OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY AND JESUS: PART FIVE
Called out of Egypt:
Matthew provides a record of Joseph being told by God in a dream to flee to Egypt to avoid having Jesus killed by Herod. After a time, the family leaves Egypt and returns to Nazareth in Galilee. Matthew sees this return as fulfillment of what the Lord said through the prophet. The prophet referred to is apparently Hosea.
Matthew 2:15: And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."
Hosea 11:1-2: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images (NIV)
When Israel was a young man, I loved him like a son, and I summoned my son out of Egypt. But the more I summoned them, the farther they departed from me. They sacrificed to the Baal idols and burned incense to images (NET).
The context of Hosea 11 clearly shows the prophet is talking about the people of Israel. God is seen as viewing Israel as a Son when He facilitated their release from Egyptian bondage.
Exodus 4:22-23: Then say to Pharaoh, `This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your (Pharaoh’s) firstborn son.'"
Since God, through the prophet Hosea, is clearly talking about Israel as a son being called out of Egypt and there is nothing in all of Scripture that speaks of Israel being a synonym for Jesus, we can only conclude Matthew is using this passage to represent a greater fulfillment of something that was clearly fulfilled thousands of years earlier.
It is interesting that Matthew’s quote of Hosea is from the Hebrew text of the OT. Many OT quotes in the NT are from the Septuagint text of the Hebrew Scriptures (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures). The Septuagint renders Hosea 11:1 as, “From Egypt have I recalled his (Israel’s) sons.” Notice the plural "sons." If this is a more accurate rendering of what Hosea wrote, it makes Matthew’s quote from Hosea as pertaining to Christ even more problematical as saying "sons" would negate applying this passage in any way to the single person Jesus.
The move to Capernaum:
According to Matthew, it would appear that Jesus left His hometown of Nazareth to take up residence in Capernaum so that a prophecy found in Isaiah 9:1-2 would be fulfilled.
Matthew 4:12-16: When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali-- to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."
Before going to this prophecy in Isaiah, we need to look at the context for this prophecy which begins in Isaiah 7 were we have the account of the Northern Kingdom of Israel joining in alliance with the King of Aram to war against King Ahaz and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Ahaz is given a sign that is meant to show him God would be with him and Judah and the alliance will not succeed against Judah. This sign is a virgin giving birth to a son and calling him Immanuel which means “God with us.” This virgin birth is seen by Matthew as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus which is discussed in detail in Part Two of this series.
Beginning in Isaiah, Chapter 8, there is an account of a son apparently being born from a union between Isaiah and a prophetess. It is predicted that before this child is able to talk, the Assyrians would conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Syria. The narrative than appears to shift to a time future to the events at hand and speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and its people. Within this narrative are statements that appear to be pointing to Christ.
For example, Isaiah writes of a person who is “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall’ (Isaiah 8:14). Jesus is quoted as saying, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Matthew 21:44). Isaiah wrote, “I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him. Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me” (Isaiah 8:17-18). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews applies this to Christ. “And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me" (Hebrews 2:13). In Isaiah, chapter 9, we see what appears to be a time of restoration for Israel and Matthew sees this fulfilled in Christ as seen in 4:12-16 above.
Isaiah 9:1-2: Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Isaiah goes on in Chapter 9 to prophesy what appears to be the birth of Christ but then immediately returns to prophesying the defeat of Israel and their failure to be successful in their war against Judah. Here is the passage that appears to be about Christ.
Isaiah 9:6-7: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
So what we have here is an eclectic group of OT writings that deal with events contemporary with the writer while at the same time appearing to deal with future events that appear to relate to Christ and His time on earth. While Christ and the city of Capernaum are not mentioned in Isaiah 9:1-2, because Isaiah speaks of the people of Galilee seeing a great light which Matthew identifies as Jesus, he sees this prophecy pertaining to Jesus and His move to Capernaum of Galilee.
Scriptural critics have suggested Jesus moved to Capernaum with the intent of making it look as through He was fulfilling prophecy. It must be remembered however, as already discussed in this series; it is Jesus who claimed these OT prophecies were about Him. It appears NT writers were simply reflecting on what they had been told by Christ. If Jesus is who He claimed to be, we must believe He was truly fulfilling the prophecies He saw being fulfilled in Him.
Called a Nazarene:
Matthew sees Jesus returning from Egypt to Nazareth as a fulfillment of a prophecy that He would be called a Nazarene. However, there is no such prophecy in the OT.
Matthew 2:23: and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene.
It’s been suggested that Matthew may have been referring to writings outside of the OT literature. Others have suggested that since Matthew speaks of the Prophets (plural), he is not referring to any one prophet but is referencing the overall theme in Messianic prophecies that the Messiah would be despised and rejected as seen in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22:6 which are considered Messianic prophecies. To come from Nazareth was considered synonymous with being despised as witnessed to by several passages in John.
John 1:45-46: Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.
John 7: 51-52: "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?" They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee."
In view of the above, some believe when Matthew says that Christ living in Nazareth and being called a Nazarene was a fulfillment of prophecies, this was simply a summation of prophecies that predicted His humble status in life. This appears to be a reasonable explanation.
Speaking in parables:
Matthew sees Jesus speaking in parables as a fulfillment of prophecy. The only prophecy in the OT that speaks of someone speaking in parables is in Psalm 78.
Matthew 13:34-35: Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."
Psalms 78: 1-3: O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old-- what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.
This Psalm is ascribed to a man named Asaph who according to 2 Chronicles 29:30, was a prophet. This Psalm is in large part a telling of Israel’s history with emphasis on their constant disobedience to the will of God and the consequences that ensued from such disobedience. There is nothing in this Psalm to indicate the writer was predicting that Christ would speak in parables. This appears to be another example of Matthew saying that in Christ there was a greater fulfillment of something that had already occurred in the historical past.
Drawing the sword:
As already discussed in this series, Jesus sees things happening to Him as fulfillment of the writings of the prophets. The writers of the Gospels are simply reporting what Jesus said as to these fulfillments. We see OT prophecy being fulfilled in Christ as a direct result of what Jesus told his disciples about what He believed to be associations between OT Scripture and events in His life. In Luke 22 and Matthew 26, we see Jesus making a direct association between OT prophecy and what was happening at the time of His arrest. Let’s begin with the passage in Luke where Jesus appears to be alluding to Isaiah 53:12.
Luke 22:36-38: He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: `And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment." The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords." "That is enough," he replied.
Isaiah 53:12: 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.
Jesus was chosen to be put to death over the criminal Barabbas and was crucified along with two criminals who were crucified with Him. While on the cross, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those facilitating His crucifixion. These events would appear to reflect what Isaiah wrote about being numbered with transgressors while at the same time interceding for them.
The prophecy in Isaiah says nothing about buying swords. It does not appear Jesus intended for the disciples to use swords to defend Him as we see Jesus healing the man who had his ear cut off by one of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, as seen in John 18:10). Jesus then told this disciple to put his sword back in its place and made the iconic statement that "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." Yet we see Jesus clearly saying this was all happening to Him in fulfillment of prophecy.
Matthew 26:50-56: Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for." Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Some believe that Jesus, in addition to alluding to Isaiah 53:12, was also alluding to what was written in Zechariah 13:7 as a prophecy about the buying of swords and one being used to cut off a soldier’s ear. While this appears rather iffy, there may here be a prophecy about the disciples deserting Jesus when Zechariah says by striking the shepherd the sheep are scattered. YHWH appears to be using the word sword to represent the actions of those who arrested Jesus if indeed this passage in Zechariah is about Jesus.
Zechariah 13:7: Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!" declares the LORD Almighty. "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.
The potter’s field:
The thirty pieces of silver that Judas received for betraying Jesus was returned by Judas to the religious authorities who decided to buy a field apparently owned by a potter (one who makes pottery) that could be used to bury strangers. Matthew sees this as a fulfillment of what the prophet Jeremiah said.
Matthew 27:7-10: So they (the chief priests) decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."
To begin with, Matthew’s statement attributed to Jeremiah is not found anywhere in the book of Jeremiah. While there is talk of a potter in Jeremiah 18 and 19, there is nothing about buying a potter’s field in these passages. In Jeremiah 32, there is an account of the selling of a field for seventeen shekels of sliver. This transaction appears to have taken place to signify that although Judah was about to be taken into captivity by Babylon, they would return to their land in the future where they will once again be able to buy and sell land. There is nothing in this account that relates to buying a potter’s field as a burying place.
The closest we can come to an OT passage that may relate to the event involving the thirty pieces of sliver is Zechariah 11. Here we see the prophet Zechariah asking for pay in return for services rendered. He is paid thirty pieces of sliver. YHWH then instructs Zechariah (who appears to represent YHWH) to throw the sliver into the house of YHWH which is seen as throwing it to the potter.
Zechariah 11:12-13: I told them, "If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it." So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"--the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter.
Some translations, such as RSV, render “to the potter” as “into the treasury.” Translations that render it this way appear to be following the Syrian (Aramaic translation called the Peshitta) rendering of the Hebrew text. Some commentators feel the phrase “the handsome price at which they priced me” is a derogatory statement showing Israel saw little value in the shepherding provided by YHWH. Therefore, it is believed that when the religious leaders paid Judas thirty pieces of sliver, they were showing contempt for Jesus in paying what is thought to be a very minimal amount.
A footnote to Zechariah 11:13 in the NET translation shows thirty pieces of sliver was around two and one-half years pay for a common laborer. Matthew records the religious leaders were able to use the money to but a piece of land. To conclude the thirty pieces of sliver was of low value may be problematical.
The bottom line here is that Matthew sees the thirty pieces of sliver event as a fulfillment of something Jeremiah said. Nothing Jeremiah said can be logically related to the event recorded in Matthew. While it may be argued that Matthew simply made a mistake and named the wrong prophet, this still leaves in question the supposed association between the events described in Zechariah and the events recorded in Matthew. There is no buying of a potter’s field commanded by the Lord in Zechariah as Matthew cites in his supposed quote from Jeremiah. Therefore, Matthew’s association of the purchase of the potter’s field with OT events is highly problematical.
Doomed to destruction:
John 17:12: While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
There is no OT Scripture that speaks of the Messiah losing a person doomed to destruction. Some believe Jesus has Psalm 41:9 and/or Psalm 109:8 in mind here.
Psalm 41:9: Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Psalm 109:8: May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
It is apparent that Apostle Peter had Psalm 109:8 in mind in discussing the death of Judas.
Acts 1:16-17, 20: "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus-- he was one of our number and shared in this ministry."
"For," said Peter, "it is written in the book of Psalms, "`May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, "`May another take his place of leadership.'
When both Psalms 41:9 and 109:8 are looked at within the context in which they are written, there is nothing here to indicate Judas is in mind. Both verses are within the greater context of David bewailing the fact his enemies are out to get him. That Psalm 41 is about David is clear from the fact the writer identifies himself as a sinner (Psalm 41:4). In Psalm 109, the context shows David is speaking of multiple accusers. So what justification is there for associating the Judas event with OT prophecy?
One explanation given for seeing the writings of David as pertaining to Christ is that David appears to come across as a type of Christ in the OT. While there are no Scriptures that directly say David is a type of Christ, there are prophecies in the OT that were given many years after David’s death that speak of David being king over Israel. These appear to be Messianic prophecies that predict the reign of Christ.
Jeremiah 30:9: Instead, they will serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
Ezekiel 34:23-24: I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.
Hosea 3:5: Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.
Given this Scriptural association between David and Christ, it is believed that David’s writings, while initially reflecting events in David’s life, are also prophetic of events in the life of the one David is seen as a type of. While critics see the making of these associations as arbitrary on the part of Scriptural writers and interpreters, it must be remembered that Jesus taught that OT Scripture spoke of Him and if Jesus is who He claimed to be, we must take Him at His word.
The Bethlehem birth:
Matthew reports that Magi come to Jerusalem and inquired as to the location of the one who has been born king of Jews. It’s recorded that King Herod is told by the Jewish religious leaders that the Christ is to be born in Bethlehem according to what the prophet has written and then Matthew paraphrases what the prophet Micah wrote.
Matthew 2:5-6: "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: "`But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.' "
Micah 5:2: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."
Micah prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. In chapters one through three, in very apocalyptic and hyperbolic terminology, Micah appears to be predicting the Assyrian captivity of the Nation of Israel and Babylonian captivity of the Nation of Judah. In chapter four he appears to be looking forward to the “last days” when Israel will be restored as a unified nation with headquarters at Jerusalem. In chapter 5 is the prophecy about a ruler coming out of Bethlehem followed by additional narrative as to the manner in which this ruler will rule.
Micah 5:3-4: Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
After speaking about the coming ruler to Israel, Micah speaks of Jacob (Israel) being scattered among the nations and how God will judge the nations that don’t obey him. In chapters six and seven, Micah continues to record God’s displeasure with Israel and concludes by once again speaking of Israel’s restoration.
The book of Micah is largely predicting judgement upon Israel for their sinning ways. Mixed in with this judgement rhetoric is prophecy about restoration under a leader who comes out of the town of Bethlehem. The prophecy in Micah 5 states that the ruler to come has origins that are from of old and from ancient times. This is usually interpreted as pointing to the pre-existence of Christ. However, this could simply be looking back to the linage of Christ which can be traced back through David and before.
It is apparent that the religious leaders of Jesus day understood that OT Scripture predicted that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem as this is what they told Herod. That Bethlehem was believed to be the prophesied birth place of the Messiah appears to have had widespread belief among the Jews of Jesus day. When speculating as to who Jesus was and knowing He had been raised in Galilee, some asked the question, “Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem” (John 7:42).
Of all the OT passages we have so far discussed in this essay that are purported to be associated with Christ, the passage in Micah 5 appears to be the most plausible as there is no apparent OT fulfillment and it is associated with a future ruler over a restored kingdom of Israel who is a descendant of David. Scripture shows David’s family came from Bethlehem.
Reading of the scroll:
There is a passage of scripture from Isaiah, chapter 61, that Jesus said was being fulfilled at the time He read it while attending a Sabbath day service in a synagogue in Nazareth. This passage of Scripture in Isaiah is part of what appears to be a prophecy about a time when Israel would be restored as a viable nation never to be again destroyed. This prophecy appears to begin in Isaiah, chapter 59 and runs though chapter 61. Luke 4:17-21 records the portion of this prophecy that Jesus said was being fulfilled in Him.
Luke 4:17-21: The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Isaiah 61:1-3: The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
It is interesting that Jesus only quotes part of what Isaiah said in 61:1-3. He leaves out the part about proclaiming the day of God’s vengeance, comfort for those who mourn, provision for those who grieve and the bestowal of a crown of beauty, etc.
Isaiah lived and prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (Isaiah: 1:1). He prophesied the demise of the Nation of Judah because of their many sins. Sprinkled in among the rhetoric about the demise of Judah are prophecies of a time of glorious restoration. Biblical history documents Judah being taken into captivity by Babylon at which time the temple built by Solomon was destroyed along with a good part of Jerusalem. After Persia conquered Babylon, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. While this constituted a restoration of sorts for the Nation of Judah, this could hardly be seen as the kind of glorious restoration prophesied by Isaiah. Judah was not restored as the everlasting Kingdom seen in Isaiah’s prophecies.
During the time of Christ, the Romans ruled the land of Israel and in AD 70 the Romans destroyed the second temple and much of Jerusalem. While a nation called Israel was established in 1948, this too cannot be seen as anything like the restoration prophesied by Isaiah. Yet we see Jesus referring to a small part of Isaiah’s restorative prophecies as being fulfilled by Him 2000 years ago.
If one is to take Isaiah’s restorative prophesies literally, it is obvious that such restoration has not taken place to this very day. Some believe this restoration will literally take place at the time of a yet future return of Christ and Christ’s reference to fulfilling a portion of Isaiah’s prophecy was just the beginning of this process.
Others see Isaiah’s restorative prophecies as spiritual in nature where he is using hyperbolic figurative language to describe a spiritual regeneration of Israel involving the spiritual dynamics of covenantal transition that would result in the granting of eternal life in a new heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-24).
Whatever position one takes relative to Isaiah’s restorative prophecies, it is evident these prophecies were not fulfilled in OT times. Jesus sees some of what Isaiah wrote as being fulfilled in His time. When will the rest of these prophecies be fulfilled? Where they fulfilled in the events of AD 70? See my series entitled “When Does Christ Return” for further discussion of this issue.