mighty God.

He’s going to come with His glory veiled as it says also in Isaiah 53, Philippians chapter 2, yet His glory will be revealed to those who come to believe in Him. And when He comes again the second time, He will come this time with His glory unveiled, He will come with all the power of God King of kings, and Lord of lords, and this time he will come as someone coming from outside of time into our time to put right the mess which we’ve made of the earth, which He gave us to look after. That’s another story.

The Bible Journey | Mary & Joseph go to Bethlehem

In the meantime, this is the only way which God can come into the world, through the virgin birth. And both Mary and Joseph had to play their part and what we see is that both of them played their part admirably, perfectly. We see that Joseph took care of Mary and of Jesus when Herod wanted to kill Him as Satan put that into his mind to try and kill Jesus at birth. Joseph had to take the initiative to make sure that Jesus was safe, take him out of the way of danger and to take him down to Egypt and then bring him back when the danger was over. And we see Joseph playing his part and Mary playing her part, and we give thanks to God for them because through them we can have salvation through Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah.

Tony Pearce

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