When I was a new Christian, I read several Christian apologetic books that stated there are over 300 Messianic prophecies that are all fulfilled in Jesus. At the time I thought this was a convincing evidential apologetic for the truth claims of our faith. But as the years have gone by, I have realized this approach to Messianic prophecy is not as effective as one might think. Now please let me clarify: I do think there is Messianic prophecy. Prophecy was one of the primary ways the apostles spread the faith in the first century. However, I think we need to tweak our approach. I have taught on this subject on several occasions. In my opinion, here are some helpful tips:
#1: Messianic prophecy does matter for the following reasons:
1. The Bible is considered to be God’s revelation to mankind. However, The Quran, The Book of Mormon, and other holy books are considered to be God’s word. Messianic prophecy has apologetic value in that it confirms the Bible as a true revelation.
2. Historical Verification: Has God revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this?
3. While prophecy does not prove the existence of God, it does show that unusual events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity.
4. Fulfilled prophecy is a distinctively accessible and a testable kind of miracle. The prophecy was made and its accuracy cannot be explained either causally (for example, on the ground that it brought about its own fulfillment) or as accidental, and hence that it was probably miraculous (see J.L. Mackie in Swinburne, Miracles, 90).
5. Prophecy is used when God wants to demonstrate his true omniscience by demonstrating he is the one talking. He uses prophecy by declaring in advance what the course of future history will hold. This provides a verification test as to who the true God is and that such a writing is from him.
5. The majority of the Jewish community thinks the Messiah has not come. Is this correct?
#2: How do we define prophecy?
1. Prophecy is the foretelling or prediction of what is to come. People generally think of only prediction—-fulfillment. Not everything called “prophecy” in the Bible is predictive. Prophets forthtold God’s Word as well as foretold the future.
2. A prophet (Heb. nabi) is an authorized spokesperson for God with a message that originated with God and was communicated through a number of means. When God spoke to these spokespersons, they had no choice but to deliver that word to those to whom God directed it.
#3: What does the word “Messianic” mean?
1.“Messianic” has a much wider range of meaning than “Messiah.” “Messianic” usually refers to everything in the Hebrew Bible when it refers to the hope of a glorious future.
2.“Messiah”-“Anointed One” (Heb. messiah),(Gk. Christos) is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.”
3. The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ),kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.”
4.The messianic concept also has a wider dimension than the royal, priestly, and/or prophetic person. Included in this wider view are some of the characteristics, tasks, goals, means, and consequences of the messianic person.
5. To understand messianism, we need to first start by reading the Bible but also read extra-biblical Jewish literature including the Apocrypha, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Targumim, etc, (see Craig A Evans: “Introduction” to Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature).
6. Other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One. Therefore, to say Jesus is the Messiah is like asking whether he is the Son of Man, Prophet, Branch, etc.
7. Remember: the Jewish Scriptures don’t reveal an explicit, fully disclosed, monolithic “messianic concept.” To build on the comments stated here, Stanley Porter says:
Intertestamental and New Testament literature suggests that the expectation was all over the map. Some Jewish people did not expect a Messiah. Others thought that the Messiah would be a priestly figure, still others a royal deliverer. Some scholars interpret the evidence to suggest that at least one group of Jewish thinkers believed there would be two messiahs, one priestly and one royal. From what we know we can be certain that the New Testament did not create the idea of the Messiah. But we can also be sure that there was nothing like a commonly agreed delineation of what the Messiah would be like. The latter point means that modern-day Christians who shake their heads about why the Jewish people did not universally recognize the Messiah, considering all the fulfilled prophecy, really do not understand Old Testament literature.-Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (McMaster New Testament Studies), 29.
#4: View the Messianic Task as a Promise
Messianic prophecy is not a series of independent prognostications, but a series of promises. There is one Messianic promise, which is revealed and expanded on throughout the Hebrew Bible (see Walter Kaiser’s The Messiah in the Old Testament).
Each passage in the Hebrew Bible must be examined in its own context and on its own terms. So Messianic prophecy is one promise developed in a progressive series of revelations rather than several disjointed predictions.
Also, we need to heed the advice of Richard N. Longenecker:
So-called ‘proof from prophecy’ of a direct nature has always been a factor in both a Jewish and a Christian understanding of fulfilment. Sadly, however, some see this as the only factor, and so lay out prophecy-fulfilment relations in a manner approximating mathematical precision. Starting from such basic theological axioms as that there is a God in charge of human affairs and that historical events happen according to his will, they point to a few obvious instances where explicit predictions have been literally fulfilled (as Mi. 5:2, quoted with variation in Mt. 2:5-6) and move on from there to construct an often elaborate and ingenious ‘biblical’ apologetic that is usually more ‘gnostic’ than biblical.
#5: Remember the Hebrew Bible doesn’t use phrases like “First Coming” or “Second Coming”
There are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah comes, he will do x, y, and z. However, as I just said, other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One. Therefore, to say Jesus is the Messiah is like asking whether he is the Son of Man, Prophet, Branch, etc.
One text that is cited about a peaceable kingdom where we see the end of violence in both human society and the world of animals is Isaiah 11: 1-9:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.-Isa. 11: 1-9
Here we see no mention of the word “Messiah.” However, we do see the impact of the rule of Messiah in that the world is a different place. It looks as if there is some sort of utopian order. Christians can try to apply vs 1-5 to the first appearance of Jesus . But now we go to read the rest of the chapter:
“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia,from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish, and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim. They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will subdue Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them. The Lord will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea; with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that anyone can cross over in sandals. There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt.” –Isa. 11: 10-16.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize none of this has taken place yet. Another passage that uses the name “Branch” is Jer. 23:5-8:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
In these texts, it is clear Israel will dwell securely in the land. Has this happened yet? No!
So the lesson here is interpreting some of the prophecies in the Hebrew Bible will largely depend on one’s view of the Abrahamic Covenant and God’s relationship with the Jewish people.
In other words, what are we to do with the several texts in the Jewish Scriptures that speak of the following:
- The Jewish people are regathered to their land both before and after the Exile: Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12: 14-17; 16: 10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14-23; 32:36-44; Ezek.11:14-20;20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16; 23-31;36:16-36;37:1-28;39:21-29.
- The Jewish people are ruled by their Messiah with Jerusalem as its capital: Jer. 23: 5-6; 33:17; Ezek. 37:22, 24; Zech 9: 10; 14:9.
- Israel is recognized by the nations as being blessed: Isa. 62:2; 66:18; Ezek. 36: 23; 36; 37:28; Mal. 3:12.
- The nations go to Jerusalem to worship God: Isa. 2: 2-4; 56: 2-8; 62: 9-11; Jer 16: 19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech 9:16; Zech 14:16-18.
- The Temple is rebuilt with the presence of God in it: Isa. 2:2; 56:6; Ezek 37: 26-28; 40-48; 43:1-7; 48:35.
While this is a complex topic and is heavily debated, for supersessionists , these texts have no future fulfillment. One’s theology can determine one’s hermeneutic and that will determine the conclusion here. I think it is wise to not start with a system and fit the Bible into a system (e.g., systematic theology).
Let’s look at another text:
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.- Isa 2: 1-4
Here we see again there is no mention of the word “Messiah. ” But again, there is mention of a figure that will judge between the nations and there will be a time of peace.
Another similar text that mentions the nations going to Jerusalem to worship a messianic figure is in Zechariah 14. I won’t copy the text. But you can read it here.
So what’s the point? We can’t afford to read these texts out of context. This leads me to my next point:
#6: Remember Prophetic Telescoping: These Prophecies Bridge the First and Second Coming of the Messiah
Prophetic Telescoping is prophecy that bridges the First and Second Comings of the Messiah. In this way, prophecy telescopes forward to a time. The prophets saw future events as distant “peaks” (i.e., events) without an awareness of the large time gaps between them. Also, the prophets understood that history had two major periods—the present age and the age to come–although they did not always make a hard distinction between the two. Prophetic Telescoping stresses progressive revelation which means that God does not reveal everything at once.
There are texts that are fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus. But there is another part that will be fulfilled in the future. In this sense, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).
#7: Some Prophecy has Typological Fulfillment
1. The word “fulfill”- the Greek word for fulfill is “pleroo” which can mean “render full,” “fill up” or “complete”- it means something broader than the “completion of a prediction.” An example of this is seen in Matt 5:17- fulfillment is seen in embodying, bringing to completion, or perfecting.
Some of the features of typology are the following:
1. The prophets did not so much make singular predictions but gave themes or patterns and that these themes have several manifestations or fulfillments in the course of human history.
2. The type and the antitype have a natural correspondence or resemblance. The initial one is called the type (e.g., person, thing, event) and the fulfillment is designated the antitype..
3. The type has historical reality (e.g., Paul declares that Adam “is a figure (a type) of him that was to come”, i.e., the Messiah).
4. The type is a prefiguring or foreshadowing of the antitype. It is predictive/prophetic; it looks ahead and points to the antitype.
Let me give some examples of typological prophecies which fall under three headings:
1.The Passover, for instance, with its spotless lamb (Exodus 12:5) which was slain without any bones being broken (12:46). In this case, the Passover Lamb in the Jewish Scriptures is the type while the antitype is the Messiah (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7), who was without spot or blemish (1 Peter 1:19) and who was slain and also had none of his bones broken (John 19:33ff).
2.The feast of the firstfruits (Leviticus 23:10), i.e., Shavuot was a celebration in which the initial produce of the harvest was offered to God as a token of the full crop to follow. In this case, the type (the Feast of first fruits) is fulfilled in the antitype which is the resurrection of the Messiah who is the “first fruits” offered to God (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23).
3.The Tabernacle and Temple were both central features of the Jewish sacrificial system. They both were initiated by God and were a means where the Jewish people could approach God. In the Bible, the Shechinah is the visible manifestation of the presence of God in which He descends to dwell among men. The Shechinah glory is seen in a variety of visible manifestations such as light, fire, a cloud, the Angel of the Lord, or a combination of all of these. The glory of God would descend in both the Tabernacle and Temple as well.
Therefore, in relation to the coming of the Messiah, the Shechinah takes on greater significance in John 1: 1-14. As John says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” “Dwelt” ( σκήνωμα), means to “live or camp in a tent” or figuratively in the New Testament to”dwell, take up one’s residence, come to reside (among).” So i John 1:14 literally says,” the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. Therefore, both the Tabernacle and the Temple were types in the Jewish Scriptures that are fulfilled in the anti-type which is the person of Jesus.
The Binding of Isaac Story
The Binding of Isaac or the “Akedah” tells the account of when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Because of Abraham’s faith God would be able to resurrect the slain Isaac. The sacrifice of Isaac is the type in that the Messiah is the antitype in the following respects: (1) They both involve the sacrifice by a father of his only son; (2) They both symbolize a complete dedication on the part of the offerer; (3) It speaks of both a death and resurrection.
Even though we have already mentioned this King David was was type of the Messiah in that he was a son of God in the sense of being a Davidic King who was a ruler and who had an intimate relationship with God. But the role of King David pointed towards a greater king who is the antitype- the Messiah.
Let’s look at Romans 1:1-5
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We see the following:
Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essense. The appointment is not in terms of his nature but in terms of his work as a mediator—the messianic age has dawned. Jesus is the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).
Melchizedek was both king of Salem and a priest of God—at the same time (Genesis 14:18-20)and a a type of Messiah. Jesus as the anti-type began to reign on David’s throne and to simultaneously function as our high priest (cf. Psalm 110:4; Zechariah 6:12, 13; Hebrews 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:1-17).
One small piece of advice: Christians can abuse typology by looking for types all over the Hebrew Bible and saying they point to Jesus. So we need to exercise some caution in this area.
#8: Corporate Solidarity:
The idea of Corporate Solidarity states that one person can represent a whole group. In other words, Jesus, as the Messiah is the culmination of the characteristics within the positions . Thus, while Israeli s seen as a son and God is their Father, Jesus is the ideal “Son of God/The Davidic King” This can be seen elsewhere in seeing Jesus as the ideal prophet and priest as well.
1. A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance
2. Whether or not certain passages are clearly Messianic depend upon what the preconceived idea of the reader.
I say this because in Rabbinic Judaism, they generally say the following:
1. The Messiah is not divine-he is an earthly figure “anointed” to carry out a specific task.
2. The Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace.
3. The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16; 14:9).
4. The Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).
5. The Maimonides view of Messiah: Maimonides was a medieval Jewish philosopher whose writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Here are some of his messianic expectations:
1. The Messiah will be a king who arises from the house of David
2. He helps Israel follow Torah
3. He builds the Temple in its place
4. He gathers the dispersed of Israel
Sadly, this doesn’t represent the entire scope of messianic thought.
#10: Interpretive Issues with Messianic Prophecy?
1.In many cases prophecy may only be understandable by true believers under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (e.g.Luke 24:45;John 12:16).
#11: Themes That Help in Interpreting Messianic Prophecy:
1. Promise Theme: The NT uses the word “promise” to refer to the message of the Hebrew Bible, but the Hebrew Bible itself does not have a consistent term to refer to this concept. A cluster of words is used, such as oath, word, blessing, promise, and others (See Kaiser’s Messiah in the Old Testament).
2. Mission in the Bible Theme: There was a universal purpose in God’s election of Abraham and of the people of Israel. They were called and brought into existence because of God’s missionary purpose for the blessing of the nations. Indeed, God’s commitment to Israel is predicated on his commitment to humanity as a whole.
3.The Reign of God theme is very helpful as well. I have touched on that here:
#12: Study How the New Testament Authors Used the Old Testament
There has always been plenty of misunderstanding about this issue.
To see more on this topic and individual posts on messianic prophecy, see here:
Craig Evans: Prophet, Sage, Healer, Messiah, and Martyr: Types and Identities of Jesus – in Stanley E. Porter and Tom Holmén (eds.), Handbook for Study of the Historical Jesus (4 vols., Leiden: Brill, 2010) 2:1217-43.