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Prophecy and the Messiah
Nature of Bible Prophecy
He not only inspired them to write down the revelations He gave them, but He occasionally instructed them to write word-for-word what He told to them. "And he said to me, 'Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.' So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, 'Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.' Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. And he said to me, 'Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them.'" (Ezekiel 3:1-4)
The prophets' predictions of future events are what make the Bible different from the sacred writings of other religions. Many of the Bible's predictions, or prophecies, have already come to pass not generally, but literally. The Bible writers even wrote about the historical fulfillment of many of them. Some of the prophecies are being fulfilled right now, and others will take place in the future.
Importance of Prophecies
God has confirmed the inspiration of the Bible, and His own sovereignty, by announcing His purpose ahead-of-time and then making everything happen just as He has predicted through His prophets.
The prophecies in the Old Testament about a coming Savior are extremely important to us for three reasons:
Development of Messianic Prophecy
The Greek word for "Messiah" is Christ; so when we talk about "Jesus Christ", we are calling Jesus the "Messiah", the "Anointed One", the literal physical fulfillment of the Old Testament's messianic prophecies.
God's promises of the Messiah were given to His people very gradually over a period of about 4,000 years. Some of them described the work that the Messiah would do on earth as our Savior. Others referred to His future everlasting Kingdom. Some of these prophecies were given in messages about a then-present local situation (such as Israel's captivity or unfaithfulness), but went beyond the immediate problem to speak about the coming of the Messiah.
God revealed more and more details about the coming Messiah as time went by: where and how He would be born, how He would die, what kind of work He would do. In fact, some Bible students have counted more than 300 details about the Messiah in Old Testament prophecy [see "Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus" for a list of more than 200 of the fulfilled prophecies]. God wanted everyone to be able to recognize the Messiah when He came.
The whole book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells how Jesus fits perfectly the prophetic pictures given by the symbolic rituals, sacrificial animals, and priests of the Old Testament.
All over the world today we find traces of the prophetic rites and sacrifices that God instituted when man sinned. Many religions today [Hinduism and Islam among them] have in their worship some of these rituals, the most important of which is the shedding of blood by a sacrificial animal to atone for the people's sins. Of course, these rituals were meant to point to the Messiah.
Seed of Abraham, Seed of Jacob, Seed of David
"and Jesse fathered David the king. And David the king fathered Solomon of her who had been wife of Uriah." (Matthew 1:6)"...the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz..." (Luke 3:31-32)
These genealogies are important because the nation of Israel would need clear evidence to examine as to whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. This would give them an opportunity to be convinced and believe in Jesus as their long-awaited "Anointed One".
A person's genealogy would normally be traced through the father's side, as Matthew did in Matthew 1:1-17 where he traced Jesus' lineage from Jesus' earthly father Joseph back to Abraham. Luke, however, wrote a genealogical account of the Messiah from a slightly different perspective and with more detail. It is also believed that Luke's biography traces some of the mother's lineage (see Luke 3:23-38). For example, Luke calls Joseph the "son of Eli", who is believed to be Mary's father. As Joseph's birth father was named Jacob, Eli would actually be Joseph's father-in-law whom, in the culture of that day, would be considered the same as, or of equal importance in the family as, his birth father. Thus, it would not be uncommon to refer to Joseph's father-in-law as his "father".
Luke also traces the Messiah's genealogy all the way back to the first man, Adam (Luke 3:38), while Matthew only goes back to Abraham.
Born of a Virgin
Luke explains further that the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary to tell her that she would be with child by the Holy Spirit. When Mary asked the angel how she could be with child when she was a virgin, Gabriel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. . . . For nothing will be impossible with God." (Luke 1:34-35,37)
Born in Bethlehem, the City of David
"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David" (Luke 2:4)
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David [Bethlehem] a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)
Called out of Egypt
A Galilean Ministry
Prophecy Tells Exactly When the Messiah Would Come
"Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed."
King James Version
Explanation of the Prophecy: According to Daniel's prophecy, the Messiah ["Chosen Leader" in the CEV, "Messiah" in the KJV, and "anointed one" in the ESV and NIV] would be killed ["cut off"] before the destruction of the Temple, the destruction of which occurred in 70 A.D. So, the Messiah had to come before 70 A.D.
The command to rebuild the Temple was given in 445 B.C. (see Ezra 6:3) and King Artaxerxes carried it out in the 20th year of his reign (see Nehemiah 2:1-8). From the time the command was given in 445 B.C. until the Messiah was to be killed was to cover a very specific length of time referred to in Bible chronology as "seven weeks" and then "sixty-two weeks" [or "seven weeks and three score and two weeks" in the KJV] for a total of 69 weeks.
Definition of "Weeks" in Bible Chronology: The Hebrew word for "weeks" in prophetic chronology is translated "a period of 7 years". So when Daniel wrote that the Messiah would be killed in Israel in 69 weeks, it would actually be 69 seven-year periods, or a total of 483 years.
Daniel used the Hebrew calendar, which has about five fewer days per year than our modern calendar. When you take the five-day difference and multiply it by 483 years [the 69 seven-year periods], you get 2415 days, or 6.6 years, to be subtracted from our modern calendar. This adjusts the date to 32 A.D. when the Messiah would be killed ["cut off"].
Question: Do you know of anyone who died for the sins of the world, as other Scriptures prophesied He would do, around 32 A.D.? [See "Who Is Jesus: Savior of the World" for a more in-depth discussion of Jesus as the Savior of mankind.]
And finally, the second part of verse 26 eliminates any further doubt: "And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary." (KJV) The destruction of Israel and the temple occurred in 70 A.D. under Roman Emperor Titus. Thus, the true Messiah had to come and die [as other Scripture prophesied He must do] before the Temple was destroyed!
Other Prophecies to Consider
Both Human and Divine
But God promised that a Savior would be born who would fight Satan and destroy his power.
During the next several centuries, God revealed to His people more and more details about the Savior. He would be born in Bethlehem, in the land of Palestine, but He wouldn't be an ordinary man. He would be eternal, having no beginning or ending, and yet, He would be conceived and born as a human baby.
About 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God showed the prophet Isaiah that the coming Savior would be both human and divine. His mother would be a virgin, but He would not have a human father. God would be His Father. One of His titles would be "Immanuel", which literally means "With us God" [imma=with, nu=us, El=God].
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6) [Notice the verse says a "child" is "born", but the "son" is "given", which is further evidence that the Messiah existed before He was born as a human baby. Also, this Child who would be born would be called "Mighty God" and "Everlasting Father"!]
As we've already discussed, we read the fulfillment of these prophecies in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Jesus was born in Bethlehem without a human father, son of the virgin Mary and Son of God. Human and yet divine, He was Immanuel, "God with us". [See "Who Is Jesus: The LORD" for a more in-depth look into Jesus' deity.]
Sacrifice and Savior
The Old Testament sacrificial system was not an attempt by our God to satisfy some profane thirst for blood as was/is the case by the pagan gods. Rather, it was to demonstrate to Israel how egregious and heinous our sin is to a holy and righteous God, and to make a way, not only for sinful man to approach God but for God to bend down and draw near to us.
The sinner would bring a lamb or a goat to the priest to be killed and burnt on the altar. In effect, the sinner was saying, "God, I have sinned against You. I am sorry and don't want to do it anymore. I know that the punishment for sin is death, so I deserve to die. But please accept this sacrifice in my place and forgive me!"
Isaiah 53:3-5 and 7-12 describes perfectly how God would use the Messiah as a sacrifice for our sins, and how He would later live again and be happy to see the people who were saved because of His death:
Jesus became our sacrifice for sin and our Savior. The prophets had also been told when, where, and how He would be betrayed by a close friend. They foretold that He would be arrested, falsely accused, tried, mocked, and beaten. Centuries before the Romans instituted the practice of crucifixion in Israel, the prophets predicted the manner of His death: "...they have pierced my hands and feet." (Psalm 22:16) And just as the bones of the sacrificial animal could not be broken (cf. Exodus 12:46), God foretold that none of the Messiah's bones would be broken (see Psalm 34:20), even though breaking the legs was a common process for hastening the death of a crucified person.
And He would rise again! "For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption," (Psalm 16:10) and "he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand." (Isaiah 53:10) All of this happened to Jesus in every detail, exactly as the Old Testament prophets had written. [See "Who Is Jesus: Savior of the World" for a more in-depth discussion of Jesus as the Savior of mankind.]
Prophet, Priest, and King
God spoke through him to the people: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers it is to him you shall listen." (Deuteronomy 18:15)
Jesus was like Moses in many ways. God spoke through Him, He performed great miracles, He freed people from the slavery of sin. And as a prophet, Jesus foretold many events, including:
All of these events happened just as Jesus said they would, and some others are being fulfilled right now. And just as the prophecies about His first coming all came true, we can be sure that the prophecies about His second coming will all come true, too.
Old Testament priests prayed for the people and also offered sacrifices for their sins. Jesus prayed much for His followers when He was on earth and is praying [interceding] for us right now. "Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died more than that, who was raised who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us." (Romans 8:34)
Old Testament priests offered the sacrifices for the people. The sacrifice Jesus offered for our sins was His own life. Now we can go to God for forgiveness through Jesus our High Priest. Whenever we go to Him in prayer, our High Priest presents our needs to God.
"Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." (Hebrews 2:17)
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:14-15)
"For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. . . . So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you'; . . . being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 5:1, 5, 10)
"For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens." (Hebrews 7:26)
"...but into the second [Holy of Holies] only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. . . . But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. . . . For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf." (Hebrews 9:7, 11-14, 24)
"And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down [meaning that all the requirements for sin had been met] at the right hand of God," (Hebrews 10:11-12 emphasis added)
When Jesus began His public ministry, He read to the people this prophecy about the Messiah and let them know that they were seeing it fulfilled in Him: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19 via Isaiah 61:1-2)
What a conquering King the Messiah would be according to the Old Testament prophecies!
No wonder the people looked forward to His coming! The prophecy we read earlier in Isaiah 9:6 about the Prince of Peace goes on to say: "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever." (Isaiah 9:7)
Notice that in the Gospel records, some of the people called Jesus Son of David. As we've already noted in the discussion of His genealogy, He was a legal heir to the throne of David. His followers recognized in His miracles and His ministry all the characteristics of the wonderful kingdom that the Messiah would establish. Many, at that time, wanted to make Him King immediately. But Jesus was not ready to establish His universal Kingdom on earth. First, He had to free us from our worst enemy, sin.
Some day Jesus will come back to earth to establish His eternal kingdom. And so, it is important that we learn all we can about who Jesus is, what His rule will be like, and what our part will be in His kingdom.