The Christian Bible is God’s word to us. It contains much that is easy to understand, for example: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life”. This is the whole gospel message in a golden nugget. But there is also much in the Bible that is not so easy to understand or interpret, especially when it comes to the prophetic literature.
Fortunately, God doesn’t expect us to understand it all. For example, there is much foretold about the signs of the end of the world, but even angels are not privy to the exact date, and neither are we.
The prophets of the Old Testament (OT) wrote of a coming messiah, the Promised One sent from God. These nuggets of prophetic wisdom, however are concealed in poetic language.
The late Alfred Edersheim, a teacher of languages and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint (the first translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek) postulated in his book “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” (1883) that there are 456 messianic passages in the Old Testament, supported by more than 558 references from the most ancient rabbinical writings.
Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the Left Behind series, studied Rev. Edersheim’s work, and came to the conservative conclusion that there were at least 109 separate and distinct prophecies Messiah must fulfill. They consulted a mathematician to calculate the probability of even 20 of the 109 prophecies being fulfilled in one man. He came up with the odds of one in one quadrillion, one hundred and twenty-five trillion. (LaHaye & Jenkins; Tribulation Force: Tyndale House, 1996)
The Jewish scholars who lived before and during the time of Christ knew from the Scriptures that a Messiah was coming. In Genesis 3:15 God promised that a seed (singular) of Eve would crush the head of the serpent. Messiah would be born of the seed of a woman, not the sinful seed that Adam has passed on to all humankind. (Romans 5:12 – “ For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.) The only way for a human child to be born without the sin of Adam would be for him to be born of a virgin. In fact, the prophet Isaiah predicted this: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
The patriarchs introduced in the book of Genesis (the book of beginnings) established the bloodline from which the Promised One would come to enter the time and space of mankind.
God chose Abraham to be the Father of the people of promise. Of Abraham’s two sons, God chose Isaac to carry on the blessing. Isaac also had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Genesis 27 describes the deception with which Jacob stole the blessing from his elder brother Esau. Jacob passed the blessing on to only one of his twelve sons, Judah.
The prophet Isaiah said that Messiah would be a “root out of Jesse.” King David was the son of Jesse, who was a descendant of Judah. Mary and Joseph were both of the lineage of David.
Jewish scholars knew that He would be born in Bethlehem from Micah 5:2 which reads: “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.”
When the wise men from the east followed the star leading to the new king, they stopped in Jerusalem to ask directions. Since they were searching for a king, they reasoned that they might find him in the palace. They were given an audience with Herod, and asked him, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come to worship him.” Herod consulted the Jewish scholars to ask them, “Where did the prophets say the Messiah would be born?” They answered “In Bethlehem.” Herod wanted no competition for his crown. Since he did not know which baby in Bethlehem was the great king sought by the Magi, he gave orders to have all of the boys under two years old in Bethlehem and its vicinity to be killed.
It is understandable that there was some confusion about where the Messiah was to come from. Hosea 11:1 says: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” But they also knew that: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23 – it is unclear as to which Old Testament prophecy is referred to, possibly Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; or Zech. 3:8; 6:12)
The prophet Isaiah also foretold that the Messiah would be “despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) Malachi said that “the prophet Elijah would be sent as a forerunner before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5)
The prophet Zechariah predicted “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
The Psalmist said that He would be betrayed by a friend. The prophet Zechariah said that He would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (11:13), and that people would look on the one whom they have pierced (12:10). The Psalmist prophesied that “people would look and stare at Me. They divide my garments among them and, and for my clothing they cast lots.”(Psalm 22:18) It was also foretold by the Psalmist that “He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken.” (Psalm 34:20)
Isaiah says “they made His grave with the wicked; but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.” Isaiah 53:9)
All of these prophetic statements were written and accepted by the Jews as Scripture hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth was born.
Through the 20/20 lens of hindsight, it becomes clear that Jesus fulfilled all of these seemingly contradictory prophetic clues. Jesus was born of a virgin. He was born in Bethlehem, thanks to the decree issued by Caesar Augustus that everyone was to go to their ancestral hometown to be counted for a census. Joseph lived in the town of Nazareth, but because he belonged to the house and line of David, he and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to be registered. Jesus was born while they were there.
Joseph was warned by God in a dream that Herod sought to kill this child. He was told to take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt; and to remain there until the death of Herod. When Joseph was told in another dream that Herod was dead, He and Mary took Jesus and settled in Nazareth.
In Matthew 17:10-13, the disciples of Jesus asked Him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
Jesus could have fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy about entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey purposely because He knew the Scriptures. Being betrayed by a friend (Judas Iscariot) for thirty pieces of silver, however, would be more difficult to fake if He was only a good human being, and not the promised Messiah.
Jesus was executed publically on a cross, so that all could look upon Him and stare. The soldiers divided His garments among themselves, casting lots for His tunic.
Crucifixion victims usually had their legs broken to speed up the death, but when the soldiers came to Jesus he was already dead, so that not a bone of His was broken.
The prophecy from Isaiah 53 that they made his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death was fulfilled when he was crucified between two thieves, and then buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy Pharisee who had himself become a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:47).
Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled all of these prophetic statements. Then He fulfilled His own prophecy that He would be resurrected three days after His death. What are the odds of that?