September 22, 2007

Messianic Prophecy and the Words of Jesus

During the third decade of the first century AD, Jesus claimed that he was the Messiah1 of the Hebrew Bible.2 And his Messianic claims were the reason why the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem accused Jesus of blasphemy and devised plans to kill him.3

When Jesus began his teaching and miracle ministry, the Jewish people were subject to the Roman Empire and many Jews had great expectations for a kingly political Messiah to overthrow the oppressive Roman government. And prophetic predictions from the Hebrew Bible gave the Jews good reason for their belief that they would see a kingly Messiah.4 But the Hebrew Bible also contained predictions of a prophetic Messiah5 and a suffering priestly Messiah.6 The Jews at this time, however, primarily focused on the prophetic predictions of a political Messiah while Jesus was a master of multitasking and claimed that he was the prophetic Messiah, the priestly Messiah, and the kingly Messiah.
1The Hebrew word "Messiah" was translated to the Greek word "Christ". And the words "Messiah" and "Christ" derive from the word "anointed one", which means that a person is divinely empowered for a special task.
2The Hebrew Bible (The Jewish Bible) is also the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.
3See Matthew 26:62-66, Mark 14:60-64, Luke 22:66-71.
4The predictions of a kingly Messiah include Psalm 110:1, Isaiah 9:6-7 in the Christian Bible/Isaiah 9:5-6 in the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 11:1-12:6, Daniel 7:13-14, Micah 5:2-4, Zechariah 14:1-21. Also see Isaiah 2:1-4, Micah 4:1-5.
5The predictions of a prophetic Messiah include Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (with references in John 6:14, 7:40; Acts 3:22-26, 7:37) and Isaiah 61:1-4 (with a reference in Luke 4:14-21).
6The predictions of a suffering priestly Messiah include Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

Jesus identified himself with the prophetic Messianic ministry described in Isaiah 61. He stood up amongst a group of Jewish worshippers, and he read out loud from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then Jesus claimed that he just fulfilled those prophetic verses in the presence of the respective audience.7 And during the next three years, Jesus powerfully preached the good news of God’s kingdom while he miraculously ministered to the poor, to prisoners, to the blind, to the oppressed, and to many other needy people.
7See Luke 4:14-21 NRSV.

A primary job description for the priests in the Hebrew Bible was the management of animal sacrifices that were used in worship.8 Some of the sacrifices were part of a thanksgiving and fellowship celebration, but most of the sacrifices were related to requirements for the forgiveness of sins. This sacrificial system foreshadowed9 the sacrificial death of the Messiah. And the sacrificial death of the Messiah was predicted centuries earlier in Isaiah 53, which describes a suffering servant who dies for the sake of others and then eventually succeeds to greatness.10 11

Jesus frequently predicted his eventual suffering and violent death. For examples, Matthew, Mark, and Luke show that Jesus used straightforward language to predict his death and resurrection to his disciples on at least three occasions.12 And all four Gospels record a few cryptic teachings of Jesus that predicted his eventually death and resurrection.13
8See Leviticus 1:1-9:24, 16:2-34.
9In Biblical studies, a person or event or institution that foreshadows is called a "prefigurement" or a "typology". For example, 1 Peter 3:18-22 teaches that the flood in the days of Noah prefigured new covenant water baptism.
10The original date and the authorship for many chapters of Isaiah is a common subject of academic debate. Many scholars say that some chapters of Isaiah were written in the eighth century BC while other chapters were written in the sixth or fifth century BC, and some claim that parts of Isaiah were written as late as the second century BC. However, regardless of when Isaiah 53 was written according to these debates, the predictive prophecies in Isaiah 53 were written centuries before the life and death of Jesus.
11Various sources of Jewish tradition say that the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is a symbol that represents the nation of Jewish people, but a literal interpretation of Isaiah 53 describes an individual person who dies for the sake of others and then eventually succeeds to greatness. And various translations of the Targum Jonathon (an ancient source of Jewish Bible tradition) say that Isaiah 53 describes the Messiah.
12See Matthew 16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:17-19; Mark 8:31-33, 9:31-32, 10:32-34; Luke 9:21-22, 9:44-45, 18:31-33.
13See Matthew 12:39-40, 16:1-4, 21:33-40; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 11:29-30, 20:9-16; John 2:18-22, 3:14-15, 8:28-29, 10:11-18, 11:25-26, 12:23-33, 16:17-28.

Jesus identified himself as a kingly Messiah. For example, Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1 while saying that the Messiah is Lord of King David.14 And seventy-seven verses quote Jesus refering to himself as the "Son of Man". The term "Son of Man" refers to Daniel 7:13-14, which describes "one like a human being" or traditionally "one like a son of man" who comes from God through the clouds in the sky to rule all of the nations on earth. For example, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man while citing from Daniel 7:13 that describes the Son of Man as "coming with the clouds of heaven".15 Likewise, Jesus identifies himself as the kingly Messiah destined to rule all of the nations on earth.

We will now refer to the predicted Messiah of Daniel 7:13-14 as the "Danielic Messiah", and the Danielic Messiah has interesting implications. First, the title "Son of Man" possibly suggests that the Messiah has a human birth. Second, the divine description of "coming with the clouds of heaven" suggests that the Messiah comes to the earth from the sky. At first glance, these two implications may appear as a puzzling combination. But Jesus clarified the issue when he frequently taught two concepts about the Son of Man: 1) Jesus taught that he was the "Son of Man" during his three years of ministry;16 2) Jesus taught that he would gloriously appear in the future.17 And the glorious appearance in the future is commonly called the "second coming".
14Matthew 22.41-46, Mark 12:35-37, Luke 20.41-44.
15See Matthew 24:30, 26:64; Mark 13:26, 14:62.
16For examples, see Matthew 8:19-20, 9:1-8, 11:16-19, 12:39-40, 17:22, 20:17-19, 26:1-2, 26:45-46; Mark 2:1-11, 8:31-33, 9:30-31, 10:32-34, 10:42-45, 14:21, 14:41; Luke 5:17-26, 6:22, 7:31-35, 9:57-58, 11:29-30, 17:24-25, 18:31-32, 19:9-10, 22:47-48.
17For examples, see Matthew 19:29, 24:27-31, 24:36-51, 25:31-32, 26:63-64; Mark 8:38, 13:26, 14:61-62; Luke 21:25-26, 22:66-70.

Jesus claimed that he initiated the Messianic Kingdom,18 but Jesus also taught that the fulfillment of the Messianic Kingdom would occur in the future. This means that the Kingdom of God is both now and also will be completed in the future.19 This helps to explain why the New Testament claims that we are living in the new covenant of the Messianic Age while we still do not see the fulfillment of all Hebrew Bible prophecy related to the new covenant/Messianic Age. For example, Jeremiah prophesized about the "new covenant" and said that the Lord would put His laws in the hearts and minds of His people so that no one would need a teacher to learn about the Lord.20 In the present age, believers have the Holy Spirit as a teacher,21 so that prophecy from Jeremiah is partially fulfilled. But we still need the New Testament ministry of teachers until the Lord returns.22 Furthermore, Jesus was the complete Messiah from when he was in Mary's womb to his death by Roman crucifixion, but the fulfillment of all Messianic prophecy will occur when Jesus returns.
18See Matthew 4:17, 11:12, 12:28, 13:31-32, 19:13-15; Mark 1:14-15, 4:30-32, 10:13-16, 10:29-30; Luke 13:18-19, 18:15-17, 18:29-30.
19For a detailed explanation about the Kingdom of God being both now and in the future, see George E. Ladd (1959) Gospel of the Kingdom.
20See Jeremiah 31:31-34.
21See John 16:5-15, Romans 8:16.
22See 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.

Some Messianic prophecies have multiple fulfillments, and sometimes the original fulfillment did not involve the Messiah. For examples, Psalms 22 and 41 and 69 describe suffering in the first person while they are traditionally associated with David, and Jesus also quoted verses from those Psalms in relation to his own suffering.23 We may refer to these Psalm verses as "secondary Messianic prophesies" because the Messianic fulfillment came after the original fulfillment while the other Messianic prophesies may be called "primary Messianic prophesies".
23Jesus (Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34)quoted Psalm 22:1; Jesus (John 13:18) quoted Psalm 41:9; Jesus (John 15:25) quoted Psalm 69:4.

Jesus told his opponents that he would show them the "sign of Jonah" while referring to Jonah’s three days and nights in the stomach of a large fish that was followed by Jonah preaching to the wicked city of Nineveh.24 Jesus alluded to his eventual death and resurrection when he compared himself to Jonah, and Jonah is an example of a typology or prefigurement, which as described in note number nine is a person, event or institution that foreshadows.
24See Jonah with references in Matthew 12:38-41, 16:4; Luke 11:29-32.

This brief introduction helps us to understand the structure and content of Messianic prophecy and typology in relationship to the words of Jesus. In sum, Jesus referred to primary and secondary Messianic prophecies and typologies when he taught about the events in his first and second coming. Furthermore, we pray that this introduction will help us to gain a better understanding of all Biblical prophecy and typology.


The Lord says to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool." (Psalm 110:1 NRSV)

In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:2-4 NRSV)

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV, Isaiah 9:6-7 in the Christian Bible is Isaiah 9:5-6 in the Hebrew Bible.)

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, George Frideric Handel, 1741)

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9 NRSV)

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NRSV)

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12 NRSV)

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2 NRSV)

As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being* coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 NRSV)
*Aramaic one like a son of man (Note from NRSV Anglicized Edition, 1989, 1995.)

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. (Jesus quoted in Matthew 12:35-45.)

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Jesus speaking in Mark 8:38 NRSV.)

While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet."' David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?" And the large crowd was listening to him with delight. (Mark 12:35-37 NRSV)

Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. (Jesus speaking in Mark 13:26 NRSV.)

Then Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." (Mark 14:48-49 NRSV)

... Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus said, "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'" (Mark 14:61-62 NRSV)

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:14-21 NRSV)

Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again." (Jesus quoted in Luke 18:31-33 NRSV.)

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Jesus quoted in Luke 24:44-47 NRSV.)

Copyright © 2007, 2008 James Edward Goetz

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Updated 1/30/8

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