During his ministry in Palestine, Jesus was often challenged on the issue of
authority. Many, especially the religious authorities, would demand of Jesus
to know on what authority he based his teachings. In general, he would let the
evidence of the miracles speak for themselves, but on one occasion Jesus replied to
his hearers concerning his authority: ?You diligently study the Scriptures because
you think that by them you possess eternal live. These are the Scriptures that
testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.? (John 5:39,40)
In this passage, when Jesus spoke of the Scriptures, he was obviously referring
to the Old Testament. Jesus claimed that when the Jews read the Old Testament
Scriptures, they were reading about him. Jesus was saying, in effect, ?From
reading the Scriptures, you should have known I was coming, and you should have recognized
me when I came.? On what basis could Jesus make such a claim?
A related passage is found in Luke 24:44, in which Jesus was speaking to his
disciples. ?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.? Now, this is an amazing claim. The three divisions of the entire
Hebrew Bible were the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Therefore,
Jesus was telling his followers that when they read the Old Testament, they
were reading in detail about him. Jesus boldly claimed to have fulfilled all the
prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah.
It is not as if the Jews in Jesus? day were unaware that their scriptures predicted
the coming of a Messiah. It was understood by most Jews that God had foretold
the sending of a savior for his people. There were many different ideas about
the Messiah: that he would be a military ruler, something like David, or a ?suffering
savior? as implied by such passages as Isaiah 53, or a priestly savior. Some
had their own unique concept of the Messiah. In Luke 24:44 Jesus claimed that
he fulfilled every one of the prophecies about the Messiah.
So what are these prophecies? How do we know they were truly prophecies about
the Messiah? How do we know Jesus really fulfilled the prophecies? Whether he
did or did not fulfill these prophecies, what does that say about the man Jesus
Christ? These questions are the subject of the present chapter.
It would be helpful to put the prophecies of the Old Testament into an historical
context. What is the history of prophecy? ?Prophets? have been known in all
ages of history. In the context of ancient cultures, a prophet was one who proclaimed
the will of ?the gods? to the people. Often, such prophets would attempt to
verify their teachings by making some sort of verifiable prediction of the future.
Whether or not the predictions of the prophet came true were an indication of
his or her reliability. This predictive aspect of prophecy is the connotation
most familiar to the western mindset.
In their own time, the prophets of Israel were seen primarily as spokesmen for
God, ?forth-tellers?, rather than ?fore-tellers.? Their primary message was
?thus says the Lord.? Nevertheless, with all the important prophets of Israel,
an element of predictive prophecy is found as well.
The prophets of Israel were not unique in this. One could use the example of
the prophets of Baal, as mentioned often in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most
famous of prophets from the ancient world were the Oracles of Delphi. These
Oracles were women who lived in the famous temple of Apollo in the city of Delphi
in Greece. The temple was built on the site of a cave out of which came some
sort of sulfurous fumes which were purported to have mystical powers. Those
who sought guidance in a personal, civic or military venture would travel to
Delphi for a prophecy. Scholars note that the ceremonies of the priestesses
may have included ecstatic utterances, not completely unlike modern-day speaking
The most famous prophecy of the priestesses of Delphi was the one they made
to Croessus, the king of Lydia. Croessus came to the Oracle to ask advice on
whether to attack the armies of Persia. The priestess gave a typically enigmatic
reply. ?Croessus will destroy a great empire.? Unfortunately for Croessus, the
empire destroyed in the war was Lydia, not Persia. Alexander the Great also
reportedly consulted the prophetesses at Delphi before his epic-making crossing
of the Dardanelles straights, which ultimately led to his conquests of almost the
entire known world. In this case, the Oracles seemed to correctly predict success
When one looks at the advice/prophecy given by the Oracles at Delphi, a familiar
pattern will emerge. These prophecies seem to have been either vague in what
they predicted, or to have involved predictions which were by no means earth-shaking
surprises. The statemen of the priestesses of Delphi to Croessus could have been
taken either way. Predicting success for Alexander was not exactly a huge shot
in the dark, as he was the son of the greatest military leader of his day.
Other prophets throughout history have been claimed as fore-tellers. One might
mention the Frenchman Nostradamus; mystic, astrologer and practitioner of black
magic. Nostradamus probably is the most well known supposed prophet of the modern
world. He lived from 1503-1566 AD. As an astrologer to the king of France, he once
issued a prophecy which seemed to predict accurately the king?s death in a jousting
contest. This cemented Nostradamus? reputation as a prognosticator. Nostradamus
published a long series of rhymed quatrains which have been variously interpreted
as predicting a wide range of events including the French Revolution, the rise
of Hitler, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the supposed assassination
of Pope John Paul I in 1978. However, a simple reading of these poems make the interpretations
which have been read into them dubious. For example, consider the quatrain which
has been cited as Nostradamus? prediction of the assassination of John F. Kennedy:
The great man will be struck down in the day by a thunderbolt,
The evil deed predicted by the bearer of a petition:
According to the prediction another falls at night,
Conflict in Reims, London and pestilence in Tuscany.
(Century 1, Quatrain 27)
After the fact, believers in Nostradamus have seen details in common with the
assassination of JFK. He was struck by a bullet (?a thunderbolt?), his assassination
was predicted by Jean Dixon (?predicted by a bearer of a petition?), and his
brother was also assassinated the night of his primary victory in California (?another
falls at night?). However, it would not be difficult for the student of history
to find dozens of historical events which could be fit into this rather vague
Those who want to see Nostradamus as a prophet can find sufficient evidence
by scanning his hundreds of quatrains and trying to fit them into current events.
The French astrologer would appear to fit into a pattern. He made one very famous
successful prediction, but one which was actually pretty easy to foresee. King Henry
II of France was killed in a joust as was seemingly predicted by Nostradamus.
Beyond that, he made extremely vague predictions which could be variously interpreted.
We will see that the statements of the Old Testament prophets concerning the Messiah
y different from this pattern.
The assassination of JFK brings us to the person who is probably the best know
?prophet? of the twentieth century, at least to Americans?Jean Dixon. In 1963,
Dixon successfully predicted that John Kennedy would be shot. This one prediction
made her reputation and her career as a psychic. Is there any chance that Jean
Dixon made a lucky guess? Given the facts of the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination
attempts on Castro sponsored by the Kennedy regime and the public commitment
to bring down the leaders of American organized crime under the leadership of Bobby
Kennedy, this prediction was not exactly a huge shot in the dark. After this
one dramatic prediction (admittedly, it was pretty dramatic), Dixon never made
another major successful prediction again. Yet, she remained America?s most famous
supposed prophet for a generation. The pattern repeats itself. One successful
but fairly easily predictable guess, followed by a number of either very vague
predictions or ones which anyone might guess anyway. ?I predict that there will be
a big scandal in the White House next year.? As we will see, this pattern bears
no relationship whatever to the predictions of the Old Testament prophets.
One could move on to the prophets of today. The ?prophets? employed by the National
Enquirer and similar publications make their yearly predictions. There will
be scandal in the White House and unrest in the Middle East. The stock market
will go up. This stuff is to be taken as seriously as the Farmer?s Almanac and
its ?prophecy? of the weather for the coming year.
Comparing modern-day prophecies with those in the Bible, especially with the
prophecies in the Old Testament, is a whole different thing. Consider the command
given to Israel concerning the prophets:
You may say to yourselves, ?How can we know when a message has not been spoken
by the Lord?? If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take
place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet
has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.
The prophets in the Old Testament made predictions, both about events in the
short term, and events in the distant future. Most typically, their short-term
prophecies did not make it into the biblical text. Those who were consistently
able to get it right when predicting events in their own time were accepted as true
prophets. Is there any modern-day ?prophet? who is able to meet this standard?
Does the National Enquirer publish last-year?s predictions at the beginning
of the new year and evaluate their accuracy? Do they fire anyone who makes a false
prediction? What would you guess?
But this brings us back to the subject at hand. Jesus claimed openly to the
Jewish people that their Bible was written about him. He openly and boldly claimed
that all the prophecies written about the Messiah were written about him, and
that he fulfilled those prophecies in his own lifetime. This claim is quite
testable. It is either true or it is not. In claiming to be the fulfillment
of the Old Testament passages about the Messiah, Jesus threw down the gauntlet.
If his claim was true then without a doubt:
1. Jesus is the Messiah.
2. The Old Testament is inspired by God
The question is, will the claims of Jesus to have fulfilled all the prophecies
of the Messiah stand up to the test of the skeptic?
In order to approach this question, we will consider the kinds of questions
a reasonably skeptical inquirer might ask, which would include the following:
1. Are there really specific prophecies about the coming Messiah in the
Bible, or are we simply reading what happened to Jesus into vague
passages in the Old Testament which in reality are not prophecies at
2. If there are in fact some bona fide Old Testament prophecies of a
coming Messiah, when were they written?
3. Did Jesus really fulfill these prophecies? How do we know? Is
there independent confirmation outside the biblical text?
4. Is there any chance Jesus was aware of the Messianic prophecies
and simply made sure he fulfilled them in order to lend credence to
The first question is very important. Using the vague sorts of ?prophecies?
such as those found in the writings of Nostradamus as an example, this is a
very legitimate question for a skeptic to ask of the biblical prophecies. How
do we really know the Old Testament prophet is making a statement about the future?
How do we know we are not simply scanning the Scriptures, looking for some passage
which we can conveniently mold and interpret to fit our pre-conceived intent,
which is to claim that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Messiah?
It may be fairly easy to convince those who already believe, but if the argument
is not strong enough to convince a hard-headed but fair-minded skeptic, it is
really not a good argument. We will look carefully at the context of a number
of Old Testament passages, asking whether or not they clearly are messianic prophecies.
The method to be used is to ask whether a Jew who lived before the time of Jesus
would have been likely to interpret the scripture to be a prophecy of the Messiah.
There are a number of passages in the Old Testament which most Christians would
interpret as prophesying the Messiah, but which do not pass this test. We will
attempt to systematically restrict our study to passages which even the skeptic
would probably concede would naturally be interpreted by the Jewish audience as being
about the Messiah.
Another aspect of this first question which a skeptic might raise is the question
of whether it might be possible that the early church may have changed certain
passages in the Old Testament in some sort of subtle way to improve the case
for claiming that these verses were prophecies of the Messiah. The answer to this
question is quite simple. In the end, the Jews have had ultimate possession
of the original Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is
the Hebrew Bible. The almost unbelievable meticulousness of Jewish scribes throughout
the centuries at maintaining the integrity of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament
is legendary, as will be shown in detail in chapter six. There is absolutely
no way that the Jewish scholars would have allowed the text of the Hebrew Bible
be changed to fit some sort of Christian agenda. The same prophecies are read
by both Jew and Gentile alike, even today.
The next question is crucial to the argument as well. When were these supposed
biblical prophecies written down? If Jean Dixon had predicted all the way back
in 1945 that John Kennedy would eventually become president, and be assassinated
in 1963, that would have truly been a spectacular prophecy! If Nostradamus had
stated in the sixteenth century that a country in the newly-discovered continent
of North America would eventually become independent, that it would become a
democratic state, which elects its national leader, and that one of its leaders,
named Kennedy would be assassinated some time near the middle of the twentieth
century, now that would be a prophecy to make your hair stand up!
As illustrated above, clearly the date of authorship of these prophecies is
important. A specific statement about a per
son made several hundred years before
he was born would be strong evidence for even the most hardened skeptic that
something unusual is going on, assuming the date of writing could be clearly
Let us deal with the question of date of authorship immediately. When was the
Old Testament written? When were the specific books such as Isaiah, Psalms and
Micah, books which will be used in this section, written? In general that is
a tough question, as we clearly do not have the original manuscripts. The specifics
of this question will be dealt with carefully in chapter six of this book. However,
to answer question number two above, it is only necessary to prove that, whatever
the actual dates of authorship, the messianic passages were at least a few hundred
years old at the time Jesus made the claim to have fulfilled all the prophecies
of the Messiah. It turns out that this is a simple task.
The task was made easy, in part, by the discovery in the 1940?s of what are
now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were originally discovered
by some shepherd boys in a group of caves in the desert hill country west of
the Dead Sea. Eventually, hundreds of manuscripts were discovered in large clay vessels
scattered in a number of caves. Many of the parchments were of Jewish writers
from the Essene sect, but a significant number were Old Testament manuscripts.
These scrolls have been dated to somewhere between 250 BC and 50 AD. One scroll,
known as Isaiah A, was discovered. This scroll contains the entire book of Isaiah,
except for a few words. It has been dated to 100 BC. One fragment of Exodus
has been dated to the early second century BC. From the evidence of the Dead Sea
Scrolls, one can state conclusively that all or nearly all the Old Testament
was written well before 100 BC.
That is fine, but one can go further. It just so happens that the entire Old
Testament was translated into Greek, in a translation commonly known as the
Septuagint version, some time in the late third and early second century BC.
This was the Greek Old Testament in use in the time of Christ. Using this fact,
one can be certain that the Old Testament was complete in more or less its present
form by 200 BC. Allowing sufficient time for the books to be distributed and
evaluated by the Jewish rabbis carefully enough for them to be accepted by consensus
as inspired books would push the date of authorship back considerably further.
In short, given the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint translation
of the Hebrew Bible, one can state with certainty that the Old Testament has
been around in more or less its present form since at least 300 BC. In order
to push the date of authorship back to the actual writing of the separate Old
Testament books is a more difficult task, some of which will be left for chapter
six. However, for the purposes of this chapter, the case is sufficient. Whether
Isaiah was written in 750 BC or in 400 BC does not change the argument to be
presented here. The entire Old Testament was written hundreds of years before
the ministry of Jesus Christ.
The third question is also essential to the argument. How can one be sure that
the prophecies were actually fulfilled by Jesus Christ in his lifetime? Is it
possible that the writers of the New Testament simply read the Old Testament,
discovered the apparent foreshadowings of a Messiah, and wrote the gospel accounts
to make it appear as if Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies? For the Bible believer
that is an easy question. The acts of Jesus are recorded in the New Testament.
One need simply read in the New Testament what he did and the events which occurred
around him to check out whether Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah
found in the Old Testament. But then again, the Bible believer probably already
believes Jesus is the Messiah anyway, so how is one to convince the skeptic?
The skeptic (quite reasonably) asks: ?How can I be sure Jesus really fulfilled
the supposed prophecies in the Hebrew Bible? The simple answer is that many
of the prophetic fulfillments are a matter of historical record. Some, but not
all of the events concerning the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament Scripture
were realized in the life of Jesus Christ as recorded in numerous histories,
both of Christians and of non-Christians. In general, the specific prophecies
chosen for consideration in this chapter will fit this pattern. As we go through
the various Messianic prophecies, I will take care to point out whether or not
the relevant events are recorded in external history sources, or whether one
must count on Biblical accounts to confirm that Jesus did in fact ?fulfill [what
is] written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.?
Many of the prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus as confirmed
by ancient historical records. Others are only confirmed as recorded in the
New Testament. In these cases, the readers must decide for themselves. Eventually,
the evidence for the trustworthiness of the New Testament writers becomes overwhelming
(See chapter eight). At some point only those who are simply unwilling to accept
the obvious facts would continue to harbor significant doubts about the historical
reliability of the gospel accounts. With the accumulated weight of evidence as
presented in this book, the case for accepting as fact that Jesus fulfilled
the messianic prophecies should speak for itself. Again, let the reader decide.
The last question mentioned above which a skeptic might ask is an interesting
one. It certainly is a logical one?one that Bible critics through the centuries
have often raised. If one is prepared to concede that the Old Testament writings
precede the life of Jesus by many years, and that Jesus did in fact do many of
the things the Messiah was supposed to do, is it not possible that Jesus more
of less faked the whole thing? Assuming that Jesus wanted to claim to be the
Messiah, and that he was a careful student of the Hebrew Bible, could he have
kept a mental list of prophecies required to claim to be the Messiah and check
them off one by one as he went along? Imagine Jesus saying to himself, ?Ok,
the Messiah is supposed to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. I had better take care
of that one on this trip.? Or imagine Jesus calling Peter over; ?Peter, would
you please go out and find a donkey for me? Why? Please, just do what I ask,
OK.? To an inquirer not well acquainted with either the character of Jesus or
the nature of Old Testament prophecy, might seem like a perfectly logical alternative.
However, this viewpoint will very rapidly become untenable as the specific prophecies
are considered. We will see that this challenge to the messianic claims of
Jesus is absolutely illogical in the face of the specific prophecies. For some
of the prophecies about the Messiah, there is simply no way Jesus could have
manipulated events in order to trump up a claim to be the Messiah.
To summarize, if it can be shown by careful consideration that most or all the
Old Testament was written before 300 BC, that external historical records confirm
Jesus? claim to have fulfilled a number of prophecies found in the Old Testament,
and that there is no way that Jesus could have manipulated the situation to make
himself appear to be the Messiah, the reader will be left with only one reasonable
conclusion: Jesus is the Messiah and the Bible is inspired by God. We will proceed
now to a point-b
y-point look at a number of specific messianic prophecies.
In recent years, the CBS network has featured an upbeat drama series titled
?Early Edition.? This show has an interesting plot line. The main character,
Gary Hobson, is delivered tomorrow?s edition of the Chicago Tribune at his doorstep
every morning, before the events described in the paper actually happen. He
has the option of using the information to bet on the horses or sporting events
and make himself filthy rich, or to help people avoid the tragedies in their
lives reported in the paper. Of course, Hobson?s sidekick is urging him to compromise
?just a little bit? and go for the bucks, but the humble and noble main character
sticks to his guns and uses his miraculous paper to help people.
In the Bible, we have an ?Early Edition? of a most dramatic kind. We are not
talking about predicting tomorrow?s events. We are not talking about Jean Dixon
predicting next year?s election outcome either. We are talking about the equivalent
of an Early Edition for a newspaper in the year 2525 or beyond! And this is not
some sort of vague prediction, such as ?the stock market will go up next year.?
It is more like literally finding a newspaper for a date seven hundred years
in the future, replete with minute details. We are talking very specific and very
far in the future. It would be like someone predicting today that in the year
2735 the country of Guatemala will become the dominant world power and having
it come true. There is absolutely nothing to compare with this in human experience
or even in the wildest of human fantasies.
As a first example of just such a specific and far-seeing prophecy, consider
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way.
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and like a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment, he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was there any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord?s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,
He will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
This is probably the most well known of the Messianic prophecies, and for good
First, we will consider how one can be sure this is a prophecy about the Messiah.
It so happens that many of the Jews themselves, even before the time of Jesus,
considered this passage to be a prophecy about the Messiah. It is sometimes
referred to as describing the suffering Messiah. Not all Jews agreed that this
was a messianic prophecy, but that was primarily because they saw it as inconsistent
with their own mistaken view of the Messiah. They saw the Messiah as a conquering
general who would be sent by God to reestablish his physical Kingdom, bringing
back the glory days of King David. In fact, some groups, the Essenes among them,
actually believed in two separate ?Messiahs,? one being the conquering general,
and the other being the suffering Savior.
Because many Jews themselves considered Isaiah 53 a prophecy of the Messiah
even before Jesus? ministry, it is difficult to support the claim that Christians
simple read the details of Jesus? life into the scripture, so that they could
claim Jesus to be the Messiah.
Besides, even if we did not have a record of Jewish teachers referring to this
writing as being about the Messiah, it still bears the marks of a messianic
prophecy on its own. Consider such phrases as ?my righteous servant? (v. 11),
?the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all? (v. 6), and ?by his wounds
we are healed? (v. 5).
Perhaps most telling is the phrase ?He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.? (v. 2). This phrase can be understood in
the light of Isaiah 11:10; ?In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner
for the peoples; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious.?
In Isaiah eleven, ?the Root of Jesse? is a reference to King David, the son
of Jesse. This passage is clearly about the Messiah, as it implies that a still
future ?Root of Jesse? (ie. the Messiah) will rise up again to raise the banner of
Israel, bringing glory again to Jerusalem, the ?place of rest? of King David.
The Root in Isaiah 11 is the root in Isaiah 53.
Speaking of ?the Root,? one could mention Psalm 80:14, 15; ?Watch over this
vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself.?
Again, one sees the Messiah referred to in the Old Testament as ?the root.?
It is interesting that some Jews saw two different Messiahs in Isaiah 53 (the suffering
Messiah) and in Isaiah 11:10 (the saving general), as they are both referred
to as ?the root.? Of course when these various prophecies were fulfilled in
Jesus, the meaning of these Old Testament scriptures all became clear.