OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY AND JESUS: PART ONE
The post crucifixion appearances of Jesus convinced His disciples He had been raised from the dead. Seeing Jesus alive after knowing he had been dead brought great joy to the disciples. It is instructive, however, that when Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem that first day of the week after His resurrection, he felt it necessary to explain to them how what He had just gone through was a fulfillment of Old testament (OT) Scripture.
Luke 24:44: He said to them, "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." then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
Jesus singles out the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms as resources that contained writings that pointed to Him and what He experienced. During His ministry, Jesus had on a number of occasions made statements to the effect that the OT Scriptures spoke of Him.
John 5:39: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.
John 5:46: If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.
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."
Apostle Peter, in addressing the Israelites of his day, made it evident that a healing he and Apostle John had facilitated at the temple was not their doing but was accomplished through invoking the name of Jesus who they had put to death but who was resurrected in fulfillment of OT prophecy.
Acts 2:18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.
Acts 2:24:"Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days.
Apostle Paul also sees in Jesus the fulfillment of what Moses and the prophets wrote about the coming of the Messiah.
Acts 26:22-23: But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen--that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."
It is apparent that during Jesus’ ministry, His disciples did not associate the suffering servant passages and other OT Scriptures with Jesus. In the account of Jesus appearing to the two disciples walking to Emmaus after the resurrection, it is recorded that Jesus showed them from the OT Scriptures that what had just transpired in Jerusalem had been predicted by the prophets.
Luke 24:25-27: He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Jesus chides these two disciples for being foolish and slow of heart to believe what the prophets had spoken. In essence, Jesus is saying they had failed to do their homework. They had failed to carefully study the OT Scriptures and see the parallels between what was written and the events in the life of Jesus. Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus took the twelve disciples aside and explained to them that what was about to happen to Him was foretold by the prophets.
Luke 18:31-34: Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again." The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
Jesus informs His disciples that everything written in the prophets about His passion was about to be fulfilled. It is stated they didn't understand any of this. Yet oddly enough, the disciples who were initially invited by Jesus to follow him apparently believed Jesus was the man that Moses and the prophets wrote about, the prophesied future king of Israel.
John 1:43-45,49: The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 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."
Verse 49: Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
In Luke 18, it is recorded the meaning of what Jesus said was hidden from them. This is often interpreted as God intentionally hiding the meaning from them. However, this may not be the case at all. It may simply mean they failed to understand what Jesus was saying because of their paradigms at the time. We all view information and events through established paradigms, frames of reference or horizons. We all hold presuppositions that influence how we view things. The disciples of Jesus were no different.
It is apparent from the Scriptures that the disciples held the common view that the Messiah would be a military leader sent by God to restore the Davidic kingdom. That view dominated their thinking resulting in they simply not understanding what Jesus meant by saying He would be killed, let alone raise from the dead three days later. They didn’t expect the Messiah to be killed so they had no clue what Jesus was talking about. It was their paradigm at the time that hid the meaning from them. We get a real feel for the thinking of the disciples in Matthew.
Matthew 16:21-22: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
This is a very strong example of the paradigm that was held by the disciples of Jesus. The idea of Jesus suffering and being killed was foreign to the thinking of these men and probably the women who followed Him as well. The disciples believed Jesus was the promised Messiah to Israel. Jesus speaking of being killed must have sounded like nonsense to them.
First century expectations:
First century Israelites were expecting the Messiah to appear in their life time. They understood from Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy that the time was at hand for the Messiah to appear. Because there was a general expectation that the time was at hand for the Messiah to appear and restore the Davidic kingdom, there were many false Messiah’s appearing in the first century who claimed to be that Messiah. Jesus warned His disciples about these false Messiah’s in the Olivet Discourse.
Matthew 24:23-25: At that time if anyone says to you, `Look, here is the Christ!' or, `There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.
That such predicted false Messiah’s were appearing in the first century is evident from both the Scriptures and secular history. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Theudas who twelve years after the death of Jesus claimed to be a great prophet and deceived a great multitude into believing he could divide the Jordan River. Many of his followers were killed and Theudas was beheaded.
Both Josephus and the Church historian Eusebius wrote about the messianic Egyptian aspirant who led 30,000 people to the Mount of Olives and the desert proclaiming that he would cause the walls of Jerusalem to be destroyed. About two years later the Roman authorities may have thought Paul was this Egyptian
Acts 21:37-38: As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, "May I say something to you?" "Do you speak Greek?" he replied. "Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?"
The early Church father Origen spoke of a certain first-century wonder-worker named Dositheus who claimed he was the Christ foretold by Moses. In Acts 13:6, we read about the false prophet Bar-Jesus. In his Antiquities, Josephus wrote that, “so many false christs began to appear among the Jews of Judea during the time of the early Church that hardly a day went by that the Roman procurator did not put some of them to death.” Josephus further states that, “the country was full of robbers, magicians, false prophets, false messiahs, and impostors who deluded the people with promises of great events.”
After the ascension of Jesus to the Father, the disciples of Jesus had a two fold task before them. They had to not only prove to their fellow Jews that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead but also prove He really was the Messiah who was to come. This was no easy task. First century Jews were anticipating the appearance of a Messiah that would restore the Davidic kingdom and relieve them from Roman oppression. It is apparent the disciples of Jesus were initially no different in such anticipation. They were looking for the Christ to establish a physical kingdom on earth where they would have positions of high authority. This is born out by various events that occurred during Christ’s ministry.
Matthew 20:20-21: Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. "What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."
It is apparent that those who became followers of Jesus during His ministry had expectations of Jesus becoming their king which means He would replace the Roman Caesar as their king. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey shortly before His arrest, He was hailed as King of Israel.
Mark 11:8-10: Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna! " "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest!"
Luke 19:38: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
John 12:13: They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!"
It is apparent that Jesus was being hailed by His followers as the promised descendant of David who had come to restore the Davidic kingdom. When David appointed his son Solomon to be King over Israel he arranged to have Solomon ride on a donkey to the place of his anointing. The record of this anointing in 1 Kings chapter one shows there was great rejoicing over this event. The parallelism seen between Solomon riding on a donkey in coming to His anointing as King over Israel and Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and being hailed as King of Israel must not have gone unnoticed by the Jewish religious authorities.
This public demonstration of acknowledging Jesus as King of Israel was probably instrumental in Jesus getting arrested and being crucified. At His trial, His accusers said they had no king but Caesar. It is instructive, however, that before Jesus was crucified, He made it quite clear in a statement to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world.
John 18:36-37: Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
Jesus readily admits to being a king. But He makes it clear His kingdom is not of this world. The Greek for “world” is kosmos. Kosmos has broad application in the Greek language with the common thread being that the word refers to the physical realm. Jesus appears to be saying His Kingdom is not of this physical realm. However, it is apparent that when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, His followers believed Jesus was going to establish a physical kingdom. Yet just days after hailing Him as King of Israel, Jesus is arrested, tried and crucified.
Not only was this a blow to the close disciples of Jesus but it must have created a great deal of disillusionment among those who had just a few days earlier hailed Jesus as King of Israel. Their hopes that this was the man who would delivery Israel from Roman oppression were dashed. Now three days after being crucified Jesus is resurrected and over a period of forty days appears to His disciples teaching about the kingdom of God.
Acts 1:3: After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
It is recorded that during the forty days Jesus spent with His disciples after His resurrection, He spoke about the kingdom. What is it He told them about the Kingdom? He had told Pilate His kingdom was not of this world. So what was it about the kingdom that Jesus was teaching his disciples? It is apparent that whatever it was He told them it didn’t include the time of its establishment as a governing authority. Yet the time of its establishment as a governing authority was still foremost in the minds of the disciples.
Acts 1:6-9: So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
It is instructive that Jesus does not deny there is going to be a restoration of the kingdom. He simple explains that the time of such restoration is in the Father’s hands. By telling the disciples they will be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, He is indicating much had yet to be accomplished before the kingdom is restored.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus taught the disciples about the Kingdom. During His ministry He sent His disciples out to preach and teach about the kingdom. During the forty days after His resurrection, He continues to teach them about the kingdom. As discussed elsewhere on this website, the kingdom appears to involve a number of behavioral dynamics that we are expected to embrace and live by in the here and now. It is these dynamics of the kingdom it appears Jesus taught His disciples and his disciples taught others. It is these behavioral dynamics we see Paul and others teaching after Jesus ascended to the Father.
However, it must be noted that many Scriptures point to the kingdom having location and a governing authority. In telling the disciples it is not for them to know the times or dates as to when the kingdom is to be restored, it appears Jesus is telling them it was not for them to know the time when the governing authority of the kingdom would be established.
We know the Kingdom was not restored as a governing authority here on earth at the time of Jesus’ ascension to the Father. We instead see Jesus, as the king of the kingdom, leaving this earth. He doesn’t stick around to establish a governing authority that would rescue Israel from Roman domination. Instead of there being a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, just the opposite occurred. In less than forty years after the ascension of Jesus, the Romans largely destroyed what first century Israel considered the location for a restored kingdom of Israel, namely the city of Jerusalem and its temple.
Between 66 and 70 A. D. the Romans destroyed the temple and didn’t leave one stone left upon another as Jesus had predicted in the Olivet Discourse. The Romans destroyed much of Jerusalem, killed a million Jews and took 100,000 Jews into captivity. The priesthood and sacrificial system ceased to exist and has not existed since.
After the ascension of Jesus, it is apparent the disciples had to adjust their thinking as to the purpose for which Jesus appeared among them. They had to adjust their thinking as to the nature of the Kingdom and just why it was that the king of this kingdom had to suffer and die and then be resurrected. This adjustment in thinking becomes apparent as we read through the book of Acts and the letters of Apostle Paul.
Here we find Jesus being discussed and preached not as a conquering king who would restore a physical kingdom but as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin. We see the kingdom being discussed in association with righteous living and through resurrection being the destination of those who die in Christ. For a comprehensive discussion of the Kingdom of God go to "What is the Kingdom of God."
Before His ascension, Jesus told the disciples they would be His witnesses. How were they to do this? What was it they were to give witness to? To begin with, they had to give witness to Jesus being alive after being dead. Secondly they had to give witness to Jesus indeed being the promised Messiah to Israel. As already pointed out, there were many false Christs that appeared on the seen in the first century. The disciples had to show that Jesus was the true Christ and indeed the King of Israel even though there wasn’t any visible kingdom to show for it.
A needed paradigm shift:
The disciples of Jesus had to change the paradigm of those who expected the Messiah to be a physical savior who would deliver them from Roman rule. They had to give witness to Jesus being a spiritual savior. They had to give witness to Jesus having come to deliver Israel from the consequences of sin, a deliverance that would also be shared with the Gentile world.
How did they go about giving such witness to Jesus? They did this by constantly invoking OT Scripture to prove Jesus was the Christ. The OT was the bedrock of the Jewish religious system. The NT Scriptures had not yet been written. To prove Jesus was the true Christ and not some imposter, the disciples began to show how what Jesus did and experienced was prophesied in the OT.
They knew what Jesus had experienced and they now had come to understand the associations between those experiences and what the OT prophets wrote. They came to understand these associations because Jesus taught them how various events in His life matched up with OT prophecy.
It was very important that the disciples of Jesus understood the relationship between the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus. This understanding would play a critical role in them convincing their fellow Jews that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah to Israel. It was the sharing of this understanding with others that would propel the development of the Christian Church.
After Paul’s conversion, he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. It is very likely it was during this period of time the Damascus disciples showed Paul how Jesus had fulfilled the Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms. It is recorded that Paul immediately began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God and that he baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
Acts 9:22: Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
How did Paul baffle the Jews? How did Paul prove Jesus is the Christ? He did so by knowing the details of Christ’s birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection and then showing from the OT Scriptures how all this had been foretold by the prophets.
Acts 17:2-3: As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
In Acts 18 we have the account of the Alexandrian Jew named Apollos who came to Ephesus to preach the Gospel. The author of Acts writes that Apollos was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the OT Scriptures. In Acts 18:28 it is recorded that Apollos vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Acts 18:28: For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
The Scriptures being used by Apollos were the OT scriptures. There were no New Testament (NT) Scriptures when the Apostles of Jesus and men like Paul and Apollos began proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ. These men were proving Jesus was the Christ on the basis of OT Scripture. Acts 18 records that Apollos only knew the teaching of John the Baptist. However, armed with John’s teachings and the knowledge that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, he was able to go to the OT Scriptures and powerfully prove Jesus was the promised Messiah to Israel.
We see Peter and Paul referencing events connected with Jesus as being the fulfillment of OT prophecy.
Acts 1:16: 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.
Acts 3:18: But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.
Acts 13:27: The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
2 Timothy 3:15: From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
It is apparent the disciples of Jesus regularly referenced OT prophecy in teaching and convincing both Jews and Gentiles that Jesus was indeed the prophesied Messiah. They did this in retrospect. It is after Jesus was crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven that they came to see the associations between OT prophecy and the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
What exactly is it the disciples of Jesus believed about these associations between the OT and the life of Jesus? Did they see the prophets specifically foretelling events in the life of Jesus? It is instructive that Jesus is not mentioned by name anywhere in the OT. The title Messiah is found only twice in the OT with both references found in Daniel 9:25-26 in Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy.
There are no explicit associations between OT prophecies and various OT events that came to be associated with Jesus. What I mean by this is that the OT events and prophecies that came to be regarded as pertaining to Jesus, when read in their OT context, are not seen as pertaining to Jesus. Some one reading these prophecies before Jesus was born would not have seen such prophecies as pertaining to a man named Jesus or to a coming Messiah. As I stated, the name Jesus does not appear in the OT and the title of Messiah appears only twice. Because of this, some scholars take a very skeptical view of the NT associations made between the OT and Jesus. They believe such associations are quite arbitrary and subjective.
What some scholars think:
Some Biblical scholars and church historians believe that after Jesus was crucified and the disciple’s hopes of He restoring the Davidic kingdom were dashed, they were desperate to show Jesus was still the promised Messiah. So they took prophecies from the OT that in their original context appear to have nothing to do with Jesus and applied such prophesies to Jesus. Matthew in particular is seen as associating OT prophesies with events in the life of Jesus. Some NT scholars have been very critical of Matthew’s use of OT prophecies to prove Jesus is the Christ. Matthew is accused of taking OT prophecies out of context and fraudulently applying them to Jesus.
It has been suggested that NT writers were using eisegesis rather than exegesis in their application of OT prophecies to Jesus. Exegesis is where great care is taken to consider the the context of an event and how those exposed to such event would have understood the dynamics of said event. Eisegesis is interpreting an event in such manner where one's own presuppositions, agendas, or biases are introduced into the deciphering of what happened and what it may mean. This is commonly referred to as "reading into the text." Some believe this is what the NT writers were doing.
Jewish scholars, who by and large don’t believe Jesus is the Christ, are quick to provide alternative interpretations of OT Scriptures used by Matthew and other NT writers as referencing events in the life of Jesus. Jewish scholars see such OT prophecies, sayings and events as having nothing to do with events in the life of Jesus.
Some critics have suggested Jesus created events in His life that fit OT prophecies so that it would appear such prophecies were being fulfilled in Him. However, such a suggestion is very problematical in that there are a number of prophecies seen as being fulfilled in events associated with the birth of Jesus and His crucifixion where He would not have had any control over what happened.
Since Jesus is not mentioned by name in the OT and the word Messiah only appears twice, how can we know for sure that OT prophecies and events reported in the NT as being fulfilled in Jesus were actually meant to foretell or relate to events in the life of Jesus? What justification is there for seeing OT prophecies and events that in some cases appear totally unrelated to Jesus as being fulfilled in Jesus?
In reality, the justification for doing so is Jesus. It is apparent from the sayings of Jesus that much of what He experienced during His time on this earth He saw as fulfillment of OT prophecy. Jesus saw Himself in a number of sayings and events recorded in the OT. If we are to believe Jesus is the risen Christ, the promised Messiah to Israel, the God ordained Saviour of the world, the King of the Kingdom of God; then we must believe Jesus when He sees in Himself the fulfillment of OT prophecy. We must believe that a number of OT prophecies and events took place to foreshadow the Christ event.
As previously pointed out, it wasn’t until after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected that His disciple’s came to see the relationships between OT prophecies and events in the life of Jesus. Jesus saw these relationships from the beginning. The disciples came to see these relationships because Jesus pointed such relationships out to them. The disciples of Jesus were simply following His lead in making such associations. The associations they made between the OT and events in the life of Jesus were taught to them by Jesus. We have already seen the evidence for this in comments Jesus made as recorded in Luke 18:31-34, 24:25-27 and 24:44.
Since the use of OT prophecies appears to be a vital dynamic in providing evidence for the Messiahship of Jesus, I think it important we look at the associations Jesus and His followers make between OT prophecies, events and sayings and events in the life of Christ. Let’s place ourselves back in the first century before there was a New Testament and do what His followers did. They went to the OT to prove Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah to Israel. Let’s see how and why they did this. We will begin our investigation by looking at Matthew’s use of an OT prophecy to provide evidence for the virgin birth of Jesus.