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Joy to the world—In Double Measure

By Marian Merour

“Joy to the World” is one of the best known and most loved English-language Christmas carols, but there’s more to its message than most people realize.

The first verse captures the overwhelming joy and excitement at the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, 2,000 years ago.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

But now take a close look at the second verse.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ…

The Jesus that was born in a Bethlehem manger didn’t reign over all the earth, or even part of it. To the contrary, He was rejected, betrayed, ridiculed, and crucified. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” 1 All of the prophecies in the Bible about the Messiah ruling the world in love—“He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth,” 2 for example—refer to Jesus’ second coming.

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

These lines echo another Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah: “For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” 3

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

That prophecy about the mountains and trees rejoicing goes on to say, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” 4 Thorns and thistles were part of the curse God put on the earth after the fall of man, 5 and they continue to this day, so clearly these lines are also about Jesus’ return. Another prophecy, this one from the final chapter of the New Testament, which is about Heaven, says: “There shall be no more curse [of sin], but the throne of God and of the Lamb [Jesus] shall be in it [the Heavenly City, New Jerusalem], and His servants shall serve Him.” 6

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Although His blessings are plentiful and wonderful now, when He comes back to live among us as “King of kings and Lord of Lords,” 7 we will experience His blessings in an even more tangible way. Now He lives in us, but then He will live among us, for all the nations to see and everyone to know. “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord.” 8 “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” “The God of Heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.” 9 “You [Jesus] shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations on earth.” 10

When Jesus came the first time, He showed us what God was like, taught us how to live, and paid for our salvation with His own blood. That certainly gives us reason to rejoice. But we can be joyful in double measure, in advance, for His promised return, when He will lift the curse, restore peace and harmony to this world, and rule it in love. He didn’t bring joy to the world once, but He keeps giving and giving and giving, now and forever!

1 John 1:10–11
2 Psalm 96:13
3 Isaiah 55:12
4 Isaiah 55:12
5 Genesis 3:17–18
6 Revelation 22:3
7 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14
8 Jeremiah 31:34
9 Daniel 2:44
10 Psalm 67:4