The Challenge of Using Messianic Prophecy in Outreach and Apologetics

Introduction

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 evidental apologetic for the truth claims of our  faith. But as the years have gone by, I have realized this approach 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. Over the years I have had plenty of people ask me how to go about sharing their faith with others. They always ask whether they should just go ahead and share their personal testimony. I agree that using a personal testimony can be effective in that it shows the difference that Jesus makes in the reality of life. There is nothing wrong with this. But allow me to offer a few suggestions:

Pragmatism has been one of the most prominent philosophies within American culture over the first quarter of the twentieth century. John Dewey was at the forefront of pragmatism within the educational system. For the pragmatist, an idea is said to be true if it “works” or brings desired results. Pragmatism is not as interested if the idea is objectively true, but simply if an idea leads to expedient or practical results.

God can and does use our testimony in a powerful way. In other words, by sharing our testimony, we want to show that faith in Jesus works; He is responsible for transforming the human heart. While it is true that Jesus changes lives, let me share some examples of personal conversations I have had with several people. In a post-modern culture, the  transformed life approach is popular. But it is not the primary way the early apostles reached their audience for the Gospel. The primary way that the apostles established the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament Messianic Promises was their appeal to prophecy and miracle.

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?

The Old Way of Using Messianic Prophecy. Like I said, I used to see Messianic Prophecy Charts. They look like this: 

The following is a list of prophecies in the Jewish scriptures that Jesus fulfilled.

 1. Genesis 3:15…..Seed of a woman (virgin birth)…..Luke 1:35, Matthew 1:18-20
2. Genesis 3:15…..He will bruise Satan’s head…..Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 3:8
3. Genesis 5:24….The bodily ascension to heaven illustrated….Mark 6:19
4. Genesis 9:26-27…The God of Shem will be the Son of Shem…Luke 3:36
5. Genesis 12:3…As Abraham’s seed, will bless all nations…Acts 3:25,26
6. Genesis 12:7…The The Promise made made to Abraham’s Seed…Galatians 3:16
7. Genesis 14:18…A priest after Melchizedek…Hebrews 6:20
8. Genesis 14:18……..A King also……..Hebrews 7:2
9. Genesis 14:18…The Last Supper foreshadowed…Matthew 26:26-29
10.  Genesis 17:19…….The Seed of Isaac…….Romans. 9:7
11.  Genesis 21:12 …Seed of Isaac…Romans 9:7, Hebrews 11:18
12.  Genesis 22:8…The Lamb of God promised…John 1:29
13.  Genesis 22:18…As Isaac’s seed, will bless all nations…Galatians 3:16
14.  Genesis26:2-5..The Seed of Isaac promised as the Redeemer..Hebrews11:18
15.  Genesis 49:10…The time of His coming…Luke 2:1-7; Galatians 4:4
16.  Genesis 49:10…….The Seed of Judah…….Luke 3:33
17.  Genesis 49:10……Called Shiloh or One Sent……John 17:3
18.  Genesis 49:10…To come before Judah lost identity…John 11:47-52
19.  Genesis 49:10…To Him shall the obedience of the people be…John 10:16
20.  Exodus 3:13,14……..The Great “I Am”…….John 4:26
21.  Exodus 12:5…A Lamb without blemish…1 Pet. 1:19
22.  Exodus 12:13…The blood of the Lamb saves Romans wrath…Romans. 5:8
23.  Exodus 12:21-27…Christ is our Passover…1 Corinthians 5;7
24.  Exodus 12:46…Not a bone of the Lamb to be broken…John 19:31-36
25.  Exodus 13:2…Blessing to first born son…Luke 2:23
26.  Exodus 15:2…His exaltation predicted as Yeshua…Acts 7:55,56
27.  Exodus 15:11…His Character-Holiness…Luke 1:35; Acts 4:27
28.  Exodus 17:6…The Spiritual Rock of Israel…1 Corinthians 10;4
29.  Exodus 33:19…His Character-Merciful…Luke 1:72
30.  Leviticus14:11…The leper cleansed-Sign to priesthood..Luke5:12-14; Acts 6:7
31.  Leviticus16:15-17…Prefigures Christ’s once-for-all death…Hebrews 9:7-14
32.  Leviticus16:27…Suffering outside the Camp…Matthew 27:33; Hebrews 13:11, 12
33.  Leviticus17:11…The Blood-the life of the flesh…Matthew 26;28; Mark 10:45
34.  Leviticus17:11…It is the blood that makes atonement…1 John 3:14-18
35.  Leviticus23:36-37…The Drink-offering: “If any man thirst.” ..John 19:31-36
36.  Numbers 9:12…Not a bone of Him broken…John 19:31-36
37.  Numbers 21:9…The serpent on a pole-Christ lifted up…John 3:14-18
38.  Numbers 24:8… Flight to Egypt…Matthew 2:14
39.  Numbers 24:17…Time: “I shall see him, but not now.”…Galatians 4:4
40.  Numbers 24:17-19…A star out of Jacob…Matthew 2:2, Luke 1:33,78, Revelation 22:16
41.  Deuteronomy 18:15…”This is of a truth that prophet.”…John 6:14
42.  Deuteronomy 18:15-16…”Had ye believed Moses, ye would believe me.”…John 5:45-47
43.  Deuteronomy 18:18…Sent by the Father to speak His word…John 8:28, 29
44.  Deuteronomy 18:19…Whoever will not hear must bear his sin…John 12:15
45.  Deuteronomy 21:13-23…As a prophet…John 6:14; 7:40, Acts 3:22,23
46.  Deuteronomy 21:23…Cursed is he that hangs on a tree…Galatians 3:10-13
47.  Ruth 4:4-9…Christ, our kinsman, has redeemed us…Ephesians 1:3-7
48.  1 Samuel 2:10…Shall be an anointed King to the Lord…Matthew 28:18; John 12:15
49.  2 Samuel 7:12…David’s Seed…Matthew 1:1
50.  2 Samuel 7:14a…The Son of God… Luke 1:32
So what is the problem with this approach? 

1 It doesn’t look at passages in the immediate context.

2. It sometimes doesn’t take into account the original audience that the prophecy or passage was written to.

3. Some of the passages aren’t really prophecies.

4. It also tends to not take the original languages into account. We have to interpret the passage correctly before assuming it is a prophecy.

In my opinion, here are some helpful tips in interpreting prophecy. The following info was adapted from the book above- Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Vol. 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections: Dr. Michael L. Brown.

1. Messianic prophecies are not clearly identified as such: Whether or not certain passages are clearly Messianic depend upon what the preconceived idea of the reader. What do they believe the Messiah is supposed to do? If a traditional Jewish person says the Messiah cannot suffer and die, how would we expect them to interpret the Messianic passages? For example, if someone believes that the Messiah will be a king and bring peace to the earth, he will probably interpret Isaiah 11 as a Messianic prophecy but he will not interpret Isaiah 53 in a Messianic way because it does not fit his preconceived notion of what the Messiah will do.

2. The Messianic hope in Israel developed gradually: This explains why Messianic texts were not clearly identified as such: They were not initially understood as referring to the Messiah. The Hebrew word for Messiah (mashiach) which literally means “anointed one” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. Instead, it refers to the anointed king, like Saul or David, the high priest (Aaron), or even an “anointed” ruler such as Cyrus.

3. Many of the prophecies are fulfilled gradually: This applies to all type of prophecy, whether Messianic or not. An example of this is in Ezekiel. Ezekiel, living in the Babylon exile prophesized that his people would return from their captivity. Their fulfillment began in 538 B.C.E. when the first group of exiles returned to Judah; it has continued in the 20th century with the return of the Jewish people to the Land; and it will reach its fulfillment when Jesus comes back and gathers his scattered people from every corner of the globe. Over twenty-five hundred years and this prophecy is still being fulfilled! In Zechariah 9:9-10, Zechariah says, when Israel’s king comes, he will be righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. If you show a rabbi this passage, they will say Jesus does not fulfill it! How would we respond? The text is currently being fulfilled. It is the ongoing process of fully coming to pass: Jesus came as the prophet foretold, “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey”; every day the number of individuals over whom he reigns as king continues to increase countless millions from every country; and in the future when he returns, he will completely establish his rule.

4. The prophets saw the Messiah coming on the immediate horizon in history: Have you ever looked on top of a mountain and looked across to another mountain peak? The mountains appear to be next to each other, even though there is a huge hole in between. The prophets saw the future through a telescope. Things far away in time appeared close. It is the same with biblical prophecy. The prophets did not realize that centuries would come and go between their initial prediction and its actual fulfillment. In fact, to the prophets, the expression “at the end of days” could have meant “right around the corner”! In Isaiah 9:1-7- it discusses the prediction that the yoke of the enemy, Assyria, would be broken by the son of David who was already born. And this son of David would have an everlasting kingdom of peace. When was Assyria crushed? 2,600 yrs ago. Who was born shortly before that time? Hezekiah. Did he fulfill the prophecy? No! But the prophet saw the coming of the future Davidic ruler as if it were about to happen in his very own day.

5. Read the Messianic prophecy in its overall context in Scripture: In relation to Isaiah 7:14, does Matthew take the Isaiah passage out of context? How can Matthew apply a sign given to King Ahaz in about 734 B.C to the birth of Jesus 700 years later? Consider the context of Isaiah Ch 7-11. Judah was being attacked by Israel and Aram. These nations wanted to replace Ahaz, who represented the house of David with their own man named Ben Tabeel. This would mean the end of Davidic rule in Judah. Yet when Ahaz would not ask God for a sign, God gave him his own: A child named Immanuel, meaning (God with us), would be born, and within a few years, before the child was very old, Judah’s enemies would be destroyed.

Who was this Immanuel? The child was to be born to the house of David in place of faithless Ahaz. The child would be a token of the fact that God was with his people. But is this Immanuel’s birth ever mentioned in the Book of Isaiah? No! In fact, the birth of Isaiah’s son Maher-Shalal- Hash- Baz in Isaiah 8:1-4 seems to take its place as a time setter (read Isaiah 7:14-16 and 8:3-4 before Maher-Shalal- Hash-Baz would be very old, Judah’s enemies would be destroyed-just what was said about Immanuel. What happened to Immanuel? Nothing is clearly said. But what is clearly said in Isaiah 9:6-7 and 11:1-16 is that there will come forth a rod from Jesse who will rule the nations in righteousness. This is Matthew’s context! He was reading Isaiah 7-11 in full! He quotes Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 9:1-2 in Matthew 4:15-16, and he alludes to Isaiah 11:1 in Mathew 2:23- the Hebrew word for “Nazarene” resembles the Hebrew word for “Branch.” Was anyone born in Isaiah’s day that began to fulfill the Immanuel prophecy? We simply do not know. But of this we can be sure: Jesus the ideal King from the house of David, and clearly the subject of the Messianic texts in Isaiah 9- 11, is Immanuel- God with us- in the fullest sense of the word.

6. The Messiah was to be both Priest and King: The Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4. Also, in the context of Zechariah 6- the crown placed on the head of the high priest named Joshua who is then referred to as the “Branch” which is a Messianic title. The Messiah has a dual role- as a priest he would provide atonement and make intercession for the people. As a King, he would rule and reign! The Messiah is to be the ideal representative if his people: In ancient Israel, the king and his people were one. The people of Israel saw themselves represented in their head. How does this apply to Jesus? The nation of Israel and Jesus spent their early years in Egypt. Also, since the Messiah was the ideal representative of the people, he fulfills the words of the Psalms. Jesus is the ideal sufferer for the nation the representative King, the one greater than David.

Also, see our post called Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies?

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