OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY AND JESUS: PART THREE
As previously discussed, the justification for Matthew and other NT writers associating OT prophecies and events with events in the life of Jesus appears to be that Jesus made these associations. Jesus clearly taught that certain OT prophecies were uttered and certain OT events occurred that were brought to greater or complete fulfillment in Him. Let’s now continue to look at various prophecies and events recorded in the OT which Matthew and other NT witnesses see as being fulfilled in Christ.
Mourning in Ramah:
Jeremiah 31:15: This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more."
Matthew 2:16-18: When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
Ramah was a city to the north of Jerusalem in the province of Benjamin which was part of the nation of Judah. Jeremiah prophesied during the demise of the nation of Judah when they were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. The nation of Israel had already been taken into captivity some years earlier by the Assyrians. Judah didn’t learn from what happened to Israel but committed even greater sin and suffered greatly because of it.
Jeremiah 20: 4-5: For this is what the LORD says: `I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. I will hand over to their enemies all the wealth of this city--all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon.
While Jeremiah prophesied judgement against Judah for their multiple sins, he also prophesied their restoration. Jeremiah 31 has to do with their restoration.
It is evident from the context of Jeremiah as a whole that when he speaks of “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more," he is speaking about the suffering associated with the Babylonian captivity. It is instructive that Jeremiah follows his statement about Rachel weeping for her children by saying:
Jeremiah 31: 16-17: This is what the LORD says: "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded," declares the LORD. "They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future," declares the LORD. "Your children will return to their own land.
While Jeremiah is reflecting on the suffering associated with the Babylonian captivity, he is telling Judah they will be restored and returned to the land. He speaks of this restoration several times.
Jeremiah 25:11-12: This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. "But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt," declares the LORD, "and will make it desolate forever.
Jeremiah 16:14-15: "However, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when men will no longer say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' For I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers.
Judah was restored to the land some seventy years after their captivity as prophesied by Jeremiah. This restoration took place during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. As is true with Isaiah’s prophecy about a virgin birth, Jeremiah’s observation about Rachel weeping for her children appears to pertain to events going on in his time and is not a prophecy per se about events in the life of Christ. Yet Matthew associates Jeremiah’s statement about Rachel weeping for her children with the anguish experienced by mothers having there children killed by Herod in his attempt to kill Jesus. Matthew writes that what Jeremiah wrote about women weeping for their children was fulfilled at the time of the birth of Jesus. Yet we see what Jeremiah said was fulfilled during the time of Jeremiah.
Like in the case of Matthew’s use of the virgin birth in Isaiah’s time as having a greater fulfillment in the virgin birth of Christ, here Matthew is citing the suffering associated with the Babylonian captivity as having a greater fulfillment in the suffering associated with events related to the birth of Christ. Since both these events had a prior fulfillment hundreds of years before Christ, Matthew can only be seeing these events as having a secondary or greater fulfillment in Christ. As with the case of the virgin birth recorded by Isaiah, we see in the women weeping for their children recorded by Jeremiah not so much a prophesied event pointing to Christ but a parallel event that is seen as a type of an event in the life of Christ.
Isaiah 40 and John the Baptist:
Let’s now look at another example of a NT writer seeing an OT event as being fulfilled in association with Christ. In connection with the restoration of Judah after the Babylon captivity we see Isaiah making a statement that hundreds of years later is used by Luke to describe the ministry of John the Baptist preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus. The stage for this statement is set in Isaiah 39 where the prophet says this to Hezekiah:
Isaiah 39:5-7: Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the LORD Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."
This prophecy came true some years later when Judah was taken into captivity. What is interesting is that like Jeremiah, Isaiah prophesies the return of the people to the land and in so doing makes a statement that hundreds of years later is used by Luke to describe the ministry of John the Baptist.
Isaiah 40: 1-5: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
In the overall context of Isaiah, it appears the prophet is, like Jeremiah did, prophesying the restoration of Judah after Judah was punished by God for their sin. Isaiah appears to be using hyperbole to describe the restoration of Judah in speaking of every valley being raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground becoming level and the rugged places a plain. Hyperbole is rhetorical exaggeration and is commonly used in prophetic writing throughout the Scriptures. Luke takes this hyperbolic statement of Isaiah’s and applies it to John the Baptist.
Luke 3:2-6: During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.'"
When Isaiah made the statement about a voice crying in the wilderness, there is no indication Isaiah had John the Baptist in mind. Isaiah’s statement is best understood as pertaining to the restoration of Judah. Yet Luke uses Isaiah’s statement as descriptive of what John’s ministry was all about. Was Isaiah’s prophecy meant to be prophetic of John the Baptist? If it was, there is no indication Isaiah knew it was. It may be that Luke, like Matthew, was simply using an OT event as a parallel to an event in the NT.
When looking at the many associations NT personalities make between OT events and events in the life of Christ, it would appear that such associations are better understood as parallels or greater fulfillment's of such events than seeing them as specific prophecies pertaining to Christ. Now let’s look at another OT statement that is commonly seen as directly pertaining to Christ. This is a statement made by Moses some 1,500 hundred years before the Christ event.
Deuteronomy 18 and Jesus:
Deuteronomy 18:15: The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.
This statement by Moses is commonly seen as pertaining to Christ because Peter uses this statement in reference to Christ. In the NT book of Acts, chapter 3, Peter is addressing an audience made up of Israelites, and chastises them for their role in the death of Jesus. He exhorts them to repent. Then he quotes what Moses said as recorded in Deuteronomy and relates it to Jesus.
Acts 3:22: For Moses said, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.
The context of Acts 3 shows Peter is associating what Moses said about God rising up a prophet with the man Jesus. Peter appears to be saying that Moses was prophesying the rise of Jesus as a prophet. In Acts chapter 7 we see Stephen, while defending His being a follower of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, alluding to Deuteronomy 18:15 as pertaining to Christ.
Acts 7:37: "This is that Moses who told the Israelites, `God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.'
Some believe Jesus had Deuteronomy 18:15 in mind when he said what is recorded in John 5:46-47.
John 5:46-47: If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.
But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"
In Deuteronomy 18, Moses is addressing the Israelites and giving them general instructions as to the priesthood of the Levites, and the need to avoid the detestable practices of the nations around them. Then Moses makes the statement about God rising up for them a prophet like Moses whom they must listen to. Moses follows this statement by saying the following:
Deuteronomy 18:16-19: For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die." 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 to account.
If we are to honor audience relevance which is to consider how those hearing Moses would have understood what he was saying and if we are to honor context which is to consider all that Moses said to the people, it should be apparent that Moses was telling them that God would raise up a prophet like himself to lead them after he died.
The context of Deuteronomy 18 is Moses addressing the Israelites of his day. When Moses says, "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me," the "you" Moses is addressing are the Israelites standing before him. There is no indication Moses is using the word "you" in an editorial sense where "you" is being used to pertain to those living hundreds of years into the future. Since the instruction in Deuteronomy 15 and to the end of the book appears to have been given shortly before Moses died, it stands to reason that Moses would have reassured the Israelites that they would not be left leaderless. Therefore, he tells them that God would raise up a prophet like him to lead them.
The next fifteen chapters of Deuteronomy contain continuing instruction from Moses to Israel as to how to conduct and not conduct themselves as a nation. There is no reason to believe that in the midst of all the instruction Moses is giving to the Israelites that pertain to them in their here and now and to their immediate future, he suddenly departs from their here and now and immediate future to tell them God will raise up a leader for them 1,500 years in the future after they all will have been dead for multiple hundreds of years. Of what relevance would it be to the Israelites Moses was addressing to say God would raise up a prophet like him to whom they must listen if the "they" were all going to be dead when this prophet arrived on the scene.
In the final chapter of Deuteronomy, chapter 34, the death of Moses is recorded. After the death of Moses, Joshua becomes the leader of Israel. Joshua replaces Moses and leads Israel into the Promised Land. Before his death, Moses laid his hands on Joshua and Scripture shows God promised to be with Joshua as He was with Moses and the people responded to Joshua as they did to Moses.
Deuteronomy 34:9: Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.
Joshua 1:5: No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Joshua 1:16-18: Then they answered Joshua, "Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!"
The context here clearly shows Joshua has received the mantel of leadership and the people are to listen to him as they had listened to Moses. God said through Moses that He would raise up for them a prophet like Moses from among their brothers, put His words in the mouth of this prophet and expect everyone to listen to this prophet and if they don’t they will be held accountable. While it could be argued that Joshua is nowhere called a prophet in Scripture, when considering the context here and paying heed to audience relevance, it would appear when Moses says God will rise up a prophet like unto himself, Moses is talking about his successor Joshua. Further evidence this is the case in found in Joshua 3:7 and 9.
Joshua 3:7,9: And the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Verse 9: Joshua said to the Israelites, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.
It is clear from this passage that YHWH was with Joshua as He was with Moses and that He spoke through Joshua as He spoke through Moses. This passage shows God put His words in the mouth of Joshua just as He had put His words into the mouth of Moses. This appears to be a clear fulfillment of what God said through Moses about raising up a prophet like Moses.In Numbers, chapter 27, just before his death, Moses asks God to provide a leader for Israel to take his place. God directs Moses to have Joshua anointed as his successor.
Numbers 27:15-18: Moses said to the LORD, "May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him.
In view of the Scriptural evidence that it is Joshua who Moses is speaking about in Deuteronomy 18, why does Peter, Stephen and possibly even Jesus associate Jesus with what Moses said about God raising up a prophet like Moses? It would appear Peter, Stephen and Jesus are saying that God through Moses was prophesying the arrival of Jesus. Yet context and audience relevance would suggest this OT prophecy was fulfilled shortly after the time it was given.
It is apparent that when NT writers see Jesus in OT prophecies they are doing so because they came to understand that even though such prophecies may have had an initial fulfillment at the time or close to the time they were given, they also were meant to foreshadow events in the life of Christ. They came to this understanding because this is what Jesus taught them.
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.
Remember, the Greek word translated “fulfilled” here in Luke 24:44 is pleeroo. This word appears 90 times in the NT and has the basic meaning of “to make full, to fill, to fill up and to fill to the full.” It is apparent Jesus saw in Himself the bringing to the full a number of prophetic events recorded in the OT Scriptures. While many of these prophesied events had initial fulfillment in the past, they were being brought to greater fulfillment in Christ.
While some NT scholars question the validity of NT authors using already fulfilled OT prophecies as having been fulfilled a second time in Christ, it is apparent from what Jesus taught His disciples about such prophecies that such prophecies were intended to have application beyond their immediate fulfillment at or near to the time such prophecies were uttered.
In Part Four of this series we will look at some OT prophecies that don’t appear to have an initial fulfillment in OT times but appear to have clear fulfillment in Christ.