This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled
that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.
Prophecies in the Old Testament Predict Events in the Life of Jesus Christ of
When Jesus spoke the words recorded above to his apostles after he was raised
from the dead he told them, not only that the Old Testament was written about
him, but that he was in the final phase of acting out the specific historical
prophecies about the Messiah. In this chapter, we will see the truth of this
claim played out to an astounding degree. We will see historical messianic prophecies
describing in detail everything from the location and details of Jesus’ birth,
to the location, means and timing of his death. Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament
describe and predict the life of Jesus on every level, from the broadest description
of his life and ministry down to some of the most minute details of events in
his life–all this recorded hundreds of years before Jesus was born. We will find historic
prophecies of Jesus from Genesis to Zechariah. At the end of all this, the reader is
left with unassailable proof that Bible is inspired by God and that Jesus Christ
is the One, the Messiah, the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world.
It would be reasonable to assume that for most who have read the Bible extensively,
if they were asked how does the Old Testament tell us about Jesus, most would
answer that it is through historical prophecies of the Messiah. It was tempting to
begin this study with the messianic prophecies for this reason. The predictive prophecies
about the Savior of Israel in the Old Testament are so striking as apologetic
proof of the inspiration of the Bible, that it could distract from the main
point, which is that the entire Old Testament is about Jesus Christ. By now the reader
probably gets the point, so it is time to dive into the amazing predictions
about the Messiah which saturate the Old Testament scripture.
QUESTIONS TO BEAR IN MIND
The apologetic nature of messianic prophecies has been covered fairly extensively
in an earlier book of mine. In that book, the possible objections to the messianic
prophecies are dealt with in detail. They will be discussed only very briefly here. L
et us imagine taking the extreme skeptical view toward the evidence that the
Bible is a product of divine inspiration. A person who is a skeptic of the claim that messianic
prophecies prove the inspiration of the Bible might ask the following questions;
1. How do we know that the supposed prophetic passages in the Old Testament
are really predictions of the Messiah? Is it not possible that these passages are taken
out of their context by apologists and misapplied to Jesus simply to prop up
belief in the Bible?
2. Can we be absolutely sure that these writings in the Old Testament really
predated the life of Jesus? Could the early church have inserted them into the Old
Testament in order to be able to claim that Jesus is the Messiah?
3. How can we be sure that Jesus really did these things?that the witnesses
4. Is it not possible that Jesus read the Old Testament and, wanting to claim
to be the Messiah, purposefully did some of the things the Messiah is supposed
to do so that he could support his claim?
In answer to the first question, we will see as we go through the individual
passages that many of them are unmistakeable references to the Messiah. For example,
in Isaiah 9:1,2 which, as we will see, predicts that the Messiah will be from Ga
lilee, the passage continues by calling this person, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty
God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6). It is hard to deny that
this is a prophecy of the Messiah.
As additional evidence that many of the prophecies we will discuss are indeed
about the Messiah, there is the fact that most of the Jews of the first century
had messianic expectations. They considered passages such as Micah 5:2 (which predicts that
a savior will be born in Bethlehem) to be about the expected Messiah. It seems reasonable
to assume that any scripture in the Old Testament which was considered by consensus
of most of the Jews in the first century as being about the Messiah is a legitimate
messianic prophecy. Not all the passages we consider will be ?obviously? about the Messiah
if taken by themselves in their Old Testament context. However, in general we will
stick to passages which are clearly about the Messiah. The reader should bear this
question in mind when analyzing the prophecies below.
Let us consider question number two. Can we be sure that these really are prophecies
of the future? In other words, how do we know that they were really written hundreds
of years before the events that they were not later insertions into the Old
Testament by zealous Christians, intent on proving that Jesus is the promised
Messiah? The answer is that we can know for sure that this criticism of Messianic prophecies
does not hold water for two reasons.
First, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940’s, we now have
manuscripts of all or part of almost every Old Testament book which predates
the ministry of Jesus by between one hundred and two hundred and fifty years. It
would be difficult for manipulative apologists to insert changes into the Old
Testament before they were born! Besides this, there is the Septuagint translation
of the entire Hebrew Bible into the Greek vernacular which was completed by
about 150 BC. This parallel witness to the Old Testament manuscript makes the
claim that the Old Testament was changed to support belief in Christianity untenable.
Given the requirement of time in order for the Jewish scribes to come to consensus
about the inspiriation of individual books, one can conservatively conclude
that the entire Old Testament canon was written by 200 BC, and probably considerably
The second reason we can dismiss the idea that the Old Testament was changed
to make it appear that Jesus fulfilled prophecies is that all along, the Jews
have had ultimate custodianship over the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. The Jews put
together the most authoritative Hebrew version of the Old Testament known as
the Masoretic Text in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. It is simply not believable
that the Jews who rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah would have changed the
Old Testament to support Christian beliefs. Although we may not be able to prove absolutely
that the words recorded in Isaiah were written in about 750 BC (ie. during the
carreer of Isaiah) we can state with certainty that every single prophecy we
will look at was written hundreds of years before the carreer of Jesus of Nazareth.
What about the third question? Can we be absolutely sure that Jesus really did the things
recorded by the gospel writers? Is it possible that the New Testament writers stretched
the truth or even simply made up stories about Jesus after his ministry in order
to manipulate the evidence to support the claim that he was the Messiah? In the end,
it will be impossible to absolutely prove that every single event in the life
of Jesus recorded in the gospels, which also fulfilled a messianic prophecy,
actually happened. We are forced to trust the word of the original witnesses. However, there
are a few reasons that it is more than reasonable to accept that their witness
First, there is the fact that several of the prophecy fulfillment events are
a matter of historical record from pagan and even Jewish authors. Specific prophecies
of the Messiah whose fulfillment is a matter of external historical record in
Jesus’ life include the place of his birth, the fact that Jesus worked many
public miracles, and that he was persecuted, arrested and crucified. In addition, we
know from historical record that he was executed in Jerusalem, as well as the
approximate date of his death, all of which are specifically prophesied in the
Old Testament, as we will see. These facts are testified to by such Roman historians
as Tacitus and Pliny the younger, as well as the Jewish historian Josephus and
even the Jewish writers of the Talmud.
Then there is the character of the writers themselves. Call Paul, Peter, Luke and Matthew
fanatics if you will, but the bottom line is that they absolutely believed in
the truth of the message which they taught. One evidence of the reliability of the
New Testament as history is the fact that it presents the apostles as real people?
with sins and character flaws. However, there is not a single piece of evidence that
any of them were anything less than absolutely honest witnesses to the events
they recorded. If the apostles and other New Testament writers were out to deceive people
about Jesus being the Messiah, how is one to explain the fact that many or most
of them were martyred for their faith? There is no evidence that any of the eye-witnesses
to the ministry of Jesus later recanted, even on pain of death. If the gospel
accounts are fabrications, created to make it appear that Jesus is the Messiah,
then it is hard to explain the facts. It is conceivable, perhaps, that one of the
conspirators would die for a lie, but it defies what we know of human nature
to accept that dozens were martyred for a faith which they knew to be a lie. J
esus really did these things.
What about the fourth question above? Is it conceivable that Jesus might have decided
at some point in his life that he wanted to stake a claim to be the Messiah
and that he began to willfully manipulate his followers by doing the things
the Old Testament said the Messiah must do? The fact is that Jesus was well aware
of the Old Testament and he was fully congnizant of the fact that he was living
out the events foreshadowed in the scriptures. Nevertheless the scenario whereby
Jesus deceived the people by faking his being the Messiah is completely unsupportable. We will
see that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah which include
where and when he would be born as well as how he would die and the specifics
of his betrayal. As a human being, Jesus obviously would have no ability to manipulate
these things (unless, of course, he was God, which would make the issue moot). Y
es, it is true that a messianic pretender could set up the scenario of entering
Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9) to deceive the people, but it is hard
to imagine him planning out having his execution detail gamble over his clothing
Having laid out some apologetic issues, we will now proceed to considering a
number of the historical prophecies of the Messiah. For the sake of space, it will
obviously be impossible to cover all the messianic prophecies. The passages chosen, however,
are a fairly comprehensive list. A discussion of methodology used to decide whether
an Old Testament passage is truly a messianic prophecy is found in the appendix.
Although they are jam-packed with prefigures and foreshadows, the first five
books of the Bible, the Law of Moses, has relatively few direct historical prophecies
of the Messiah. Perhaps this makes the few examples of note even more signigicant.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring
and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heal.
This passage is widely considered the first messianic prophecy. Satan did indeed strike
at Jesus’ heal, most notably in the temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11,
Luke 4:1-13). The blow, however, was not fatal. “When the devil had finished all this tempting,
he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13). Jesus, the “offspring” of Eve
by direct descent, despite being struck in his heal, ultimately crushed the
head of Satan as he hung on the cross. Satan’s final condemnation awaits the end
time (Revelation 20:10), when he will be thrown into the lake of fire and burning
sulfur. The offspring of Satan, in the form of the great persecutors of God’s
people, such as Antiochus Epiphanes, Domitian and Diocletian clearly expressed enmity
toward Jesus when they attacked the people of God. The prefigure of the snake and
Eve is carried forward to Revelation chapter twelve which describes the war
between the Dragon (Satan) and the Woman (in this case, symbolic of the Church
of Jesus Christ).
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his
feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is
his. He will gather his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will
wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.
The scepter in this passage is the royal staff which represents the authority
of a king. David, who was from the tribe of Judah, partially fulfilled this prophecy
as a foreshadow when he came to rule in Jerusalem. However, the prophecy refers
to “he who comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” Th
is is clearly a reference to the King of Kings–Jesus Christ (John 18:37). B
y the way, Jesus, the “Son of David,” was also a member of the tribe of Jud
ah on his mother’s side, as required by this prophecy.
This passage has several other allusions to Jesus’ life and ministry. The donkey and
colt anticipate Jesus’ royal ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and its colt (Matthew
21:1-5). We will see more on this. Jesus is the true vine (John 15:1). It is not hard to see
what the wine, which is interestingly called the “blood of grapes,” is looking
toward. The statement that the blood of grapes would be used to wash his garments
seems like a very obscure reference, unless one applies it to the sacrifice
of Jesus and the imagery in the Lord’s Supper. “These are they who have come
out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white
in the blood of the lamb.” (Revelation 7:14). This prophecy, coming as it does
earlier in the Bible, makes somewhat less direct statements about the Messiah
than we will find in the later prophets.
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own
brothers. You must listen to him”. The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise
up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words
in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not
listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him
In these words to Moses, God told him, in essence, that he was a prefigure of
the great prophet to come. That prophet, of course, is Jesus Christ. Jesus was more than
a prophet, but prophet he definitely was. In fulfillment of this prophecy, Jesus
boldly declared, “whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John
12:50). The scribes in the crowd that day surely knew he was referring back to the
prophecy given to Moses.
MESSIANIC PROPHECIES IN THE PSALMS.
There are more messianic prophecies in the Psalms than in any other single Old
Testament book (Isaiah and Zechariah run a close second and third). Many of the emotional
cries by David to his God can be seen as having a double reference, both to
himself and to the “Son of David” Jesus Christ. In some cases, one could claim that
it is debatable whether the passage is absolutely messianic (Psalms 2:1-6, Psalms
35:19, Psalm 41:9, Psalms 69:25, Psalms 78:2, Psalms 91:11,12 and many others
could be mentioned in this context). In this section, we will look at those prophecies
which have the most clear-cut application to the Christ.
“Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One
see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy
in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
Psalm 16 is attributed to King David. As Peter pointed out in Acts 2:29, David did
indeed die and his body decayed; “his tomb is here to this day.” In this key passage
David was prophesying the resurrection of his direct descendent–the Messiah. How do
we know this is a reference to the Messiah? Who else in the Bible could even conceivably
be referred to as sitting down at the right hand of God? Certainly David would
not have had the arrogance required to claim the right hand position to God. T
his is the most direct prophecy in the Old Testament that the Messiah–“he who
will sit at the Father”s right hand” was to be resurrected from the dead. Perhap
s this is one of the passages Paul had in mind when he said that Jesus was to
be raised from the dead “according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
He trusts in the LORD
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death;
Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones;
People stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.
At first glance, Psalm twenty-two would appear to simply be an emotional cry
from David, “a man after God?s own heart,” to his God, both complaining about
his suffering and crying out for deliverance. In fact, it would have been perfectly reasonable
for David to feel as if he were forsaken by God when he was chased by King Saul
through the wilderness or playing the part of a crazy man when exiled to Ph
ilistia. His enemies probably did mock him and insult him at times. However, when one looks
at some other details in this psalm, there is no way David can simply be talking
about himself. Were David’s hands and feet ever pierced? Did those who stared at him ever
divide his garments amongst themselves? This is a Messianic prophecy! Try to imagine what David
must have thought after he wrote down these words under the influence of the
Holy Spirit. Why did I write that? What am I talking about here? I can count all my bones? Wha
t is that about, God?
To the Jews reading this psalm before the advent of Jesus Christ, it probably
would not have been completely obvious that it was about the Messiah, although
they, too, might have wondered what David was talking about. However, historical
hindsight makes the conclusion that the psalm is a messianic prophecy unmistakeable. In Psa
lm twenty-two we are looking at a tableau of the crucifixion scene, over one
thousand years before it took place!
David may have felt forsaken by God. In fact, God never forsook him. However, Jesus
was literally forsaken by God when the sins of the entire human race were imputed
to him. This would explain why he quoted this Psalm when at the point of death
Little did Jesus? enemies, the chief priests and teachers of the law, know that
God would use them to fulfill prophecies of the Messiah. If they had known, they might
have held their tongues, rather than mock him and hurl insults at him. ?In the
same way the chief priests and teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ?He saved
others,? they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel,
come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe. Those crucified with him
also heaped insults on him.” (Mark 15:31,32).
David described the Messiah’s tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth. Jesus simply
said “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28). Had Jesus read Psalms 22, and was he just trying
to continue to create the false impression that he was the Messiah? We can assume he
had read the psalm. We can also assume that he was very thirsty.
Next, David describes the crucifixion scene (“a band of evil men has encircled
me”) and then makes an amazing statement. “They have pierced my hands and my
feet.” This is an unmistakeable reference to the crucifixion of Jesus. What makes the
idea that David foresaw this even more amazing is the fact that crucifixion
was not even invented for over six hundred years after David died. Crucifixion,
as far as we know from historical documents, was invented by the Persians in
the fourth century BC. Even then, it involved tying a person to a stake. Crucifixi
on by nailing hands (actually wrists) and feet to a cross was invented by the
Romans, over eight hundred years after David wrote. Did the gospel writers make up
this story of the crucifixion? The Jewish historian Josephus, as well as the writers of
the Talmud mention Jesus being crucified. Might Jesus have arranged this to support
his messianic claim? That would be a pretty tough price to pay to sustain a lie. Im
agine how Jesus felt as a young man reading Psalms twenty-two, knowing that
it was about him!
But David is not done. “I can count all my bones.”(v. 17). What was David talking about? It wou
ld be pretty safe to say that he did not know. Reading John 19:31-37 will supply
the answer. Because Jesus and the two thieves were crucified on the day before the
Passover Sabbath and because death by crucifixion could take more than twenty-four
hours, the Jews asked that the three prisoners be killed so their bodies could
be taken down from the crosses. This was accomplished by breaking the legs of the crucified
person, which would prevent their being able to push up on their feet, causing
suffocation within minutes. When the soldiers came to Jesus, he was already dead. He had
died in considerably less than the usual time, probably because he had already
been tortured almost to death before being crucified. Bottom line, unlike the other two
with him, none of Jesus? bones were broken. This event was foreshadowed by the Passover
tradition of not breaking any of the bones of the lamb as well, as we have already
seen. We learn two things from this. First, God intended all along for his Son to die
for our sins. Second, Psalms twenty-two is inspired by that same God!
We are not done with Psalms twenty-two. “They divide my garments among them and cast lots
for my clothing.” (v. 18). Now, which was it, David, did they divide your garments
(one for you, one for you, one for me?) or did they cast lots, i.e. gamble,
for your clothes? It would seem impossible for both to be the case. God’s word
being what it is, will anyone be surprised at this point that they actually
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into
four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was
seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will
get it.” (John 19:23, 24).
This comes from an eyewitness to the events. Was John a liar? Consider his life and decide
for yourself. This prophecy fulfillment has a gee whiz quality to it, but the thing
to focus in on is that Jesus, knowingly, willingly, gave up his life for you
and me. Remember the previous statement by David prophesying Jesus? words on the
cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me .”
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
Redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.
Seen in isolation, the skeptic could perhaps claim that this passage in the
Psalms is taken out of context if applied to Jesus Christ. However, given the totality
of the poignant scene at the cross, it seems beyond possibility that Jesus just
happened to pull out this somewhat obscure passage in Psalms while on the cross
at the point of death. As Luke records, these are the last words of Jesus. “It was now
about the sixth hour” Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands
I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.? (Luke 23:44,46). It is interes
ting to note that the other messianic prophecies in the Bible record a number
of facts about Jesus, but the Psalms, being emotion-laden poetry, generall
y predict the most emotional aspects of the life and death of the Messiah.
For zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
The prophecies in Pslams 69 are no exception to the rule just stated. David was a
zealous man. Jesus, the “son of David.” was more so, as evidenced by the scene
in John 2:13-17. When Jesus came into the temple, he saw greedy people making a profit
from the sincere efforts of God?s people to offer sacrifice to Him. Providing possible
sacrifices for the people was not the problem. Making a killing off of the killing
was. This got Jesus quite upset. He made a whip, driving the animals out, overturning
the tables of the highly profitable money changers (only the Jewish shekel was
accepted at the temple, providing another way to make a nice profit), saying,
“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father?s house into a market.” (v.
16). The disciples were not noted for recognizing messianic prophecies as they
were being fulfilled. This was one exception.