by Shelley Neese
For an observant Jew, one of the most important events anticipated in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) is the arrival of the Messiah to redeem His chosen and rule over them during the Messianic age. Without this Messianic hope, Judaism would be stripped of its fundamental purpose and spiritual drive.
For the observant Christian, who reads the Tanakh in light of the New Testament, the most important events detailed in the Tanakh are the Messianic prophecies that point towards Jesus’ coming. Without the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies Jesus may have claimed to be the Messiah but He would not have demonstrated it.
To make sense of the Christian proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, it is important to show which Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. There are approximately sixty major Messianic prophecies with more than 300 references in the Old Testament. This is a conservative estimate using only those scriptures that have traditionally been viewed as describing some attribute or act related to the Messiah. The Messianic prophecies cover the whole period of the Old Testament—the first found in Genesis and the last in Malachi. These predictions were told through God’s prophets in advance so Israel might recognize the true Messiah when He appeared.
The Messiah was to be a descendant of Abraham (Gen. 12:3), come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), and be heir to the throne of David (Isa. 9:7). He was to be born the seed of a woman (Gen. 3:15) while Isaiah foreshadowed the virgin birth (Isa. 7:14). Micah called Bethlehem the Messiah’s birthplace (Mic. 5:2). The Messiah was to be both a prophet (Deut. 18:15) and priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4).
Just as Isaiah prophesied, most of Messiah’s ministry was in the Galilee where He taught and performed miracles so they “may see a great light” (Isa. 9:1, 2). As it was foretold, Jesus was rejected by many of His own people (Isa. 53:1, 3). When it was time to go down to Jerusalem at Passover, towards the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He rode in on the back of a donkey (Zech. 9:9).
Prophecies of the Messiah’s suffering are remarkable in their detail, surrounding every event in the Passion. He would be betrayed by a friend (Ps. 41:9) for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:13), the money to be returned for a potter’s field (Zech. 11:13). The Messiah would be spit upon and beaten (Isa. 50:6). David foreshadowed that Messiah’s garments would be divided and that His persecutors would gamble for His clothing (Ps. 22:18). They would give him gall and vinegar for His thirst (Ps. 69:21). Zechariah knew His side would be pierced (Zech. 12:10). No bones were to be broken (Ps. 34:20). Yet He would remain silent to the accusations hurled against him (Isa. 53:7).
Though Jesus fulfilled many of the Messianic prophecies during His first advent, had He not conquered death through resurrection there would be no continuing hope. Because He arose on the third day (Hos. 6:2) and ascended into Heaven (Ps. 68:18), His followers now anxiously await His return when the remaining Messianic prophecies will be fulfilled.
To the believer, Jesus perfectly matches the profile of the anticipated Jewish Messiah. But of course the veil is not lifted for all, and there are a few common objections raised in relation to Jesus and the prophecies.
One of the most common objections is that it’s pure coincidence or luck that Jesus fits the Messianic profile. Yes, it is feasible that a normal man happened to fulfill a few of the prophecies, like being born in Bethlehem and from the tribe of Judah. However, the mathematical probability that one person could fulfill all sixty major prophecies is astronomical. George Heron, a French mathematician, calculated that the odds of one man fulfilling even forty of the Messianic prophecies are 1 in 10 to the power of 157. The science of probability seems to rule out the possibility of coincidence.
Another theory is that the whole thing was a giant fabrication. Followers of Jesus supposedly manipulated the Old Testament and inserted false prophecies relating to Jesus after the fact. This theory fell apart with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly The Great Isaiah Scroll which has been carbon dated to somewhere between 335 BC and 107 BC. To the dismay of Liberal scholars, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which predate the Christian era, are remarkably accurate when compared to the text of the standard Hebrew Bible we have today. For example, of the 166 Hebrew words used in Isaiah 53 there is only a seventeen letter difference between the standard Hebrew Bible and the ancient scroll. All seventeen are spelling or stylistic changes. No Christian conspiracy stands out there.
Other objectors take the reverse approach and claim that Jesus deliberately attempted to fulfill the prophecies. The book, The Passover Plot, is one source that advocates the idea that Jesus even faked his own death. There is no doubt that Jesus knew the prophecies intimately and in some instances did purposefully fulfill them. This was not done deceptively, however. When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the third day, 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” (Luke 24:44). Even still, there is only so much about his life that Jesus could orchestrate if He was merely a man. A normal man could not control His place and date of birth or His lineage. He could not make Judas betray Him or His tormentors mock and beat Him. He could not arrange the order for His crucifixion or the people’s reaction to His death. Indeed, most of the prophecies are beyond the power of a man to fulfill deliberately, and if Jesus was only seeking His own glory, pretending to be the Messiah, then why would He have chosen to suffer and die rather than declare Himself the kind of King Messiah that the Jews of His day were expecting.
One may laboriously detail every prophecy fulfilled in Jesus and effectively argue against the objectors, but ultimately accepting Jesus as the Messiah is an act of faith. Faith is required to accept one’s need for a Savior, and faith is required to see the world’s need for a redeemer. Jesus, the Anointed One, fulfilled the prophecies according to the intent of God, not the expectation of men. He came once to suffer and to die so that by His wounds we could be healed (Isa. 53:4-5) and He will return again to gather those who recognized Him as Messiah.
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21)