A Survey of Messianic Prophecy
Jesus is the central theme of the Bible, and the prophecies which were written beforehand about Him and His coming are referred to as Messianic Prophecy. Messianic prophecy not only shows the existence, power, and wisdom of God, but also shows Him in the context of His divine plan for the salvation of mankind. Because of the importance of these prophecies, this section will cover several. What is interesting, however, is that we are still only scratching the surface - there are dozens of vivid and detailed prophecies foretelling the story of Jesus.
This section should also be of special interest to the non-believer. Because there is no other area of prophecy more extensive, it is difficult to conclude that this vast amount of foretelling could be coincidence. Additionally, since the fulfillment of these prophecies is recorded in the New Testament, with its powerful bibliographic and external evidence, the accuracy of the details is superb.
"Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, 'By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.'" (Gen 22:15-18)
The story of Jesus begins with his heritage in the Hebrew family. Moses writes here that the earth would be blessed through the seed of Abraham. Paul explains in Galatians 3:16 that this seed was singular because it describes one individual - Jesus Christ. Additionally Moses also quotes the prophet Balaam,
"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth." (Numbers 24:17)
Jesus would also come from the family of Jacob. And Jeremiah tells of Jesus coming through the family of David,
"'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land.'" (Jeremiah 23:5)
Again, these are just a few of the prophecies pertaining to the heritage of Jesus - there are several others. The fulfillment of each can be verified in the first chapter of Matthew by briefly reading the genealogy of Jesus.
One of the most fascinating prophecies about Jesus is made by the prophet Daniel, concerning the timeframe in which the Messiah would come.
"So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress." (Daniel 9:25)
Daniel tells of a specific period of time - sixty-nine weeks (seven weeks and sixty-two weeks) - beginning from when the decree is issued to rebuild the city of Jerusalem preceding the coming of Jesus. I love this prophecy because it is not vague or figurative, but clear and precise.
The term weeks as used in this verse is the Hebrew word "shabua", meaning seven. It does not necessarily mean seven days as westerners think when they hear the word week; rather it means seven time periods - usually days or years. It is evident that Daniel is indicating years here by the context. Additionally, Daniel helps us understand his intent when he writes about seven days as he does in 10:2-3, by stating seven days. In 10:2-3, where he is obviously talking about seven-day periods, not seven-year periods (he didn't eat for three weeks), the Hebrew text says "yom shabua" (yom means day) rather than "shabua". How precise Daniel is.
So Daniel states that 483 years (69 x 7 = 483) from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem the Messiah will come. It is here that I will state that while virtually all scholars maintain that this prophecy was fulfilled with great precision many differ on how this prophecy was fulfilled. In order to provide a clear example of what I mean by saying how it was fulfilled, and to provide a somewhat objective view of the fulfillment, I have provided two examples of explanation.
The challenge in understanding this prophecy begins with the fact that there is more than one decree to rebuild Jerusalem. For example Nehemiah records the decree made by Artaxerxes in 444 BC,
"And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, 'Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.' Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, 'Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?' Then the king said to me, 'What would you request?' So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, 'If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it.' Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, 'How long will your journey be, and when will you return?' So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, 'If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.' And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me." (Nehemiah 2:1-8)
On the other hand, Ezra records the following decree by Cyrus, which took much later,
"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 'Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.'" (Ezra 1:1-4)
Which decree then is the one Daniel is talking about? Which one is the beginning point of the 483 years preceding the Messiah? 444 BC or 583 BC? To make things a bit more complex there are also the decrees in Ezra 5:3ff. - the decree of Darius - and in Exra 7:11ff. - the decree of Artaxerxes to Ezra.
H.W. Hoehner scrutinized the issue in his work Chronological Aspects in the Life of Christ. Hoehner indicates that the correct decree must have been the one mentioned in Nehemiah 2, as only that decree addresses the restoration of the city in addition to the rebuilding of the temple. Hoehner concludes that 483 years from that date, with each Jewish year being 360 days, terminates squarely in 33 AD, at the time of the cross. He goes into much more detail, but you get the idea.
In contrast, many hold the view that the decree to Ezra in 458 BC is correct. Jim McGuiggan, while not agreeing, explains succinctly,
The non-millennial and chronological view goes like this. The command to rebuild the city begins with 458 BC when Artaxerxes gives approval for Ezra to go to Jerusalem (see Ezra 7:1ff).
The text says (9:25) from that command until the Messiah is 69 weeks (sevens) which, according to this view, is equal to 483 years. Add 483 years to 458 BC and you get 25-26 AD. Interestingly enough, this is about the year that Jesus was baptized and received the anointing of the Spirit. 1
Regardless of which explanation one might subscribe to (and there are many other points of view not represented here) the prophecy is profound. A more thorough examination of this prophecy is beyond the scope of this document, but this is one of those cases where you can see that any of these renderings is close enough to demonstrate the evidence of divine origin. Let's not miss the forest for the trees. Daniel foretold the time of Jesus with incredible precision.
Along with this extraordinary passage about the timeframe of Christ's birth, there is prophecy about the place of His birth. Contrast the words of Micah with the records of Matthew,
"But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity." (Micah 5:2)
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?'" (Matthew 2:1-2)
"But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them." (Isaiah 9:1-2)
Isaiah records this wonderful prophecy about the life of Jesus, indicating that He would have a ministry to the people of Galilee. And if there is any question about whom the light is, verse 6 explains,
"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."
While the prophecies about the lineage, birth, and life of Jesus are fascinating, the prophecies of His death give the story meaning. In His death we see the love of God exposed, and the prophecies which foretell the events clearly magnify this great love.
The tragic story of the death begins with the betrayal of Jesus by His close friend - none other than Judas Iscariot. The prophecy is recorded by the psalmist, and the historical event by Matthew.
"Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me." (Psalm 41:9)
"As they were eating, He said, 'Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.' Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, 'Surely not I, Lord?' And He answered, 'He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.' And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, 'Surely it is not I, Rabbi?' Jesus said to him, 'You have said it yourself.'" (Matthew 26:21-25)
The prophet Zechariah foretells more about Judas. Take note of the following prophecy,
"I said to them, 'If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!' So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the LORD said to me, 'Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.' So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD." (Zechariah 11:12-13)
Within this short discourse are at least six distinct details foretold about the betrayal of Jesus. First, there are thirty shekels given, not twenty-nine, thirty-five, or forty. Second, silver, not gold is paid. Third, a potter is noted as the recipient of the money. Fourth, the money is brought into the house of the Lord, not on the street, or in another location. Fifth, the money is thrown, not handed or laid down. Sixth, the Lord says this is the value placed on Him. Precisely as predicted, these details were seen in the fulfillment of this prophecy, as recorded by Matthew,
"…and said, "What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?" And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him." (Matthew 26:15) "Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, 'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.' But they said, 'What is that to us? See to that yourself!' And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, 'It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.' And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers." (Matthew 27:3-7)
Zechariah also foretells of the duplicity of the rest of the Apostles. Matthew confirms the fulfillment at the time Jesus is arrested.
"Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones." (Zechariah 13:7)
"At that time Jesus said to the crowds, 'Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets.' Then all the disciples left Him and fled. (Matthew 26:55-56)
After Jesus was betrayed and arrested, He endured six trials, various beatings, abuse, and mocking. These events were recorded more than 800 years prior to their occurrence. There are many places where we can read prophecies about the torture that Jesus suffered. Here are just a few examples.
"I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6)
"But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed… He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth." (Isaiah 53:5,7)
"All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, 'Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.'" (Psalm 22:7-8)
"For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me;" (Psalm 22:16-17)
One can only imagine the pain and agony of hanging on that cross, hands and feet pierced, bones being pulled from their joints so visibly that they can be counted. As expected, Matthew 27 documents the fulfillment of each of these foretold facts.
Notice the precision of the next prophecy, when compared to the fulfillment documented by John. Were the garments of Jesus divided up, or did the soldiers cast lots to gain them? John indicates both, just as the prophecy indicates,
"They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." (Psalm 22:18)
"Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, 'Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be'; this was to fulfill the Scripture." (John 19:23-24)
And again, specific detail as documented by John is foretold by the Psalmist,
They also gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." (Psalm 69:21)
"After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth." (John 19:28-29)
John continues telling the final minutes of Jesus life as follows,
"Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, 'It is finished!' And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. (John 19:30-34)
Notice how wonderfully this corresponds to the prophecies of Zechariah and David recorded hundreds of years before,
"I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn." (Zechariah 12:10)
"He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken." (Psalm 34:20)
At the time of Jesus' death several other interesting things happened. Of chief interest is a great earthquake and darkness over the land. Matthew records these events,
"Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour… And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split." (Matthew 27:45,51)
As noted in contemporary testimony of the Bible, even the pagan writer Origen confirms these events,
"And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles." 2
Even more amazing is the fact that Amos foretells these events several hundred years earlier,
"The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob, 'Indeed, I will never forget any of their deeds. Because of this will not the land quake and everyone who dwells in it mourn? Indeed, all of it will rise up like the Nile, And it will be tossed about And subside like the Nile of Egypt. It will come about in that day,' declares the Lord GOD, 'that I will make the sun go down at noon and make the earth dark in broad daylight. Then I will turn your festivals into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring sackcloth on everyone's loins and baldness on every head. And I will make it like a time of mourning for an only son, and the end of it will be like a bitter day.'" (Amos 8:7-10)
Incredible! On that day - a day of mourning for an only son - the earth will shake and the sun will go down at noon. If you are not familiar with the Jewish clock, you may want to note that the Jewish day begins at 6:00am and ends at 6:00pm. The day is then divided into three-hour increments - the third hour is 9:00am, etc. With that in mind, notice that the sun went down on the day that Jesus died from the sixth hour until the ninth hour - as recorded by Matthew. The sixth hour is noon! Amos named the precise hour of darkness on the day that Jesus died; and he did it more than 700 years prior. Truly this could only have been done by the power of God.
Finally, Jesus was not to stay in the defeated state of death. The Old Testament prophets also foretold this with great precision. Not only would Jesus be raised, He would be raised on the third day.
"For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay." (Psalm 16:10)
"He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him." (Hosea 6:2)
The handful of prophecy above is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that the diligent student can discover. There are many more prophecies about Jesus' coming, lineage, ministry, betrayal, death, resurrection, and ascension to be studied and celebrated. Hopefully though, this short overview has enabled you to see the Bible from a new vista. Truly this divine knowledge did not come from men, but from the almighty Creator.
|McGuiggan, Jim. Daniel. Lubbock, Texas: Montex Publishing Company. p. 147.
|Origen. Against Celsus 2.33, from Roberts, Alexander, and Donaldson, James, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdsmans Publishing Co., 1973.